Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Some things are NEVER okay

Let's take a little quiz.

When is it okay for a man to hit or sexually harass a woman?

A) never
B) when she "asks for it"
C) never
D) when he's "joking around"
E) when he's being attacked by a female assassin in hand-to-hand combat
F) both A and C (and maybe E)

Although I got a little silly with "E," this is no laughing matter. One would think that in 2016, when women can be chosen for positions of power, when Katniss Everdeen has ruled bestseller lists and box office alike, when Nadia Bolz-Weber and Krista Tippett are among those addressing religion in an old-new way, this barbaric behavior would be a thing of the past.

One would be wrong.

Start with this news story:

French Lawmaker's Fall Over Harassment Claims May Hold Lesson for Men

And before you dismiss that as, "oh, those nasty French," click here:

Men Read Horrifying Sexist Tweets

That's not even close to as bad as it gets. Do you know that this is going on in our schools? That girls not old enough to drive are getting smacked around and called names too awful for me to type? That many college orientations now include freshwoman "how-to-avoid-rape" sessions? That worst of all, girls are so used to it that they believe this is how it's supposed to be?! I'm not just talking about girls with low self-esteem here. I'm talking about all girls, even strong, confident, intelligent girls. 

It defies understanding.

It breaks my heart. 

And it makes me really, really mad. 

There are a lot of beautiful and wonderful things in this world, and usually those are the things I try to write. But this terrible darkness exists as well, and unless we shine some light on it, it will remain.
PS Sorry this post is sans photo. Couldn't get the image of blinding white fury to show up on the page.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The story I want to read

Maybe you've heard the statistic: 80% of couples parenting a special needs child end up divorced.

Then again, maybe you haven't. I hadn't until I heard it repeated like a mantra as my own marriage fell apart. I think people were trying to reassure me, to let me know that with those kinds of odds, I was in no way alone. Perhaps it helped. Could it be that in a weird way I was comforted by being in the majority for once? Maybe. I don't know, though. That doesn't really sound like me.

Besides, I was alone. 80 percent is meaningless when you're the one curled up on the front porch with your insomnia, watching the stars, wondering how on earth you are going to raise three humans to adulthood. Heck, there are days when you don't know if you can manage pants!

One such sleepless night, I decided to research that number. Although 80% is almost certainly inflated, the threat to marriages is real, with sources suggesting special needs families have divorce rates at least 5-10% higher than those of the general population. This still placed me squarely in the alone-not-alone group, and not just because of my son's alphabet soup of diagnoses. After all, the cracks in my marriage had been there for a long time. The extra stress just turned them into chasms.

At any rate, the exact number is beside the point. Statistics have their place, but stories aren't made of numbers. They're made of people. And what I want to know is this: where are the stories about people like us? families like mine? women like me? Where are our novels, our plays, our films? Where is our epic love story? I've mostly found two versions: a) shattering tragedy full of heartache, estrangement, institutions, and death, or b) preposterous Disneyfication featuring an improbable cure and/or a white knight sweeping in to save the day. What ever happened to the truth being in the middle?

I hear you. If it's truth I want, I should read a memoir. Better yet, write one. Guess what? I am. There are parts of our story I want need to tell. But it's not enough. Much as I love memoir, fiction is where I go to fall in love. Nothing beats the intoxication of other worlds, other lives. I just wish sometimes those other worlds were a little more like ours, those fictional characters a little more like us.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why I'm Here

It happened again today. I was chatting, just random small talk, and someone asked "how did you end up here?"

This comes up more than you might think. Fifteen years in, I still hear some variation of "y'all ain't from here, are ya..." at least once a month. If not that, then it's some version of the above, as if there is something wrong with me, or "here," or both.

Of course it could also be seen as a reasonable question. I've been all over the world, and I'm somewhere between hundreds and thousands of miles from the two places that have always felt most like home: Upstate New York, and France. My perspective on things is often so far from the supposed norm that I am often reminded that culture shock can occur within one's own borders.

Yet I'm not sure any of that matters. Well, the hundreds of miles do– my parents are entirely too far away, and I miss them terribly. But I can read, play music, ride horses, write, teach, as easily here as anywhere. Besides, my New York isn't all that different from Kentucky and in fact, lies just outside the northern edge of Appalachia. If you don't believe me, look at these four photos and take a quiz: New York or Kentucky? (answers below)


So... if I can be myself anywhere, and if people are people wherever you go, then why me, here, now? Because. Because I have this conviction that this is where I'm supposed to be. Call it faith, call it coincidence, I don't care. It's what I believe. Would it be easier to live where I'm not the one with the accent, where religion is more diverse than a profusion of Baptist churches, where Democrats could conceivably win elections? Maybe Probably Almost certainly. But would it be better? Would it be right?

I don't think it would. If I weren't here, some people would never get to meet a tree-hugging, left-leaning, outspoken, feminist Yankee with an attitude. Worse, I would never have met them. My perspective would be limited, my ability to think through complex problems constrained. Everyone would still be safely ensconced in their comfort zones, and what's the good of that? After all, we are called to meet the stranger, wherever and whoever he or she may be.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in my work as a professor at a faith-based liberal arts college. On the surface, I imagine it looks about like the proverbial square peg and round hole, particularly as I'm not about to round off my sharp edges. Yet in spite, or perhaps because of that, I believe I am exactly where I need to be. If life is all about making room for others, then I can live my faith here as in few other places. Above all, I can show my students that there is nothing to fear in being the unique, intelligent, inspired beings we humans were created to be.

Could I do this anywhere, at any time? Probably. But that's not the point. The point is that I am here now, and that's the way it's supposed to be.

1) New York (my parents' house)  2) Kentucky (view from my front porch)  3) New York (just off I-86)  4) Kentucky (on bridge looking toward Cincinnati)