I have to be grateful for.

It is the turning of the seasons.

I will be going to Spain in a week.

It is my favorite silly holiday of the year — International Talk Like a Pirate Day.*

It is my weekend. (I work Sunday through Thursday.)

I have a job, even if I am not working as many hours as I would like.

I went out with co-workers last night and had fun.

I cleaned off the headboard to my bed.

Starbucks has started carrying Salted Carmel Mochas again. (They are also carrying Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but I don’t like those.)

I have found a new social networking site (Ello), which I am much more pleased with than the state of affairs at Facebook.  Now if I can just talk to enough of my friends into joining. (I have invites if anyone wants; if you are already on there ping me so I can add you to my lists.)

I have a table with an outlet next to it.

Little things, perhaps. Maybe that’s all anyone really needs.

I am saving the existential crises for next week.

*Rumor has it that Krispy Kreme was giving away one dozen glazed doughnuts to anyone who showed up at their stores today dressed in pirate garb.  I choose not to chase down this rumor because a) I do not own pirate garb and b) I do not need glazed doughnuts.

España, aquí vengo.

Barring disaster (which this year is not a given), I am going back to Spain at the end of the month.  Sadly, it will only be for a little over a week.

Spain is my favorite European country — scratch that, my favorite country other than my own.  Spaniards are warm and welcoming, even to people who have failed to master even the rudiments of their language. (Somehow, I think the phrase “Le llama en Espanol despues” which I learned during working for Covered California, will not be of much use. “No habla Espanol,” on the other hand, I expect to be using frequently. And “gracias.”  Very often.)

I will visit the paintings, my friends.*  I will stand in front of Guernica and cry.  I defy anyone to not do likewise. I will marvel Las Meninas, at the intricacy of the painting of the haughty young princess and her ladies in waiting, and the mirror in which royal parents are reflected while their daughter (who will become Holy Roman Empress before dying at a tragically young age) looks directly and confidently outward.  (It is a wonder, Las Meninas:  I only saw that the painter in the picture, Diego Velazquez, was not shown painting the Infante Margaret Theresa but Philip VI and his wife Mariana of Austria when it was pointed out to me that the painter is facing the people shown in the mirror, and not the girls themselves.) I will be moved by the Third of May, and grin at Goya’s two paintings of the mysterious and enticing Maja. Art can be subversive; Goya certainly was.

I will sit in the Muséo de Jamón (the Museum of Ham) and look around at the hundreds of Iberico hams hung from the ceiling and the walls. I will smile fondly (and wistfully) at the memory of a dinner a third of a world and forever away, in which the bizarre eatery provided a common point of reference.

I will wander the streets in Madrid, among the pubs and small restaurants off the Plaza Mayor, and eat tapas and gazpacho and drink sangria. I will delight in chocolate at the Chocolateria San Gines, the heady sweetness set off by crunchy churros.

I will walk streets that Cervantes walked, that Hemingway walked.  I will look at the windmills and think of my hero. (I will not, however, go to see a bullfight.) I hope to see Toledo and Segovia glowing in the afternoon light, and the work of the visionary Domenikos Theotokopolous.

I will lounge on the square in Nerva, a small hill town an hour northeast of Seville, lazily sipping cafe con leche and reading a book, eating the wonderful square apple pastries that I love.

I will watch the feet of the flamenco dancers as they speed into staccato blurs, their tapping as sharp as fireworks, as though sparks could fly from their heels.

I will listen to the voices in the melting pot that is Seville, as different from the Castillian north as Georgia is from New York. I have no plans to go to Tangiers, this time, with its music of the Arabic traders selling rugs and shawls, skin lotions and enameled earrings.  If Seville is a different country, Tangiers is a different world.

I will sigh and regret once again that my stay is short enough that I will not be able to visit Catalonia or the Basque region**, that I will not be able to see the pilgrim church of Santiago de Compostela, or Antonio Gaudi’s strange and wonderful Sagrada Familia. Or, of a more recent vintage, Frank Gehry’s weirdly magnetic Guggenheim in Bilbao.

And then home again, my heart once more my own.

*But not the Garden of Earthly Delights. Shudder.

**I may get to go to Portugal, though, which I am sure will have its own delights.

Beware.

I may have been hacked.  If you receive a IM from me, it’s not real.  I am using this blog to notify people since it cross-posts to both Twitter and Facebook, so I should get everybody, and this is the least consequential of my passwords. (I am going to be changing them all anyway, but am not going to do so until the anti-virus scan finishes.)

There is a special place in hell for people who prey on job-seekers. (Also, my phone may have been hacked.  I need to figure out how to check for that.)

I hate people. (Present company excepted, of course.)

Intersectionality.

In a post following the protests in Ferguson, I talked about my friend’s rules for shopping as an African-American male.  I finally began to emotionally (rather than intellectually) relate to his experience when I began mapping them onto the “rules” I have internalized as a woman and a mentally ill person.

Being a woman has, at various times, meant for me…

  • Having my keys out when I leave the building to go to my car, often with them sticking through my knuckles.
  • Skipping the seat on the crowded bus next to the man in the sweatshirt to go three rows back to sit with the woman with the baby. (I learned this as a teenager, being groped on public transportation to and from the library.  I have never discussed with this anyone, mainly because it seemed to be such a common occurrence as to be unremarkable, which is in itself sad.)
  • Don’t get drunk with men you don’t know. It used to be “don’t get drunk with men you don’t know unless you have a friend to watch your back,” but bitter experience shortened the rule.
  • Never leave your drink unattended.
  • Watch out for frat guys.
  • Do not argue with angry men — or any male stranger — in public. I was once threatened by a man much stronger and larger than me for “disrespecting” him.  The “disrespect”? Telling him not to discipline my child because I would handle it. I have had men shout at me for not doing a good enough job parking. (Although,  in fairness, I am a terrible parker; the only people who ever get angry at me about it are men, though.)
  • Don’t make eye contact with strangers on the street.
  • In urban areas, be alert for strange guys following you after dark if there is no one else around. (I know African-American men who have complained about white women crossing the street to the other sidewalk; in my case at least it is not because they are black but because they are male.)
  • Be resigned to the fact that if you go out with a man and you refuse to have sex with him if he wants it, he will call you a slut, not only to your face but to everyone he can relate the story to. (This happened to me while I was at a program for high school students at the University of Florida.  Of course, I should probably have wondered why a graduate student would want to go out with a seventeen-year-old in the first place, but I was young and stupid.)
  • Smile.

********

Some of these rules I learned through bitter experience, some through having them drummed in my head by well-meaning people who thought they were looking out for me. There are other rules — don’t dress provocatively, e.g. — which I never thought applied to me because I never had the urge to dress in anything that could be considered provocative.

Many of these rules applied to me as a young woman, but don’t any longer.  The “don’t argue with angry men,” though… Remember the incident with the man blocking my driveway who told me I needed to “ask nicely” before he would move? My response was not to answer him directly and appropriately with “I don’t need to ask nicely; move your damned car,” but to be passive-aggressive.  Even my alternate solution (sit in my driveway and call the cops on him) had someone else confronting him rather than me.

Not every woman I know follows rules like these.  One friend from work, D., does whatever she damn well pleases.  She is the toughest (in the nicest sense of the word) woman I know; of course, having been a Teamster and a long-haul trucker at twenty-one probably has something to do with that.

I was relieved that I did not have a daughter because, among other reasons, it would break my heart to see her living in a world where she has to follow “rules” like that, knowing it would be difficult to teach her otherwise. Teaching boys to treat women as they should seems like the easier task.

*****

There are the “rules” you have to watch out for as a mentally ill person:

  • Be careful about talking to yourself in public.  While there are a lot of neurotypical people who talk to themselves, it is often, or used to be, at least, considered a sign of “being crazy.” (All of this has changed, of course, with the advent of Bluetooth:  mutter to yourself and people just assume you are on the phone.) People actually ask each other on the Internet “I talk to myself, does that mean I’m crazy?”
  • Be careful about how you show anger. One experience that many bipolar people I know have had is to express anger in an appropriately strong manner, only to be asked “You seem angry — have you taken your meds today?” (Or “are you manic?”) A few nights ago, I got angry with my sons for not doing a task which I had repeatedly asked them to do. I was not yelling, but I was speaking strongly in upset tones. The rest of my family looked at me askance because I was clearly angry.
  • Prepare yourself to hear people misuse psychiatric diagnoses in casual conversation: “That situation was just schizophrenic;” “I was really bipolar this week.” Question whether or not to call them on their ableism, and decide it probably isn’t worth it.
  • Listen patiently to the stories that many of your non-mentally ill friends have to share with you about other people they know who are just horrible because they are mentally ill. Pro-tip: being mentally ill is not a “get out of jail free” card — if someone repeatedly acts awful, they may just be an awful person. There are mentally ill people who are dicks, just like in any other segment of the population. Another pro-tip: the answer to the question “Why wouldn’t X take meds?” is “The meds often suck, that’s why.” So don’t ask.
  • Be resigned to the fact that there are going to be people who are afraid of you.  This is more of an issue for mentally ill men, for whom it can occasionally become a life-threatening problem: cops do not always know how to deal with them. I am not immune to being afraid myself: a man came into the Starbucks where I was web-surfing yesterday, and loudly asked several women, myself included, if we had been born after 1962, and if so, would we be his roommate? He was wild-eyed and disheveled.  The woman next to me looked actively scared, and I had to remind myself that he was unlikely to actually be dangerous. I thought of answering that I was too old for his criteria; instead, I just smiled at him and shook my head.  The manager asked him to leave shortly thereafter, and he did so docilely, presumably on his quest to find a new roommate. I do feel a little guilty, not because I was momentarily afraid, but because I did not ask him if I could help him.
  • Weigh whether being honest about yourself trumps the probability that some people will abandon you, or at the very least change how they interact with you.  I decided that it does, but it took me decades to come to that conclusion, and I frequently second-guess myself.

*****

I am not saying by all of this that what I deal with is worse than anyone else.  Quite frankly, with the challenges I face, I would much rather have them than what young African-American men have to contend with.* I am unlikely to be thrown out of stores or shot by cops in part because I was young and black. (And that is not to even get into the prison-industrial complex, which is another post I keep meaning to write.) Nor would I want to have to worry about the things that transpeople are understandably afraid of.

Power does not exist only along one axis: it is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional.  Intersectionality matters: we need to understand how America is skewed against all people who are not “normal” — with normal being defined as white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and abled. We need to understand the role class plays in the dynamics of power as well: one of the most effective stratagems used against poor whites is to convince them that the enemy is minorities, or women, or the labor movement, rather than a system which massively privileges the wealthy.  (Organized labor is an effective tool to protect the working class; the extent to which it has been undermined during the past few decades has made “the American Dream” a pipe-dream.) We are allies: I have to support the fight against the treatment of my African-American male friends as strongly as I want them to help change the world for me. I need to respect picket lines, and speak out against homophobia, while at the same time realizing it’s not all about me.

We need to kill all the heads of the hydra.

*I understand that race is not merely a black-white issue: Latinos and Asians face their own brands of racism.  Geography changes things as well: the experience of a Mexican-American in southern Arizona is going to be different than that of a Cuban-American in Miami.

 

Interview fail.

Dear Ms. Recruiter:

I am very sorry that the connection was so bad yesterday when we talked.  Otherwise, it would not have taken until I saw your email at 10:00 pm Pacific last night for me to see that the interview you set at 10:30 a.m. this morning for me was in West Des Moines.

I’m sorry, but that’s just too long a commute.

Pat.

It’s been a day.

Not a very productive one, I’m afraid. Still…

I have my resume out there, and am getting nibbles.  So far, they have all been with insurance companies looking for salespeople.  It makes me hopeful, though.

Starbucks has brought Salted Carmel Mochas back, which makes for a happy Pat. On the coffee front, at least.

The Thousand Oaks Cobra has been caught.  I would retweet the funniest lines from the three accounts it “opened,” but all the accounts have been swamped by news of the capture, and the albino snake’s disappointment at being in captivity again.  My favorite tweet from this morning: “Where does a snake get its coffee in the morning? From a barissssta.”  After the Thousand Oaks Cobra complained about seeing snakeskin boots in Nordstrom’s (“Not cool, Nordstrom.  Not cool.”) @Nordstrom tweeted back that they were sorry that the snake had had a bad experience at the store, and promising to pass along its concerns to the customer service team.  Perfect.  I can’t decide if I would find it funnier if it was an actual person answering, or if it was an automated response.

I did take the Red-Headed Menace to the running shoe store to get more shoes.  He has not been running because he exhausted his last pair of shoes.  Running is not as cheap a sport as one might imagine.

I feel suspended in time: as if I were over a river of the present with it slipping away underneath me. Life is too short to keep going on this way.

I have struggled with writing lately.  Yes, I know I am whining, and breaking one of the cardinal rules of blogging (“don’t whine about blogging”), but it has been a real roadblock for me.  I do not blog on the news in a timely fashion, and I keep feeling that by the time I write about anything, someone else has written about it better. James Thurber, my favorite writer of the 20th century, once observed that one of the fears of a writer of light comic pieces was the nagging suspicion that the piece that he has been working on for two days was written better and more quickly by Robert Benchley in 1924.  I know the feeling.

When I write about my family, that is new.  But one can’t write about family all the time. So I try to write about my reaction to the world, and keep running up against the feeling that I’m not that special, that my reactions are pretty much the same as most liberal-progressive feminists. (There are a couple of areas that I would love to blog about but can’t, because of confidentiality agreements.)

So, I will keep on keeping on.  Not much else to do, really.

 

Owning my privilege.

C., a friend whom I knew from church, is someone I would want my kids to be like.  He attended an Ivy League school, dresses conservatively, and holds down a very nice job at a tech company.

He is also African-American.

Recently, in a comment to a Facebook post, he outlined some of his personal rules for avoiding trouble in stores: always get receipts for goods you get.  Only hold goods for as long as you need to read the label.  Don’t carry items around until you have. Try not to carry items from store A into store B if store B also sells them.

This was an eye opener for me.  Yes, I knew there was white privilege, and that I benefited by it, and was aware of problems of African-Americans being followed around stores.  But receipts? I often ask not to be given receipts, especially for small items.  I don’t want the extra paper, and I figure the amount of the purchases will show up on my bank statement. And not holding goods?  I carry things around stores often without thinking about it.

But I am a white woman, and I am never harassed.

There have been a lot of articles since the shooting of Michael Brown detailing the various indignities — and downright dangers — faced by African-Americans in day-to-day life. While intellectually I knew about a lot of these problems, and was outraged by them in that white liberal “I hate racism in all forms sort of way,” I am perhaps reading them with more emotional intelligence than before.

After all, as I said, I am a white woman, and a middle-aged one at that.  I get the benefit of doubt. Others do not.

I worked a campaign last year with my friend J. He was the best phone canvasser of our group, so much so that I once sat next to him to see if I could learn his technique. (I didn’t.) But things changed when we began precinct walking: he was treated with suspicion, while I was greeted, if not warmly, at least civilly. He took to carrying books around with him, so he would appear more acceptable. (Not unlike whistling Vivaldi.) He once commented “people look out their windows at you and see a neighbor.* They look out their windows at me and see a big black guy.”

Stories — a few among many — that have been reported the past few years:

Black man gets shot by police while looking at toy guns in WalMart. This while the white NRA members swagger around events holding real guns to demonstrate how important their interpretation of the Second Amendment is.

Young black man talks about how he nearly became another shooting statistic.

Fifty-one year old man (with impressive resume) is arrested and detained for six hours because he “fit the description” of a suspect in a burglary. (I have previously mentioned the Palo Alto police chief who in 2008 instructed officers to stop and talk to young black men, because they would “fit the description” of a suspect in a string of break-ins.)

In 2009, a black man in Ferguson gets arrested by mistake, is beaten by police and then charged with “property damage” because he bled on their uniforms.

Young black former college football player shot and killed by police while seeking help after he was in a serious car accident.

Black woman gets shot in her own doorway, and the cop who shoots her lies in his report.

And, of course, Trayvon Martin** and Oscar Grant.

One thing that strikes me is how often details such as “college-bound” or “good father” or other qualifiers are added to descriptions of victims, or how they are described as thugs who (implicitly) deserved what they got. (The New York Times ran a piece that declared that Michael Brown was “no angel,” as if that mattered.) It is though we think that such things don’t happen to middle class people who act “appropriately.”  Even how I started this post: the fact that my friend went to a good college and doesn’t dress like a gang member is irrelevant.  He should not have to deal with the petty humiliations that come his way based on his skin color. (C. also commented in the Facebook thread that “Justin Beiber can get away with wearing baggy pants.  I can’t.”) It is almost as though the media needs to reassure us that yes, this is horrible: the deceased was a “perfect victim.” Or not, as in the case of Michael Brown. (Horribly, media coverage tends to treat white killers better than black victims.)

Nothing matters except than what happened in the confrontation that resulted in the shooting. No one deserves to go around afraid for their life or safety just because they’re young and black.

And I have to remind myself that I am the beneficiary of three centuries of slavery and oppression.  That my white skin shields me from indignities and fears that others have to live with all their lives.

That I need to speak out for justice, and support others who do the same.

*This was not true when I walked Vietnamese neighborhoods.

**Yes, I do know that Trayvon Martin was not killed by law enforcement, but by a vigilante. If anything that makes the case even scarier: if you are young and black you can be a target even if you don’t have a run  in with the cops.