Blank canvas

Bombings. Kidnappings. Plane crashes.
Or a kitten wrestling a string?
There's no contest.
I have to pace myself with real-life horror.
Even the single still image announcing a beheading video
floods me with panic.
Empathetic overload.
We all feel it ...
just not enough.
More cat videos, please.  
A week ago, I watched scenes from a suspected ISIS bombing.
Three minutes, 11 seconds of bodies and blood.
Babies screaming.
What's my human homework?
Nauseated sorrow.
And so there you have it.
Terror is teaching us to fear.
Then to hate?
Mission accomplished.
Hatred loves company.
Hope is an art that we dare not behead.
A daily discipline of
and vision.
In collaboration,
the dove is colorful revenge.
Peace is a blank canvas bravely waiting.

The Bumpy Road

Above: Back in the day, a blissful afternoon helping mom mow and rake the grass.
Left: If only I could have seen this picture back then.

You might call it our very own version of the American Dream. Looking back, it seems as if our family's tough luck was first set in motion when my grandfather, at 91, on his early morning walk, was killed by a young drunken driver. "Flattened" as one of my young nephews innocently put it at the time. 

On the heels of that, my brother-in-law was severely disabled by a brain aneurysm. My devoted sister has cared for him ever since. 

Then the flood gates seemed to burst wide open. Over the years, between my extended family and my own, we have experienced depression, divorce, single-parenting, cancer, stroke, alcoholism, disability, layoffs, bankruptcy, foreclosure and suicide. I hope that covers it. I'm pretty sure there are entire years I lost in fatigue alone. 

But never fear, for whatever our house might have lacked in serenity, it totally rocked in love. (Caution: do not use the above photo as evidence.) We held tight to one another. In fact, I've always had a perfect picture of it: I see myself driving my girls at a steady speed, in a car with a perfectly running engine. It's just that the wheels are octagons. A bumpy ride, but by god, we got there.  

I'm still traumatized, however, by one particularly low moment in my domestic esteem. With two in high school and one in middle school, I was awakened by my youngest, in the hall, hollering to her sleeping sisters, "Who has the towel?" The towel.

Anyway, when life is so full of disaster and distraction, it elicits an instinct to disengage. To recede from the world. To turn away help. Somehow as it was all unfolding, I just couldn't share it. Maybe I couldn't even see it. 

I lay awake at night beating myself up, wracked with remorse. My own parents were married more than 60 years and  never paid a single bill late.  

I just kept telling myself, "Once I get things together, then I'll be able to do more in the world. Then I'll breathe. Then I'll connect." 

But I've since come to understand that nothing is ever really solved. It just gets better. What makes it better is the realization that it's the crap in life that composts empathy. Germinates compassion.  

For years, I made the mistake of being ashamed of my mistakes. I guess now I figure, whatever side it's on, the grass doesn't even have to be green. My daughters aren't just strong and deep despite our struggles, but in part, because of them.

Sure, my life is still a mess by certain standards. But from here on out, I'm enjoying the ride. I figure if we drive long enough, those wheels are bound to wear into circles. 

A Face in the Crowd

She's young, but her scars are not. At 17 she seems to be going on 5,000. Utterly mesmerizing. In fact, if you look closely, she'll capture you, and against your wishes just might awaken memories of your other long-buried lifetimes. For oppression is an ancient story. 

However, I think hers is a face we might rather ignore. A face that looked directly into the Taliban gun that shot her. A gun that shot her in the face, on her school bus in Pakistan. A face shot for demanding education for girls. A child bloodied for daring to have a voice. Shot for speaking empowering words that seem to leap from the same river from which other peacemakers have drunk: 
"I believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds but our hearts and souls."

Malala Yousafzai stands up in our landscape of terrorism.
I can feel her courage pushing at my own inaction. 
She makes me wonder what I might be willing to die for.
This child claimed the fight and acted. 
She has held her head high for all to see. 
And at 17, she now holds the Nobel Prize as well.  

Big Shoes to Fill

I love men. I know them as lovers, thinkers, comedians and protectors, to name a few. There is not a man with whom I work or socialize who does not conduct himself by exemplary standards. I trust in the goodness of men. And I would never exclude them as feminists. 

In other words, the men I know fill big shoes. I know they are listening. And that they, like me, abhor the violence oppressing women and girls.

If only this included all men.

On this page is a different pair of shoes to fill. For the steps through life are likely to be treacherous for a female.

Once again headlines have swelled with accounts of rape and murder, as well as other physical and emotional violence against women and children. It's an unending story.

So, little girl, soon enough you will learn: Don't drink at a party. Button up your blouse. Don't look too attractive. Don't walk alone. Carry mace. Careful who you look in the eye. Hold your key ready in your hand. Check your back seat. Keep your gas tank full. Don't look at the driver next to you. Park under the streetlight. Keep the porch light on. Lock the front door behind you, and never open it without checking. And don't forget to pull the blinds. In other words, never lower your guard...ever. For in the eyes of far too many, you are culpable for the violence against you. 

It's problematic. For your vulnerability is at once an expectation of and an indictment by this culture. Too confident? Then you risk being labeled a man-hating feminist, a prude, controlling ... or worse. Whatever works to put you back in your place. Too vulnerable? Then you should have known better. Actually, you must have asked for it. Our culture is a @#%!#*! mess of mixed signals. Buy, buy, buy the lipstick, the makeup, the scents, the bras, the heels, the alcohol, the illusion of glamour, ad nauseum. Add for men the glorified violence and machismo on the big screen and playing field and it's a perfect storm. Men, likewise, are pressured. Incessant images of "masculinity" make them fearful of negative labels, as well. Ultimately, we are all prone to this influence. And if adults can't resist, how can young people? 

As we manage the ramifications of this bombardment, how do we begin to construct a definition of consent? How do we continue to enjoy our increasingly consuming and seductive entertainments while creating an environment of protection? Our cultural distractions are not going away. Nor should they. Instead, let's ruthlessly champion awareness. Zero tolerance. When a female says no, the answer is no. She is not secretly hoping to be overpowered. Unconsciousness is not an invitation. If that's the only way a man can gain access, that's sick. And that means prosecution. 

I know strong men will pick up this fight. I know they have. They will take on the label of feminist, openly. They will boldly broach the subject with young men they know, if they haven't already. They will vote for the protection of women.

I know smart young men are also aware. I know they love young women as people. As friends. I have witnessed this with my own daughters' friends.

I think this younger generation is smarter than us in many ways. I am endlessly impressed.

Let each of us begin to educate in order to make them all, boys and girls alike, less vulnerable. 

Activists all. 

Like I said, I love men.

Grounds for Burial

I dug a grave and buried a chief. His crime? Impostor. They called him an Indian, but he was not. His enormous smile gave it away. For it said, "I am care-free, a jester. I forgive your genocide."

His skin was pure red, like the crayon of a child. His foolish expression said, "I am not deep." His exaggerated features said, "I am not as beautiful as you."

Only a single feather? Not a chief.

Eventually he became so familiar as to become invisible. And when he did, so too our awareness, leaving only the unconscious imprint of superiority. With indifference as its ghost.

I used to wonder if the rotten luck in this town was due to being situated on a sacred burial ground, or something. But I have come to realize quite the opposite. We should be.

For there is a championship we can all win. Call it a moral victory.

Let's bury Chief Wahoo.

Perhaps our luck can change. And if not, certainly our self-respect.

Booby Trap

Did you happen to read that in response to a growing cultural frenzy to attain “ideal" beauty, mannequins in Venezuela are now being designed with gargantuan breasts? Evidently, women there are flocking to cosmetic augmentation aimed at making their boobs the size of Mini Cooper sedans.

I pass no judgment. I respect the right of every woman to govern her own mind, body and soul. I get it. I have even given thought to the prospect myself. I’m sure many of us have entertained the idea. My hope would be that it is a decision that truly comes from within, not to please anyone else. Ultimately, I guess my sense of my own breasts as friendly little companions has kept me as far as possible from unnecessary violation.  And of course, for entirely too many, breast surgery has life and death implications.

But here’s the thing. Whether our breasts are enormous or nonexistent, what makes a person beautiful or sexy, is attitude and desire. Something deeply internal. I wonder if we women use this yardstick on men, yet hold ourselves to a different, excruciating standard.  But I fear no amount of silicone will fill that void. In fact, I’m thinking eventually even the biggest breasts might begin to seem small again.

I have made art since I was a little girl and now make my living at it. An important part of being an artist includes seeking to understand beauty of all kinds.
But you don’t need me to tell you.

There is no ideal.

So when the mannequins here begin to change, I say let’s keep our heads.
There is no trap into which we must fall.

p.s. I would love to hear input on this topic from men and women alike.