It’s so easy to sit in judgment of parents and children and zookeepers and strangers. People who you’ve never met.
It’s so easy.
It’s infinitely harder to person up. To pull loose your heart strings. To release the strict hold you keep on your borders and really look at another person.
Because really seeing means letting yourself be seen. Means being vulnerable. Means realizing that the things that we judge other people for are things that we do all the time.
Who hasn’t been guilty of letting our guard down for a moment? The only difference between all of us and certain mothers and zookeepers is that we weren’t the ones taking our eyes off of our child at that crucial second.
We weren’t. But we could have been.
And that fact is the thing that keeps us from true empathy with other human beings.
Because acknowledging that the only thing separating us and them is a cruel blend of circumstance and blind luck is too terrifying to handle.
So we blame. And we stand up and call for the heads of people who have made the same small mistakes that we make every day at a critical moment that ended in tragedy.
Blame is easier. Judgment is easier. Hatred is easier.
Love is hard. Empathy is hard. Compassion is hard.
Within those three things dwells the sharp knowledge that we, in all of our convictions and certainty, are as fragile and as vulnerable to harm as the people we are so quick to villainize.
Empathy is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The easier it becomes to do the hard work of looking at another person and recognizing yourself.
They found themselves within our path
these liars, standing at the gates of Sarnath.
All the truth in them, beliefs, desires,
cloaked and battle scarred and burnt on pyres
their ashes soaked up in the aftermath.
The bloodbath ended, you stood ever higher.
Face somber, body bent, but eyes much brighter
than these fiends could see from their quagmire
buried in the flotsam of your wrath.
They built themselves a road into Sarnath
these toads disguised as friends, these fiendish liars.
But our residents are clever things and set the pyres
burning long before they sought our shores.
And you, my darling, brought them to all fours
their embers glowing in the aftermath.
Last night I went to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society here in center city. I got there way early for my 6PM meeting with the other Grave Gardeners. Our talk for the evening was entitled Forget me Not: Planting a Cemetery Garden.
I am new to gardening, but in no way am I new to cemeteries. I spent my life up until I was 21 living across the street from Magnolia Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.
I spent most of my childhood running around that cemetery. We didn’t have much of a yard at our house, so the “cem” – a word that I have only encountered in the vernacular of my neighborhood compatriots – acted like a natural extension of my childish territory. Fully half of it was empty, so we used the half not occupied by the dead to play baseball, set off fireworks on holidays, play tag, and generally run amok on.
As I got older, I went to the cem to read. I had a favorite tree that I would sit beneath and friends that I would visit when I journaled.
I was fiercely protective of the cem. When I was 16 I caught a guy peeing on a grave and chased him with a large branch that had fallen from a tree. He ran, dick flapping in the breeze, terrified of the young girl threatening to beat him with a part of the very place he was defacing.
It’s been a long time since I felt as connected to any place as I was to the neighborhood where I grew up. The cemetery and the Wawa and the streets where my childhood was spent.
Recently Frankie and I moved to a house in West Philadelphia. It’s on a quiet little street and, in the months since we moved there, it has become a home to me in a way that nowhere has been since I left Magnolia Cemetery and my childhood home behind.
A few months ago, a dear friend posted a link to the West Philly Local calling for Grave Gardeners. I got deeply excited immediately at the prospect of beautifying a graveyard. And the Woodlands is not far from where I live, so it seemed ideal.
Along with my excitement came the immediate apprehension at the prospect of confronting my legendary Black Thumb head on. I have never been able to keep plants alive. It’s a serious detriment to my image of myself as a nurturing human. I recently got a plant for my desk that I have named Oscar. Oscar has lived for several months on the edge of my desk, in view just above the edge of my computer screen. He was dying in the office of one of my colleagues because she has no windows. But I have access to all the light Oscar could possibly want in my front office.
Against the calling of my Black Thumb, I sent in my application to the Grave Gardeners and awaited their response. I was surprised and delighted when they told me that I had been accepted. Our first class was last month and concerned a history of cemeteries in the United States, the transcript of which I will make into a blog entry at a later date.
Last night’s class was our second meeting, and the last one that will be held outside of the bounds of The Woodlands itself. And the most exciting thing is that, last night, we got our grave assignments.
It is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce you to Mary Siffert Ruehmann. A resident of the 29th Ward here in Philadelphia, Mary was born to Frederick Ruehmann and Caroline Ludy on January 27th, 1846 and died on the 12th of May, 1909 at the age of 63. At this point, I do not know if she had any children. It does not seem likely since she died with her father’s name, but I am going to try to do some more research and see what I come up with.
I have not fully decided what I would like to do to pay tribute to Mary. I am going to visit her over the weekend and see what her grave calls for. Since it doesn’t look like there is any writing visible on the headstone part of her cradle grave, I will likely put roses or some sort of vine up there as a large backdrop to what I will do below.
Any advice that any of my gardening friends have would be most welcome. She is placed in such a way that her garden will receive full sunlight, so do keep that in mind.
I am very excited to begin working on this project in earnest. There will be a lot more blog entries coming as I learn more about gardening and as Mary’s plot develops over the summer. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!
Friends, with the election coming up, I have a few things to say.
First of all, a bunch of you are likely getting unfollowed on various social media outlets. This is not because I don’t like you. Far from it. It is because I like you too much to want to start not liking you based on the millionandone memes you post about this candidate or that candidate.
I am way willing to have conversations with my friends about this stuff, but engaging with it on social media is a recipe for disaster that I have zero interest in sampling. The internet, as no doubt many of you know, is simply not a place for any kind of measured discussion.
It should be noted as well that my lack of engagement online is not a result of my lack of caring about the outcome of our election. Far from it. I care so much. I care enough that I was one of the few who showed up during the mid-terms to cast my vote and try to avoid the immense cluster of rampant fucks that this entire election cycle has become.
Let me put it this way, I am going to vote the way that I am going to vote. And virtually no argument that anyone on the internet tries to makeis going to change my mind. [And no, I’m not telling you the names currently attached to my vote. Nice try. Not interested in talking about it.]
With that said, as much as I’m sure that you sincerely believe every single meme and article that you post in support of whichever human you have decided to vote for, I am already, 8 months ahead of election day, out of fucks to give about anything you have to say about your particular human.
To put it simply, I feel about the election the same way I used to feel about America’s Next Top Model. I do not want to watch every week and see the drama unfold. I do not like cliffhangers. I do not like feeling my blood pressure rise with each unfair statement and bad judgment being made.
More than anything in the world, I want to wait until the season is over, read the wiki, see who Tyra crowns, then watch the highlights while I do the dishes.
I have always hated election seasons, but this one is by far the worst that I have witnessed. And I simply cannot engage in conversations wherein people treat this entire situation like it’s a chance to make the most pointed observation about whichever candidate they have decided is the greater of two evils.
I can’t take it. My heart can’t take it.
So I hope you will forgive the absence of my voice on this subject. I don’t care to get drawn in to conversations about which candidate would make a better choice in the primary race. In conversations like those, there is no winner. There is only hurt feelings. And everyone going in knows that no one involved is going to change their minds.
The past two months have been super rough on me. It took me until about two weeks ago to admit to myself and, eventually, my circle of humans, that I have been depressed.
Depression is a weird animal. It creeps up on you like a fog. The world gets hazier and hazier until you realize you can’t see the landscape around you anymore. Everything happens through a thick mask of atmosphere and it’s hard to tell whether you’re coming or going.
When I started being unable to do basic things like laundry and couldn’t articulate my needs at all when anyone asked me about anything, that’s when I knew I was deep in the depression fog. Well, that and when I found myself crying in the bathroom when I was brushing my teeth. And all the napping. Let’s face it, there were lots of signs. But still, the realization was slow.
Crawling out has been hard. It’s still hard. The monologue going on inside my head is gross and abusive when I’m depressed. Think Hyperbole and a Half. Every time I have to do something, I wind up not doing it because I don’t have the energy. But every time I don’t do something, my inner voice gets more and more aggressively negative and hateful.
Going to therapy helps. My therapist has made this bout of depression my quickest turn around that I can remember. I’m so grateful that I’m in a place in my life where I have insurance and can afford to take the time for myself to treat my mental health with the care that it deserves.
I’m still not 100% there. I feel run down and not super excited about what’s going on. But the hateful voice in my head is a lot quieter. And I have enough energy to contemplate getting back to doing crafty things that make me happy, which will go a long way to helping me feel myself again.
As it is, opening up this blog again is a good sign and makes me feel good about where things are going. You will hear more from me in the coming weeks and months, now that the fog is lifting.
The holiday is pretty much directly upon me. This weekend I have Christmas with my family. We are going up tomorrow night.
But I don’t feel super merry. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin. Like butter spread over too much bread.”
It has been a long and tumultuous year. The world has continued to terrify me with its ability to be random and cruel while simultaneously delighting me with the warmth and full hearts and adorable cat photos that I have found within it.
Normally at this point in the season I am wearing a festive hat and bouncing around the house to Christmas music like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not doing either of those things. And what’s weird is that I don’t really care to.
I’ve talked before about the exhaustion that comes from dealing with social justice stuff all the time. The compassion fatigue that we all can feel merely from having access to the internet on a daily basis.
It wears. It takes a toll.
I’m not in a place right this second where I can talk about how to cope with that toll. I’m in it. I’m just looking forward to going home tonight, slapping on some Christmas music and faking it as if I’m going to be making it while I mix up some holiday cookies.
We cope. That’s all we can do sometimes. And I’m just learning now that it’s OK to just cope. To breathe into whatever we’re going through and to be not 100% for a while.
That’s actually a pretty good Christmas gift for me to give myself, now that I think about it.
If I haven’t made this clear before, harassment is a thing that I care pretty deeply about. I care about it because myself and other femme folks that I care deeply about face harassment on a daily basis simply for the act of being outside. Or being on the internet. Basically, we are punished on the regular for daring to enter areas where other people might have contact with us.
It’s not going to stop any time soon. I know that. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about it.
So here’s some stuff to think about when harassment comes up in conversation.
1. Don’t belittle our concerns.
I legit do not give a flying horses enchanted hooves if you have had your ass pinched by someone before and you thought it was sexy. Good for you! I’m glad the threat level of someone grabbing your ass is so minimal that you can think something like that is some kind of adorable, sexy joke. Odds are, if someone is complaining about harassment, it’s not a joke to them. It’s certainly not a joke to me. And your insistence that it’s somehow funny will result in the sound of me charging up my eye lasers.
2. Don’t act like it’s a compliment.
I don’t know how many times I have to say this before it finally sinks into the heads of the general population.
HARASSMENT IS NOT A COMPLIMENT.
Not now. Not ever. Having someone harass you when all you want to do is talk to your friends on Twitter or walk to the shops or get on a bus is not fun. It’s not something that people list as a turn on on OkCupid or FetLife. I cannot say that I have ever heard of an instance where a stranger telling a woman she’s got tits he’d like to use as basketballs resulted in a full and frank discussion of their likes and dislikes followed by an hour long hump at the local Motel 6.
3. Don’t tell us we’re being “too sensitive.”
Not for nothing, but I’m a pretty hard ass bitch, all things considered. Yes, I love puppies and bunnies and I cry at touching films, but you would be hard pressed to find a social situation that I would balk from on a given day.
That said, there have been days where I did not leave the house because I couldn’t put up with the harassment I was experiencing. I would sit in the house and wait for Frankie to get home so that I could go out with someone that presented masculine and be left alone because I was already “spoken for.”
Being exhausted and freaked out at the constant litany of harassment that one faces on a daily/weekly/whateverly basis is not a sign of sensitivity. It’s a sign of being human. If you got a sunburn every time you walked out the door, I bet you would spend more time with the shades drawn, wouldn’t you?
4. Shut the fuck up and listen when people talk.
Seriously. Just shut your mouth and listen. When people who experience systemic issues like sexism or racism or whatever the topic of the moment is, you can learn a lot by just keeping your mouth shut and listening to what they have to say. The world isn’t the neat little thing that you think it is. Your point of view is just one of TRILLIONS. Try opening your ears and you will be surprised at how enriching the things you find out will be to your life.
Huh. That’s the nicest thing that I’ve said this entire post. That was fun, wasn’t it? Honestly, though, I’m done being nice about this ever to anyone. I used to do this thing where I would try to explain why it was that this was an issue and how and all the sociological things and let people into my head to see my fear but honestly, it’s too much work. Fuck it. If you can’t take a slight re-direction in the form of me telling you not to be a shitheel when people are expressing fear and concern, you can kindly fuck off directly into the largest body of water you can find. Because fuck you.
And if you doubt for even a second that this stuff happens all the time. You can read other things that I’ve written about it. Here. And here. And also here, here and here. And that’s just the shit that warranted a blog entry.
This month has been a whirlwind with moving and everything. I’m pretty proud of myself that I managed to do the NoMo Challenge and write a blog entry every day. Admittedly, each one wasn’t a golden nugget of amazingness, particularly just before, during, and after the move, but at least I made my goal! Or will have made it once I do tomorrow’s entry.
I’m super happy with my success in the NoMo challenge this year. Next year I will do a few things differently. Here’s my advice for succeeding at writing a blog a day and feeling good about what you put out and also not burning out.
Write and schedule posts ahead of time. When you have the time and the inspiration, doing this will mean that you can take whole days off for yourself. During November, when the holidays start kicking up, this can be especially helpful.
Carve out time to write. Whether it’s 30 minutes or 2 hours, cutting out a part of your day and reserving it for writing in an atmosphere that is conducive to your process will up your chances for successfully writing things that you feel good about.
Record your ideas. Whenever you think of a topic that you think would make a good blog entry or article or what have you, make a note of it. There’s nothing better than sitting down to write and leisurely looking through a list of pre-generated topics.
Those are my notes to myself and all of you for NoMo next year. I hope they’re helpful if you want to do the challenge in 2016. Here’s hoping I remember them when the time comes to buckle down!
Going forward, I would like to take the momentum that I have gained this month and put it into writing every day. Not necessarily here in the blog, but generally. I have so many little projects that I have started and not finished. And with where I am at my job, 1000 words a day would not be hard to do while sitting at my desk.
This coming month will also feature heavily a paid writing gig. And I would like to pitch for some paid articles with larger publications in the coming month. One or two a week would make me feel as though I was doing my best in that area as a new writer.