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[LJ Idol 10: Week 9] Do I support this?

One of the most frustrating things for me to watch as our most recent major political campaigns unfolded, and something that has frustrated me before, is the continual accusation that being unable to stop a particular bad thing from happening means that the candidate somehow etiher wanted that thing to happen, or at the very least didn't care too much whether it happened or not.

I think about this, in particular, when looking at the upset a lot of people feel (and I do understand - it's upsetting) that President Obama had failed at his stated objective of closing Guantanamo Bay, but it's been relevant in other contexts as well.

In one of my previous jobs, as I've talked about here before, I was involved in setting per diem rates for foster care placements, group homes, and school-based institutions.  I also had some related responsibilities involving adoption agencies and domestic violence shelters.

In a perfect world, none of these things would need to exist. That's just the start.  The fact that anyone at all ends up using any of these services means that something has gone wrong somewhere.  So, in some ways, I was spending my entire workday wishing that my job didn't need to exist, that the programs I supported didn't need to exist - even as I was trying to help agencies develop new programs.

Now, one of the reasons that agencies were developing new programs was in response to a law that aimed to reduce the number of children with disabilities considered "severe" being placed in residential schools out of state.  And a lot of the reason behind the law was That Place.  (I will not mention That Place by name because of search engines, but if you have any involvement in any kind of disability activism, you most likely know exactly what That Place is and why this is a problem.  If you don't know, I'll sum up by saying that it is so notorious for the abuse of the youth in its care that Amnesty International has been involved in trying to shut it the hell down.)

So I was working on new program development, in part to get kids out of That Place.  But meanwhile, we still had kids from New York in residence at That Place, and That Place was still entitled to collect its per diem for those kids, and it was my department that was setting and authorizing that per diem.

Does that mean I supported sending kids to That Place?

Technically, yes, I suppose it does.  It was my department (where I was a member of the professional staff, although not one with a supervisory role) that continued to make possible the mechanism for the state and local governments to pay That Place to take kids from our state.  I could have been so adamant in my refusal to support That Place that I could have quit my job over it.

Mind you, that would not have gotten the kids out of there, me quitting.  I couldn't just drive there and take them home, and their parents may have been unwilling or even legally unable to accept their return, and part of the reason that kids were ending up at That Place is that other service providers were refusing to accept them for one reason or another.  Besides, given that I was actively working on programming meant to prevent kids getting sent to That Place in the future, it would've probably been worse in terms of kids going there if I had left.

But leaving would have meant that I could say "I never supported this and as soon as I found out it was happening I left!"

I didn't leave.  And were I to run for political office, I'm sure that could be used against me.

So could my "trying to shut down" a domestic violence shelter and a historically black family services agency.

By "trying to shut down" I mean "refusing to sign off on a fiscal viability determination because their audited financial statements express significant doubt as to their ability to continue operations."  And in both of those cases, extra meetings with the agencies in question to work out a plan that would mean we gave them conditional permission to continue operating contingent on their fixing their financial problems.  So actually not shutting down, going above and beyond in order to try to keep them functioning.

But, you know.  Sound bites, am I right?  Nuance and understanding of policy doesn't make good media.
I have multiple places where I am an online presence, sometimes under different names and for different purposes.

This one rule applies to all of them.  Perhaps it's less relevant on LiveJournal, where "sharing" or "reposting" or "reblogging" or "retweeting" isn't really a thing we do so much.  It's definitely relevant to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, though, and I spend a good bit of time in all of those places.

I do not reblog on demand.


No, not even for you.

No, not even for that cause.

"Can I just ask everyone to do me this one favor...?"

No.  No, you can't.

"I can't believe this doesn't have more notes!"

Believe it, because you're not getting one from me.

"Come on, all you [privileged in a relevant way] people who say you're on the side of [marginalized in a relevant way] people!"


"I never do this, really, but this one time it's just SO important..."

I don't care if you're literally my best friend and you literally believe this is life-saving.  NOPE.  Not even once.

See, here's the thing.  If I break this rule, ever, even once, then any time I happen to scroll by something or just not see something because guess what, I'm actually not on line all the time...?  Then I'm the bad guy who cares more about the thing I happened to see and repost than the thing I didn't happen to see, even if the opposite is actually true.

The other thing is that this is just a shitty, shitty guilt trip to put on people.  "Don't you CARE?!  Well, PROVE IT!"

No.  If you know me, you have some idea of what it is that I care about.

If you want to get to know me, this is not the way to do it.

[LJ Idol 10: Week 7] Fatherland

Come home, daughter.

The city that whispers its claim was never my home.  Or perhaps I should say, it hasn't been my home yet.

I find excuses, make excuses, to come back - if not to the city itself, to something somewhere close by.  I've been doing it for years.

Maybe it started when my husband was devoting his Saturdays to finishing a bachelor's degree, and I needed something to do with two energetic small children who would nonetheless reliably sleep in cars.  And I got tired of heading west, to where I'd been, to the city I'd loved and lost as its job market crumbled and rusted away.

There was life there, but not my life.  And like a pioneer in reverse, instead of heading west, I headed east.  The job was good, my one salary paying twice what both adults in this household had earned before the move.  The schools we found were good, too, though what we planned to do and what we ended up doing were very different.  There's a small single-family house, I can call myself a homeowner with bitter laughter because it feels like the bank owns far more of this run-down fixer-upper than I ever will.  There is a church I belong to, and a good school and a dance team for the kids, and a YMCA where I can swim and do the other exercises that feel more like physical therapy than real exercise.  My job comes with good medical insurance, and we have the full complement of professionals that can attend to our health.

And yet -

It's been ten and a half years, and I still don't feel like I've put roots down here.  For perhaps four of those years, I was looking backwards, assuming that either I'd go back to the city where I started my adult life once I could earn professional wages there, or I'd move further west still, reconnecting with my mother and my grandmother and all that side of the family.

Then the winds shifted.  I drove southeast instead of west, taking advantage of the reciprocal provision of our children's museum membership to do something different.

The kids had fun.  I had fun.  On a day we all had off, I brought my husband along, and he had fun.

We drove a little further and had plates of meatballs at IKEA.

I kept finding reasons to come back.  The museum.  The zoo.  The hockey games.

I remembered being a little girl walking through a complex of brick townhouses, the one my father grew up in, visiting Grandma Agnes, who taught me how to crochet, a skill I am now passing to my own girls.

I have the trappings of a life here, the walls of a house, the security of a job in a field that I enjoy.

But I am growing, stretching toward that sunrise, letting the city tug on the sleeve of the jersey I wear and pull me along.

Come home, my child.

I can't.  Not yet.  But someday I will.
The cliche has it that anyone who is not a liberal at age 20 has no heart, while anyone who is not a conservative at age 40 has no head.

If "liberal" is replaced with "radical" and "conservative" with "moderate" I can say, at the age of 39, that perhaps the saying is on to something.

I respect and dearly love my younger, more radical friends (for it is absolutely true that the two often go hand-in-hand) and yet I often find myself at odds with them.  So perhaps it would be worthwhile to take a few moments to explain some of the reasons why I tend towards supporting the smaller, more moderate, less sweeping changes, and to compromise, and to continuing to seek common ground and work with people who disagree with me:

1) The small change that actually happens can help more people faster than the big change that doesn't.

I first learned this lesson, and took my first real steps away from radical left politics to more moderate, compromise-oriented politics when I was 26, after one of my closest friends died unexpectedly.

Before that, I was full-tilt "GAY MARRIAGE NOW - anything else is separate-and-unequal selling out, how dare you?!"

Then, we lost Cilla, suddenly and without warning.  Cilla lived with her two daughters and with her life partner, Mary, in a northern exurb of Pittsburgh.  Mary had no legally recognized ties to Cilla at all, and thus no right to so much as make funeral arrangements until Cilla's long-estranged mother in California was found and gave consent.  This was the first time I had really witnessed the effects of lacking legal family ties, and it changed my mind immediately.  A civil union or domestic partnership would not have been as good as marriage - but it would have made Mary's nightmare a lot less nightmare-ish.

Did we need people continuing to agitate for full marriage equality, as well as for LGBTQ civil rights that had nothing to do with marriage?  HELL YES.

Does that mean that if the "compromise" measure had been available, it should not have been taken because not good enough? NO.  IT DOES NOT.

2) Refusing to support anyone who doesn't pass your ideological purity test, ever, under any circumstances, means there are real people in need who can't get help at all.

...also known as "fine, where are the Neopagan nursing homes?"

When I was in my 20s, it seemed like there was an ever-growing list of charitable causes that good progressives shouldn't support or go anywhere near.  It would start with a handful of obvious targets (Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, the usual suspects) and then extend out to "you shouldn't support any group that's worked with a group that's worked with the Bad Guys."


I can give a more specific example that is close to my heart.  Yes, there's plenty of stuff that Catholic Charities does that I disagree with (hoo boy, is there).  But when I was at SALT, I did a lot of work with Catholic Charities (and my clinical supervisor worked directly for them) because that was the agency that was actually fucking present in the local area helping people who had lost their homes to Hurricane Irene get government help.  SALT itself, in the beginning, was essentially a coalition between the disaster response part of the local Catholic Charities and several mainline-to-conservative Protestant churches with congregations in the area of the disaster, with a spike of Americorps NCCC youth thrown in.

Never mind that part of the conditions of being involved in the disaster relief included that nobody was to proselytize or try to recruit for their church or denomination, and that help was to be made equally available to all in need of any faith or none.  In the eyes of some more radical progressives, my presence there was tantamount to being pro-fundamentalist and anti-LGBT.

(And of course, conveniently, the fact that so much work was being done by "tainted" organizations excused the people who are the target of this rant from doing anything in the way of offering help themselves.  This still makes me angry when I think about it.)

3) The "Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!" scenario - when an activist solution is simple, neat, and wrong.

Fight-for-$15ers, I'm talking about you here:

Simply raising the minimum wage to $15, right away, would help a lot of young, single people.

It would be an economic disaster for many families, especially single-parent families.  I know this from a set of projections I needed to complete to submit to the governor's office as part of my job.  To make a long spreadsheet into a short paragraph:

A $15 minimum wage would cause many single-parent families that currently have subsidized child care to lose it, while not increasing take-home pay significantly enough to make families whole after that loss.  There are other government benefits (low-cost health insurance, housing and utility assistance programs, even food stamps/SNAP) that might similarly be cut without enough of an increase in take-home pay to balance the effect out.  Essentially, from the calculations we did where I work, we found that raising the minimum wage to $12 would cause this type of problem far less often, but once the wage went beyond $12/hour it would take a minimum wage of $21/hour to make up for the loss of subsidized child care and the other assistance that they would lose at the $15/hour point.

4) [for parents] Young children CANNOT give informed consent, or even assent, to radical activism, or to the effects their parents' participation in it will have on them.

Yes, I know to some people the answer to this is "don't have kids, then!"  Fine, whatever, you do you.  I have kids.  A lot of us have kids by the time we're 40.

I have activist friends who make it a goal to get arrested at protest actions.  I can't do that.  I do not believe it is ethical, through my own voluntary actions, to put my kids in a position where I might lose custody of them, or where I might lose my job and thus impair not only my standard of living (by which I mean "ability to pay my bills and do the things I do in every day life") but also theirs.  I do not believe it is ethical to put my kids in a position where my activism, or their (unconsenting becasue of inability to give informed consent) participation, damages their relationships with peers, with the parents of their peers, or with teachers and other significant adults in their lives.  And I have, more than once, had to make some difficult choices between what I would believe is right in an ideal world and what was actually physically safe for my children - and I had to choose their safety, because they were too young to consent to being put in harms' way, and to make the "idealistic" choice would have been to neglect my duties as a parent.  (Yes, I realize my considerable social privilege gave me the options I had when these situations came up.  That doesn't mean it would have been morally acceptable to me to fail to use them to get my children out of harm's way to the best extent I am able.)

I can, and do, continue to take actions that do not carry these risks.  But putting myself in physical or legal danger is no longer an option, for the sake of my kids.

5) A good deal of progressive activism is incredibly ableist, and older people are more likely to have a significant disability than younger people.

There was one person I entirely stopped speaking to over the presidential race, and he is considerably to the left of me politically.  One of the reasons I stopped speaking to him was his dismissal of people with disabilities as a "fringe special interest group."  Never mind that by the usual census definition (substantial limitation of a major life activity) something like one person in five has a disability, and that "the disabled" is the one disprivileged minority group that any person could suddenly end up in at any time.

If your activism consists of telling people that "anyone can do" any single specific activity as a way of shaming them into taking that specific action, your activism is ableist.  Because no, not everyone can.  I don't care what the activity is - there will be someone who is physically, mentally, and/or developmentally unable to do it.

6) All too often, older "radical" progressive activists can be predators, and they can AND DO put the safety of younger progressives at risk.

This is a hard warning to give, and I wish I didn't have to, but it's a thing I've seen over and over again.

Sometimes, it's the same old sexually predatory garbage that exists everywhere, but with more willingness than usual to ignore it because the perp is such a good person, is on our side and are you sure this isn't a misunderstanding, sweetie?  Sometimes this enabling of sexual predators to operate in radical-left circles takes the form of telling victims of sexual assault and domestic violence that they are [insert your term of choice for Bad, Unworthy People here] if they call the police to report the rape or to enforce the restraining order.

Sometimes, what's being asked for is labor, physical or emotional or both, unpaid or underpaid.  It's the nonprofit job that expects you to put in "volunteer" hours outside of your paid working hours, or that enforces out-of-work social gatherings via peer and supervisory pressure, or that contacts you at all hours when you're supposed to be off the clock to "just answer this one quick question", or that says you shouldn't care about the low pay because it's all for SUCH A GOOD CAUSE, or that hires unpaid interns to do all of the clerical work because that way their overhead numbers look better.

None of this is okay.  I thought that part of the progressive platform was supposed to be about fair wages, but apparently that goes out the window an awful lot when the job itself is "for a good cause."
I wasn’t much of a sports fan during or just after college.  In fact, I had cultivated the geeky bookworm's well-practiced disdain for any and all team sports, though I would watch figure skating in the winter and follow swimming and track and field events (and sometimes gymnastics) during Summer Olympics years.  The most I could muster was token enthusiasm for Syracuse college basketball and “watching the Super Bowl for the ads.”

I think that started to change when, for the first time, I brought a significant other to a family Christmas celebration. ravenshrinkery, after meeting my Grandma Josie, quickly discovered she was a Buffalo Sabres fan – and they sat down in the living room and talked hockey.  The simple fact that this young man I had brought home was willing to sit down with a little old lady and extensively talk about sports with her, and listen to what she had to say about them, led to her immediate and enthusiastic approval of our engagement.

At the time, we lived in Rochester, within slightly long walking distance or an easy bus ride of the Blue Cross Arena, home to the Sabres’ primary minor league affiliate, the AHL Rochester Americans.  And the hockey season after we got married, there was a contract dispute between the NHL and its players, leading to a season-long lockout.  This meant that a lot of good players who normally would be in the NHL were back in the AHL, and tickets were cheap and it was something fun to do.  The rivalry games with the Syracuse Crunch were particularly fun to watch – always intense and physical, sometimes erupting into fights or into memorable moments of poor sportsmanship.  (We mocked that guy who got ejected for smashing his stick against the penalty box for years after!)

Then, the lockout ended, and the next year was the year of the Scary Good Sabres.  If you lived anywhere near Buffalo in the spring of 2006, you could not entirely escape Rick Jeanneret’s “NOW DO YOU BELIEVE?!” call or the many parodies it inspired.  As we moved from Rochester to Albany, keeping up with the Sabres was one of the things that helped keep the homesickness at bay, and I think that’s when “pizza and hockey night” became a regular thing in our family.

Hockey was one of the things that just didn’t feel right in our new city.  Eventually, we went to Albany Devils games, looking for that connection, that tie to the community.  And it just – wasn’t there for us, somehow.  Meanwhile, the Rochester Americans experimented with a different NHL alliance (I think it was the Florida Panthers).  And the NHL had another lockout, which led me to start paying more attention to the AHL.

This was the year I was doing a social work internship with a disaster recovery organization.    While I was helping pull together community resources to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy approached.  We were fortunate enough that Sandy did not quite extend to the area I was working in, but I followed the related news, as you do when you work in the field.  And one of the things that caught my eye was an AHL hockey team in the Sandy-affected area – the Bridgeport Sound Tigers – announcing that their arena was functioning normally, even though some of the players had lost their housing, and they would like to offer free admission to the next two games so people in the area could have a place to go and maybe take their mind off things for a little while.

For some reason, maybe because of the internship I was doing, that gesture moved me enough that I started following the team online.  And then the Sound Tigers did two more things that made me love them more.  After the Sandy Hook shooting, they played a game where they wore the child victims’ names rather than their own on their jerseys, in tribute – and also gave the jerseys to family members of the children.  They also made a team You Can Play video to speak out against homophobia in professional sports – and followed that up by being the first professional team to host an official “You Can Play night” game.

The lockout ended midway through what would have been the regular season, which meant the Sabres were back, but they were calling for a “rebuild” and had started trading away pretty much all of the players I had come to love over the years.  I tried to keep up the family loyalty, but it just wasn’t the same.  I didn’t know much yet about the Sound Tigers’ parent club, the New York Islanders, but I started keeping track, a little bit.  Even though it felt a little like cheating, a little like disappointing my family and turning my back on my western New York roots.

The next season, sometime after the Olympics, I started more regularly following Islanders games on Ice Tracker, which is how I finally went from a very basic “skaters try to score against the other team, while the goalie tries to stop them” understanding of how hockey worked to learning positions and strategies and game mechanics.  Forward lines, defense pairings, special teams.  The differences, other than time on the clock, between minor, double-minor, and major penalties.  Small details that came together and started making sense.

And one night I went to bed after the second period of a game being played in Vancouver.  The score was 3-0 Vancouver and I didn’t see any sense in staying up for it – but then I woke up the next morning and the final score was 7-4 Islanders.  I think that may have been the game that truly cemented my loyalty to my new favorite NHL team.

ravenshrinkery followed me to them the next season, when he just couldn’t deal with the Sabres not only rebuilding but outright tanking – making their position as bad as possible to have the best chance for the first-overall draft pick in the next NHL draft.  We went to our first NHL game the last year of the Nassau Coliseum as an early Christmas present to me.  And that game is the reason that the Tampa Bay Lightning became my second-favorite team.  I watched as the team I came to see put more than 40 shots on a young and incredibly talented Russian goaltender who had just recently been called up from the AHL.  It took 42, I think, before he slipped up and let one in, followed shortly by a second, making the score 2-1.  The game ended 3-1 after an empty net goal, and Andrei Vasilevskiy was the third star.

We went back to the Coliseum twice more before it closed.  And I started making friends with a lot of hockey fans online, one of whom was awesome enough to snag me a ticket for opening night at Barclay’s the next year.  I’ve been to the new home a few times, including for the game that ended twenty-three YEARS of the Islanders not winning a playoff round.  (I WAS THERE! GAME SIX! SECTION 20 ROW 17! I WAS THERE!)

Mostly, though, when we go to live games these days we go to Connecticut to watch the Sound Tigers – I’m an Islanders fan because I’m a Sound Tigers fan, and they do such a good job at Webster Bank Arena with making it a fun experience for kids.  There’s popcorn and ice cream served in souvenir helmets, Storm the mascot is always around interacting with the crowd (I have a picture somewhere of Storm pretending to eat happinydancer’s head), and most of the time they’ll have a couple of players around to sign autographs after.  We try to get there early for warmups, and the players will sometimes throw pucks to kids who are watching.  We’ve also figured out where to sit so the girls can join the high-five line. happinydancer makes a point of also high-fiving the linesmen and referees, and one of them gave her a puck from the game.

Both my girls are pretty enthusiastic fans now, though in different ways. qween394's favorite player is Matt Martin, and after she researched his path to the NHL for a class project on favorite athletes, I watched her go from a bright kid who didn’t always focus or apply herself to her work to a serious student and dancer whose motto is now also “I will not be outworked out there.”  (Present day me kind of wants to go back and yell at 15-20 years ago me who would have sworn that athletes are, every last one of ‘em, TERRIBLE role models and kids shouldn’t look up to them, ever.  It’s hard to put into words the difference that admiration of, not just a pro athlete, but an NHL enforcer has made for my own kid.) happinydancer, on the other hand, isn’t into the fighting and other shenanigans so much, and she loves goalies.  One of the friends I’ve made online helped me out when the NHL.com store messed up and made sure that happinydancer got a Thomas Greiss jersey for Christmas.

We’ve also started going to NWHL games.  It’s a different experience – body checking is not allowed in women’s hockey, which changes the strategy a little bit – but one that is really fun to watch (especially for happinydancer, who prefers her hockey to be a little more speedy and less physical).  I’ve been to two NWHL games now, one with a group of friends and one with my family, and I am planning to go to more.  My mom hasn’t followed hockey as much since Grandma Josie’s death, but I’ve encouraged her to check out the Buffalo Beauts and she seems to like that idea.

I really wish Grandma Josie had lived to see the NWHL.  She would have cheered for the Beauts, as she does for all Buffalo sports teams.  And even though my own geographic loyalties have changed, I’m glad for the influence the “Sports Grandma” (as she was sometimes called by my dad) and the man I married had on getting me to love this sport – it’s brought a lot of fun and friendship into my life.

[LJ Idol 10: Week 3] Too Close for Comfort

Thing you may not know about me: I startle easily. Ridiculously easily.

My kids know not to pop balloons around me on purpose, and if it happens anyway, there will be an immediate, "Oh no, I am SO SORRY, Mom!" to comfort me as my heart rate decreases and stops pounding so loud in my ears.

I've worried and semi-insulted co-workers by literally jumping out of my seat when they come by to ask me a question. And I still feel kind of bad about that, but it's not like this is a thing I plan to do on purpose. I have to reassure them that no, they don't scare me, I don't think they're scary people or anything, that's just a thing I do sometimes. Instinct. Not a thing I seem to get a choice about.

I also seem to feel like cars are getting "too close" to me at points where they really aren't, and what seems like a safe following distance to me seems like too much to the other cars, so I get cut off and other fun things that make me really nervous.

And sports? Especially if they involve balls moving around near my head? Those...I'm not so good at.

I don't think I was ever great with any of this - my depth perception has always felt like a thing I can't quite trust for whatever reason. But I know what made it worse.

I was ten years old, and had only recently started wearing glasses, when I was at a picnic with my parents and some of their old friends. Someone talked me into playing volleyball. A ball went over the net, hit me in the nose pretty hard (OW!), and just missed my glasses. For some reason my mind kept wanting to give me a picture of what if it had been my glasses, what if it had broken my glasses, what if I'd ended up with pieces of my glasses somehow in my eyes and losing my sight that way.

I still can't stand it when things fly close to my face, I still don't play volleyball in any situation where I don't have to, and it seems like my tendency to be easily startled in general got worse after that. This seems so trivial but for me? It wasn't. It really wasn't.

Memories can be like that.
I have this one friend, just one, that I always have active on Messenger. We aren't always awake or available at the same time, but we always know we'll talk more about anything and everything. So with this one person, conversations don't start with "Hi, how are you?" or anything like that - the subject is jumped right into.

What does that look like? Well, have a sampling of recent conversation starters between us:

Me, with a link to a picture of a long dark green cotton dress meant for cosplay or re-enactors: But really I wish I could live in things like this all the time?


Her: Oh my God, I just saw the news about the shooting at Rocks [local to me LGBTQ bar]. I'm guessing you weren't there, but if you were fifteen years younger...? Oh my God.


Me: So, in [fic she was beta-reading for me] I really think I have to cut that scene between [characters], because [black character] sounds too much like the stereotypical Magically Wise Black Sidekick? I'm kind of mad at myself that I even wrote that.


Her, linking to picture of the Naked Warwick Rowers: I am a bad, bad woman. There was a photograph at the following link where I just shrieked "WEENIE ROAST!"




Her: That feeling when you realize you are a walking wallet to a "friend" and her family. *mumbles about MLMs and Pink Truth*


Me: So I really want to get on a plane to [location] and kick [friend's] husband in the nuts? Repeatedly? I won't, but I want to?


Her: Conversation elsewhere makes me think, "Ooh, I know who needs some blue and orange garb with tigers on it!"


Me: LOL. Husband has found obnoxious video of soccer fans chanting "WEEEE'RE FUCKING SHIT! WEEEE'RE FUCKING SHIT!" and my youngest is now running around yelling, literally, "WE'RE BLEEPING BLEEP!"


Her: If I see ONE MORE ARTICLE about standing up against tyranny, I may curse. You broke it, you bought it.


Me: Hey, my complaint [about a "do not use" sign on the accessible machine at my polling place] went semi-viral on Twitter! And might actually get fixed!


Her: Ye gods, I've just had a reminder why I don't date younger men. This one that I met up with needs mothering, not girlfriend-ing.


I love having a friend like this. :)


[LJ Idol 10: Week One] Fighter's Life

[Content Warning]
[Content warning: Domestic violence, bullying, pro sports-related violence, post-concussion syndrome that is likely to be eventually fatal, suicide mention.]

Lori's firstborn has been a fighter since he fought his way out of her body.

She knows Mike doesn't get it from her.  Maybe he gets it from his own father, who has a violent temper, who had left Lori with a network of bruises on her body, skin-deep, only hinting at the deeper damage to body and spirit beneath.

But he's not his father.  She knows that.  She's never seen him pick a fight that wasn't, in some way, about protecting someone.

In third, fourth, fifth grade, he was the big brother that defends his little brother with his fists.

And she wondered, was she wrong to leave her husband, did Mike need a father to teach him how to channel his aggression properly?

(The fists and feet turned on her with violence say otherwise.  How is that a proper channel of aggression?)

There was a new gym teacher with a suggestion.  They were in Minnesota - hockey rinks everywhere - why not put a pair of skates on Mike, channel the aggression into sports?

She didn't want to admit she couldn't afford the skates.  But somehow, the child support order got enforced - just in time - and she scraped together a set of used gear for her oldest.

She watched him get faster, stronger, more aggressive.  All of the protective instincts he used on his little brother transferred to his teammates, he became known as the one who would "stand up" for them.

He left the temper on the ice, mostly.  At least, she never heard of him mistreating girlfriends.  He'd growl at them and argue with them about all kinds of things, but most of them looked like they would give back whatever he dished out, like they might be anywhere from annoyed to outright disgusted with him but they were never afraid of him.

When he grew up and - literally - fought his way into the NHL, she tried to argue him out of sending his first paycheck to her.  It didn't work - he said it could either be to her or it could be to Tom, care of her, because Tom's still a minor.  She wanted to tell him to at least keep the first one, and if he had to, send the second one to her, because he could lose his spot in the line-up and there might not be a second one.  But what kind of unsupportive mom would she be, telling him that?

So she accepted it but she put it aside and didn't touch it until she knew Mike had his second paycheck.  That seemed like the least she could do.

She didn't always watch his games, didn't always watch his fights.  Tom did, and sometimes he'd drag her into watching with him, as he went from team to team over the years.

Tom had moved out on his own by the time Mike signed with Edmonton, and Lori actually started watching a little more often without Tom's prompting.

She saw the Fitzgerald kid, younger, smaller, looking up at Mike like he looked up to Mike, something like hero worship in his eyes.

And when the cameras were mostly on another player, she saw Mike looking back at the kid, like he was fighting with himself about whether to kiss him till he couldn't breathe or punch him in the face.

She wasn't surprised when the kiss won out.  She wanted to disapprove - Liam's too young, too sheltered, what the hell was Mike thinking?  But she knows Mike, and there would be no way she could make any argument against Liam that Mike hasn't already had with himself a thousand times over.

And it's a good thing, too, as the years go by and Mike's manner of making a living takes its toll.  There was that final hit to the head that took Mike out of the game for good.  There was Liam, trying so hard to take care of Mike, to endure as Mike fought against the idea that Liam should take care of him, that anyone should, but especially Liam, who had all his best years ahead of him.  Mike would be damned if those years got wasted on him.

It took two years for Liam to fight his way back into Mike's life, two more years for Mike to admit defeat and let Liam live at his house more days than not, though he always insisted that Liam keep up his own place, for appearances and so Liam could leave any time he got tired of playing nurse to a has-been tough guy who isn't aging gracefully.

Mike stopped fighting Liam, started realizing he wasn't going to win, especially not when Lori would throw in on Liam's side.

Instead, he fought the migraines, the tremors in his hands, the side effects of the drugs the doctors gave him to fix the side effects of the other drugs the doctors gave him.

He fought for the good days, for the times he could read and cook and play Scrabble.

He lost more of those fights than he won, eventually.  Started listening to recorded books.  Started telling Liam how to make dinner, making fun of him when he messed up, mumbling about how "kid can't cook for shit."

And then he stopped fighting with Liam about his cooking, about his living there, about - anything.  And Liam knew enough to be worried, not relieved.  Started asking Lori if he needed to retire to take care of Mike.

"Of course not, honey," she told him, because she knew the day Liam gave up hockey for Mike would be the day Mike found a way to remove himself from the equation.

And she knew that was why Liam called and asked her, instead of discussing it with Mike.

[Author's note: this takes place in the universe of Taylor Fitzpatrick's You Could Make a Life, which is a new favorite thing of mine, because there is no character more perfect for this prompt than Mike Brouwer and I couldn't get it off my mind.]

Hello hello I'm back!

I am doing LJ Idol Season 10, and so can you!


Sep. 4th, 2015


Been bad about posting.

Life is pretty good right now - ravenshrinkery and I are both settling into our new jobs, and we're adjusting to the facts that his is on the night shift and mine is salaried and non-overtime-eligible, though that hasn't been much of an issue YET.

On Tuesday, I will have a ten year old. Wow. That happened fast.

Both girls are dancing now and they like it a lot. Alex wants to be a teacher's assistant next year (which ages 11 and up can do) so she's working extra hard to prepare for it this year. I am really proud of her drive.

Idol Minor

FYI - the girls will be playing.

Alex = qween394
Tori = happinydancer

The usual rules for their accounts apply - feel free to friend them but they do not friend anyone back, all comments are screened, etc.

Alex will be writing/typing completely on her own, with minor edits/technical assistance if she requests.
Tori will, at least at first, either be typing with a lot of help from one of her parents or telling me what to type.


It's hard to get things through the brain fog lately, and work has been really taxing it in ways I'm not used to. And so has life, so has getting older.

I really want to write something for walkertxkitty's tribute but I don't know where to start yet. There's just been...too much of that.

And grief is a big blob of a mess of I don't even know...this is complex, it's too much. It's Steve's birthday and...it's been rough, rough today and honestly rough since his death. Because I still don't know how to even begin to grieve all of this. I just don't.


oh look it's a love meme

Yoo-hoo! Over HERE!

And if you want to send me love in particular, that's here.

One thing that is happy

My Grandma Josie turned 99 this weekend. And she loved the flowers we sent her!

Such an awesome lady. I love her so much. Looking forward to being able to send 100 rose bouquet next year!!


[LJI Home Game: Week 30] Ice

The hotel room was quiet. Too quiet. Unsettling. Marty barely heard himself breathing, counted in his head to make sure this wasn't some weird-ass nightmare.

Breathe in-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight, breathe out-two-three-four.

Another pattern echoed his, then faltered into a broken sigh.

Oh. Of course.

"I got this," he said into the darkness of the room, as he grabbed for the key card and the ice bucket and stumbled out into the hall. The sound of the ice machine echoed louder than whatever-it-was the guys a couple rooms down from his were laughing about.

Marty headed back to his own room, throwing his key card onto the nightstand, continuing past his bed through the suite until he reached the other bed, where the pattern of breathe in-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight, breathe out-two-three-four faltered and steadied and faltered again.

"CZ? Case? I got ice."

A barely audible whisper. "Ice." Pause. "Yeah."

Ice was for injuries, after all. Perfectly explainable to anyone who asked. Even if the injury wasn't the kind you could see, except sometimes, usually in the middle of the night, in glassy pink-rimmed blue eyes that stared out at nothing in the room, in the tremble of the hand that reached to pull a cube from the ice bucket, as though it were so cold the ice would actually warm it.

It didn't take long for CZ's hand to steady around the ice cube. It never did. It took a little longer for everything that wasn't his right arm to relax from the sitting-at-attention pose, for his eyes to refocus, for the almost-smile and mumbled "thanks, man" that always followed.


The ice would always bring him back to himself. No matter what.

He knew what
they had said about him, after...well, after - that he was too hot-headed, that he was too cold-blooded - and somehow being in the rink was the way to resolve them both.

Putting the gear on for practice each day made him feel a little bit like a knight putting on armor...then he dropped that thought,
too dangerous. Besides, the knights were the shining ones, the first line, the real attention-getters. He knew his job, knew it was more rogue than knight - play rough, play dirty, get in the way of the guys from the other team, hit and be hit. His job was to be the bad guy who protected the good guys, who kept the good guys looking good, kept their faces pretty and their plays clean for them.

On the ice, he could still be that guy. The ice was his safety. The blades of his skates cutting their patterns into the rink kept him from seeking sharpness to cut into flesh, kept him from giving up,
a life for a life...


Marty knew the story, of course, when CZ joined the team. If he had to guess, he'd say they all did, at least the guys who had come up through Canadian juniors.

It was impossible not to. Oh, it should have been impossible to know. Reports of adjudicated juvenile delinquency were never supposed to come out with a name and a face attached to the delinquent. But people talk, and rumors carry, and whispers of sentencing and the possibility of probation and maybe-the-USA-won't-let-him-cross-the-border got around. As they do.

We should bring him here, give him a chance, Marty thought. If we can. If they'll let him come.

And when it worked out, when the sentence was given and served and sealed, when everyone was sure customs wouldn't be a problem, CZ showed up, that mix of tough and terrified that the little-but-fierce sort of fourth-line types so often were. Just with that extra edge, from what he'd been through.

Marty was a fourth-line type, too - your basic big, burly enforcer. The one who knew his job was to get into fights and keep his team's real stars out of them. And in a way that made it easier. He always knew he was big. He always had to be mindful of his strength, and how he used it, and just how far he pushed. He had to stay on that side of the line, mess the other guy up without, you know, hurting him.

And he knew that it was the smaller guys who hit harder, because they didn't know their strength, because bigger is stronger until the smaller guy is an obvious future pro athlete and the bigger guy...maybe isn't.


CZ was dreaming of the courtroom again. Sitting down and shutting up and letting the lawyers work it out. Hoping the lawyers would work it out.

And even in the dream, there was another dream, the instant replay of that forever-accursed rugby game when he brought his buddy down a little too rough, and his buddy didn't get back up.

It was a freak accident, one of those things - his buddy had gotten himself a concussion a couple weeks before, had no business playing a contact sport in a few months let alone a few weeks. And really, it was up to Manny not to push himself that way, up to his parents to stop him, up to his doctor to tell him just how serious this really was.

That's what the doctors said. That's what Manny's family said, again and again, not just to him but to the hospital and the cops and the court. And the FUCKING newspapers.

Still, if CZ hadn't brought him down like that, Manny would be alive. It was an accident, but CZ was still officially the one who killed him, and he'd have to do his time. Since he was a teenage boy instead of a grown man, he was lucky - "his time" was probation and his record would be "delinquent" rather than "criminal". His life would go on, even though Manny's couldn't.

But the sentence never really ends, CZ thought as he startled awake, sitting bolt upright like he was back in that courtroom listening to that judge. And then Marty came with the ice. He didn't know what gave Marty the idea to do that, the first time they'd shared a suite on the road, but it worked, and now they always went together just in case.

As always, once he had a piece of ice to hold on to, CZ was...himself. Not the anonymous killer teenage jock.


And Marty was his teammate, his linemate. Marty had his back. And after the next game, CZ and Marty had a guys' night out planned, win or lose, where they could load up on nachos and pointedly not-talk about anything having to do with hockey - or ice.

[Author's notes: this is extremely loosely based on a real situation. Considerable liberties were taken for the sake of storytelling, and some inadvertent inaccuracies may have crept in as well. No disrespect is intended to those portrayed.]

Spontaneous Idol rec

Hey, everyone -

Go check out suesniffsglue's amazing story of the Gauntlet and the Grown Gaunt.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me love LJ Idol so much.


all silk, all colors
watch her run between the gossamer ribbons
of the gossiping schoolgirl gauntlet
and turn it around and twist it
into something new

velvet too
the velvet laughter of their iron scorn
becomes no ordinary punch
but the blow to the head
that makes someone see stars
(and new perspectives)

all lined up in my closet
scrap paper and crayons fill the space
where she imagines warm coats
comfortable shoes
a rainbow of clothes to choose from
for every occasion

now we move away to big city
she will take her one real dress
the color of the morning sky
carefully washed and imperfectly ironed
to a place where there are people more like her
and more people less like her
so it won't matter so much anymore

tell the girls they can keep those hundred dresses
does she know you were laughing at her?
does she know you are sorry now?
does it matter what she thinks of you?
it matters what you think of her now

and it matters later, should you walk by a breadline
of those people just that little bit less fortunate
than you and your family
yeah...a hundred of them...all lined up

[Author's note: Inspired by, of course, little Wanda Petronski and her Hundred Dresses - as well as the family stories that didn't make it into last week's entry.]


[LJ Idol 9: Week 28] Mother Poland

My grandparents would not let my mother learn Polish,
That stigmatized tongue of immigrants and ignorance.
So she studied French and Latin, history and science,
Worked hard, brought home the best grades in her class.
The high school valedictorian who was the dropouts’ daughter -
America, Land of Opportunity, had served her well.

And when she married, she thought ‘twas just as well
To leave behind a last name that was just so...Polish
And marked her as a Dunkirk steelworker’s daughter,
The man taunted as “Polack! Dumb Polack!” in all ignorance
By professional engineers who scorned the working-class,
And could not see my grandfather’s gift for science.

Our people, our culture, we long have cherished science -
Mikolaj Kopernik (called Copernicus), Maria Sklodowska Curie as well -
I learned the common, Westernized names in my science class,
But my mother made sure that I knew they were Polish,
Refusing to perpetuate this piece of cultural ignorance,
Refuting the lie of “dumb Polack!” for her daughter

And she was there, ready to comfort her freshman daughter
Who was upset with a biology classmate who proselytized Creation Science
And with girls in the dorm who loved their jokes about “Polack ignorance”,
Though they’d never tell a “racist” joke and banned “dumb blonde” jokes as well.
"They care that my roommate is half-black but not that I'm half-Polish!"
I cried on the phone to Matka, then dried my tears and went to class

We've come far from our roots, no longer peasants or working-class.
My mother and my grandmother are always happy to see my daughter.
My daughter is happy to learn from them a few words in Polish,
And tell them all about how much she loves school, and science,
And at the visit's end, we say "pozegnanie" - farewell -
She asks about other Polish words, and I admit my ignorance

And I remain grateful for the innocent ignorance of my daughter,
Unexposed to that arrogant class of people who are stunned that science
Can be done well by someone who is both a girl and Polish!

[LJ Idol 9: Week 27] All are punish'd

There's something I've started saying a lot lately, where a lot of political arguments are concerned:

You can punish the undeserving or you can fix the problem. You cannot do both.

Some examples:

You want to fix the problem of homeless folks with serious mental illnesses (and possibly co-existing substance abuse) on the streets, in the shelters, cycling in and out of the emergency rooms at hospitals, maybe getting arrested and going to jail? Housing First works. And here's HOW it works, usually: The homeless person is given a choice of apartments, usually scattered throughout the community but sometimes in a building with other people in the program. Existing benefits that the person is or would be entitled to - Social Security Disability, veteran's benefits, various subsidized housing programs, whatever else might be available - are used to pay the cost of the apartment directly to the landlord or management company. There are few or no requirements for the person receiving housing - perhaps consent to a weekly visit from a case manager, often the signing of an ordinary mainstream lease, and that's about it. No obligations to participate in drug screenings or treatment programs or "work activities" or anything. Just a safe and stable place to live independently, with as few conditions as possible on it and as few worries as possible about how to pay for it.

You'd rather punish the undeserving homeless, leaving them on the streets, offering "supervised shelter" settings and kicking them back onto the streets as soon as they have a minor relapse, or perhaps as soon as they come in a minute past curfew or break rule #57 that was written so confusingly that they didn't ever understand it in the first place? Of course you would. Even though it means paying more in court and jail costs, in written-off emergency room expenses, and so forth. At least they don't get a free ride, except in a police car or ambulance!

You want to fix the problem of young kids coming to school in a condition other than "ready to learn"? Then, I'm sorry, I know it's unpalatable to a lot of folks, but you're going to have to improve conditions for the adults in the families and communities that the children live in - even if you think they're a bunch of good-for-nothing bums. That means food security for the family, not just for the child. That probably means providing subsidized child care so that child's parents can work or look for a job or pursue further education for longer hours than the ones the child is at school. That probably means looking to the safety and stability of the physical housing the child is living in - a lot of older buildings still require lead removal or stabilization, changing school districts due to frequent moves is really bad for kids' educational progress, and other problems with housing (such as unremediated mold) can cause other problems with education (such as an increase in absence due to illness).

You're not on board? You want to help the kids, maybe, but punish the undeserving parents? This won't improve your educational or other social outcomes, but it will cost a lot more. Putting child protective cases through the court system is expensive, foster care is expensive, mental health interventions from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to daily doses of Abilify to try to mitigate the resulting trauma are expensive, and the overall outcomes are poor enough that these kids get to age into adults that you now likewise consider "undeserving", and if they're girls there are even odds that they'll have given birth to the next generation of this cycle before their 21st birthdays. Was it worth it, just to "prove" that you don't want to "give anything" to "bad parents"?

Even when there is clear wrongdoing such as fraud and abuse of government funds, do you want to fix the problem by closing loopholes and taking a look at providers who are engaging in egregious fraud - the almost-retired doctor who is completely out of fucks to give and thus totally OK with writing patient-unseen prescriptions for controlled substances, the "parent organization" charging exorbitant "management fees" to give immediate family members high-paying fancy-titled jobs that take an absolute minimum of work, the deliberate misappropriation of funds by executive leadership to donate to something that is not exactly a re-election campaign of a friendly politician? Yeah, I want to fix that too. So how about we stop with the punishing the "undeserving" consumer by making every application for government benefits as adversarial as possible because after all, the poor must be trying to scam us, punishing the "undeserving" line staff by turning every unaccounted-for minute into a possible case of Time Theft, or pushing the "undeserving" young students and people with disabilities via unpaid internships and below-minimum-wage sheltered workshops? The real scandal is not what's illegal, but what's legal.

When we focus on punishment, then as a taxpaying society, all are indeed punish'd. All of us pay more money for fewer solutions.

[LJ Idol 9: Week 26] The barrel

You've heard so often what's holding you back - not what, but who.

It's your family of origin, it's your neighborhood and everyone in it, it's your culture and everyone who is part of it. All so easily labeled "dysfunctional". All trying to keep you down because they don't want you to succeed, because it would make the rest of them look bad, it would show that anyone can succeed and they're just too lazy, too interested in living off of the government or whoever else feels sorry enough for them to get suckered in.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to turn your back on all of it, on all of them. Everyone from your great-grandma to your baby brother or nephew. You have a chance to succeed, you have opportunities, you can actually live the American Dream - go to college, get a good job, have a car and a house in the suburbs and what people call a life. Or maybe even more than that - real fortune and fame.

Well, sort of. Because there will always be people around you who suspect that you don't deserve it. No matter how hard you work, there will be those who assume that you aren't as good, that "quotas" got you everything you have. Any mistake, any momentary weakness will be taken as proof of your inferiority, of your unworthiness of the "chance" you've been given.

Even those who think that you are a "credit to your kind" will look upon you as strange. They might build a surface-level friendship with you that never goes deeper. They might, on the other hand, make a point of getting close to you, to prove to you and to themselves that they are good people, good enough to overlook everything that you are because of who you are "inside" - that "inside" that exists only when everything that went into your creation from the first two cells of your embryonic body until your appearance into the world is disregarded. You must simultaneously represent and disown every fellow human who looks like you, who has a name like yours, whose ancestors shared a country or even an entire continent with you. You must forget where you came from, even as you are never allowed to forget.

And if you dare - even for a moment - to protest any of this, the people who gave you your "chance" have all sorts of carefully-practiced phrases to put you back in the place they gave you. You are too outspoken and arrogant and impulsive and controversial and disappointing and a bad example and a risky prospect - and worse, of course.

Now, who is it that's trying to push you back down the sides of the barrel? Your own community, or those who "gave you a chance" to give up everything that matters to you, so that you could be a subhuman failure in their minds anyway?

Don't let them, kid. Don't apologize for pointing it out when someone treats you unjustly. Keep on letting the world know that you love who you are, what you are, where you came from. If someone wants to take you on, to give you that amazing opportunity, but cares only about what you can do and not who you are - you don't have to jump on it.

You ARE all that. You can wait till you get a chance with the people who want you, not a skill set. And when you find it, you will know, and you will shine.


I am my parents' only child. I always wished I wasn't. It probably didn't help that both of my parents are very introverted and I'm...well, not.

I used to say I had "part-time brothers" because the woman who watched me while my mother was at work was a mother of four boys and a girl, and I spent a lot of time playing with her two youngest sons - and alternated between playing with and fighting with the second-youngest, almost as if he were my actual little brother. I think. But I would always go home to my own quiet house with just me and my parents, in the end. It wasn't really the same.

Then I went on to college, and then to another college. And this second college had a thriving "Greek life" scene - by which is meant fraternities and sororities that name themselves with two or three Greek letters. Some were "national" (the group exists at many colleges throughout the United States) while others were "local" (only existing at this college).

There are those who mock such groups, as a whole, as full of people who are "paying for friends" and those who have heard of "frat parties" gone extremely wrong and assume that every Greek organization exists for the purpose of providing a place to perform drunken gang rapes and humiliating and dangerous hazing.

And of course there are always rumors, always, about specific groups and their specific traditions. One sorority on our campus, it was said, had a hazing ritual where the pledges were required to strip naked while the older members circled every "flaw" on their bodies. And that was one of the milder rumors!

When I looked at the organizations for myself, I was drawn to a local, co-ed fraternity. Gamma Chi Epsilon. And "co-ed" meant double the rumors. While going through the "formal interview" phase of the rush process, twenty years ago, I was directly asked my feelings about one of the rumors:

What would you say if I told you that to get through pledging, you would have to sleep with every member of the opposite sex in the organization?

I didn't miss a beat. I smiled at my interviewer, and responded:

That's discrimination! What about the members of the same sex!

And she laughed and laughed as she said, "Oh, I like YOU!"

I had found myself all the siblings I could possibly handle. Eighteen of us, twelve girls and six boys, came together in the Fall semester of 1994. We were given rules to follow: Contrary to the rumor I had been asked about, we were specifically not allowed to form romantic or sexual relationships with each other or with existing members. (This rule was later clarified to "new" relationships, because sometimes a newbie would join us while already dating an existing member.) It was our time to get to know each other and the members, and we had to complete "interview forms" with members that we didn't know as well.

We had study hours that were meant both to keep our academic work in good standing and to learn the history of our organization: the founding by a group of medieval literature geeks, the reputation as "fraternity of last resort", the alliance with a national fraternity, the joining of "little sisters" and the national's eventual ultimatum that either the girls had to go or the whole group had to leave, and "the split" that followed between the minority who felt the strongest ties with the national and the majority who believed the girls made the group what it was and it was time to offer them full membership.

We had a pin with our letters on it, and a red or black bandanna, and we were to wear them every day - though how we wore them was entirely up to us. I often wore mine on my favorite hat: bandanna tied around the center of the hat, pin stuck to the center of the bandanna. Sometimes I threaded the bandanna through my belt loops and wore the pin on my shirt. Sometimes I coiled the bandanna around my wrist and pinned it together. There were so many possibilities!

We also had to spend time together, "just" the 18 of us, to bond as a group over community service Saturdays and silly art projects. One of the projects was a big banner. We dipped our hands into yellow and orange paint, forming a gigantic sun in the center out of our handprints - and the sun became our unifying symbol. (We also had one HELL of a paint fight that night. One of my pledge-brothers returned to his dorm with paint still dripping off of him. His suitemates thought he had been mistreated by some kind of hazing ritual, rather than realizing that this was the aftereffect of a bunch of goofballs throwing paint at each ohter and having the absolute time of our lives!)

These are the first people I think about when I hear the phrase "chosen family" - not only my own pledge class, or my "big sister" Kate and my "little sisters" Tracy and Robyn, but the whole group - Gamma Chis who graduated before I showed up, Gamma Chis who joined long after I graduated, the lot of us alumni who are scattered from Rochester, NY (the nearest large city to Geneseo) all the way to Moscow, Russia.

Though our colors may have been red and black, we were the Hufflepuff House of the Geneseo Greek scene, long before Hogwarts Houses were a thing. What mattered to us was the desire to find family, to create family with intention. We were a "merry band of misfits" who often felt like we fit in nowhere but with each other - but twenty years later, we're doing well for ourselves. Gamma Chi alumni seem to have taken two major career directions - some of us went for the helping professions (doctors, teachers, speech therapists, and a whole lot of social workers for graduates of a school that didn't have a BSW program) or the nonprofit and NGO world (one of my Gamma brothers is heavily involved in anti-sweatshop work overseas) while most of the rest became owners of quirky small businesses, selling everything from musical instruments to wine to the best tie-dyed clothes ever.

I love all my siblings. :)
[trigger warning: suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence]

Proud swagger out of the schoolyard
Waiting for the world's applause
Rebel without a conscience
A martyr without a cause

Every time I had to explain you to someone, which seemed to happen a lot, I'd ask if they played Dungeons and Dragons.

If the answer was "yes", I'd start with, "Well, basically, Steve has a Charisma stat of about 23. You know, when the max stat for a mere mortal is supposed to be 18?"

It wasn't just the perfect clothes from your extensive and expensive wardrobe, the impeccably cut and styled blond hair, the dazzling smile, or even the charmingly cultured voice that never lost the hint of an accent from your year in Australia. It was all of that, sure, but there was just something about you that ordinary words don't seem to capture. I've tried, for a long time.

Static on your frequencies
Electrical storm in your veins
Raging at unreachable glory
Straining at invisible chains

And then there was that story you told, that made me laugh until I cried at the time, that still makes me both laugh and cry, of what happened when someone tried to use one of the usual medications of the 1990s to treat your bipolar episodes - that they got worse:

Hi Mom! you had said. The munchkins on my shoulder told me to call you! Um, they're throwing No-Doz pills at the gremlins on the floor!

Always with a big smile and a laugh that you were too far up for any known anti-manic to bring you down. Which might have been part of the whole charisma thing, too.

And now you're trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea
Can't face life on a razor's edge
Nothing's what you thought it would be

But with the ups came downs, and some of them were pretty well terrifying. I remember that summer when I was 17, unable to sleep for some unknown reason, going out onto the porch of the shared summer house and finding you there with a jug of cheap red wine, considerably below your usual alcohol standards. And you saying that maybe this was the night for suicide attempt number eight. And I looked at that jug and did some math about my body weight, and yours, and DMV-defined drinks, trying to figure out how much of it I should gulp down, how drunk I needed to get, how hung over I would be on stage the next day, so that you wouldn't drink your beautiful self to death on that bottle. Because I was 17, and scared, and being with you and getting drunk but not drinking-ourselves-to-death seemed more helpful than anything else I could offer.

All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars

I remember riding around in that little maroon hatchback you called Esmerelda, not just around Geneseo but down to Letchworth and up to Rochester to watch the drag shows at Club Marcella. You were always up for an adventure, it seemed, always ready to go.

And there were all sorts of trips I wasn't part of but heard about, usually the ones that you took yourself - an overnight run to Ohio to buy some real Everclear for you to soak "forbidden fruit" in, a quick stop at a certain infamous rest stop on the interstate where I learned more than I wanted to know about not only your sex life but also the sex life of one of our professors...yikes. And the drives to the airport, to visit a friend in London on Thanksgiving break, to drag your lover with you to the Dominican Republic for spring break, and scare the hell out of him when you got into some sort of scuffle with the authorities and weren't sure when you'd be back.

(turn around, turn around turn around)
Turn around and walk the razor's edge...
Don't turn your back and slam the door on me

That was the real hell of it, wasn't it?

I loved you, I hated you, I was - that one night - literally angry enough with you to kill you if your recklessness didn't do the job first.

We were on a "double date" - you and your lover, me and a friend-of-a-friend who showed up in full evening-gown drag. And you hit it off swimmingly with the lady, and I don't know what drugs you were on or what you thought you were doing driving away from that party. I do know that I held your sobbing lover in my arms as he told me that he was the worst person in the world and deserved to die, that you were going to kill yourself either deliberately or by wrecking that car while you were drunk or high and that it was all his fault, all his fault for not being completely and entirely 100% the person that you wanted him to be.

That was my dearest friend, the one person I loved more than anyone or anything in the world, that thought he deserved death because of how you treated him. I was the one who introduced the two of you, who left you in the kitchen at the summer house one night with a loud "WOULD YOU TWO RIDICULOUS BOYS JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER ALREADY?" after each of you had let me know in more detail than I perhaps needed to know just how desirable you found the other.

And I held him while he cried his fear of losing you and his self-hatred that you put there. And then you came waltzing back in like nothing was wrong. And I was relieved that you weren't dead. And at the same time, I could have killed you myself - strangled you, torn you limb from limb - I was so furious with what you had done to him. And to you, it was only jealousy, only that you were sure - as you had always been - that I wanted him for myself.

It's not as if this barricade
Blocks the only road
It's not as if you're all alone
In wanting to explode

Besides, what the HELL, dude? You were Tina's friend, too. I saw the "WHY?!?!" e-mail you wrote after we lost her, the e-mail she would never be able to read. I heard you ramble on and on, scared out of your normal charming wits, absolutely certain that you had seen her ghost, that the spirit had angrily confronted you.

You were no different from the rest of us in that circle. We'd all stared Death down, wondering if it was preferable to living either with the closet or with the stigma of being openly queer. We all knew what it was like. Finding each other, I had thought, would help bring us all through.

Someone set a bad example
Made surrender seem all right
The act of a noble warrior
Who lost the will to fight

But you were different. You were the only one of us who took it out on someone else. You were the only one who had a gun. You were the one who waved the gun in your lover's face, just to let him know that you had almost tried to kill yourself, again, with it. You were the one that was the subject of police reports and 911 calls.

That was why I didn't talk to you for so long. I cried for you, I missed you terribly - but I could not condone any of this. I could not afford to involve myself. I could try to keep your lover safe from you, as much as he'd have it, give him a safe place to go when you were too unsafe to be around. Which was much more often than it should have been. So much more that when graduation came, it was me he moved in with - not you.

And now you're trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea
Done with life on a razor's edge
Nothing's what you thought it would be...

I thought long and hard about it, ten years later, before I pressed that "Friend" button of Facebook. It seemed that you had changed, for the better. The additional weight your frame held spoke to the possibility that perhaps one of the newer medications had worked for you after all, and your profile and other friends talked of Ivy League schools and medical research. You'd gotten things together after all, and I wanted to get to know the person you had become.

And I'm so glad I did. I'm glad I have those newer memories of better days, of hearing about your research, of planning to meet up some weekend in your new college town and introducing you to the kids. I was so happy that time had done its work and that it could let us find each other again, let there be peace and love and joy again.

All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars

And we drifted apart again, as old college friends so often do, with the odd Happy Birthday wish or liked photograph. I thought all was well. I hoped all was well. I hadn't heard anything otherwise.

Except two years or so ago, for some reason I ended up sticking your name in Google, and well...someone with the same first and last name, who was the same age and living where your parents live, was in trouble with the law for assaulting a police officer while apparently high on the latest designer drug fad.

No hero in your tragedy
No daring in your escape
No salute for your surrender
Nothing noble in your fate
Christ, what have you done???

And then Facebook again, Thursday night, with this as a status update:

"If you are reading this now it is because I am no longer in this world with you. I asked my mother to post this and I wanted everyone to know that your friendship was important to me. Goodbye to all of you."

And some of us, your friends from high school and from all of your different colleges and activities, thought that maybe your account was hacked. Some of us thought this was your idea of a social experiment. Some of us thought maybe there was still time for EMS to check on you if they were only sent to the right place.

All of us had to accept this was real. No matter how much we don't want to.

Damn it, Steve. I suppose it was inevitable. I'm glad that I'm better able to cope with such things at almost-37 than I was at 17 and that I don't feel like it's my fault. But I'm still there with your ex-lover, listening as he remembers the 911 calls, giving him what comfort I can because he is so very certain I am the only one who understands all of why this hurts.

I wish you could have saved yourself.

Credit for lyrics: Rush, "The Pass"
I used to be able to snark it up with the best of them - that is, if I wasn't one of "the best of them" myself. My parents had impressed upon me, quite firmly, the importance of "proper" English spelling, grammar, and usage.

When I was a very little girl, small enough that my printed "n" uncomfortably resembled an "h", my mother used to take out a red pen and mark the errors she found in the school district's monthly newsletter, then hand it to me and explain why the errors were incorrect. I learned that improper writing was to be scorned, and that it was a near-unforgivable sin if the "bad writer" was also an educator. I can't remember, now, if my mother actually sent one particularly red-marked newsletter back to the district superintendent's office, or if she merely threatened to. What I can remember is her anger, her scorn, and her hope that I would internalize her high standards.

I also remember one incident that led up to her decision to homeschool me. While I do not remember what it was that I wrote for a second-grade assignment, I do remember my mother's fury when my single compound-complex sentence was split into two sentences, and one of them was started with "And" - for such things were Simply Not Done! That is, they were not done in formal writing. The conventions of dialogue, dialect, and perhaps poetry were sufficiently different that some relaxing of the rules could be permitted.

There was nothing, however, that upset my mother more than seeing "it's" written where "its" should be. Yet, as I am sure all who read this are aware, this error is everywhere. It's for this reason that I hope she does not try to text form her phone, for its tendency to autocorrect "its" into "it's" regardless of what was meant would surely become a source of pure frustration.

I used to be like my mother in this regard. While there was no actual red pen involved, I would think poorly of people whose use of written English did not conform to the standards I had learned. Strangely, it was graduate-level study of linguistics that led my first steps away from the path of the Grammar Snob.

You see, "Ebonics" had been a source of many a satirical news item around the time I took a sociolinguistics class - so, naturally, it was something we discussed in the class. This is how I learned that African-American Vernacular English is not "bad English" filled with seemingly random errors, but a distinct dialect with rules that have their own internal consistency. Or perhaps more correctly, a creole with its own continuum, like the example from Jamaica given in our textbook - beginning with the standard English sentence "I gave him one" and ending ten "steps" later with "Mi di gi he wan."

Another oversimplification, of course, as all rules of this sort are. But it was one that gave me a new way to begin to see and understand the world and the people in it.

I understood still more when working for a supervisor who is legally blind and uses a screen reader. Sometimes he wrote the "wrong" homophone, because he would hear it read back to him and it would seem OK. One of my occasional tasks was to make sure to change their back into there, or two into too, when it was needed. This stuck with me when I took a class on curriculum design and my classmates were discussing grammatical errors. While once I would have wielded the virtual red pen with the "best" of them, I had learned differently, and I was there to defend substance over style.


My daughter Tori's idea of a joke, age 1 and a half:

*picks up chair cushion and puts it on her head*
Tori: "HAT!"
Me: "No, Tori, that's not a hat."
Tori: "I SAID HAT! HAT!"

Tori's idea of a joke, age 2:

*loud giggle*
*another loud giggle*

Tori's idea of a joke, age 2 and a half:

*loud giggles*
"I'm being funny! I'm being noisy! I'm being giggles!"

Tori's idea of a joke, age 3:

"POOP!" *giggle giggle*
[Because of course poop is the funniest thing possible to a 3-year-old?]

Tori's idea of a joke, age 3 and a half:

*lots of loud giggles that only intensify if anyone tries to say this isn't funny*

Tori's idea of a joke, age 4:

"Beer of root! Can I have some beer of root please?"

Tori's idea of a joke, age 4 and a half:

Knock knock!
Who's there?
Victoria who?
Victoria - me!

Tori's idea of a joke, age 5:

Knock knock!
Who's there?
Banana who?
Knock knock!
Who's there?
Banana who?
Knock knock!
Who's there?
Orange who?
Knock knock!
Um...who's there?
Orange who?
Knock knock!
Strawberry who?
Strawberry aren't you glad I didn't say orange or banana!

Now, at five and a half, Tori informs me that she is "the principal of Silly School!" Because she's "sillier than anyone...even Daddy...EVEN GRANDPA!"

And she can actually tell the knock-knock-banana joke the way most of us know it. And read some of the jokes on the Laffy Taffy wrappers and Popsicle sticks, even if she doesn't always understand them. I'm glad she likes to be silly without being mean about it. To quote her favorite book, The Cat in the Hat: "It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how!"

She knows how.
[Consider this trigger-warned for basically All The Things.]

There's this idea that people get every now and then - it happened recently on a forum I'm part of, but that's just the latest. Like everyone who gets this particular idea, the poster is absolutely convinced that this is a Brilliant Idea That Will Solve Major Social Problems and (at least originally) absolutely unconvinced that there is any possible downside to the idea.

The idea? Yet another variant on, "Hey, we should make people get licenses to parent!" This particular form was a "screening test" meant to detect "people who would abuse children" that would be given to anyone before they worked with children at all, and to anyone involved in a pregnancy. A parent-to-be who "failed" the screening would lose custody immediately upon birth; if one parent failed and the other passed, the parent who passed would have to immediately sever all contact with the parent who failed, or the child would go into care with "supervised visitation only" with the parent who passed. There was also a lot of cheerleading for temporary and permanent sterilization methods, with the idea that if there weren't "so many lies" about these things, more people would want them.

I understand that the person who proposed this meant well. I understand that they were a survivor of child abuse, including but not limited to incest, and did not want to see other children abused. I understand that they really, truly, genuinely believed that such a test could be created, that it could accurately (to within 90% or so) discern people who would abuse their children from people who would not in an unbiased, scientific way, and that those who "failed" the test could get "treatment" and re-take the test at any time. AND that removing a child from the biological parents right at birth would not cause any trauma whatsoever (not the case, by the way) and that there would be plenty of test-passing prospective parents available just waiting for all the babies to come to them.

Needless to say, I think this is a terrible idea. Why? Well, consider these reasons:

First, contrary to what a lot of people consider "common sense", babies and young children who can't "remember" in the ordinary sense of the term (that is, recall something that happened and describe it in words) can still show serious signs of traumatic stress if something traumatic happened to them - and those signs can continue or can resurface later without the young person, the adoptive family, or anyone else really understanding what is going wrong. If there has been actual maltreatment, then there are two traumas involved - the removal itself, and whatever led up to it.

Next, society has tried this before, in various incarnations. The forced adoptions in Australia, including the Aboriginal Stolen Generations. The United States trying to "Kill the Indian to save the Man. And the many cases of involuntary sterilizations of women of color and people with disabilities, including people who were only perceived as mentally disabled (but in all likelihood were not).

More recently, a group using the acronym CRACK (Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity) started a "pay addicts to be sterilized deal. Some women have reported feeling pressured to have abortions if prenatal testing shows the baby has or might have a disability, while larger women may be told that they are "too fat to have a baby", pressured to have abortions or to combine a c-section with a tubal ligation.

This doesn't stop abuse. It further targets society's scapegoats. Much as this (long!) study of the child protective system in Michigan describes, there is a problem with "racial disproportionality" in the child welfare system, at every stage. Families of color are more likely to have a CPS call made about them, are more likely if the call is made to have the report indicated, are more likely if the report is indicated to have their children placed in foster care rather than offered in-home services, and are less likely to have a successful reunification. A 19-year-old mother's understandable upset at a combined police-CPS "raid" where she was screamed at to "get on the ground!" while her baby was taken was considered a sign that she was mentally unstable and needed psychological evaluation and treatment before she could be allowed to see her baby again. Caseworkers would describe a white woman who said she had never used drugs as "no history of substance abuse" while describing a black woman who said this as "denies history of substance abuse." Et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. (If this isn't infuriating, it should be.)

Which reminds me, my family would be considered at high risk for child abuse if we lived in Colorado. Why? Because my husband was abused as a child, was involved in the child protective system, and had a malicious jackass file a false CPS report accusing him of creating porn out of our daughter. Oh, and both of us are crazy-on-paper, because apparently treated mental illness is worse than untreated mental illness, as usual in the bureaucracy.

Which is another problem. Even if we could have a totally unbiased test (we can't), I have seen nothing to show that it could predict with the level of confidence that would be needed. Most risk assessment tools I've used break into low, medium, and high risk categories. Low-risk might mean 10% risk, medium-risk might mean 40% risk, and high-risk might mean 70% risk. Not good enough. Besides, this is generally based on risk of recurrence, when something has already happened, like a person committing a crime, and what's being judged is the risk of it happening again. Somehow I don't think that "figure out who will keep doing bad things after they've already done them" is what the person who wanted a "child abuse screening test" had in mind.

So, to sum up: This won't work. And if the conditions that might make it work - a true removal of racial and other biases in the social welfare system, sufficient resources that parents don't get charged for neglect because they made socially unaccepted child care arrangements, enough prospective foster/adoptive parents able to care for the children who would be removed at birth, a society that is genuinely interested in prioritizing the well-being of children, and enough ability to validly predict who would become abusive that this test could be given - existed, there would be so much less child abuse that the test would become unnecessary.


[LJ Idol 9: Week 22] Access matters

Some images just stay with you.

One of those images, for me, came from my first social work internship. Specifically, from a disability rights conference I attended as part of that internship.

One of the people who worked at a Center for Independent Living near the one I was interning at had brought a picture with him. The picture was of a rectangular wooden dining room table, with two of its legs removed and the other two partially sawed-off. This was, apparently, what a wheelchair-using man had for a "ramp" to get into and out of his house until the Center for Independent Living was able to connect him with a source for funding and building of an actual, safe ramp.

I was, at the time, working with a consumer entirely over the phone because he could not leave his house except when transported by stretcher in an ambulette - for about the same reason. His wheelchair couldn't leave the house, so neither could he. When he finally had a positive decision (after repeated denials) on his Social Security Disability claim, the first thing his back payment went to was getting a ramp installed so that he could leave his house. Then I finally got to meet him in person, and I felt like we ought to be having a party. But he said that it was like a party just to be able to roll down the sidewalk a quarter mile, get a coffee at Dunkin Donuts, and be outside when he wanted to be.

Of course, wheelchairs and ramps and blue-colored accessible parking spaces are what a lot of people think of when they think of "accessibility" - as if it begins and ends there and is only for people who use wheelchairs. It's only the beginning, though.

One of the movements within my church denomination (the United Church of Christ) is A2A, which is short for "Accessible to All" regardless of disability - it is seen by some as a complement to "ONA" (Open and Affirming, the official shorthand for "we welcome transgender and non-heterosexual people"). So I think a lot about what being Accessible to All really would mean, and what it would take to truly get there. Sure, our building has a ramp and wide enough doorways and wheelchair-accessible toilets. It's also a considerable distance from any public transportation stop, which from the perspective of "accessibility" is a much bigger problem, as there are any number of disabling conditions that make driving one's own vehicle impossible or inadvisable. Being able to get into the building is great! But being able to get to the building is an important prerequisite.

Likewise, I'm not sure what (if anything) we have set up for people who may have difficulties with seeing or hearing. We have a projector that shows the lyrics to the songs being sung, but sometimes people's idea of "pretty" design for that ends up making the words difficult for anyone to read - and that's not even getting to the possibility of designs that wouldn't work for someone who is colorblind.

It's complicated, and it's an ideal, and I'd even say that it's an impossible ideal to be truly accessible to all because there will always be situations of conflicting access needs: the service dog user vs. the person with a severe allergy to dogs, the convicted sex offender who has done his time and is trying to reintegrate into the community vs. the survivor of sexual abuse whose damaged mental health could not handle being in a place where such a person was present, the person whose auditory processing difficulties make it really hard to be in the same space with the person whose tic disorder sometimes causes loud involuntary vocalizations.

Still, it's an ideal worth pursuing. And "we can't please everyone" is no justification for either just not bothering or putting together something that sort-of works so it looks like you're doing something - like pulling two legs off of a table to call it a ramp.

[LJ Idol 9: Week 21] Musical Prejudice

It was a standard getting-to-know-you question when I was in my teens and twenties. It probably still is:

“So...what music do you like?”

And it probably has pretty much the same answer, if you are trying to impress your conversation partner as reasonably open-minded but still possessing some standards:

“Oh, you know, a little bit of everything. Well, except [pick at least one of: heavy metal, rap, and/or country].”

Because, after all, you don’t want to come across as dangerous, or as unintelligent and backward. And each of those three genres have particular prejudices against them, in that regard.

There are the stereotypes - oh, so many stereotypes! - about heavy metal. And well, I was a teenage metalhead, though most of my favorites were more on the pop-metal end of the spectrum, so I probably know these the best from having been on the receiving end.

Because we were all stupid, stoned, suicidal Satanists, don't ya know? It was the rock 'n roll part of the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. Rock concerts were supposed to be the scariest places ever, and the albums were supposed to have "subliminal messages" that would be revealed if you just played the record backwards, which weren't so much of a thing until some of the bands got sick of this nonsense and started adding backwards messages just for the hell of it. (But wait, if the message is backwards, wouldn't a "kill yourself" backward message mean NOT to? Or is that too logical?)

Oh yeah, about that. Parents were severely upset by Ozzy Osbourne having released a song called "Suicide Solution." Because of course this is one song by one artist, but it proves everything...except the song isn't about what the angry parents assumed it was about, but is instead about Ozzy telling one of his buddies, "Dude, you're slowly killing yourself with your addiction to alcohol!" Observe:

Wine is fine, but whiskey's quicker
Suicide is slow with liqueur
Take a bottle, drown your sorrows
Then it floods away tomorrows
Away tomorrows

Likewise, consider rap. Although I wasn't "into" rap as a teenager, myself, and didn't know a whole lot about it, I knew enough to know that the outraged-rural-white-parent demographic was wrong about "911 Is a Joke." Although the content might have been far outside the experiences of those of us who were rural enough that we were only starting to get 911 emergency service at all in the 1990s, I was mindful enough of current events to listen to what was actually being said when I caught the video for Public Enemy's song on the late-night music video show on broadcast channel 33, or was it 68...? Anyway, I understood that there were some parts of some cities that were considered so "bad" that emergency services would try to avoid going there, out of a combination of fear, prejudice, and sometimes just plain indifference. And that simply moving out of those places might not be an option - especially if you aren't even legally an adult. (After all, would I have been living in the ass-middle of nowhere, myself, if I had any say in where my parents bought a house and made their careers? NO, I most emphatically would NOT have.) And while I didn't understand as much as I do now about structural racism and such, I had put together "malls caused the crack cocaine problem" before I knew the term "suburban sprawl" (which is what I was trying to say).

So these lyrics? Not about someone thinking that emergency services are useless in general but about someone believing - with some supporting evidence - that those services won't be there for him and those he cares about in time of need:

Now I dialed 911 a long time ago
Don't you see how late they're reacting
They only come and they come when they wanna
So get the morgue truck and embalm the goner
They don't care cause they stay paid anyway
They treat you like an ace they can't be betrayed
A no-use number with no-use people
If your life is on the line then you're dead today
Latecomers with the late coming stretcher
That's a body bag in disguise y'all, I'll betcha
I call 'em body snatchers cause they come to fetch ya
With an autopsy ambulance just to dissect ya

The stereotypes around country music seem the most innocuous at first. It’s old-people music, the music that uncool parents listen to (even if your uncool parents listen to something else). It’s about the life that you are trying to get away from, if you are a teenager in a small town who wants to be anywhere but here, please…

But at least some of the prejudice is something different. It’s the prejudice that assumes the stronger the Southern accent, the lower the IQ. Oh, and that all the women are abused and “too stupid” to leave, and all the men are beating up gay folks and black folks when they aren’t beating up their wives. The prejudice that thinks the best way to fight back against homophobia is to contrast “fabulous” well-to-do gay men with fat working-class heterosexual women (sometimes men, but especially women), and to hold the latter up as subjects of ridicule – I saw a lot of this in the calls to boycott Chick-Fill-A.

Because, of course, it's not like there aren't lesbian country singers - k.d. Lang, anyone?

She was a big boned gal
From southern Alberta
You just couldn't call her small
And you can bet every Saturday night
She'd be heading for the legion hall

Put her blue dress on
And she'd curl her hair
Oh she's been waiting all week
And with a bounce in her step
And a wiggle in her walk
She'd be swinging down the street

Sounds good to me.

[LJ Idol 9: Week 20] Brooke, flowing

This is an intersection week. I am partnered with lawchicky - her entry for "Shibusa" is here, and is probably best read first. This is my take on "Rapture of the Deep"

Brooke didn’t like to think in words because they just seemed like so much trouble!
They were lines and circles and parts of circles to draw letters that then had to “draw” words that were made up of waves when they were spoken.
Sometimes she thought she saw the waves when the grown-ups talked around her, about her.
Soft and warm when she did something right and a cold angry drowning spray when she was wrong.
Sometimes she thought she felt the waves cool and sparkling like the word that was her name.
Like the water. But “Brooke” - it moved so fast - why couldn’t it be “ocean” she wondered.

Oh-see-ahn. Which of course they say is not how to say it, but it was how she felt it.
But if she didn’t say it their way, cut see-ahn into “shun”, then they would shun her.
She wanted it, so she’d say it their way even though it hurt like cutting off a piece of something that mattered.
The water and the salt, they belonged with her, familiar as her own tears that came as easy from delight as frustration.
So they said, the grown-ups, as they sprayed out disapproval for her not telling them how she felt, for confusing them with her crying.
And the waves would wash over gentle and warm when her face did something to show what they wanted to see.
Even if she didn’t know what it was she was doing – right or wrong.

She wanted to think in water, think in temperature and texture and sensation, in the rainbows shimmering within drops.
She wanted the water, to be in the water, to be part of it.
When she was much smaller, and understood less, she somehow turned it all from liquid into invisible vapor and fear-ice for the grown-ups.
And they took it away from her, for a long time.
No swimming, no soaks in the tub, just fast showers running past her with someone always always watching.
Stern looks and “consequences” for so much as stepping in a puddle or catching a raindrop on her tongue.
“Oh-see-ahn” she said to herself, knowing it would be Worse if she said it out loud.

And one day there was a new grown-up to teach her, one that seemed to know what she needed.
And slowly, gently, carefully, this one let water surround her.
And she felt like she was herself, the water that was part of her name.

She had to work to understand the words, but at least she didn’t have to say them back.
When you’re in the water, after all, you need to breathe more than you need to talk.
And the time in the water helped, for the time out of the water when she needed to say what grown-ups needed to hear.
Because when she did it right, they let her come back, and they stopped holding on and stopped making her hold on.
Finally. FINALLY.

And she realized she could pass their tests. The deep-end test. The diving-board test.
And then at last, years later, the SCUBA test.
And the grown-ups were okay with her love for the water, now, and tried to put it to use to learn other things.
Words and numbers, which sometimes came easier when she could fill them with water in her mind.
And science, which she liked. And history, which she didn’t. HIS-story. Hissssssssstory.
Like the snake in the garden, a man tempting a woman to do what he said instead of what some other man said.
Like the grown-ups who were forever commanding her not only what to DO, but what to THINK about what she did.

But they took her diving, to ancient ruins, to where the hissing past and the fascinating future met and clashed and clanged.
And in the quiet clamor of taking it all in, she started to understand what it meant, what the past can mean.
This was somebody’s home, long ago.
And these, the smooth clay of bowls once eaten from like she ate morning oatmeal from Fiestaware.
And this, over here…? This was a bone of someone who met his end in a watery grave.

This, then, was the vapor and the fear-ice they had drawn out of her, once, when she was small and knew nothing of fear.
This was why, in the midst of her love, the grown-ups tried to teach her their fear.
Why all the lectures on breathing sprayed cold and frightened at her and then tried to pull her close.
The water had captured the skeleton-that-was-once-a-man, drowning him. That was HIS-story.
And once, when she was almost too small to remember, it had been HER story.

But she had broken the grown-up rules that existed from the ancient world into some far-flung future.
She had met her adversary unafraid and called to it as a much-loved friend.
She was Brooke, flowing water, flowing with the water.
She did not have to fear, and they did not have to fear for her.




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