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What I Have to Say

With the events of the world today, I found words were pouring out of me.  After several were published, an editor asked if I had a portfolio of my work.  Jen Screams Into the Abyss was born.  Welcome!  I welcome all comments and shares. For the various categories of pieces, please see the menu to the right. In the same location, you’ll find a place to submit your email address in case you’d like to be informed when I publish  a new piece here.  Love, Jen

“I am not an angry girl.

But it seems like I have everyone fooled.

Every time I say something they find hard to hear, they chalk it up to my anger and never to their own fear.” – Ani DiFranco

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The Morning After Roy Moore’s Defeat

I love waking up to the smell of resistance in the morning. Love trumps hate. Good defeats evil in the defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama.

I admit I did not have much hope that the voters of Alabama would reject Moore. I was wrong. They came through. They sent a message that the lives of children are more important than the Republican party’s horrific agenda. They sent a message that Steve Bannon’s hateful rhetoric is not what the majority of Americans believe.

Who stepped up to the plate?  African-American voters.  93% African-American men and 98% of African-American women stood up to stop a heinous man with horrific views on race, women, and guns are the anathema to what our nation should aspire to be.  African-American women overwhelmingly turned out at the polls for Hillary Clinton, attempting to prevent the dumpster fire now occupying the White House.  In exchange, they continue to be one of the most marginalized segments of our society.

White women, I don’t know what to say.  We need to do better.  And we need to thank, appreciate, and support the African-American community.
In honor of this amazing day, I wore a scarf that was given to me by my daughter-in-law that contains the words to one of my favorite books, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This book was given to me when I was 18 years old for my high school graduation by a beloved teacher, Mary Kay Ferguson. She wrote inside of that I should always reach for the higher calling of serving mankind. Alabama voters, especially African-American voters, reached for the higher calling.

Here in Texas, we can all learn from them. Time to turn Texas blue in 2018.

Not a Pretty Girl

One of my favorite songs is “Not a Pretty Girl” by Ani DiFranco. I quote it in the introductory post at the top of my blog and mention it frequently in my writing. Besides the powerful feminist message that the song sends, I know another factor in my love for this song is that I often don’t feel like the “pretty girl,” especially at this stage in my life.

I do not get manicures or paint my fingernails. In fact, I keep them as short as possible.

I do not get pedicures or paint my toenails except on special occasions.

I don’t wear high heels.

I’d live in Birkenstocks if I could get away with it and most of the time I do.

I rarely buy any clothing, shoes, or jewelry that isn’t secondhand.

My ears aren’t pierced.

I have no desire to ever again own a single diamond.

I carry a canvas tote bag from Barnes & Noble as a purse and love it.

Most of the time I’m proud of this aspect of my personality. I know my beloved late grandmother, who grew up during the Depression, would think my choices are sensible, even though my MeMe pulled off a glamorous persona with clothes and jewelry bought at secondhand stores.

But sometimes I see women for whom beauty seems to come so naturally and admit that I feel envious and a bit inadequate.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” But what if I’m the one making myself feel inferior?

Re-entering the dating world at 45 years old no doubt brought up these feelings. I catch myself wondering if I should do my nails, buy high heels, carry a more fashionable purse.

It’s a balancing act. I like to feel attractive and certainly want my partner to find me attractive. Putting effort into my appearance by wearing makeup or dressing a certain way makes me feel better about myself and hopefully sends a message to my partner that I do care enough to take care of my outward appearance.

But I am wise enough to stop short of changing who I am. I refuse to start suddenly getting manicures and pedicures and wearing high heels. I will not buy a $200 purse. What would it mean if I did? I would be presenting a false image of myself to impress someone. Do I want to “lure” someone into liking me based on an untrue image? I’ve tried that before, attempting to pull off the perfect Wonder Woman crossed with Barbie persona. I couldn’t keep it up for long. The real self always demands to emerge.

Changing the fundamental parts of myself-even the exterior-feels disingenuous, dishonest. I don’t want to attract a partner or anyone else under false pretenses.

At 45, this is who I am.

I have stretch marks from two pregnancies and the passage of time.

I have a body that no longer remotely resembles what I saw in the mirror at 19.

I wear makeup, but I don’t do my nails.

I wear skirts and dresses, but I don’t wear high heels.

I fix and straighten my hair daily, but I could not care less about shopping or fashion trends.

I am a Birkenstock-wearing, outspoken liberal feminist with a sensitive heart who sometimes doesn’t know when to shut up.

Most days, that is enough.

The Clichéd Thanksgiving Post

It’s so easy to lose myself in the negativity of the last year: the election, estrangement from my mother, divorce, an empty nest, and all of the other unpleasant events that have occurred in my world and the world at large.

But this year has been a remarkable one in many ways as well.

I am not a fan of the holiday season, but perhaps the fact that it’s the season to give thanks has seeped into my brain. I know it’s completely banal to write about the people and things for which you are thankful during this season, but this morning I awoke feeling very grateful for the gifts in my life, particularly those that manifested after some of the worst months of my life.

I spent over three hours on the phone with my two adult children yesterday. I have never been more proud, grateful, and appreciative to be their mother. They amaze me with their insight, humor, strength in adversity, and empathy even as they face challenges.

I have the relationship with my father that I never dreamed I would have. I have the opportunity to soak in the wisdom of his years and his experiences. He’s a loving, supportive presence in my life and someone to whom I know I can tell anything. He’s one person in my life I know will never tire of political rants. 🙂

My brother and his sweet family are a big part of my life now. They love me when I’m unlovable and are a source of joy, support, and laughter.

Acquaintances have become good friends and confidantes, the hardships of the last year enabling us to connect and sympathize in ways we had not realized.

Old friends with whom I’d lost connection have reentered my life, bringing feelings of profound gratitude. I’d forgotten the power of those connections with people to whom you bond so powerfully when you are young.

I’ve met extraordinary new people who have shared parts of their lives and stories with me. I’m grateful for them all, those who remain in my life and those who passed through it briefly.

I’m even thankful to have an ex-husband with whom I can still communicate openly about those we both care about…without drama, anger, or resentment.

The losses of this year were great, but hardship can bring growth and awareness. Change can bring unexpected gifts and joy.

For them all—the growth, awareness, gifts and joy—I am grateful.

Power Dynamics and Consent

I am becoming increasingly frustrated that I continue to have to explain to some men how power dynamics factor into consent regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. (They are related, but different, yet another fact that we neglect to teach.)

I am no expert. But I’m a mom. I’m a former teacher. I’ve sat through countless sexual harassment in the workplace trainings in my career. Most importantly though, I’m a 45-year-old woman. I’ve spent my life contending with power dynamics and consent in male-female situations. I’ve spent countless hours listening to and sharing stories with other women of what has been done to us by men who had power or men who did not have consent before engaging in sexual contact or conduct.

That may be the only expertise I have, but it’s enough to give me the right to have my voice heard as I increasingly hear men grumble and complain as the number of women sharing their stories increases.

A man recently said to me online during a discussion of sexual harassment, “Are men just never supposed to make a first move? I feel like everything I do could be called sexual harassment or misconduct if I try to kiss a woman or even hold her hand.”

This man’s statement is shows that we need to do a better job teaching two concepts: power dynamics and consent.

If a woman gives consent, but the man is in a position of power (boss, physician, acting aggressively and placing her in a position of duress), she may not be truly giving consent which is why behavior like that from men in power is unethical, immoral, and, in some cases, illegal. (Yes, the same is true for women in positions of power over men, but let’s acknowledge that most sexual assault and sexual harassment is done TO women and men BY men. That’s what I’m writing about today.)

Power can be overt (boss, physician, etc.). Power can be hidden or invisible. Louis CK may not have had direct power over those women, but because of his inherent power (fan base, agents to whom he has access, ability to help their careers, etc.), he had power over them. (They weren’t merely women who “admired” him.  I’m disappointed he used that term.)

If you’ve previously threatened a woman physically or emotionally, you’re in a position of power. There are countless articles that explain the dynamics of power far better than I could.

“Unwanted sexual contact or behavior” is the key phrase in situations where the man and woman are not in a position of power over one another, “unwanted” being the key word in the phrase. How do you know if your advance is wanted? Check your power dynamic and then…Ask. For. Consent.

Consent should be explicit (verbal) and sexual advances should never be made toward someone with whom you work or are otherwise in a position of authority over. Simple.

Check your power dynamic. Do I have direct, hidden, or invisible power over this person? Ask for verbal consent.

Again, simple, but we have obviously failed to teach and learn this as a society, at least in my generation and those previous.

Can it feel awkward to ask for consent before something as simple as a kiss? Sure, but if this 45-year-old woman can learn to do it, men can too. Have I always asked for consent before initiating contact? No, but I’ve long since learned the importance of asking for consent. We can all learn to do better, to be better.

As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”

I think men will be surprised how many women find it attractive that a man is aware enough of this issue to ask for consent, especially in the current climate.

As the saying goes, consent is sexy. We need to teach and preach power dynamics and consent to move forward, learn, and improve.

Oh, and just as an extra reminder…As a friend recently reminded me, a Saturday Night Live monologue by Tiffany Haddish recently gave more good advice. “If your thing-thing is out and she’s fully clothed, you’re wrong.”

Heart vs. Brain

In life’s transitions (divorces, births, deaths, moves), sad episodes are likely. Days occur when I think to myself in the lyrics of the Talking Heads, “My God, what have I done?”

I can stay up late at night, arguing with and accusing this disagreeable brain of mine, “This is the reality of the situation. Some of it is your own making; some of it is the hand you are dealt. So put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” My poor brain bears the barrage of injury and insult as I blame it for my current feelings of helplessness, cursing its poor judgment.

The emotional, sensitive part of my heart peeks its head out meekly, with tear stains. “But this part hurts. This might be reality or it might be a consequence, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel alone, unloved, and unworthy.”

I snap, “Shut up, Heart. The grown-ups are talking.”

Yet I know healing during these episodes won’t begin until I listen to and acknowledge the heart’s pain. But I remind myself this pain is temporary. The feelings of unworthiness? Temporary.

However, the hurt can’t and shouldn’t be ignored or buried. I will always feel disappointment and pain at times. I may repeat the harmful relationship patterns I previously followed and find myself bewildered to be in that position. If so, this repetition is likely the result of not listening to my heart’s pain, listening to what caused it, understanding what happened and what my role in it was.

I experienced major life transitions in the past year: job change, move across state away from my home of 21 years, divorce, family estrangement. I left the only way of life I’d known for most of my adulthood and made a clean break. I began the work on healing those wounds.

I have processed a lot of it through good old-fashioned therapy, talking with my support system, and having a good cry when necessary. I have done the work to figure out what went wrong (both my part in it and that of others) and what I want in life now.

But that still doesn’t stop the blue periods from hitting, those days when my self-esteem’s defenses seem weak and I like myself a little less, feel a little less worthy.

Days like these I have a choice: listen to my heart and acknowledge what is causing that pain or feed the pain into anger which usually involves turning up Ani DiFranco to an unbearable level and scaring the dog with my attempts to sing away the rage and hurt.

The Ani option sure is tempting to the heart when pain strikes, but the brain kicks in, acknowledges the heart’s pain and its temporary nature, studies the patterns I may be repeating, and chooses a course of action–call a friend, take a walk, write, sit in the sun. Then I get back to work, move forward, and continue what I must do: one foot at a time.

Screaming the lyrics to “I Am Not a Pretty Girl” or “I’m No Heroine” sure is tempting though.

(The heart and brain conversations are loosely inspired by Nick Seluk’s brilliant Heart and Brain comics at http://www.theawkwardyeti.com)

 

Still here…

I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been writing SEO web copy and blog articles for businesses, not exactly exciting content. But I’m still here, still screaming into the abyss.

Screaming about the fact that after the Vegas shooting, the White House and the rest of the Re-thug-licans refused to act AT ALL to prevent another tragedy like that because “God and GUNS!”  However, the day after the tragedy in New York, which killed fewer people (not that it should matter), they were all bellowing about acting to prevent another tragedy like this.

Screaming about the fact that after the Charlottesville tragedy, Trump stated he didn’t speak out immediately because he had to get all of the facts. In an enormously arrogant press conference, he stated that he waits for the facts, unlike politicians. He said he would never speak immediately because he waits for those facts.  Yet after the New York tragedy, allegedly perpetrated by a Muslim, he spoke immediately, began to speak of taking action immediately.

I haven’t even started screaming yet about the tax plan to benefit the wealthy or the indictments and Trump’s ridiculous reaction on Twitter and through Sanders.

Let’s keep making noise, keep screaming, keeping calling our congressmen (even if you live in Texas and it feels like they don’t care what you have to say), keep volunteering for the resistance.  Changing the mind’s of Trump supporters at be a moot point, but we can still make our voices heard.