Friday, 20 December 2013

A Consternation of No’s

A good friend once said I could see a patch of blue in a Galway sky.  If you’ve never been to the west of Ireland, then be assured the skies there are often the softest shade of gray.  That friend later took her own life and I sometimes wonder whether my ‘sunny’ disposition annoyed her or if it helped her battle the dark constantly around her.

We were very good friends, so probably both.

Later, when my son came out as trans, I joined an on-line community of trans-parents.  While my sense of humour lightened the load for some of the other parents, it really grated with others.  To be honest, I didn’t understand the deep, abiding grief some parents felt when their child disclosed to them.  Before coming out to me, my own child had struggled so long with unhappiness, I’d resigned myself to this being a lifelong condition; learning there was a fixable cause actually brought incredible joy to my life.  What did it matter, what gender child I had?  As I said then, I’d rather have a living son than a dead daughter. 

I’ve always thought my relentless happiness stemmed from being a realist, but actually studies show that depressives are more reality based than the rest of us.  It’s probably more to do with my reaction to NO being, WHY NOT?  I’m a fixer by nature.

Lately, there’s been a glut of NO in my life.  To the degree that I want to scream at the universe, How can you be so fucking negative????????  These are NOs without rationale, which makes them weigh more than an understandable NO.  I suppose the weight of NO has to do with how it changes a person having impact or empowerment in their life. 

In other words, if guacamole isn’t on the menu, I can choose something else or go to a restaurant where it’s served.  But I cannot make a theatre put on my play.  I cannot make someone return a phone call.  I cannot make an agency accept the documentation I have to hand.  Those are the big fat NOs.  The ones that leave us helpless. Which is probably why I’m a fixer.  I don’t want to feel helpless.  

When I was a little girl, I saw the mulberry tree on fire through an upstairs window.  I calmly went downstairs and told my parents.  My mother later said that because I was the quiet child (yes, it’s true), that when I spoke, people should listen.  This set me up for a struggle in adulthood because in reality, people find it easier to say NO to someone who asks nicely, than to someone who tears a rag to get their way.

Hello.  My name is Lora and I’m a person who can see blue in a Galway sky.  If you scream at me, I’m more likely to hug you than to scream back.  If you don’t hear me after diligently trying to speak to you, I walk away.  This does not mean that I don’t feel the bite of your NO.  I do. 

There’s someone like me in your life.  Maybe at work.  Maybe in your family.  Maybe next door.  Someone you rely on but someone you often say NO to.  You may wake up some day and find that person gone.  And you’ll think they were an ungrateful bitch, when the truth is, you’ve taken them for granted. 

So, other Blue Sky See-ers . . . last night, we made ourselves giddy thinking of collective nouns.  Since today’s topic is NO, I’ve decided the collective noun for NO is consternation.  That’s how these illogical NOs make me feel.  Consternated.

You and you and you, go ahead and feel consternated, but do not let these naysayers get you down.  As they say under the soft gray Galway skies, fuck those begrudgers.

Do not let them do to you what they did to my friend in Galway.  Live.  Say YES and live.

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Small Complaint

I’m not overly fussed about etiquette.  By virtue of being an American in the UK, I’m automatically rude before I open my mouth (but then, I do have an expressive face.)  I don’t take umbrage at spelling and punctuation mistakes in social media (unless it strikes me as funny, then God help you).  My phone conversations often begin without greeting and my guests are expected to raid the fridge.

However.  I’m starting to get annoyed.

I am a person who values . . . now can you guess what a writer might value?  Her thesaurus, yes.  Any other suggestions?  A room of her own.  Okay, all Ph.D. students are prohibited from answering for a moment.  You.  Yes, you, the woman in the back who slept in her clothes and has that look of impatience on her face.  (She’s probably American.)

Communication.  Exactly.

I communicate now to the purveyors of a writer’s work.  When you solicit us.  When you head hunt a writer.  When you want us to spread the word about what you’re doing, you have entered into an etiquette contract with us.

For all the editors who ask us to write something for your publication, the polite thing is to email a response when we ask for clarification or parameters, or to put forward topic suggestions.  The organisers who want your production reviewed, please say yes or no when we ask for an interview rather than pretend we didn’t.  The directors who want your play featured, please keep us in the loop when you change the rehearsal venue or time or both.  The groups who charge double digits for your competitions, announce your short list, because the losers financed that shindig. 
Life can be rough enough without breaching etiquette.  In the bigger scheme of things, of war and poverty, abuse and bigotry, this is a small complaint.  But the way we treat each other in the mundane exchanges can sometimes make or break us. 

Being a writer does not mean I’m a voice activated word generator.  If you want me to write for you, communicate with me.  The rude American thanks you.

Friday, 6 December 2013

St Nick, Suicide, Lord Mayors

Today is the Feast of St Nicholas.  In our house, St Nick fills newly polished shoes with treats and puts them up somewhere high so the Big Nose Dog can’t plunder them before we do.  My parents’ explanation for this tradition was quite jolly, fit for young children.  Recently, the Butler and I came across a slightly less festive version at Mt Grace Priory, told by historian John White in the character of Mr Meakin. 

Mr Meakin
 According to Meakin, Nikólaos was a wealthy Greek who lived during the 4th century in what is now Turkey.  Among his extended family were three sisters in poor circumstances.  The common solution for young women without a dowry was to put them to work as prostitutes.  To save his kinswomen, Nikólaos dropped coins down the chimney and into their stockings hung by the fire to dry.  An odd way to deliver the goods, but it got the desired results.

A few of John White's characters

More recently, there was a woman in Florida, Gretchen Molannens who suffered Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder and couldn’t work.  She exhausted her appeals for a denied disability claim, was refused Medicare because she’d inherited her parents’ house, and was dependent on her boyfriend to pay her bills.  Gretchen felt too embarrassed to discuss her condition with family and friends, and as a result, became isolated by their criticism of her lifestyle.

Gretchen Molannens
A Tampa Bay Times journalist, Lenora LaPeter Anton, wrote an article about Gretchen which prompted offers of free medical and legal help.  However, a few days before that article went on line, Gretchen killed herself.  Her boyfriend didn’t find Gretchen for two days and Anton didn’t hear of the suicide until after the article was published.

My last story is about a priest who, during a funeral mass, asked the congregation to pray for Cork’s former lord mayor.  A non sequitur at a funeral, you might think, but not a bizarre request unless you know that the former lord mayor was on trial for sexually assaulting a teenage girl, starting when she was thirteen. 

The article referenced above asked if we would have walked out of Mass, had we been there.  Probably most of us wouldn’t because of social constraints, respect for the primary mourners or because we were mourners ourselves.  Which is why this was such a perfect situation for doing what that priest did, the sly bastard.  

Here’s the cognitive dissonance for me:  those 4th century sisters, Gretchen, and that teenage sexual abuse victim lived in cultures that devalued them, yet individual members of those cultures were moved to help them.  So, who made up these barbaric societal rules and why are they allowed to continue?

This week in the UK, we’ve had the Autumn Report.  Essentially, fiscal mumbo jumbo which says austerity's working, even though households are worse off than they were in 2010.  Labour says this government is a group of wealthy people out of touch with the population they’re meant to serve.  One of the people they’re meant to serve who was canvassed by the media, said that there’s not going to be a revolution and we have to endure. 

I’m troubled by this statement, this bovine acceptance that we should deny medical care to a woman with a debilitating condition while the Prime Minister puts on his white tie finery and tells the rest of us that we need to be permanently austere.  Yet I feel as helpless as the man who said it. 

It’s hard to have a revolution when you’re working your ass off for austerity.  But perhaps we can have mini-revolutions in our own lives, be the person who offers Rosa Parks a seat next to us on the bus or sets a place at dinner for the trans-woman down the street rejected by her family.  It’s those mini-revolts that can give us the courage to stand up and say respectfully, ‘I don’t think so, Father.  Lord Mayor.  Prime Minister.’