Losing My $#!+
One of my operative rules for myself when writing is to be profoundly honest even if, no, especially if it is difficult. Well, this one is going to be painful but here goes. After my last post a few of you commended me for my calmness and positive attitude as we endured the rental RV from hell. HA! I got a kick out of that and Paul laughed his shorts off because we both know just how apt I am to occasionally lose my $H!+. You should have seen me just the other day when I discovered that, in the midst of this summer’s boat work and dusty disarray, all of my original artwork for this blog (that I dare dream of using in a book) was damaged beyond repair. If you were in the work yard you may have heard ululations pouring out of my cabin window that sounded something like a mournful and angry “WHYYYYYYYYY?”, punctuated with words strong enough to make the most boorish sailor blush. Some of you local readers may have even encountered me later that evening when I got stupid-in-public drunk and was stumbling around erratically along the cobblestones of the neighborhood looking for my lost macramé earring. (I did find it!)
Now I know some of you are thinking, well, anyone would be justified at being upset over such a loss. But, trust me, my reaction was over-blown. I felt like I was about to have a break down. I walked out wondering how all the other people working on boats in the yard seem so peacefully at ease amid the chaos. Clearly there was some larger and deeper upset rolling around inside me. I had negative tunnel vision that day from all the toxic dust, disarray, and damaged things, but I was also stewing over something more insidious . . . sexism within my relationship. I’m actually OK with our somewhat old-fashioned divisions of labor on Triplefin. We mix things up a lot but Paul does do most of the big mechanical and repair work and I do tend to most of the day-to-day maintenance, including good old shopping, cooking and cleaning. Could it be that I was simply holding a grudge because the more domestic, day-to-day work tends to be underappreciated? Nah. I could feel it. This was a deep pile of my own $#!+ that I needed to rake out into the light of day in order to let go of. But what was it?! I had a suspicion that something a friend told me about my husband in his bachelor years had something to do with it. I got the dirt on him just before heading to Mexico and, like the inescapable dust of the boat yard, I just couldn’t brush it off.
Like any disillusion-prompted breakthrough I needed some time not thinking in order to just be in the still wild. My early morning desert hikes often intersect with packs of javelina, or collard peccaries (Dicotyles tajacu). They’re definitely not old world pigs who are just as distantly related to javelina as hippos. They simply evolved separately in the new world but in a parallel way to European pigs to fill similar niches in their respective environments. I usually get a whiff of their social-bonding musk before I see them along the trail. Then, typically, the most robust of them, the oldest female matriarch, past her reproductive years, will stand guard between me and her squadron (actual sciency name for a band of javvies) who often include some still-nursing, vulnerable, knock-you-down-cute twins. There’s a popular myth out there about javelinas being easily confused, irrational, andacting hysterically. This is because we misunderstand and misjudge their approach behavior when we encounter them. The protector, the matriarch, will often move towards you in a non-linear way instead of bolting directly away from you. This is because of both their reliance on their highly evolved sense of smell over vision and the fact that their menopause has crowned them with the role of group protector. She’s just trying to sniff-assess us clueless humans as a threat while keeping us, the potential threat, away from her relatives. Of course, with their namesake, javelin-like tusks that they clack as a warning, these grandmas can be down right intimidating. Maybe that insecurity of ours couples with our human-centeredness and leads to our labeling them as irrational, who knows.
(And check out this javelina video! Notice half way through the protector matriarch brings up the rear and engages in face/butt musk rubbing for social bonding. "I got your back, sister!"
Now, back to my particular self-centeredness. Get this. At the same time I got the dirt on my hubby my trail crossed a friendly neighbor, a real sweetheart of a guy. A beautiful, gentle, and woke soul. He informed me to stay alert with our dog because he’d been seeing javelina around the area lately. He told me about how the big old males will sometimes charge to protect the moms and babies. I interjected that actually, their societies are matriarchal, and that it’s actually the old females who lead and protect. OK, to be fair, maybe he just didn’t hear me, but he actually repeated to me to take care and watch out because those big tough males seem fearless! After a mansplaining eye-roll, I let it go. Well, not really. I shoveled it on top of what I learned about my husband in his pre-me years, and mashed that on top of feeling like my day-to-day work on the boat is sometimes overlooked, and mixed in a summer slurry of women's news from Afghanistan and our Lone Star state. Jeez. I feel the need for a power walk just typing this!
(Baby Javelina artwork by my sister-by-choice, Nathalie Aall, wildlife biologist and artist. Find her prints here! And check out her Mom's life-overlooked sculptural works here!)
Then we arrived in a lovely rental studio where we often stay when the boat work makes living on the boat impossible. The artwork in the studio is just the way I like it; thought provoking. Check out this famous old photo I encountered on the kitchen (thank goodness not the bedroom!) wall:
Yeah. Add that to the top of my growing resentment and I was starting to feel pretty justified and ready to lose my $#!+ at the next offense. That’s when I went to the boat and found all my cleaning and organizing work covered in toxic dust and my artwork ruined. Enter my losing my $#!+. I was so ready to get Paul to recognize and apologize for his past piggish behavior and was thinking how awesome I was going to be when I was able to forgive him so we could both move on. Then I sat under the stars and it hit me. Here comes the really painfully honest part.
One moment I’m sitting there meditating on the myth of the Andromeda constellation that my dad liked to tell me and the next moment I’m picturing a giant pointy hand constellation in it's place. Did any of y’all get taught as kids to be careful when pointing an accusing finger at someone because there are actually three fingers pointing right back at you? Well, that truism came back to me and I realized that I actually first needed to forgive myself for my own piggish, sexist behavior in the past.
Here’s the dirt on me. For a long time in my life it was my habit when in the company of male friends to silently go along with their digs on women. I would nod in sympathy as they complained that the women in their lives were acting irrationally. I would laugh along at many of their sexist jokes. I would even sometimes tell my women friends to just chill out and not get upset when it was “just guys being guys”. I am deeply ashamed of this past behavior. I have been harboring silent guilt about it for most of the last decade. And with the recognition in recent years of the profound effects of our patrimonial societies and their systemic sexism I have comfortably directed my anger solely at other people’s roles (usually those with penises) in it rather than facing my own role. I just re-read this confessional paragraph and cannot fathom how something so awful to admit can fit in just four simple sentences. Even when I offer compassion for myself as a young and insecure woman who was just trying to be accepted as “one of the guys” I still hate my past self for her disloyalty to her sisterly squadron and our collective struggle.
So, what to do now? Forgiving Paul for his complicity will be a cinch after forgiving myself. But how do I do that? I have an idea and an invitation that I’ll share in a bit. But, first, back to my losing my $#!+ and the javelinas. I realize now that I am (and I bet a lot of you emotive thinkers also are) like the matriarchal javelina. When I’m confronted with some internal threat that I can sense but can’t really get a target on I can seem irrational. Sometimes I make a loud bluster, gnash my canines together, and run around in seemingly random emotional directions (even without a lost earring to blame). But I’m just trying to identify the threat inside me so I can legitimately lose my $#!+. I mean, who wants to keep it?! With this particular sexist piggishness, I don’t want to just passively lose it by the cobblestoned wayside. No, I’m ready to space-fling it clear to the Andromeda galaxy where maybe the mythical lady chained to the rock awaiting her capture by a sea monster will see it and figure out a way to undo her own damn bonds instead of waiting for some dude on a winged horse and sporting the severed head of Medusa (clearly a too-powerful, mature woman) to save her!
In order to begin the process of self-forgiveness I think I need to experiment with being an active participant in anti-sexism in a very simple, easily overlooked way. I invite you to join me in my experiment because I realize that this putting down of women is so deeply rooted in the sproutings of our societies that we can’t even see a lot of it. For example, take this story from my son’s early childhood. He was 4 years old when his dad and I decided to take him to his first rodeo in Tucson. There weren’t any tickets left for the “regular” or “main” rodeo, so we got them for the women’s rodeo. (Notice the subtle but powerful normalization of the male sex there.) My son was rapt! He wanted to jump on every horse that came out of the stalls. Near the end he took my hand and very seriously asked me, “Mom, can boys be cowgirls too?”. Wow. Holy $#!+. I used to think that was just a funny “Kids Say The Darndest Things” anecdote but think about that. Really think about it. That is the experience of almost every girl in almost every situation growing up and wondering if they can do whatever it is they want to dream of doing. Think how culturally powerful that message of negation is.
So, here’s my experimental antidote. Words. Like all the small, overlooked species that hold together entire ecosystems and all the small daily tasks that hold together a home, family or business, they MATTER. From now on when I’m speaking about an animal (and I don’t like to degrade them and make them other by calling them “its”) and I don’t know the sex or if their sex isn’t relevant, I’m going to change the default from “he” to “she” as a counter balance. I am not going to use or accept others’ use of words like “mankind” to represent all humans. I am going to insist to friends and co-workers that women be equally represented because girls are watching and listening. And, when I’m in the company of men I will speak up to be heard when they degrade or disregard women or mis-represent females of any species. Even when it’s in jest, as I learned my sweet hubby once did.
Post story: A couple days after my ego fell out of the night sky and into my lap, this happened: We were back in the boat yard and needed a couple extra hands to help get our boom way up on deck. The older sailor next door offered, and I found a young sailor who didn’t look overly busy and asked him for help. All three of the fellas had different ideas as to how to get the big, long piece of metal up there. I thought we were just discussing the merits of each when the young guy sort of lost his $#!+. He stomped off saying something like “Well, clearly you don’t need ME.” After the three of us got the hunk of aluminum on board I ran into the young guy on his way home. He apologized for walking off and said, “I just get so tired of these old sailors telling me I’m doing things wrong and that their way is THE way.” My response was a puff of an exhalation and then, “Well, you should try having a vagina.” He laughed and said, “Yeah, I feel bad for you.” I let him drive away without adding the correction of “No, I mean, you should grow some ovaries and toughen up!” I know, I know, I’m hopeless, but I just couldn’t help it.