The Rules

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In response to the mass shooting in Isla Vista, which appears to have been motivated in part by the shooter’s deeply ingrained misogyny, much digital ink is being spilled across social media to refute the experience of women. The #YesAllWomen hashtag has alternately been empowering women to speak up, been hijacked by trolls, and been whined about by aggrieved men concerned that women may not care enough about what they think about what it means to be a woman in 2014. As such, I feel compelled to share my rules. These are not for debate. They are mine. I have not asked you to soften them, annotate them, or amend them. If you choose to proceed, sit down, fasten your seat belts, listen and follow.

1. You do not have default access to my body — not with your eyes, not with your words, not with your fists, not with your genitals, not with your politics.

2. If you do not have an advanced medical degree, a speculum, and an appointment I’ve booked through your receptionist, I’m not interested in what you think I should do with my reproductive organs.

3. Unless I ask, your opinion about my looks is irelevent. I don’t care if you like my hair straight or curly, or worn up or down. I don’t care if you like my outfit. I don’t care if you think my stilettos are very tall or look uncomfortable. I didn’t get dressed to earn your approval this morning; I got dressed so I wouldn’t be naked.

4. I don’t care if you’ve noticed I’ve been losing weight or working out.

5. I do not owe you a smile on the street. I can look serious whenever and wherever I want to.

6. You are not due any acknowledgment when you comment on my body or my outfit on the street. I am not a bitch if I flatly ignore you or tell you to stop talking to me.

7. An adult woman can have sex with whomever she wants, whenever she wants. She can have sex with a different man or woman every night of the week and your opinion of that is completely irrelevant.

8. If you’re not one of the men or women she chooses to have sex with, it doesn’t make her uptight, frigid, or — and this appears to be the preferred ironic insult — a slut.

9. In a professional setting, I will demand high standards and I will advocate for my position. I will not modulate for fear of being “pushy,” nor will I engage in some sort of mental calculus about whether I’ve spoken up too many times in a meeting. I will not cringe and apologize when asking you to do something or soften the blow when delivering warranted criticism for fear of being labeled a bitch.

10. If your out-of-the-gate response to women engaging in discussions of men doing horrible or inappropriate things is “Not all men…” you are undermining what they’re saying about the misogyny, sexism and chauvinism they experience. There’s a severe problem in this country right now. Your being a great guy isn’t the issue at hand.

11. There’s nothing wrong with most porn, but if you get your jollies by watching porn in which men simulate raping women, you need to take a moment and think about why that excites you.

12. My daughter will not be rude to you on my watch. But she does not need to hug you or kiss you or pose for a photo with you. If I don’t know you, she does not need to speak to you. If you do not get the response you seek from her and you say “She must be shy,” you will hear from me.

13. If I choose to walk or jog at night, I am not an idiot. Men who choose to attack women at night are criminals. Direct your disbelief and disgust at them.

14. I can have no children, one child, two children or six children and none of those scenarios warrant your opinion about how I’m doing being a modern woman right or wrong.

15. In discussions of sports, science fiction, action movies, gun deaths, finance, politics, history, and home repair, you are incorrect if your default assumption is that you’re going to need to educate me when you disagree with me. Using Google doesn’t make you the expert, professor.

16. In discussions of pregnancy, childbirth, female sexual assault, misogyny, feminism, chauvinism, workplace inequality, oral contraceptives, or abortion, your attempt to rebut my opinion with any derivation of “What you don’t understand is…” makes you look like a buffoon.

17. If you point to women sometimes asking men to open a jar or kill a bug as your refutation of feminism, you’re doing logical equivalence wrong.

18. Women sometimes lie about rape. This does not mean your default when a woman reports being raped should be to assume she is lying. A woman who says she was raped by an athlete from your favorite team doesn’t need to meet some higher burden of victimhood.

19. Nothing that you will ever hear about an alleged rape case from a newspaper, cable news show, on talk radio or a blog will qualify you to determine that the woman was not raped.

20. If you put your hands on a woman in anger, she has nothing to apologize for about that assault.

21. If you think the word feminist connotes a negative, and wrinkle your nose when I tell you I am one, you are part of the problem.

22. If you think my having been in a sorority undermines my feminism, and wrinkle your nose when I tell you I was, you are part of the problem.

23. My rules are not necessarily the same as another woman’s. We are not a monolith. This is not proof of any exasperating, confounding reality about womankind other than that womankind is made up of different women.

24. If you bristle at a woman saying she has rules, you need to think about why a woman in 2014 feels the need to sit down and spell any out.

My Morning, or, Why Drinking at Noon Should Be Socially Acceptable

urlI’ve never read this book. But unless the answer is vodka, unapologetic BRAVO TV watching for escape and eating your feelings, it’s total baloney.

5:45 a.m.-Wake up to go to Bikram class. Daughter wakes up too and demands snuggles. There goes Bikram.
6-Cancel class reservation and go to gym instead.
7:15-Come home, relaxed, invigorated, ready to take on the world, pour bowl of cereal.
7:16-Realize with panic that it’s parent-teacher conference day at daughter’s school, and our appointment is in 90 minutes.
7:17-Realize with additional panic that I’m supposed to supply the fruit salad for the related teacher appreciation lunch today, grab car keys and race to CVS praying there’s some sort of edible fruit in the refrigerator case. No time for cereal!
7:25-Stare at CVS fruit options and determine that the good people at CVS Corporate don’t have a great deal of respect for our town’s college students who are inclined to eat healthfully. Grab the best of the bunch.
7:45-8:10 Return home and frantically whip up Pinterest-worthy platter of peanut butter dip with apple slices and grapes. “Oh you think these are just regular old grapes? Well what if I put five of them in a mini pink polka dotted paper cup and put a number of those adorable cups on a Tiffany-blue tray? BAM! PINTEREST, MOTHERF—–S!”
8:15-8:30 I’ve now got a whole 15 minutes to shower, get dressed and make myself look presentable. This is why I will get to work and realize I do not have on actual shoes.
8:45-Parent-teacher conference. Beam and grin for 15+ minutes while the teacher says things about daughter that I want to have tattooed in their entirety across my clavicle because seriously she’s my little angel dumpling rainbow unicorn sprinkle of joy and how could you not love this kid? One highlight of their 15-page report: In the “Dramatic Play” area of the classroom one day she and another buddy decided to play mama and papa having a date night. They dropped their baby off with “Aunt” and then went to a restaurant – complete with place settings that they set up – took pictures (date night selfies!), and talked about their jobs.
9:15-Enough beaming. Race to work.
9:25-Gas tank on empty. Stop for gas.
9:35-Child’s stomach on empty. Stop for bagels (Yes, of course it was really a donut.)
10:15-Arrive 10 minutes late. Head directly into in-progress meeting.
10:16-Look down. Realize the shoe thing.

SPOILER ALERT: You’re watching TV wrong in 2014

20140224-155117.jpgOK, we need to clear something up. Here are the rules to help you navigate the era of Twitter and Facebook and Netflix and DVR and subscription premium cable.

1. You have exactly SEVEN days to watch an episode of television after its original air date, and upon the expiration of that time period you may not complain about spoilers. When a new episode airs a week later, full and candid discussion of the previous week’s episode is fully sanctioned. Your failure to keep your DVR neatly groomed does not require our self-censorship.

2. If a show is released exclusively online in bingewatching full-season quantity, you have one month from the date of release, at the conclusion of such time you may not complain about spoilers. (For example, you have until March 14 to complete House of Cards.)

3. Under no circumstances may you squawk at people about spoilers for discussion of a show’s previous season when the new season is under way. Guess what? Lady Sybil dies in childbirth! Ned Stark gets beheaded! Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan! Not a spoiler a year or more after it happened.

4. You may not wade into a robust comments chain obviously dissecting a previous episode or season covered by the above rules and then complain about spoilers. Don’t look under a large rock if you don’t want to see dirt and bugs.

5. Finally, if you do not subscribe to HBO, you may not cry spoiler on the off chance you’re going to buy the DVDs or download in a year. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

These are the rules. Learn them, embrace them.

“If you are uncomfortable…”

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Not pictured: a bunch of nekkid ladies.

The title of this post is an excerpt from a sign hanging above me at a famed Korean day spa and sauna outside of Chicago. The uncomfortability referenced by the sign relates to the feeling that may arise if I spot someone who has entered the hot tub area without showering “with soap.” How would I possibly be able to see this? Because I can see everything. Literally. The uncomfortability is apparently not noteworthy if it arises from the fact that I’m stark naked surrounded by strangers and it’s America in 2014 and we’re all still completely hung up about doing things like this.

*****

The Day Before at the Airport (as told in texts)

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By the end of the day, I would come to realize how stupid both of those fears were.

*****

The Next Day at the All-Nude Korean Day Spa Outside of Chicago

tumblr_n0r85drLoe1r3xxruo2_500As I peel off my last piece of clothing for what will turn out to be a good portion of the day, I understand the cold sweat grip of terror and panic that Sandra Bullock must have experienced as she became untethered from her spacewoman rocketship in Gravity. As an American woman, if you’re playing by a certain rulebook (even generally speaking and whether you particularly want to or not) few people are going to be lucky enough to see you in a full state of undress. I was about to up my quotient considerably.

*****

Who Does This?

I have a very short list of friends cleared for such an excursion. There are two prerequisites to get on my short list:

1. Are you older than 35?
2. Have you had a baby(ies) and as such have a thorough understanding of what the miracle of life does to a once-respectable midsection?
Bonus: Have we at some point debated the relative merits of Dr. Oz supplements and tapeworm ingestion as weight loss techniques?

Luckily, the friend accompanying me for this outing met this criteria and earned the bonus. So off the clothes went and into the ladies spa complex we went.

*****

Sunshine on My Shoulder… Makes Me Want to Cry

I decide to get the “Princess Scrub” and massage, which sounds suitably regal and relaxing. It is neither.

On the hour, the women who work at the spa make their rounds looking for their clients, as identified by the numbered bracelets we wear. As for what they’re wearing, it’s black mesh bathing suit/undies things. I have no idea. Don’t ask.

The woman who walks up to me and gestures that she’ll be princess scrubbing me is named Sunny. This turns out to be a stunning bit of irony.

Bullpoop.

Shenanigans, Ariel. Shenanigans.

Because Sunny is a torture artist. The next 80 minutes involve a mix of scrubbing with what felt like sandpaper, and utter indignity — they work on everyone in a row, a fleshy naked xylophone of humanity behind a low “modesty” wall. I highly doubt Kate Middleton ever endured this sort of treatment, so frankly the name is kind of starting to seem like bullshit. I’m used to genteel massages at spas where the most skin revealed is the eight inches of leg and ankle visible between the bottom hem of a plush robe and the floor (the Victorian full monty).

Sunny mutters instructions for me to flip this way and that, foreshadowing that these instructions are coming with a whack of her fist on the nearest part of my body and a loud “Hey!” Sunny smiles only once through the entire process, when she crawls on top of my back and drives her entire weight into my spine with the pointed angle of her elbow. As I let out a yelp, she laughs.

Later, as the day unfolded, I would see women stumbling away in an (admittedly glowing) daze from Sunny’s table, trying to process what had just transpired before finally giving up and going to get a mango smoothie.

Finally, mercifully, we appear to be nearing the end. Sunny begins slathering my face with a gloopy mixture of light green substance flecked with dark green bits of something. I’d seen it covering the faces of other women as I came in for my treatment but couldn’t place what the substance was. I sniff and decide that the base note of the goop on my face is cucumber. Must be the light green stuff. But it’s punctuated by something smellier, more bitter — the dark green stuff.

Oh God. There is kale on my face.

*****

But it turns out, it takes only about an hour to overcome a lifetime of Puritan-infused American nudity norms. (Results may vary, depending on whether parents were hippies or you embrace kale.) That’s it.

After one hour, my last vestige of modesty was obliterated in a hail of exposed hindquarters. Along with it, a good deal of my body image issues, at least for the day. Seem too convenient? Too pat? Too bad. It’s true. Had I only come here when I was 14, I probably could have avoided a lot of undue heartache.

Because the women of America — as represented by those gathered on this freezing afternoon at a Korean day spa outside of Chicago — look entirely different and nobody needs to care. We’re in shape or we’re not. We’re keeping it tight or we’re letting it go. We’re smooth or we’re lumpy. We’re young or we’re old.

In this space, we’re bound together by one, common thread: We’re all terrified of Sunny.

Who Is the Yellow King?

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Today’s New York magazine piece has some really interesting theories about who the Yellow King is on True Detective. And on i09, Michael Hughes let us know “The One Literary Reference” we needed to know to determine it.Image

But, um, you guys… I’ve got a perfectly cromulent explanation.

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Detective Hart was right. Our “true failure was inattention.”

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

“How can you not see the holes in the yard?!”

My husband widened his eyes in disbelief, incredulous that I hadn’t noticed the path of destruction on our front lawn caused by legions of marauding squirrels. But I saw in his searching expression that he needed to believe it was lack of observation. He couldn’t allow himself, not yet at least, to think that perhaps I was in some sense complicit by turning a blind eye.

I should say right up front that I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the squirrels. I genuinely don’t see the holes, I don’t think anyone’s yard looks good in the winter anyway, and I’ve got bigger mental fish to fry. Speaking of rats, I’ve always viewed squirrels as gross rodents. Rats with a better PR team, I’d say, when for some reason the subject had turned to such rankings — usually while being skeeved out by both groups of them in Central Park or on the Mall. But now I found myself silently rooting for the squirrels.

Why? Because after years of complaining about them digging holes all over the yard — allegedly, because again, I don’t see it — he’d decided it was the year to finally take action. Alliances were formed, a neighbor with traps enlisted. And then, the centerpiece of the battle plan unveiled: Squirrel transport.

For some reason, my husband has the impression that one merely needs to transport the squirrels six miles and over a body of water for them to remain forever banished. Not five. Not seven. Not dry land.

“Six miles and over a body of water.” He said those exact words. The 1892 Farmer’s Almanac had come to life and was standing in my kitchen in the form of a sandy blond, six-foot-tall Texan sucking down his tenth Diet Coke of the day, amped up on caffeine and the bravado of men preparing for battle as they have since Thermopylae.

There would be no slaughter though. No tiny heads on pikes lining our driveway. We were in effect to become the bus to the country for the squirrels, where we would release them for a better life and miles of farmland. The Squirrel Jitney.

Correction: He would. I believed this plan to be insane and wanted no part of it. Also, I was completely grossed out by the idea of them thrashing around in the trunk of my car. It wouldn’t matter though, I thought, because what squirrel would be dumb enough to get caught in a giant, obvious metal cage baited with a few measly peanuts?

Day 1
The dumbest squirrels on the East Coast live in our neighborhood.

Me, answering phone at work: “Hello?”
Him: “Four! We got four! And it’s only the first day!”
Me: “Wow. That’s really something. OK, I gotta go.”

Day 2
Me: “Are you washing your hands after you move those cages? Because those things are crawling with vermin and rabies.”
Him: “Yeah. I mean, sort of I guess. (pause) Do you have any hand sanitizer in your bag?”

Day 3
Me: “Is there like, a tarp down in the trunk? Because I put the groceries back there.”
Him: “Yeah.”
Me: <opens the trunk><finds a piece of cardboard the size of a notepad in the vast ocean of unprotected trunk><closes trunk><goes inside and pours a glass of wine>

Day 4
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Me: “Hello?”
Him: “We got 6!”
Me: “I’m hanging up now.”

Day 5
My father baits a trap with a Diet Coke can and says the squirrels must be mounting a counter attack. I find it hilarious. Later, husband oh-so-casually checks to make sure the integrity of the trap still stands after the hooliganism.

Day 6
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This appears on the hood of our freshly washed car. It’s a destroyed apple, teeth marks evident across its moldering surface. The squirrels really are mounting a counter attack. Shots fired.

Day 7
Me: “You know that in the Pixar movie they would make about this, you’re the big human jerk terrorizing the little animals, right? Or like, say this was Fantastic Mr. Fox…you’re Boggis, Bunce and Bean. That’s on you, dude.”

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Day 8
Him, via text message: “Came home and there were four in the driveway. They’re hunting in packs now.”

Day 9
Me: “Hello?”
Him: “Ten!”
Me: “You know I have an important job, right? Like, I make a difference in people’s lives?”
Him: “Tennnnn!”

And so it goes. The battle rages on. I am reminded of Hemingway’s resignation to such things: “Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war.”

Slow Your Roll, Kringle

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Attention every business and restaurant in America: Please stop with the superfluous Santa visits.

Just. Stop.

This time of year, you can’t go get waxed without an unsolicited appearance by the big man. In the past two weeks I’ve either personally encountered or seen Himself advertised as visiting Home Depot, the tree farm, Speaker John Boehner’s office, three local restaurants and a civic pancake breakfast. Santa’s one Meet the Press sitdown away from the Full Ginsburg.

It used to be, you’d head to the mall and with hushed reverence wait in a seemingly interminable line snaking past Orange Julius and Claire’s for your one annual one-on-one with him. One, being the operative number. ONE. Now you’re awkwardly dodging him in the grocery store aisle like that weirdo from accounting whose LinkedIn request you’ve been ignoring. And most of these “Santas” are in suits and beards that are a little more janky than jolly.

Here’s the thing… [SPOILER ALERT] Now that I’m a parent, I’m Santa.

As in, the real Santa Claus is me and I am him. As such, I have a pretty tight secrecy game to maintain. So it’s not helping when I have to answer the question, “Is that the real Santa?,” accompanied by a tiny raised eyebrow, every time we run an errand in the month of December. She’s only four, but she’s already got a hair-trigger holiday bullshit detector.

Don’t even get me started on Santa Stumbles. All of you drunken buffoons running through downtown in red thongs and Santa beards in the middle of a Saturday can go sod off.

So let’s give it a rest, shall we? I shouldn’t have to pull out the chipper spiel about “Santa’s helpers” unless I’m teaching her how to politely ignore Salvation Army bell ringers.

“This is something I have to express. It may be no one takes an interest. But I have faith in people.”

Snow

[TRIGGER WARNING: Content is about suicide]

As I was getting into bed late last night and putting my cell phone on my nightstand, a Gmail message popped up. What followed shook me utterly. It was an email from a gentleman who said that he’d read the piece I wrote for The Washington Post this summer and it left an impression on him. He wanted to reach out to me to share his writing.

He was doing this, he said, because he was planning to kill himself, imminently.

The email was not the stuff of a ranting madman. There were no references to aliens or avenging gods or government mind control. It was well written. It was at turns heartbreaking and maddening in its self-absorption. He lamented that his writings over a lifetime — a few philosophy books, a play — achieved little notice.

“I am taking my life not out of despair but simply because I’ve said everything I wanted to say and consider my work finished. Since no one at present (nor in the past half-century) is interested, I have no platform upon which to stand and talk about my work. In this regard, I believe I have an immense amount to give, not only from my mind but from my heart, and there are just no takers. I’m [redacted] years old now. Yes, I’m disappointed that the books go unnoticed. But I also know that such a thing isn’t that unusual in the world of ideas.”

In my 15 years as a reporter and writer, I’ve gotten a fair number of messages from people apparently suffering from mental illness. I have never once received a call or an email threatening suicide, nor have I heard of this happening to any of my colleagues and friends who are reporters.

I wanted to believe it was a scam. I needed it to be a hoax. A quick Google search certainly would reveal the holes in the story and I’d roll my eyes, delete the email and go to sleep. After a career in journalism, I have a hair-trigger b.s. detector. People lie. Constantly and badly.

But each step through his life online muted my skepticism, while ratcheting my anxiety. He was in fact a regular guy, suffering from a terminal illness, living in the country where he alleged to be living. He was on Facebook, posting pictures of himself at spots in the foreign city he calls home, sharing observations that ranged from the interesting to the mundane. Under the posts, friends clicked ‘Like.’ In the email, he mentioned an ex-wife who he said is still his closest friend. He provided an email address he alleged to be hers.

For the first time in my life, last night, I had no clue what to do in a volatile situation. No gut instinct. No path that I knew would be tough but was clearly the right one. Nothing. It was a type of paralysis and silent panic I’ve never known.

I once had to put my then-baby daughter’s fate into the hands of doctors at Children’s Hospital for over a week, not knowing what was happening to her. Even then, I had some measure of faith that they knew what they were doing, and that ultimately, they would bring the problem under control. This thing was entirely unlike that thing. I was being approached as the one to bring control, or not, and I had no idea what to do.

Do nothing. It might be a cry for attention from someone with nothing more than a warped, perverse sense of humor — its own sickness to be sure, but not a fatal one that requires my involvement. Calling the police wasn’t even an option because of a language barrier. Emailing an address I couldn’t verify seemed to risk further engagement with him, which presented a host of potential problems. Any interaction might somehow open up my family to risk. Do nothing.

In his email, the gentleman referenced an article written about himself in the Post in the 1970s. As with everything else in the email, I wanted it to be a lie. It wasn’t. A quick archive search and a $3.95 fee later, it was on my laptop screen.

The black-and-white picture that accompanied the feature was of the very same man, then in his early 20s, smiling broadly, hands confidently resting on his hips, standing in front of the White House gates. He’d come to deliver a message to the president and caught the attention of one of the Post‘s features writers, who described him as tanned and lean. His words were earnest and endearing. “This is something I have to express,” he told the reporter. “It may be no one takes an interest. But I have faith in people.”

Forty some years later, the earnestness had given way to resignation. He concluded his message to me with this line:

“I’m not asking anything of you, but just hoping that by reaching out like this, the ideas will somehow survive. I believe in ideas, and that they really can change human destiny.”

The faith, at least, remained.

For a time overnight I was incredibly angry. The selfishness of someone to dump this psychic shitpile on a complete stranger was too much. And for what? Because his writing, his ideas, hadn’t gotten the attention he felt they deserved? “Who does this?” I asked myself, before finally falling asleep.

When I woke, the question remained but this time an answer followed. “Someone who needs help.”

Do something. If this man was standing in the street in front of my house threatening to take his own life, I would call the police without hesitation. If it was a member of my family or a friend who’d reached out to a stranger in the middle of the night, I’d want someone to help them. Did the threat coming from a four-inch iPhone screen somehow afford me the luxury of total removal? Do something.

Through Facebook, I privately messaged a woman who shared his last name and who interacts with him on his posts. She seemed kind in her comments, cheerily responding to his updates. I hoped for the best and as briefly and as calmly as possible explained the situation. I indicated that I needed and wanted no further involvement, but that I would carry deep regret if I did nothing — notified nobody — who could potentially check on him. I apologized.

I went outside with my daughter, into the grey and snowy morning that had shut down the city a few hours earlier. We fell back into what had accumulated, making snow angels. I looked up from the ground at the falling flakes. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best.

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