Doubleplusungood


Today I got suspended from a secret Facebook group for two weeks.

A self-described secret group, it proposes to be “a resource for all writers—with the exception of cis men—of all backgrounds and experience levels, to connect, network, ask questions, and learn from one another,” and states it “is okay to tell people about the existence of the group…without directly linking to it.”

I wanted to put that right up front, least I be accused to violating some blood oath, secret handshake, or gang hand sign.

Every member of this group was required to read an updated group policy–and agree with it–to be allowed to stay part of the super secret writers group.

I didn’t like everything I read.

I wanted to think about it, some of it bothered me. Some of it ruffled my feathers. Some of it was repressive and proscriptive and controlling and I needed to think about whether I could abide by it. I needed to think about whether I could live with some of those rules.

It said I had to “be willing to accept criticism and critique of ideas or articles posted” to that group. I had no problem with that.

The part that stated “critiques of power imbalances are important” and “provocative debate” is valued–I liked that a lot.

It enforced strictly gender neutral language. I get that maybe the gender binary may be considered an out-dated idea, and I balk at the forced use of gender neutral language, but I’ve been around long enough to pick my battles and this one’s not a battle worth fighting. I can live with it.

Then this:

“The group prohibits the removal or deletion of posts or comments by members…it is silencing and disrespectful to delete your own post or comment thread (taking others) words along with it. DELETION OF POSTS AND COMMENTS WILL RESULT IN AN IMMEDIATE TWO-WEEK REMOVAL SUSPENSION. Subsequent deletions will result in a permanent ban from the group.”

Wait, what? I can’t take down my own words, posts, or commentary?

That I have a problem with. I wanted to think about that. For my hesitation and questioning of the all-mighty mods, I was suspended.

“…we are suspending you for two weeks. Your negative comments toward the policy and purpose of the group indicate that this is not the group for you. If after two weeks you wish to indicate a change of heart/mindset, you can return.”

Apparently “provocative debate” is okay, unless it challenges The Policy.

The Policy goes full frontal George Orwell doublethink, saying suspensions are regarded as a step towards a members reconciliation with the policy. A chance for a member to “step back, take a break, rethink, and then talk about rejoining…”

Guilty of crimethink, there is a two-week opportunity to crimestop.

Big Brother is watching. 

By the end of the day, I’m banned, forever.

“Collectively, the mod team will not expend anymore energy or time engaging you.”

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Removing my offending posts would violate The Policy, but I can’t access them anymore to offer them up verbatim. In the world of this one Facebook group, I’ve become an Unperson.

I’m aware this post may have a ripple effect, since so many people are members of multiple groups, and I may be made to disappear from the ranks of other linked groups. But, I hope the ripple extends in an entirely other direction, sparking others to speak up and not tow a line that excludes men and yet still manages to regulate the speech of women , especially those questioning authority.

 

Fear Response(s)

B/W photo of the E train, by Sean DuBois
Photo courtesy of Sean Dubois

Crazy was on my morning commute.

This is New York, so that’s not unusual. Doesn’t matter which line, if you take the NYC subways to and from work, you have your own share of guess-what-happened-on-the-subway-today stories.

I appreciate subway musicians, and almost always drop a dollar in the hat, good or awful. They’re trying and 90% of the time my day is better after listening to the acoustic guitar/drum circle/mariachi band/guy with the harp at Grand Central/drummer with no arms/guy who sings to recorded music/every musician who has ever played under a banner–or without one–in the New York City subways.

A breakdancer/gymnast/acrobat team means spending most of my time too distracted to read, worrying whether or not I’m going to get kicked in the face during a double flip in that very cramped space.

I’m almost immune to the panhandlers. Most of us have seen the same man/woman/man with child/woman with multiple children whose house just burned down, again, for months. Years. I won’t give cash, but I have been known to give food, even that can burn you.  The homeless kid begging for cash to feed his dog. I said “Let’s get off the train at the next stop and I’ll buy a case of dog food.” He wasn’t interested, and I wasn’t surprised.

I’m jaded. Maybe because I misspent part of my youth panhandling Penn Station, playing off my young/girl face, appealing to parent-aged people with the sob story that I’d been robbed/lost my purse/needed to get home to Long Island/my parents must be worried. This was before cell phones and kids with credit cards.

After an hour, I’d have had enough to drink all night in downtown bars, without having to dip into my paycheck.

Maybe I’m jaded because of the grandma (blue flowered dress, short thick body, pill box hat with a net) I gave $20 to in the 80s. She’d had her purse snatched; she just wanted to get home to Riverdale. My grandma lived in Riverdale, hence, the $20. Twenty dollars was a lot in the early 80s. A few months later I ran into her again. Same dress. Same pillbox hat. Same purse snatching.

Not this time grandma, I’m on to you.

The Jesus-told-me-to-tell-you folks, well, them I just want to send home to Jesus as fast as I can. I think you know what I mean. I know for a fact Jesus wants me to have quiet time on the subway to read. It’s the whole reason he made subways. It’s why he makes the train stall in-between stations–so Jodi has more time to read. It’s all I can do not to stand up and scream in my best I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore voice: Jesus wants you to shut the fuck up and let me read.

But I don’t. I do what everyone else does. I put in my earbuds.

And then there are the fights, the verbal intimidation. Large men to small men. Men to women. Women to men. Occasionally, when it seems prudent, I intervene. Like the giant man berating a smaller man–a racial thing–big man wanted the little guy’s seat. It looked like it was going to get ugly, so I got up and offered big man my seat. He didn’t take it, but it did defuse the situation. I sat next to a woman being sexually harassed by a man, another being attacked with hate speech.

You live and work here and you learn to deal with living in close quarters. You make judgement calls in overstuffed metal contraptions that are hurtling under the streets of New York.

Yesterday, crazy was on the E train for my morning commute.

I got on at 74th Street/Roosevelt Avenue. There are five stations you speed through before the train stops again. 65th Street. Northern Blvd. 46th Street. Steinway. 36th Street. And then Queens Plaza.

I define a good morning as one where I get a seat on the subway, so I can read comfortably, as Jesus intended.

Yesterday was a good morning. Shortly after we pulled out of 74th Street, the yelling started. Not unusual. A raised angry voice. It happens.

It started to build, quickly. It was coming from a young man at the other end of the car in front of one of the doors, and directed to an older (but not old) man casually leaning in a corner. If something had happened, I didn’t see it. Angry young man got angrier. Louder. Pounding on the floor of the car with his feet hard enough I could feel the vibration in the floor at the other end of the car. Pounding on the windows and door with enough force and rage I worried the window would break or the door would open.

People were quiet. They glanced sideways to assess the situation. It was one of those times we knew, in a pack mentality, a hive mind, not to turn our heads. Except for that girl—there is always that one girl— sitting across from me surreptitiously filming him on her iPhone and laughing to herself.

But that’s how emotion comes, sometimes. You cry when you’re angry. Or you laugh when you’re scared.

No one was talking. No music leaking out from anyone’s cell phone. No children chattering. The one small child with his mother at the far end of the car, sat silently, looking straight ahead. He looked calm.

The pounding, the rage, the yelling got louder. As if frustrated that the yelling wasn’t eliciting a response, he started cursing. Someone was a little bitch. Maybe the man in the corner. Maybe a person only the angry man could see.

I put my book away. My umbrella was the only weapon I had, for offense or defense. A redheaded girl sitting nearby wondered quietly if someone should try the intercom on the wall to alert police. No, I shook my head. Other folks did the same. Quietly, we shook our heads. No.

Don’t draw his attention, you may as well throw lighter fluid on a fire.

I thought about texting 911, thought how if the cops met the train at the next stop, it would screw up everyone’s commute.

I rethought my vehement anti-wifi on all subways position. This would have been a very good time to have wifi. My phone said No Service.

It got louder. More rageful. He was losing focus and letting his rage start to spread.

What are you looking at bitch? Was I talking to you? Was I talking to you, bitch?

To no one in particular, to everyone. Pounding. Pounding. Pounding. With so much force on the floors with his sneakered feet, on the door with his closed fists.

The train stopped in one of the dark tunnels between stations.

If you ride the subways to work, you know this happens with such frequency, at least for a few moments, that most of the time you’re not even aware of it. This time, I felt everyone hold their breath, do some mental calculations, predicting what might happen next. What would happen if this was a prolonged delay?

If you’ve ridden the subways with any regularity you have spent at least 30 minutes stalled between stations, at least once. Probably more times than that. We held our collective breath and hoped this was not one of those times.

Pounding. Yelling. Pounding. Spitting, unintentionally when he yelled and again, spitting intentionally. His rage had found a new outlet. It was reaching out. It sounds like nothing, spitting, but it seemed he was looking for a new target for his rage, seeing how far he could push all of us/each of us/one of us.

We sat in silence, each looking as if nothing was going on, our unspoken agreement, our learned behavior in the face of real honest-to-god dangerous and crazy. Some stared at books, or stared ahead. No one had headphones on or earbuds in. We were alert and acting as if we weren’t. But we were.

The redhead, the iPhone girl, and I agreed–in whispers–we were getting off at the next station. iPhone girl was going to switch cars. I was going to change trains. I didn’t know what the redhead had planned. I feel confident assuming the rest of the passengers were making plans of their own for when the doors opened again.

The train began to move, and as well pulled in to Queens Plaza crazy crossed over and stepped to the door that was about to open. I got my first good look at him as he stepped up and started pounding on that door with his fists. Smashing his chest into it. Trying to pry the doors open before we’d even pulled into the station.

He was young, maybe in his twenties. Skinny, with a backpack. Other than that, he was unremarkable. I wouldn’t be able to describe him to anyone, not in any way that would distinguish him from the thousands of other tall, young, thin men with backpacks.

Rage was his distinguishing characteristic. His most memorable feature.

He stepped out onto the platform at Queens Plaza; I stayed ready to leave the train, should he step back on, because crazy will do that. Crazy will fake you out. Crazy will change his mind with no obvious reason and then you’re trapped in a metal box with him again.

The doors closed, crazy and angry on the outside, us safely pulling out of the station, and in a heartbeat the car buzzed with more than the usual buzz of conversation. We talked about him. Some folks had theories about what his problem was. Others thought they had information about what started it. People were chattering.

I just had relief.

I looked at the redhead and iPhone girl .

“I’ve been on the train with a lot of crazy, but this is the first time I’ve ever been scared.”

They nodded. The little boy and his mother had begun playing finger games and laughing. A girl put her ear buds back in.

We’d been really scared and now it was over.

I opened my book. I was in the middle of the scene in Abigail Thomas’s newest book, What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir, where she confronts her daughter about something that had caused a rift between them. It’s a touching moment. I started to tear up.

Abby is an excellent writer. And it was a very touching moment, but it was the timing.

That scene in that book was there just when I needed it, giving me the opportunity to turn that hyper-vigilance and fear into something I could let go of.

In the moment, I couldn’t think about being afraid. I’d assessed my weapons, my options, the rest of the folks on the train, the chances of this going south, all the public violence that has happened, random killings, the guy with the hammer that had gone around smashing folks heads in, the rage you don’t see coming and then you’re hurt or dead or trying to put a stranger back together.

Fear, in the moment, can make you sharp. It can make you ready. It will stop time so your brain can make plans.

My heart was racing when I got topside. Until I was standing on the corner of 8th Avenue and 35th Street, I hadn’t even been aware of how hard it had been working.

When danger is removed, fear doesn’t always go away with it. No one has taught us what to do with the residual fear. Depending on the level and length of fear/danger, some folks drink. Or suffer with PTSD. Or become numb. It’s why there are support groups after major disasters like school shootings and terrorist attacks.

But we don’t have those for everyday life. We don’t have those skills in place when crazy boards the train and takes everyone hostage as you crawl through five subway stops without stopping.

Sometimes, you’re lucky and your brain finds a way to let it out safely, like air seeping quietly and slowly from a leaky tire. Page 68 provided a tiny hole that let my fear leak out. Slow enough for it to be effective, while still looking like everything’s okay on the outside.

 

 

Drive, she said.

Driving  a Long Island highway after dark,  air cool and damp the way it does when winter turns to spring, how it does in early summer near the beach, air so heavy with moisture I turn my wipers on to shear away the mist, the beach air, and the cool and damp; loud music, turned up to 11; blacktop gently curves. I move smoothly between broken white lines; turn the music up until it drowns out the car, the other cars, my thoughts; following red tail lights going as fast as I am, passing the ones who refuse to speed up to double the speed limit whatever the speed limit is and there is that moment. That moment when I am here, right now.  And here, forty years ago.

Speeding down a Long Island highway at night coming home from a day caring for my mother slides into that other night/many other nights, four decades ago, driving home to my mother’s house from Long Beach after a crowded club and loud bands, Twisted Sister turning it up to 11. I exist in both nights, two of me occupy the same seat in one car, two cars become one: the 1975 Ford Pinto is the 1999 Volkswagen Golf. One littered with empty cigarette packs, beer bottles, and cassette tapes. One with empty candy wrappers, water bottles, and CDs. Steering wheels feel the same, the cool damp air still keeps me alert, and driving calms my nerves. I’m twenty and I’m sixty.

I taste vodka in the back of my throat. I have not had a drink since summer, 1990. The ashtray overflows with cigarette butts, all Marlboro. I smoked with delight, with panache, windows open, smoke and scarves and common sense flying out the windows behind me, Isadore Duncan without the talent, or the untimely death. There is no ashtray.

There is no ashtray.

Like rivers and creeks, time eddies and swirls, spins in and out of little whirlpools, diverts, evaporates, pools in gullies, returns as rain, seeps into the ground/pulls me into the mud/deeper still, rises as mist, settles like dew, washes me clean, pummels me, and chills my bones.

If a pack of Marlboros appears on my dashboard, I will smoke without a single thought. If a glass of vodka and seven was nestled in the seat next to me, with a single red swizzle stick, I would drink the same way I had night after night after night all those nights ago. Drinking, driving, smoking, and speeding. Some nights are just made for that, no matter how fast you’ve driven, how long, or how far you’ve come.

Makin’ Food My Bitch

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January 2017: Week One: Cut dairy out of my life. I’ve bagged up all the butter, gorgonzola, parmesan, Asiago, and cream cheese. I gave up real cows milk long ago, and now I’ve given up the “just a little half & half” in my coffee and switched to tea. No mac & cheese, no grilled cheese, no more bagel with a schmear. I’m giving myself a full year to get things right (and figure out what dinner will look like when I give up my go-to popcorn-is-a-vegetarian-meal stance), but the goal is to come off all my medications. And I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this coming year I’m going to want to be in fighting shape.

I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with food. I know, how surprising, a single middle-aged Jewish cat lady with food issues.

My family was a Jewish/Italian mixed breed, meaning we were Jews who married Italians, so anything that happened in anyone’s house happened around the kitchen table. The good, the bad, and the casseroles with canned fried onions on top.

Despite always being worried I will not have enough food (Depression-era parents), that I will go hungry, I have never gone hungry a day in my life. For us, food was love. If we didn’t offer you food, we didn’t love you. If you didn’t take it, you didn’t love us. Maybe it’s not complicated after all. I eat my feelings.

I never thought I had food issues, I’ve been happy to eat the same thing, every night, night after night. If there is a box of doughnuts in the house, I’m happy to eat them, all. One at a time. If there is only one doughnut in the house, I’m equally happy.

I’ve been a vegetarian, a vegan, a pescatarian, and a locavore. For years I was off beef, but ate poultry. Turkey burgers were a softer, kinder world. But, the more I knew the less I would eat: I stopped eating any factory farmed foods at all. Until I craved salted meat and ate it like it was the air I needed to breathe.

I eat secretly, refusing chocolate or bread in your presence then stuffing myself in my car when I leave. Sometimes the decisions were based on health choices, sometimes on moral issues, other times, childhood issues (that’s the complicated part, best left for another time).

I was a junkie AND a vegetarian for a short while.
There was a suicidal eating disorder that consisted solely of Cheese Doodles and Guldenbergs Peanut Chews. Another that consisted of only soup and ice cream.

I fasted.
I cleansed.
There were literally years when I ate the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Three Stoned Wheat Thin crackers, two slices of Kraft American Cheese – appropriately placed to completely cover the crackers, with no overlap, no blank spaces, and no leftover cheese – and a glass of diet iced tea. Also, gallons of wine, vodka, Kahlua, etc., but not even a single bar peanut to eat.

When I was premenstrual I craved raw meat, which I’d season to make hamburgers, but easily half never made it past my mouth to the frying pan.

I am probably lactose intolerant. Cheese is my favorite thing in the world. The night I ate the cheese equivalent of a human foot (or a shoebox, if that visual disturbs you) and wound up doubled over in the bathroom for hours is when I had to finally accept this lactose intolerance thing. What my version of acceptance looks like: I take pills and continue to eat shoeboxes full of cheese.

I am probably gluten intolerant as well, and have a deep and loving relationship with all things bread and bread like (with the single exception of the body of Christ cracker), from muffins and rolls to bagels and bialys, matzoh and arepas; from fresh warm bread from the oven to packaged off the shelf grocery store bread; and challah, scones, corn bread, noodles, waffles, pancakes, toast, English muffins, Italian bread, French bread, focaccia, crackers, Naan, sourdough, rye, pumpernickel, biscuits, dumplings, pita, pretzels, the leftover pizza crust you don’t want, croissants, or brioche, to the pièce de résistance – the thing you make from leftover bread (as if) –bread pudding. Me and bread, we have history.

Family and friends have gone out of their way to accommodate my various food jaunts by providing a seafood option, buying humanely raised poultry, or asking me each time, “Are you still not eating (fill in the blank)?”

I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds, gone from a size 8 (hospitalized shortly afterward) to a size 16 and bounced around in between.

I have gone from a woman who made her living showing off her body to one who cannot tie her shoes without unzipping her pants.

And now, at almost 60 years old, I’m taking another food stance. Auto-immunes are the original clusterfuck. Like nuns, if you see one, there are probably more lurking around. Recently, I was diagnosed with my second auto-immune disorder. One medication was recommended, and another for a pre-diabetic condition which I’ve had for years and years. Taking the new meds would mean changing the old meds and starting from scratch on things I knew worked. Someone said the word biologics. Biologics are good stock investments, but I don’t want them in my body.

This all makes me sound sick, which I’m not. I’m…fat & sassy. But, my morning regime is a healthy handful of pills and I just can’t anymore. I can’t go forward with the mindset that my body is betraying me. Granted, I was not exactly kind to this body for its first thirty-five years and it has every right to be pissed off, but this all smacks of treason.

I won’t view my body as an enemy.

I met a traveler once, named Elijah. He told me he walked all over the country, slept outdoors, and never got sick or cold. The secret, he said, was that the earth gives you what you need for where you were. The way root vegetables are fall harvests, and they digest slowly and keep you warm. Citrus in Florida where it’s hot, to cool you down. Eat with the place and season, he said. Elijah was barefoot, dirty, with matted hair, he had no shirt and his pants had eroded down to little more than a denim loincloth. I get it. I know he was a homeless guy. And possibly crazy. Or maybe he was just free, because it made sense to me.

Healing yourself by eating the right foods at the right place and time.

The Auto Immune Protocol diet claims to be the key to getting your body back on track, and there are a million websites you can check out if you’re interested in learning more. It’s extreme, but I’ve done tougher stuff in my life (see earlier reference to the first thirty-five years). If I could live off of nine crackers a day with the military discipline with which I did it, I can do this.

The plan is to give myself one to two weeks on each “give up” to get used to it, have a proper mourning period (this week we are mourning the gorgonzola, but glorying in bread) and get myself ready for the next step. All of these will have to go before I can live a full 30 days “clean” and attempt to bring things back a little at a time. So, no gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. No nightshade vegetables like peppers, eggplants or tomatoes. Eggs, gone. Artificial sweeteners will be history (goodbye Crystal Light!). Nuts and seeds, although what is the point of a sesame seed if it is not sitting atop a bagel? No additives, which will mean reading labels. I’ve already eliminated the booze. Eventually, I will get myself down to the basics: meats and vegetables.

The good news is sugar snap peas, wild caught fish, bacon, asparagus, beets, sweet (but not white) potatoes, fruit, meats of all kinds, avocados. It means planning and thinking ahead and no more dollar pizza. But you did hear me say bacon, right?

Praying for the Enemy

I spent a good part of dinner talking about a person who irritated me, who set my teeth on edge, a person whose head I wanted to smack upside until it bounced like a bobble. I was completely justified in my irritation, but that didn’t make me any more fun to be around. I was annoying myself—I can only imagine how annoying I was to everyone else who doesn’t love me as much as I love me.

Someone said, “Have you tried praying for them?”

I thought: No. Really? Maybe. Really?

I thought about praying this person got the life I thought they deserved because I was, at that moment (honestly, there have probably been way too many of these moments) auditioning for the parts of both judge and jury of the whole wide world (which is different than the World Wide Web in several ways, the most important of which is the capitalization*). I’d already elected myself the Diva of the DMV, (Too slow to merge? Afraid of changing lanes? Not signaling when you turn? Not turning your signal off after you do? No driver’s license for you! Doomed to a life of public transportation.) so judge and jury of the known universe was not exactly a stretch

I thought a little bit more. I wanted this person to know how much they irritated me and why. So, I tried it. I prayed for their life to be filled with compassion, kindness, and awareness of their effect on others. I’ve done it for a few days in a row now.

I don’t know if they’ve changed at all. I don’t know if prayer works that way— changing other people or events or things at all. What I do know is that the chip on my shoulder slipped off somewhere along the line.

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*There will be grammar. There will be Oxford commas. I cannot guarantee there will not be pop quizzes.