Saturday, January 04, 2014

being bullied

I spent many years of my life being bullied. I have not recently dwelled upon it, but I have not forgotten. (I know I am not alone or special here.)

Listening to the TEDRadio Hour from January 3, 2014, I was caught up by the theme of “overcoming.” But I was especially struck by Shane Koyczan'stalk about being bullied as a child.

On any old day, I will remember that, yes, I was teased and criticized, felt pretty much a total outcast in elementary school. I don’t often use the word “bullied,” but, yes, I was. From 1st grade through 8th grade, I faced all sorts of bullying: having my baseball cap taken off my head and tossed around the school bus as the horde laughed in 1st grade; being called freckle faced and fat in 3rd grade by a boy who himself was freckled and actually chubby (I had not yet hit my chubby phase and was still lean); being challenged to a fight in 4th grade by a boy who thought I was not enough of a girl to be covered by the social prohibition against hitting girls; having my secret crush revealed to the boy by a popular girl I mistakenly trusted in 6th grade; being ridiculed by the “mean girls” in 8th grade for wearing a vintage 1950s pink satin ball gown with an Army surplus green pullover and grey slouchy boots. (“Did you make that dress?” *Sneer.*)

I was safe and even outgoing and social in nursery school and kindergarten. And I was fine and found my own way in high school. I was not always happy during these earlier and later phases, but I was not bullied. High school actually offered me relief, which is not true for many.

But eight years of all sorts of bullying left their mark. I, like Shane Koyczan, remember begging to stay home, crying about going to school, faking being sick to avoid school. Like him, I still always take the side of the underdog because I relate.

I have strengths and weaknesses influenced by my experiences: I embrace being myself, whether I fit in or not (which does not always mean I am confident, but I am myself); I am open minded and don’t tend to judge others (I have not been kind every moment of my life, but I have not bullied); I can react with unintended anger when teased by a loved one; I have some social anxiety and do better one on one or in small groups; I am sensitive to criticism.

I think being bullied has shaped me more that I have recognized. Yes, it seemed part of my past, but listening to this TED talk opened the memory gates up. I can see how I was shaped and damaged, but also how I recovered, for better and worse.

Bullying is clearly powerful and damaging. It is not "nothing," "only words" or "just how kids are."

PS: If you are interested in following Shane Koyczan on Twitter, here he is

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston: finishing a marathon

I have not actively aspired to run Boston, though I have run five marathons and am an avid runner and racer of shorter distances, for 15 or 16 years now. The only time I came close to qualifying was in 1999, during my first marathon, the NYC one, in my hometown. And the BAA has gone and made the times even harder to reach. Now that I am in my 40s, I can aim for the old time of 3:50; the newer one of 3:45 is a much iffier. I am aware of the possibility, but I am not scrambling to make it reality, and I am shy about trying to raise thousands of dollars from friends and family for an alternative charity entry.

So I was not running in Boston yesterday, April 15, 2013, tax day, Patriots’ Day, mere days before the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the day gun control legislation was reaching some sort of milestone in Congress. I don’t think I know anyone who was running, either.

If I were running Boston, I would likely have finished a tad before the explosions, in around 3:55. The finish clock read 4:09 and change. I probably would have been in the post-finish area, walking, sweaty, relieved, even euphoric, wrapped in a mylar blanket, drinking water, eating a banana. I would have heard the booms and the screams. Seeing the videos over and over, I can put myself there all too easily.

When I finish a marathon, I may be in some pain, but I am elated. I love seeing that finish line. I feel tough, and I feel safe. The bombing in Boston has shaken me more deeply than I can express; it is tapping bits in my subconscious that I cannot extract.

Of course I can imagine myself or spectating loved-ones being in that very kind of spot. What really panics me is I know how those runners felt--safe and happy.

This is terrorism, whether domestic or international. (I lean toward domestic, though I have little evidence to back up that gut feeling.) This was an attack directed at innocents, targeted to gain media attention, determined to make us scared.

I am out of words for now, though there is so much more to learn, sort out, feel, say, write. I am thinking of all those who were there. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

how my atheism works

My essay, "The Atheist and Her Soul," is up on Pavarti K. Tyler's blog in her Roots of Faith series. I may work it into something longer and more detailed. 

Monday, May 07, 2012

dream (combining a toilet and a washing machine?)

Last night, I dreamed about traveling to Sydney, Australia, with my sons, to see my mother. The travel was, as it usually is for me in dreams, confusing, last-minute, fraught with mix ups.

My mother’s apartment was dark, with rooms off of a long hall (but it was not my childhood New York City apartment on 116th Street, which had a super-long hall). My mother was there the whole time, but, as usual, I cannot remember anything she said (if anything).

I tried to have dinner with my stepbrother’s partner (a step-sister not-in-law?) the night before I was to return home to the States, but we could not find each other in the city. Mobile phones and texting failed us. I ran through unfamiliar and dark parks, feeling like I was always going to long or wrong way.

After the failed dinner, I returned to my mother’s apartment and the boys were asleep. When I had to do a load of laundry in the toilet, I questioned the wisdom of combining the two appliances (if you can call a toilet an appliance).

We were to leave first thing in the morning. My bags were not packed, and I was trying to dye my hair fire-engine red (which I have actually been wanting to do for a while). I worried as the flight time approached, my clothes were still in the toilet, the boys were still asleep, and I was running out of hair dye.

Friday, December 30, 2011

my mother's ski sweater

In honor of what would have been my mother's 72nd birthday, today, I wanted to write something thoughtful to honor her. I wrote some notes about what she called the "clothing museum." It included clothes of hers and mine that were special in some way. I have not finished this piece for many reasons. I will get to it, soon. For today, I will post one photo of one item from that museum: my mother's ski sweater from the 1950s. It was handmade, tiny and wool.
I would never have worn it--even if it would fit me--because wool makes me itch. And I never saw my mother wear this sweater. But I picture her in it when I read her short story, "The Circle," in The Hottest Night of the Century, which revolves around a skiing trip.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

yet another...

As I wrote in my last post, I rarely see things that are my style in the NY Times, though everything presented is usually in fabulous taste of some sort or another. But today I again saw a dress I would wear. I am shocked. Am I getting old? Or is style NY Times style finally catching up with me? (I will fess up that I don't know who Zoe Saldana is.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

ads, airbrushing and clothes I want

(Was it more than a month ago that I collected these photos? Damn. At least the topics—advertising and fashion—are not especially time-sensitive.)

I was reading The New York Times Magazine (or is it actually, really T Magazine now?), probably not on the Sunday (April 17) it came out, rather during the week following. A few photos caught my attention.

The first set of photos fall under the “ads and airbrushing” category. As I flipped through the mago, I immediately noticed a contrast between two ads featuring “older” women and how they employed airbrushing. Sure, Lauren Hutton (67) has more than 10 years on Kim Cattrall (54), if I have my math right, so Hutton should look older. But I am also sure the Cattrall has some wrinkles, or at least pores. Need I say, I like the Hutton ad better. Of course, both women are lovely, I just wish Kim was not so willing to submit herself to such heavy, obvious airbrushing. Should Alexis Bittar be credited and Olay not? Both have chosen not-young women as centerpieces for their campaigns. I suppose that is a start. But I love that we can see Hutton’s cleavage wrinkle.

The second set of photos accompanied fairly vapid articles on Charlotte Dellal (“Footprints”) and Cate Blanchett (“Vanishing Act”). I love the latter, but I don’t really know who the former is. Here, I saw clothes I actually admired, coveted for myself, and I usually see little of my own style in the NY Times.

I WANT these clothes (putting any possible airbrushing aside).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

god discussion with Iz

Iz and I have our best discussions in the car.

Iz has decided he wants to create a city out of boxes for his Godzilla-themed birthday (which is two months away). He discovered a new way of painting windows—with a single vertical brushstroke. But he wanted ideas for other types of windows so his building would look different. I picked him up at school a few days ago, and, on the 30-minute drive home, I pointed out the wide variety of window types in downtown DC through Capitol Hill. While none are Godzilla-city skyscrapers, they offered inspiration.

We passed a small church on Independence Avenue with arched stained-glass windows. I have always loved how you can see the leaded lines, darkened colors and vague forms from the outside of a stained-glass window. I pointed and said to Iz, “Look at the arched windows of that church.”

Iz asked, “What is a church?”

I paused, stumbled over some words, “On Sundays, some people meet at the church to talk about god. It is like a school where you learn about god, for those who believe in god.” I know, a simplistic description, but functional.

I can’t actually remember if Iz asked, “Why don’t we go to church?” But I knew he was thinking it.

So I answered, “We don’t go to church because I don’t believe in god.”

Iz said, “I kind of don’t believe in god and I kind of do.”

I asked, “That’s cool. If there is a god, what is he or she like?”

Iz replied, “Big. Much bigger than people, and god is a girl.”

I appreciated that, “I do think that if there is a god, she would be female—or like a female.”

Iz said, “And god would live in the clouds.”

I said, “I think god wouldn’t really have a body like we do—I think she would be something different. I do believe there is power in nature, a way that things work that makes sense, that seems to be come from a thoughtful being. Some people call this ‘Mother Nature.’”

Iz said, “Mother Nature is a girl.”

“Yes, she is.”

We then merged onto Kenilworth Avenue and probably started talking about whether he could have a doughnut when he got home.

Friday, September 24, 2010

maybe painting is more my thing

Considering that I have struggled with the writing, and this painting (in progress) feels much stronger, I may be a better painter than writer.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


We know who we are, and according to the Psychology Today article, "Revenge of the Introvert," we make up 50 percent of the population. 

I have no question that I am an introvert. And this article explicitly explained two of my biggest pet peeves about how non-introverts treat us: 1) pressuring us to "be happy" as if pursuing happiness is the thing to do (it is a very American ideal) and 2) trying to help us become more extroverted, as if that were the desired state. 

An introvert is not necessarily shy, but recharges alone, thrives with time to consider problems and questions, and even likes this kind of rumination. But, and I know this feeling well, introverts often feel alien in the U.S. culture that values extroverts: "As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player, and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture." 

Yes. (Though I've not minded feeling different for a long time now.)  

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

chucking it all

I am covered in yellow (washable) paint. That should teach me to wear a smock when painting murals in my son’s kindergarten class.

I have decided to chuck it all these past couple of months. I’ve been following up on academic concerns about my older son, Iz, which has required taking him to and from testing, going to preliminary and follow-up meetings, and being in his kindergarten class often. (He will be fine. He’s just not skilled at following teacher-directed tasks, remembering names of his classmates or the letters and sounds of the alphabet, or following classroom routines. It’ll come.) And I only have 16 hours a week with no children in the house. So I still have almost-3-year-old Az much of the time. I don’t have a lot of time to work.

I signed on to be the flexible parent. It made sense. I work from a home office, so I can control my own hours. But then my main client went bankrupt (more than a year ago now), and I’ve been editing online content for meager pay. So I had less and less work.

And I am lousy at marketing myself (possibly the worst lack of a skill for a freelancer).

So, with all the recent demands, I’ve done little to no work the last couple of months. Yet I am not independently wealthy, so the financial side worries me a lot. But what can I do? I have mostly let the worry go, or buried it so it can give me an ulcer. I can’t be sure which.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

my mother's day

I was born at 9:06pm on Saturday, May 8, the day before Mother's Day. My mother relayed that fact to me every birthday, with affection. She died in 2007; this is my third birthday without her. I remember her reminding me to remember her. How complicated. Happy Mother's Day to my mom, wherever she might be. Love you!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

my purple tutu

I am going to try being one of those runners, one who pulls on a tutu over the running tights. I have bought myself a purple one -- seemed the best color choice. (I'm not such a pink person.) And I am excited about the whole idea. I enjoyed picking out my ensemble for the race more than I usually do.

I am wearing it for the St. Patrick's Day 8K tomorrow. The race is a festive dress-up kind of one, though a green tutu might be more appropriate -- but I don't have one of those. And the race is a shorter distance, so I can test run the tutu for next weekend's National Half Marathon. That's the ultimate plan, people! 

My time goal? Around 40 minutes. But I have not run a race since November 2009, and I've had an injury, so we'll see what I can pull out, especially in a tutu. But I also don't care so much about being faster and faster anymore. Though I still like being kind of fast. And, in a purple tutu, kinda fast will also be fun.

Look for me if you are in downtown DC on Sunday morning at 9am -- Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th Street!

The next question: How do I wash the tutu?

Monday, March 01, 2010

happiness vs. sadness

Reading the Sunday New York Times, I read these two articles back-to-back: On Top of the Happiness Racket, by Jan Hoffman, and Depression’s Upside, by Jonah Lehrer. The juxtaposition interests me.

The first article is a profile of Gretchen Rubin, a wealthy and published New York author and mother (my snarky thought: sure, I could stay on top of everything is I was wealthy, lived in an NYC triplex, had a sitter for my kids and a housekeeper to clean my house -- but, still, I might not be happy). Hoffman also gives some review of Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. Supposedly, we can expect a slew of books about how to be happy this spring. Why do I find this annoying?

The second article presents a study that suggests some depression--shorter-term depression, not debilitation long-term depression--can help the sufferer focus on the problem and solve it. Charles Darwin is the lead-in example here. And the idea that depressed people are the creative ones is also addressed. I found this new take on no pain, no gain interesting, if limited.

The second was much less annoying that the first.

Somewhat indirectly, both articles remind me that I have two--yes, two--appointments with psychologists today. One is for me (yeah, so?). The other is to discuss Iz, my 5 1/2 year old, who is an anxious and creative little guy. Fun, fun, fun.

Happiness, anyone?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

mother and child

My mother would visit the National Gallery of Art on every trip to Washington, DC. It was a favorite place. She came to love the Impressionists in her middle age (after a fascination with Surrealists, such as Dali and Magritte, when I was young). Especially Monet. I remember her office at the University of Technology Sydney plastered to the ceiling with Monet posters. Some she bought at the National Gallery.

Iz and I have many just-us outings there. We have attempted joint copies of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral and Japanese Footbridge paintings with markers on sketchbook paper. We go underground to the cafĂ©, walk along the moving walkway through the light tunnel, then sit at a table near the fountain for a snack.

When there, I think of my mother, and I enjoy being Iz’s mother.

Yesterday, Iz’s kindergarten class had a field trip to the National Gallery. His teachers asked for parent volunteers; I couldn’t say no to that trip. The plan: to see the French Painting of the 19th Century exhibit. My mother's on-and-off favorite painting, Woman with Parasol, which pictures a mother and child, is included.

Iz grabs my hand the moment he gets off the bus, sometimes pulling me, sometimes melting into me. He doesn’t let go. I feel as if he is barely paying attention – focused only on me.

The class of twenty sits on the carpet, looking up at the woman with her parasol and her child on a windy day; I, of course, think of my mother and am melancholy (in that oddly satisfying way); and Iz insists in sitting in my lap, his face turned to me, his eyes closed.

Mother and child motif repeated in a moment.