The Moral of the Story

The Moral of the Story

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I watched Milo exit the school bus, taking one great leap that spanned all three of the giant black steps, and tumbling into the brown grass of the front yard. He hit the ground running, his unzipped backpack in one hand, and his winter jacket in the other, flying out behind him like a cape . A sheet of folded white paper floated out of the backpack as he ran, and danced down to the frozen grass. He knelt to grab it, without missing a beat, and clutched it in the hand that held his coat, waving it at me excitedly as I opened the front door to meet him. “I wrote a fable!” he announced, breathless and flushed from the cold, kicking off his green sneakers into opposite corners of the entryway. “Also, I’m the best poet in third grade. Also, you need to sign my field trip thing.” His jacket and backpack dropped to the floor, forgotten, but he carried his fable to the kitchen counter, where he smoothed it out and proudly handed it to me.

“We could write fairy tales or tall tales or fables, but I did a fable because I thought there should be a moral. I didn’t do a tall tale, because I’m trying to only tell the truth, at least until Santa comes. But the moral in my fable is to not take things that don’t belong to you. At first, my moral was, ‘Don’t play with toys that are for kids ages 8 and up if you’re only 4,’ but Ms. Robinson helped me make it shorter. The story is the same. Do we have any granola bars?”

As usual, the flurry of chaos that accompanied Milo’s arrival woke Felix from his nap, and he puttered out of his darkened bedroom, squinting sleepily at us. “I want a granola bar, too!” he declared, yawning. He climbed up into his booster seat at the dining room table, and the December afternoon sun coming through the sliding glass doors lit up his unruly hair like a halo.

This transition from being alone in a quiet house to suddenly mothering still feels a bit like stripping gears to me. Even eight years into this parenting gig, I haven’t quite gotten the hang of shifting smoothly from me to them. But I’m noticing recently that more and more, these afternoons and evenings alone with the two of them feel less like the bumpy, careening ride I’ve come to expect, and more like settling into a long, comfortable straightaway. I am genuinely glad to be home with them. Lord knows this hasn’t always been the case.

False witness is so easy to bear, and although I haven’t exactly been secretive about my lack of grace in motherhood, I am still often ashamed of the way that parenting can fill me and drain me in equal measure. The presumed narrative, of course, is that mother-love is a pre-ordained superpower; an innate shield against the dark moments of selfishness. But I haven’t found this to ring true. My survival tactics have mostly been staccato, shallow, and short-term. Thaw the chicken. Write the poem. Grade the papers. Do not forget preschool pickup. Drop off a check for taekwondo. Drink. Fix the poem. Drive to the birthday party, and do pelvic floor exercises at each red light. Order a pizza. Do housework in spurts. Write in sprints. Make more bubble-gum-flavored toothpaste appear from the tube that the child has insisted is empty. Research vasectomies.

A woman’s body, after giving birth, is expected to return to its former contours as quickly as possible. But this isn’t so for our minds. Seemingly, our thoughts are supposed to go the way of our picture-perfect nurseries: pastel and subdued. The autonomy of my mind dissipated when I became a mother; I permanently lost access to solitude. What were once the private actions of my brain—daydreams, narcissism, perversions, creativity, scholarship, miscellany—are now swamped by the intrusion of parenting.

But these days, there is a bit more…negative space… around the three of us. It’s colder, but also somehow easier to breathe.  I cook dinner, Milo and Felix orbiting around me, and I turn the dance music louder, imagining that I can bottle their laughter as we bounce around the kitchen. Somehow, they don’t seem to know that we’re dancing on a sinking ship every night before bath time. I have always had a sharp tendency and a high threshold for self-delusion, and I worry that maybe they’ve inherited this. But Milo, without asking anymore, only sets the table for three.

In Rebecca Solnit’s latest book, “Call Them by Their True Names,” she writes about the power of naming things. She explains, “When the subject is grim, I think of the act of naming as diagnosis. Though not all diagnosed diseases are curable, once you know what you’re facing, you’re far better equipped to know what you can do about it…Once you name a disorder, you may be able to connect to the community afflicted with it, or build one. And sometimes what’s diagnosed can be cured.”

Naming something is often the first step in the process of liberation. In the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, it is the Queen calling out Rumpelstiltskin’s true name that makes him fly into a self-destructive rage, and ultimately frees the heroine from his coercions and shakedowns. We often think about fairy tales as being about magic and enchantment, but in reality, disenchantment is more often the goal. The nature of being under a spell is that you lose your autonomy. The “happily ever after” to which fairy tales endeavor is often the result of breakingthe spell: a spell that turned someone into something other than themselves (The Frog Prince), robbed them of their voice (The Little Mermaid) made them doubt their own minds (The Emperor’s New Clothes), or left them in a deep, death-like slumber (Rip Van Winkle, Snow White). The resolution of a fairy tale is when the myth of the magic is upended, the illusion dissipates, and the character returns to her true form.

Maybe, as someone who probably wasn’t the best poet in third grade, I should follow Milo’s lead and start workshopping some fairy tales and fables. There is no discernible moral to our story right now. Except, maybe, to not hide from our problems. But rather, to show up, humanely and in good faith. To accept our circumstances as medicine: bitter, measured, but also hopefully…life-prolonging, and maybe even restorative. To recognize the tendons binding us together; the blood between us. This broken body of our family, as we name and diagnose it. Listing off the tasks; listing off the grievances. The listing is a form of paying attention, which is a form of love. And the list, indomitable, keeps growing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steel

Steel

A couple of months ago, Milo discovered Mad Libs. I gave him a quick-and-dirty rundown on the parts of speech, and he was off and running. We’d hear him giggling alone in his room as he carefully penciled lists of his favorite words…skateboard, boogers, Pokémon…before plugging them into the nonsensical stories. One evening after dinner, he was hunched over his Mad Libs book, and getting frustrated because he couldn’t remember the difference between nouns and verbs. “Lots of words can be both,” I offered. We sat together and thought. Attack. Fool. Hammer. Burn. Surprise. Escape. “Can you think of any?” I asked him. He chewed his thumbnail, thinking, and then his eyes lit up. “Fart!” he yelled, delighted. “That’s a great one,” I laughed, writing it down.

Later that evening, once the kids were in bed, Jason and I were in separate corners on separate couches, lost inside our phones. He broke the silence, “Oh no: they’re cutting down the tree on Mt. Pollux.” He turned his phone towards me, the browser opened to an article from our local news site. We didn’t need to say anything; we were both feeling the same sinking sadness. Our tree, the aging maple at the top of the hill where we had sat in the grass, cutting up apples and cheese with my Leatherman knife almost twenty years ago, had been hit by lightning so many times that it was no longer safe to leave it standing. I skimmed the article, noted the date of the tree removal in my phone calendar, and we promised each other to try and make a trip there to have Milo take a photo of us by the tree before they cut it down.

“Cut!” I blurted, suddenly. “It’s a noun and a verb. I need to write it down for Milo.”

We never did make it to the tree. They cut it down, and I don’t think we’ve spoken about it since. I am so mad at us for not getting there to take that picture. It’s so perfectly representative of so many of the things I’m mad at, all the things that keep falling through the cracks. We don’t get the gutters cleaned, we don’t finish reading the parenting books, we don’t save enough money for Christmas presents, we don’t plan vacations, we don’t go to couples therapy. Our struggles these days have darkened and rusted into something beyond the ordinary vicissitudes of life. These days will not be the ones that we look back on and laugh about. And the battles we are fighting right now are too complicated to be described in simple terms of victory or loss.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the (often barely perceptible) difference between letting go and giving up. I’ve been thinking about how they had to cut down the maple tree at Mount Pollux, because it had been hit by lightning so many times that it was too damaged to continue standing, and how sad it felt to let that tree go.

We are light years away from where I thought we’d be. I remember how at our wedding in 2007, somebody gave a speech and described the two of us as being “lit up like stars.” The other day, Milo came home from camp nearly bursting with the new knowledge that the light we see when we look up at the night sky is partially from stars that are already dead, and burned out. “They’re not really there anymore, but we can still see them and know they were beautiful,” he explained. Even for stars that burn out, there is no doubt a glow that lasts beyond itself. (“Glow can be a noun or a verb,” I reminded Milo, scribbling it on a Post-It for him to stick in his Mad Libs book.)

Our wedding anniversary is this weekend. Eleven years. The anniversary gift for eleven years is steel. Are the gutters made of steel? Maybe we can get each other new gutters for the house.  Or, possibly, a lightning rod.

Or maybe we can think of it another way. Steel is also a noun and a verb. As a noun, it is hard and cold; rigid and impassive. But steel as a verb, like any good verb, denotes movement, mutability, action. Maybe the gift is to make this the year to brace, fortify, and strengthen; chain-linked arms holding each other up, galvanized.

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Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day

 

“Happy Mother’s Day,”
They said. “Enjoy those sweet boys.”
And I drove away.

I do enjoy them.
But sometimes I’m drowning in
All that enjoyment

I need to hold them
At arm’s length to see clearly
Against a wide sky.

I get home from work
And shake the mulch and crackers
Out of their pockets

Clean out lunchboxes
The evening loads of laundry
Bleed into morning

And don’t get me wrong:
It’s not that I’m not blessed, it’s
The expectation

That this is the goal;
The pinnacle; the end all
And be all for me.

I can’t remember
sometimes, if I was happy
before I had kids.

I think that I was.
I was well-rested, for sure,
and that was something.

I remind myself
What motherhood can look like
When I give it space

Nighttime highway drive
Kids asleep in the backseat
We’re blasting Tom Waits

And we are still us
Faded, and bent out of shape
But still hanging on

So, this Mother’s Day,
I release expectations.
And I remember

That poems and beers and
Friends and sex and sleeping are
Things that moms need, too.

And I hold space for
Women who struggle today
For all the reasons

For the ones who can’t,
For the ones who wanted to,
For the ones who tried

For the un-mothered
And the self-mothered. And the
Orphaned, and estranged.

For the ones who can’t
get out from under it all,
Who do it alone.

For the ones who sprang
out like Athena, full-grown.
For those who’ve known loss.

For the ones who chose
not to, but are endlessly
defending their choice

For all of us who
say, “No one ever told me
it would be like this.”

“Happy Mother’s Day,”
they said. Even when it’s hard,
it can be holy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Life

Back to Life

“It will take all your heart, it will take all your breath.
It will be short, it will not be simple.”
-Adrienne Rich (Final Notations)

 

Last summer, I thought I had killed the begonias. They definitely looked dead, their red petals faded and shriveled, drooping into the mulch. I dug up their soggy brown roots and threw them in the compost pile behind the swing set. I mentally added “gardening” to the list of my failed attempts over the course of the summer. As I looked around at the overgrown yard, I took in the plastic squirt guns and whiffle balls scattered in the grass, the tangled garden hose attached to the leaking sprinkler, the empty iced coffee cup forgotten next to the grill, the gutters that needed cleaning. I felt familiar irritation rising up inside me. I have the particularly vexing brand of anxiety that manifests itself as anger and impatience when I’m confronted by perceived failure or chaos. To put it another way, I have anxiety that is triggered by mothering.

I’m sure there are women who have transitioned gracefully into motherhood, but I’m not one of them. Nearly every aspect of it has cut me to the quick. No one tells you that once you have a baby, your entire rubric of self-worth is turned on its head. It’s like the scales by which I had previously measured my worth were suddenly broken. I would step on, and nothing would register. Am I a good friend? Am I smart? Am I pretty? Am I thoughtful and funny and passionate and driven? No. I was barely alive: dull and witless, completely at odds with my body, desperately lonely and depressed. I have friends who tell me it gets better. My response is usually to wipe away my tears, grit my teeth, and nod, saying, “That’s good. Thanks.” And not believe a word of it.

I think that the hardest part has been recalibrating my expectations to allow for how chronically bad I am at most things now. I’d make it to a yoga class, but I’d forget my water, and I’d have no change for the parking meter, and I’d leak breastmilk all over my yoga mat. I got a part-time job, but I’m always five minutes late to work, and I forget my water, and I feel guilty the whole time I’m there. I make the time to write, and all I have are stillborn ideas, unable to focus on anything but the clock ticking down the babysitter’s time. And I forget my water.

But time passes. The conversations shift. I learn, slowly, to use new metrics for things like happiness and success and beauty. I place new weight on things like patience, presence, and silliness. And although my days are still full of bathtub toys and baby shampoo, and cutting grapes in half, and wrestling with 5-point harness car seats, and folding tiny pants and tiny socks, I am no longer quite so shell-shocked. I exercise. I read books, even some that are not about parenting. Occasionally, I go to bed early and sleep for hours, uninterrupted. When someone asks me, “What do you do for work?” I can answer smoothly, and no longer weakly offer a stammering explanation of the work that I used to do before I had kids.

Everyone says to new mothers, “The days are long, but the years are short.” And every new mother seethes at this, because they know better than anyone exactly how long the goddamn days are. And because the days never end, it is impossible to accurately gauge how short the years are. I see my kids growing, of course, but so much of my mental energy is spent trying to speed up the passing of time (“Get your shoes on!” “Hurry up!” “No, we don’t have time for one more book: it’s time for bed!”) that I often forget to pause in the mundane, exasperating moments and look for the gratitude. But it finds me anyway, sneaking in one morning while I’m in the weeds with the toppled sippy cups and packing the lunchboxes and finding the lost library books and brushing other people’s teeth. The toddler suddenly pronounces the word “watermelon” properly for the first time, instead of saying “Water-Lemon,” and I feel a sharp prick of sadness for another wisp of his babyhood, gone.

One night after dinner, a few months into the early winter, I stood at the kitchen sink and finished my glass of wine. I surveyed the mounds of dirty dishes and sighed, steeling myself for the Sisyphean climb towards bedtime. Staring out the window into the backyard, past the brown grass and the sandbox toys and the soccer ball, I saw something bright. It was the begonias, somehow no longer dead. A shock of brilliant red, ten feet into the woods, blooming in the compost.

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It’s Not About You

It’s Not About You

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who doesn’t like peaches.” –Dita Von Teese

I write personal essays. About my personal life. My purpose in my writing is to hold myself accountable to authenticity and growth, and I try to do that by reflecting on experiences that have shaped me. These experiences nearly always involve other people, usually those closest to me and to whom I feel the most responsibility. My husband is fiercely private. My parents are not only private, but they also despise vulnerability, and they adamantly deny any whiff of scandal or dysfunction in our family. And my kids, while they continue to be hilariously and devastatingly inspiring, are growing up and I feel an evolving sense of protection towards them and their own right to privacy. Writers, especially writers of memoir and personal essays, have struggled forever with how to navigate the ethical business of writing about other people while still being true to their own creative process. Am I writing my own story or am I exploiting someone else’s?

I remember being sixteen and telling my mom that I was queer. I was prepared for resistance and had my talking points ready: Don’t you want me to be happy? Isn’t that what really matters? She was solemn and sad, and the moment stands out as one where I had let her down more than usual. And although she didn’t push back with the religious fervor that I’d anticipated, I remember her saying that she didn’t want me to live a life with so much stigma and judgement. It was a crystal-clear message that being true to oneself was not only NOT sufficient criteria for a happy life, it was possibly not even a necessary condition. She believed it was absolutely preferable to live a quiet lie than to live a truth that would invite judgement.

A few months ago, my mother told me that she read my blog, and that she wished she hadn’t. She said that she didn’t understand the point of it, and she didn’t understand why I felt like I needed so much attention. I went hot with shame. “I don’t write it for you,” I told her softly. “That’s for sure,” she said under her breath, not looking at me.

It’s hard to disappoint your mom. There’s a Peggy O’Mara quote that says, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I suspect that my mother’s own inner voice was shaped largely by someone whose primary concern was, “What will the neighbors think?”

It’s not that I need an audience, necessarily. Its more the need to not be ashamed of my own story. It’s more the importance of pushing through the ingrained tendency towards silence and shame. I want to be able to put myself and my process out there even though it triggers my insecurity; that is the point of my writing. And I think it’s also important to say that it has never been my intention to use my writing as a tool to humiliate or punish anyone, but rather to use it as an instrument to shape meaning from my life. These stories aren’t here for readers to see what other people have said or done, but rather to see how I’ve come to understand myself in the aftermath.

So, there’s this thing that’s been really hard during the last few months. A person that I love very much has been struggling with serious mental health problems. In the interest of physical and psychological safety, I’ve drawn some boundaries around me and my kids, and because of how those boundaries have been perceived, this person and I have become estranged. I haven’t written about it, partially because I feel very much still in the thick of it and not in a space where I have enough perspective to process it very well. But another reason I haven’t written is because I’m trying to work through the ethical questions of how much of it is actually my story to tell. I have very painful, complicated feelings towards this person and our relationship, but I also know that he needs support and compassion. We all need support and compassion. A family is fractured and hurting, perhaps irreparably so, as we circle each other, wary and betrayed. Each attempt at conversation feels like a rope slung across space, as likely to kill us as to save us.

A writer-friend gave me some generous advice today. When she was writing her memoir, she said it was essential for her to mentally divorce the actual process of writing her book from her thoughts about getting the book out into the world. That resonates with me so deeply. Writing is hard enough; worrying about how it will be received renders it nearly impossible. The paralysis comes from that censoring yourself before you’ve even written anything is exhausting and demoralizing. This Anne Lamott quote is the mantra I play in my head when my second-guessing starts to overwhelm me. “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Her gentle reminder that I can claim ownership over my own life experiences, her unambiguous directive to tell my stories, and her frank humor about how people should just behave better are all the things I need to hear when I start to doubt myself and my writing.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was accused of “disturbing the peace,” in 1955 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he supposedly responded, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” As a woman, as a daughter, I have learned that keeping the peace most often means keeping quiet, especially around uncomfortable truths. My work…perhaps all of our work…right now is to dismantle the remnants of my subconscious equation of “peace” with “quiet.”  Here’s to a 2018 ringing with true peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in the Middle

Stuck in the Middle

“Clowns to the left of me; jokers to the right.”

“How’s the writing going?” ask the nice people in my life. There is no good answer.

My “writing life,” such as it is, has been relegated to ten hours a week at the community college, helping students write English 101 term papers and scholarship essays. And at home, the only words I seem to have are the ones that I say on repeat all day long: “We don’t throw our forks.” “Where is your other mitten?” “No hitting.” “Bath water is not for drinking.” “WHAT is in your hair?” “Sweetie, you can’t open it while you’re sitting on it.” “Yes, I am SURE that your socks are not on the wrong feet.”

And “Please, not tonight; I just want to go to sleep.”

I have so many flashes of half-born-ideas, surges of motivation and creativity that always, always, are stunted. As I collapse into bed in the evening, I wonder, delirious, if I might be a genius if I were only given the space to actually think. But in the morning, when Felix asks me what a cloud is, I just stare at him dumbly, and cannot say.

The entire week had felt like the careening disaster of a two-bit carnival ride operated by convicts. I reacted as I often do, by commencing the most tidy nervous breakdown possible. My daily outfits now incorporate pink rubber gloves on my hands and a red bandana tied to my head, a spray bottle of white vinegar and a steam mop always within an arm’s reach. If I cannot feel competent or fulfilled as a mother, wife, writer, daughter, I can at least be absolutely sure there are no crumbs on the counter, no soap scum on bathtub faucet. The volume on the television is nearly always turned alarmingly loud, to accommodate for the fact that I am nearly always vacuuming. I am a black hole in our house, sucking the stars from their eyes.

I’ve gotten an email from Milo’s first grade teacher explaining that he’s been disruptive and rude at school. There was an incident with a classmate on the playground. And another one in the bathroom during lunchtime. When I ask him about it at dinner, his retelling is bewilderingly diffuse. I try to press him for clarity, careful to keep my voice calm. He shoves his cup of milk away from him, clenches his pale fists, and snaps at me, “I already told you: I didn’t DO anything!” He turns to face Felix, who is jamming the tines of his toddler fork into the spout of his sippy cup. Milo bangs his hand twice on the table to get his brother’s attention. Then he takes a bite of his tortellini, chews it, and opens his mouth to reveal the contents to Felix. “Milo!” I shout, exasperated first at him, and then at myself for shouting. Felix, of course, is delighted, and already trying to mimic Milo, chewing up some peas and opening his small, laughing mouth.

I grab my wine glass and stand abruptly, startling both of them. I storm down the hallway, hissing—not quite under my breath—I am so sick of this. Sick of what, though, exactly? Of the kids? That’s like being sick of the sun.

What am I actually sick of? The Sisyphean task of picking up toys. The stubborn belly fat that I blame on exhaustion, winter, cortisol, the crusts of the kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches… anything but the beer that I seem to be drinking more of than ever these days. I’m sick of not being able to carve out a few minutes of order, so that I can take a deep breath and try and appreciate my lovely life properly.

I strongly disliked the person I’d just demonstrated, afresh, that I was. And that is the simplest definition of depression that I know of. And I am sick of being depressed.

Poor Milo. It’s not his fault that I often feel like he is everything difficult about me, stuffed into an angry, anxious 44-pound body. I am too hard on him. I am too hard on myself. He is too hard on himself.

“He is six,” Jason reminds me, daily. “Six.” He is always trying to plant seeds of sanity and goodwill, hoping each time that they’ll take root.

Thank goodness for Jason. It doesn’t seem like so long ago that we were twenty, and lit up like stars. Our arguments full of fever; never malice. Our cups always full. We knew that we could do anything. We knew we were blessed. But holy hell: these years are giving us a run for our money. Now that the smugness of youth has faded, I can see the gristle and bone of us. A different kind of beauty; a different kind of love. We’ve seen each other get knocked down a few times. We’ve dusted each other off and struggled to our feet. I remind myself that we wanted adventure. We wanted to do hard things. I still want the reckless thrill of being at sea, but I don’t want to drown. I want my dirt floor, swept clean of dirt.  There is a lot to be learned from wanting something both ways.

I go back to the dining room table where the kids are still sitting, slightly subdued now, cautious. Milo is chewing on the collar of his t-shirt; a nervous habit. I take in his shipwrecked look; this family the island he’s washed up on.

I kiss his head. I kiss Felix’s head. I sit, and set down my wine. “Let’s try to talk about it again,” I say. “Tomorrow.” Tomorrow is another day. Another chance. For all of us to practice being our best selves. To see each other “whole and against a wide sky,” as Rilke writes.

As I put the kids to bed, I set my intentions for tomorrow. Steeling myself, promising to be mindful; to be present; to be kind. I will fail somewhere. And I will try again the next tomorrow. Each long afternoon bleeding into the one long afternoon of their childhoods. I know that I’ll look up one day, too soon, and it will be twilight.

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Day of Mourning

Day of Mourning

“All we can do is keep trying again and again and again. There’s that wonderful line in “East Coker” by Eliot about there’s only the trying, again and again and again; to win again what we’ve lost before.” -Hillary Rodham’s 1969 Wellesley Commencement Speech

 

I’ve struggled all day to find the words to express the unspeakable heartbreak of this election. I cried myself to sleep, and woke up hollow, nauseous, in shock. What does one do in the face of such grief?

I cooked chicken. I scrubbed the floors. I cried, a lot. I wore black. I sat with my two-year-old, pretended to eat the play-doh cakes he made for me, sat at the piano and held him on my lap, breathed him in, played “Bread and Roses.”

I ache for women and girls, for Muslims, and queers, and POC, and disabled people, and for all of us that fear for our future and our children’s future. All day, I am thinking of the dozens of people I know, and the hundreds of thousands whom I don’t know, who have so much more to lose than I do. I am thinking of my six-year-old son, who is seeing his country vote for a misogynist bully to lead the free world.

But today, most of all, my thoughts are with Hillary Clinton. Not just for what she represented for so many of us, but for her own personal heartache and loss.

I was pretty quiet, at least in terms of social media, for most of this election cycle. I voted wholeheartedly for Bernie in the primary, but Hillary never felt like a consolation prize to me. I have many good friends who see this differently, which, I’m ashamed to say is one of the main reason I’ve been so quiet, and although I might lose some of them here, I need to say, on the record, that Hillary resonated with me deeply.

I do not…AT ALL…agree with each and every thing she’s done as a politician; she is a deeply flawed human being who has made many decisions that I fundamentally disagree with. But maybe that’s partly why she has moved me so much; I don’t have to wonder how I…or any of us…would fare in the public eye if my every move since my undergraduate college years was scrutinized and held up against me. The level of judgment and scrutiny used against Hillary is, absolutely, an entirely different species of political critique than her male counterparts endure.

I know what it is like to work with, and work for, sexist men. I know what it is like to dumb myself down when I think I “should,” and to silently seethe when I am clearly being held to a double standard with male coworkers or colleagues. I know what it is like to become a parent and suddenly have my commitment, intelligence, and overall qualifications called into question. I know what it means to make hard, but pragmatic, decisions about my career in relation to my partner’s career, and I know that how it looks from the outside is not even a faint proximity of the complete, complicated reality. In short, I know what its like to be an educated, passionate, conflicted human woman and mother in the United States. But unlike Hillary Clinton, I have had the privilege of relative privacy and/or anonymity while changing my mind, suffering indignities in my personal life, being on the wrong side of a debate, losing my cool completely, making mistakes and apologizing for them, and falling flat on my face. She is a HUMAN BEING; and, I am putting my foot down here, a remarkable human being.

It was her concession speech that ultimately made me need to reach out. While the rest of us are…justifiably…reeling from the defeat, still trying to catch our breath from the punch-in-the-stomach that were last night’s election results, she put on her pantsuit, and smiled, and not only did she concede with mind-blowing dignity, she called us to action in a way that exuded unquestionable elegance and grit. When I think of Hillary, I see this as her hallmark: this fighting hard and getting knocked down and GETTING BACK UP AGAIN.

I cannot begin to fathom the balls that it takes to be Hillary Clinton. Her grace, in the face of such unfathomable injustice, is the grace all women have mustered in the face of everyday sexism. We don’t get credit for this, and neither will she, but here is my nod to it, regardless.

I’m still with her. I will always be with her. But my purpose in this post is to say that I’m with all of you. This election is bullshit. This country is broken. But the truth is that more people voted for Hillary than against her, and that tells me that the system is more broken than the people. I’m going to go cry again now, but get at me tomorrow: I’m ready to fight.

 

And in closing, here is the poem that Hillary Rodham read as the closing of her 1969 Commencement speech at Wellesley College.

My entrance into the world of so-called “social problems”
Must be with quiet laughter, or not at all.
The hollow men of anger and bitterness
The bountiful ladies of righteous degradation
All must be left to a bygone age.
And the purpose of history is to provide a receptacle
For all those myths and oddments
Which oddly we have acquired
And from which we would become unburdened
To create a newer world
To translate the future into the past.
We have no need of false revolutions
In a world where categories tend to tyrannize our minds
And hang our wills up on narrow pegs.
It is well at every given moment to seek the limits in our lives.
And once those limits are understood
To understand that limitations no longer exist.
Earth could be fair. And you and I must be free
Not to save the world in a glorious crusade
Not to kill ourselves with a nameless gnawing pain
But to practice with all the skill of our being
The art of making possible.

The Art of Making Possible, by Nancy Scheibner