Project Purple Cookie

“So, I want to do a thing.  I need a guy,” I said to my friend.  I described what I wanted.  A middle-aged man who knew his way around the streets.  A tough guy with a brain and a level temperament.  I wanted to hire him for a day to work as security, a witness, and a presence to discourage anyone from making me break character.

My friend always knows a guy.  That is how I found myself in a bar a few days later, sipping a drink with him and a man called Desert Rat.  He is a really interesting character, and one of the many things I learned that day is that he is involved with a local charity that helps children.  He is a biker, and though he laughs and smiles easily you can tell he is not one to mess with.  His eyes are sharp, and they don’t miss a thing.  I found myself wanting to write his story, because he is fascinating in his own right.  As he talked, I sized up his personality and realized I had the perfect guy for the job.  He was always tough and smart, and when it mattered he was kind and good.

I outlined a project, which will be called Purple Cookie until it’s all ready for publication.  He was interested, and outside of making sure he understood the plan he only really had one question for me.

“Why are you doing it?”

I gave it some thought, and told him I want to make a difference.  And the only way I know how to report on something like this is to see it for myself.  I had no spin. I was going in with a question and a hypothesis.  Whether it is confirmed or denied will depend entirely on what he and I discover.

He agreed, and today I put the finishing touches on the mission statement.  I have detailed what I hope to accomplish, how I hope to accomplish it, and the questions I hope to answer.  As with any project, I went to my mentors and explained my idea and made sure I had flushed out and resolved every ethical or practical concern.  The main one was for my safety, but I have no qualms about that now.

Now it’s just a matter of setting a date.

God guys, I love what I do.  It isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds, but the following statement is true: while working undercover, a guy named Desert Rat is going to watch my back so I can be free to do my work.

I live a charmed life.

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#MeToo

As women step forward to tell their stories, I take my turn.

I am sharing this because I have been reading the accounts of many women, and each one shows a unique but recognizable part of women’s lives that we have ignored for far too long.  It seems to be helping other women speak out and start productive discussions about how sexual assault and groping and rape actually look to those who have endured it.  Like so many women, I read and nod because I am familiar with how they feel and know what they go through.

As someone who is constantly out in public, meeting with people or just covering events, I realize I am at a higher risk of being groped because of the sheer amount of contact I have with people.  It has happened enough times that I usually can see it coming and deflect it.  Sometimes, given the setting and proper context, deflect it with attitude and teach a lesson in the process.  The reason I selected this particular example is because I was caught off guard and it bothered me deeply.  At that  moment, I was as unprepared as any woman might be who was just going about her business, without any idea that something was about to happen.

I met a musician at Starbucks to discuss writing a story about a project that his band was putting out at the end of 2017.  It was the end of October, right as the final details were falling into place, and it truly was a brilliant project.  I really enjoyed our conversation.  We were about the same age and shared many musical influences, so there were some inside jokes and common reference points.

When I meet people for the first few times, I usually signal the end of the meeting and let them leave first.  I may say I need to use the restroom, or that I have some work to do before heading out, something to make it unremarkable that I am not walking out with them.  I’ve been followed to my car and I’ve had some creepy moments in parking lots, so this has become an adopted strategy.  It’s nothing personal.  That night, he wasn’t taking the hint.  Against my better judgment I decided to walk quickly to my car and hop in, because I was in the spot closest to the door.  Ten feet at the most, and in full view of a crowded coffee house, so I felt okay about it.

I stood, and prepared myself to get out as quickly as possible.  He went to shake my hand, and out of years of habit I leaned in to return it.  And that’s when he did it.  The oldest boob grab move in the world, he “missed” the handshake and his palm slid between my breast and my arm, and he squeezed me.  Our eyes made contact, and he smiled.  He had done it on purpose, and was not only enjoying the contact but my response.  Maybe he thought I liked it.  Maybe he saw my horror for what it was and it pleased him.  I’ll never know.

It’s far too easy to say “and then I gathered my things and walked to my car without saying a word.”  If you were watching it on film, that’s what you would have said to describe the moment. But here’s what really happened in that three to five seconds:

  • I had a flashback to when I was groped last (it was far more violent than this episode), and my stomach dropped and a sick sweat covered me. When I got home I had to take a shower immediately to get rid of it.  The smell of my own fear and upset was subtle but unmistakable.
  • Even as his hand squeezed me, I wondered if this was really happening and if I was in the clear to defend myself (were there enough witnesses, was there sufficient need to take action, was he really smirking at me as he squeezed).
  • I started to slap his hand back, and froze.  I was cornered and carrying an armload of recording equipment, so if he punched me I had no way to defend myself.
  • I was afraid that if that happened, nobody would step forward, and might even believe I spontaneously attacked him.
  • I was angry at myself for not seeing it coming.
  • I was angry at myself for being angry at myself.
  • I was ashamed and afraid I had somehow let it happen, and didn’t realize until later I feared I  was partly to blame for his hand squeezing my breast. Because my focus wasn’t on his choice to do it, but that I had allowed it to happen.
  • I wanted to cry.
  • And folks, I’m not going to lie… a small part of me wanted to die.  That is not a dramatization.  In that moment, the shame and stress and ick made me wish I could just fall down dead and not live anymore.  Because I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened from grown damn men.  It started in elementary school when they were little boys, but some never learned better.

Instead, like I wrote above, I gathered my things and walked to my car without saying a word.

As soon as I got home, I stood in the shower and cried in private.  I was so angry at myself for not striking back, for being powerless, and for hesitating.  I’m a brave woman and I’ve had my share of self-defense moments. I am not afraid to fight back.  I asked a trusted guy friend if I put off vibes that may have invited this (which is victim blaming 101, but the immediate reaction of so many of us is to blame ourselves).  He assured me that I do not. I didn’t tell my husband until I decided to write this post.  As an unspoken agreement, I don’t tell him these things and he doesn’t ask.  Moments like this are the price I pay to do the work I love, and the price many of us pay just to be out in public.  It was weeks before I wasn’t upset or dodgy when someone touched me.  My boss went to pat my shoulder and I flinched.  A great friend tried to hug me and I froze.  There were several similar awkward moments.

It has now been months, and I’m still upset when I think about it.  That smile, that smirk that said he had gotten what he wanted, and there was nothing I could do to take it back.  Despite running drills in my head almost nonstop to prepare for these times, and not including the fact that I have successfully deflected several grope attempts, the first thing I felt was massive guilt and shame for not being able to stop him from helping himself to my body.  By this point I realize it was his choice to do so, but the guilt remains even as the anger rises.  Emotions do not answer to logic.

So if you have ever asked what the big deal is about being touched, now you know.  It isn’t the touch.  It’s the feeling of helplessness, of being used, of being invaded, and of knowing that even though you were just wronged nobody gives a shit and nobody is going to help you.  And that it is going to happen again, and again and again.

The true exhaustion doesn’t come from dealing with these small moments.  It is from constantly being on guard for the next one.  The next “nice guy” or new coworker or bandmate or friend who decides to turn without a second’s notice.  Of having to look at every shoulder pat and hug attempt on the fly to decide if it’s a threat, and if it is realizing you have only half a second to respond.  That is what is exhausting.  Because you know it will happen again, it’s just a matter of when and whose hand will find you.

I am determined that the next time my turn comes that I will be ready.  Between holidays and year end drama I have been too busy to get out much.  But that will change soon, and when it does I hope the next guy is ready for me.  He by God better be, because the last thing I ever want to do is cry and relive every time an uninvited hand has closed over my wrist, or am unwanted palm brushed a part of me, or a surprise squeeze became painful if I moved away.  I fought back and won a hundred times, but I will forever lament the time I froze and failed and lost.

So now you know what we are being asked to endure, to indulge those who would do so much worse to us if they could.

#NoMore  #MeToo  #TimesUp

New Year’s Resolutions 2018

I hate the holidays.  I always have, and I just smile and nod and get through it. New Year’s Eve is not only my favorite because it signals the end of the winter festivities, but because I have always loved the brand new slate and promise of doing better. Here are my resolutions and goals, in no particular order.

  • I am going to be good to myself.  I am going to give myself some breaks, and I am going to cut myself some slack.  I’m not as young as I used to be, and I need to heed my limits instead of wave as I go cruising right by them.  I am going to do some select things for myself without apology.
  • I am going to follow my vision with my writing.  This means finding the balance between what sells and what I can do to stand out.  I hope to have three major outlets under my belt by this time next year.
  • I am going to try to complete one song per month in 2018.  I don’t even know if that’s possible, but what gets measured gets done.  I am also going to be more involved in Ozarks Writer’s Night and try to get some magic happening there.
  • I will have my book of essays ready for publication by the end of 2018.
  • I will start up Bug Your Bon meetings, because a lot of people have said they miss them and I miss the mixed bag of public meetings.
  • I will be a better friend.  My friends have carried me this year and put up with a lot of shit while I floundered.  I will pay back with cookies, love and thoughtfulness.
  • I will have no fewer than three grand adventures.

A Letter From Bon of the Past

Once in a while I will leave a calendar reminder or some sort of memo for Bon of the Future.  I don’t know where I will be or what I will be doing, but I leave myself little notes lest I forget something critical.

A year ago I wrote a letter to myself, then I put my head down and cried.  Ugly cried, the kind where snot and tears and misery fill a pile of Kleenex.  And then I put my big girl britches on and got back to doing what I know best.

So first is the letter from Bon of the Past that was meant for me.  Then, I’ll finish my story.

Dear Bon of the Future:

You will remember today.  It sucked.  You wrote your letter of resignation to your boss at a Fortune 500 company, and you have no idea what you will be doing next.  You have potential and contacts and a reputation, but nothing solid.  You cried so hard you threw up.  You doubted yourself, and you weren’t sure you could actually ever reach this place again if you started over.  You hated yourself and you are sorely tempted to just ride it out and take your medicine.  You turned on yourself before you promised to support yourself, a rabid sort of desperation.  But kiddo, you know this is what you have to do.  

Whatever you do, Bon of the Future, I hope you are happier than you are right now.  Right now you feel lower than a snail’s butthole, and have nothing to give you hope.  You’re gambling on yourself and I hope you found out you were worth the effort.  Please don’t give up, because I bet by  now you know you have found your path.  

Now go make those motherfuckers sorry for failing to do what they promised.  Go get what was denied you, and find your way.

Love,

Bon of the Past

It wasn’t the snotty ugly cry, but I teared up when I read this. Let me tell you how it all came out.

I work at a different Fortune 500 company that values its employees.  I started in a group of short-term contract workers, and was able to get my contract extended a few times.  I am not as secure as I’d like, but I am proud of my accomplishments and was one of only three that they have kept from our original crew.  I worked hard, even when nobody was watching.

I have a new faith in myself.  I am able to climb, and I took a stand for myself and I would like to think I made a nudge for some who come after me.  At any rate, I refused to play the game as dictated by others. I played my own game, found my lane and am enjoying life.

I’m not necessarily happier than Bon of the Past.  My current situation is not without its problems.  But I feel I did the right thing, and though that doesn’t guarantee good results I do feel that I landed where I should.  Staying would have crushed my soul and my resolve to demand better for myself.  I did not give into the fear that whispered how lucky I was to have a job at all, and how dare I ask for more.

This boldness gave me the courage to step it up in other parts of my life.  Now that my contract is extended for the next year, I m free to focus on Other Things in life.  I will carry this strength and confidence into future adventures.  Bon of the Future… let’s do this, baby.

No, I Will Not Slut Shame Melania Trump

Melania Trump had an interesting life before she met her husband.  I do not know her personally, and she is not without her issues.  But I will not shame her or use her like I have seen people on all sides do for her modeling career, appearance in general or her marriage to Donald Trump.

I have heard many express outrage that our First Lady would have such a scandalous past.  She is a model.  Models take scantily clad photos all the time, it is quite literally part of the job, and one done by thousands of women (and men) every day.  To call these out as different implies that there are different rules for different people, which goes against one of the core values of equality.  I will not shame anyone for the choices they make regarding their body and their personal choices, and I resent it highly when I observe others doing it.

Melania is more than “Donald Trump’s wife” and I hope she is seen that way by people as time passes.  Like I said above, she is not without her issues, but it is a step backwards to treat her as nothing more than an extension of her famous husband.  The point of equality is to see people as individuals, not lump them together when it enhances an argument and uses dishonest tactics to “sink” another person.  It does not matter who the woman is, because there should not be different rules for different people. I recently wrote about a culture in which women were not referred to by name, but only by their relationship to other people.  This is a nonverbal version of that same offense.

Some openly admit it is retaliation for crude comments made about Michelle Obama.  Those comments were terrible and uncalled for.  However, by refusing to engage in the same behavior we show what legitimate criticism looks like when we stick to the issues and we do not sell out our integrity to hurl insults.

Last but not least, there is also the little fact that it doesn’t seem to matter how much dirt sticks to Trump, his loyal followers will not be swayed no matter how much evidence and research goes into the work.  Trump embarrasses himself on a near daily basis, and lowering ourselves to score a few extra cheap points not only feeds his martyr complex, but it plainly shows our own genuine hypocrisy in how the progressive agenda uses women when it suits them.

“I don’t like them” is never a reason to dip below the standards we set for ourselves and the people around us.  There is no point in having standards and principles if you abandon them the moment they are challenged.

If I want to model nude, I’m going to. If I want to layer myself in so much cotton that you never see my face, I’m going to.  If I want to dye my hair neon green and mix stripes and polka dots that is my freedom and my choice, and I will not demand it for myself and insidiously try to withhold it from someone else because of political differences.  I will not participate in actions that, no matter how well intended, are harmful to the long term goal of giving all people the right to live within legal boundaries without judgment or interference.  In my opinion, what I see from many falls short of the standard I hope to see apply to every single person.

No matter what a woman wears, how pretty or smart or kind or horrible she is, those choices are hers to own.  Her attributes are no more a reflection on her husband than her offenses are.  We must learn to identify when we hold a person to unrealistic standards, or ones that are simply none of our business, and consciously decide how we are going to treat them.

I cannot tell another person how to behave, but I am going to try to be better.  It’s easy to fall into these social traps and logic loops, but I’ll never stop looking for ways to cut through the layers of misunderstanding and reach the person beneath. There are many valid reasons to have concerns about the Trumps, which is exactly whey we don’t have to stoop to the shallow ones to make our point.

American Women Aren’t As Privileged As Many Believe

As a feminist and a writer, I spend a lot of time reading up on the situation of women around the world.  Cultures that are different from ours give us a chance to discuss ideas and compare results.  For example, I learned recently that Rwanda has the highest number of female parliamentarians at 63.8%.  Cool, huh?

Then I came across an article I had read back when Time originally published it.  It’s a good read if you have a moment.  For those who don’t, the gist is that in Saudi Arabia a woman’s name is considered so private that it is often shameful or embarrassing to refer to her by her name.  She is called “auntie” or “teacher” or “Hank’s wife” but not called by her name.  Her identity as an individual is literally considered so shameful that she is only referred to in her relation to other people.  Growing up in a culture that was the last in the world to allow women to drive cars, and where women are routinely killed for “bringing dishonor on the family” by being the victim of rape means around sixteen million women live under this oppression just in Saudi Arabia.  A Pakistani celebrity divorced an abusive husband and said she believed in equality, and that she loved herself just how she was.  Her brother drugged her and strangled her to death, and in his confession says, “I am proud of what I did.  Girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that.”  He is a drug addict by  his own admission, but his shame is tolerated without question in a country that has a very negative view of drug use.  Simply speaking to a man is grounds for an honor killing, or refusing to account for one’s whereabouts if asked by a male relative.

Cruise on over to the United States, where it isn’t that bad.  But there are some distressing parallels about the entitlement of male privilege and the way it affects women all over the country.  Rape culture perpetuates “boys will be boys” stereotypes while women are victimized.  For perspective, if one in six men suffered from a brutal disease that caused them lifelong pain and trauma, imagine how hard they would work to cure it.  Unequal pay and discrimination make it difficult for women to support themselves, or for single mothers to provide for their family.  This is a major factor in domestic violence, where a mother will sacrifice her safety to make sure their children are fed and clothed.

In 2015, the United Nations sent three human rights experts to observe the United States and how women are treated by society, by government and by law.  The report was heard round the world, and you can read the 2015 version I am referencing here.  Efforts by the Obama administration were praised, specifically the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces that protects women’s right to fair pay and not allowing companies to use forced arbitration that allow discriminatory employers to restrict an employee’s right to be heard in court for allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct.  The 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces act also kept government from issuing contracts to employers who did not meet certain fair pay and safety requirements.  It was revoked in March of 2017, not long after the Trump administration began a series of changes that greatly affected women in the workplace.

The United Nations committee pointed out that the United States is only one of three countries that does not guarantee women paid maternity leave.  Given the struggle to ensure access to birth control and solutions that allow women to make reproductive choices, the experts concluded (correctly) that this is a barrier to steady employment in a nation that has over twenty-five million single mothers according to the United States Census Bureau.

“The lack of accommodation in the workplace to women’s pregnancy, birth and post-natal needs is shocking,” Raday said. “Unthinkable in any society, and certainly one of the richest societies in the world.” – Huffington Post

Women are only 21% of our Senate, and 19% of the House of Representatives.  This puts us behind many nations in the world who enjoy stable and productive governments.  We were given protections by the Obama administration and saw many fall in Trump’s first year.  Our freedom, our autonomy, depends on the whim of men in power.  The now famous picture of a table of white men, without a woman or a minority present, determining the fate of women’s healthcare says a lot about the attempt to represent and serve female constituents.

mentable                (Twitter)

But this was about names, right?  Here in the United States, women are still referred to by their names, so we have that going for us, right?

Not quite.

We know the name of Brock Turner, the one media referred to as the Stanford swimmer.  He is a convicted rapist who hurt and humiliated a young woman so badly that a witness cried on the stand while retelling the events.  But we do not know the name of his victim, called “Emily Doe” to protect her.  To protect her from what?  Perhaps from hearing that her rape called “twenty minutes of action” by Brock’s father.  Or perhaps protect her from a judge who sentenced Turner so lightly that a recall effort was launched by a Stanford law professor.  The judge gave such a light sentence so that Brock’s life wasn’t ruined, despite the fact that he penetrated an unconscious person’s vagina with a foreign object.  Alcohol was used to excuse his actions and in the same breath used to condemn her.  A young woman was sacrificed in front of the entire nation to protect the future of the man who decided to rape her.  One cannot blame her or women everywhere from feeling vulnerable after these events and the outcome.

We do not know the names of the women who had to sign arbitration agreements to work for an employer that paid enough to support their family.  They were denied their time in court and often face a stacked deck that favors ambiguity on the part of the employer, rather than allowing a jury or a judge to take the facts and determine how the law applies to their case.

We do not know the names of women who are denied feminine hygiene items in jails and prisons around the country.  We do not know the names of the female inmates who deliver while handcuffed to a bed.

We do not know the  names of the women who are not paid fair and equal wages because the Trump administration has moved to protect businesses over people and prevent simple transparency.  If businesses are not discriminating there is no reason to hide this information.  Some businesses voluntarily disclose the information, so it can be done… it just isn’t.

We do not know the names of the women who were sterilized against their will because in many cases, the women themselves were unaware that they were denied motherhood. For the offense of coming off as “feeble-minded” or such scandalous behavior as wearing men’s pants, a woman could be sterilized against her will, and in some cases without ever notifying her it was done at all.  This was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Buck v. Bell (which has never officially been overturned though it is essentially rendered toothless). The New Yorker wrote an amazing piece about the case and the way it changed the lives of women everywhere.  American citizens.

The story of these women have been buried.  We are not allowed to name them, which is yet another abuse piled on.  If we live in a society where female victims are hidden for our comfort, when we make rape and domestic violence and incest matters so unspeakable that the victims are hidden for our own comfort and we have failed as human beings.  To sacrifice victims so we can ignore the reality of these crimes, or to protect the future of perpetrators of such crimes is literally saying women don’t matter as much as our society’s polite table talk and the happiness of white boys who commit felonies.  It’s what we hear, and we’re not hearing it wrong. In many states, women have to pay out of pocket for the medical costs associated with their rape, and poverty traps that are particularly hard for single women or single mothers to escape mean insurance and that extra money are simply not an option.

So before we look down our noses on Saudi Arabia and the plight of women in “those other, lesser countries” we need to consider that the United Nations sent experts who expressed dismay at how the United States treats women.  We need to take a fresh look at the parallels between our society’s poor treatment of women and Saudi Arabia, where our current misogynistic paths reach their inevitable conclusion.  We need to look at our language, where a woman’s prefix tells her marital status and a man is always a mister.  We need to look at our tendencies, and figure out why we talk about how many women are raped but never talk about how many rapists must be walking among us.

Unlike men, women never know when their rights will be voted away or dictated into oblivion.  We watch assault after assault on our rights, and know that even the sloppiest archer hits the target if given enough tries.  We live in fear because a bunch of white guys at a table treat us like items instead of people.  We fear politics because politicians who say our bodies can “shut down” pregnancies in the case of rape are also members of the House of Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  We have to be afraid and fight hard for our protection, because they are forever under assault from politicians, religious groups and men who confuse governance with entitlement.

#MeToo started a powerful movement.  Let us continue the fight and end this stupidity once and for all.  Everywhere.

What To Know Before Calling 211

The Wheels To Work program is a pilot program that helps panhandlers and homeless access services that help them get their affairs in order to work.  The pilot uncovered some problems and obstacles that face people trying to get back on their feet, and updated processes to help them succeed.  For example, making sure particpants have access to clothing, laundry and hygiene services, and adequate calories to get through the day.  These are things most don’t have to consider, and after many updates the Wheels To Work program adapted to give the best service possible.

Several signs have been put up around the city, directing people to call 211 if they want to help the program.  Test calls to 211 at first revealed no recognition of the program.  Callers were given no way to make sure their money even went to Springfield, which is problematic.

This begs the question: where do calls to 211 actually go?  It turns out they go to the United Way of Missouri and Southern Illinois.  Funds donated go to the general fund, and could be used to help people from St. Louis to Kansas City or anywhere between.

When this was brought to the city’s attention, successful training updates made sure people who answered the phone at 211 knew how to answer the most basic questions about the Wheels To Work program.

After giving the agency a few weeks to train employees, a second round of test calls were made.  Staff who answered the phone now knew what Wheels To Work was, and where it was located.  So how do they help you ensure your dollars go to the Springfield community?

They tell you to call the Springfield United Way.  Any donations made to 211 go to the general area fund, period.  This was stated on multiple calls.

Callers were given the phone number to the Springfield United Way and a text code they could use to make a donation.  If callers don’t specifically state they want the donations to go to the Wheels To Work program, they are put in the general fund to be used at the discretion of the organization.  There is no way to specify this through the text code, so a successful donation to Wheels To Work means knowing beforehand that one must call Springfield’s United Way directly and know to request this program specifically.  Those facts are not made clear or advertised so that benefactors know the steps.  Again, this was confirmed over multiple phone calls in an attempt to make a successful donation.

While the United Way might provide helpful services, it can be a bit misleading to promote this number as a “better way” to help panhandlers or implying that the money is routed to them.  This number is displayed at intersections where panhandlers frequently hang out, and has been touted as the way to help with the issue without directly giving cash to the people on the street. However, if callers do not ask upon calling 211, or think to specify when they are redirected to the Springfield office, the money may not be used for the purpose intended by the donor.