Wednesday, November 8, 2017

It’s Only Words: Thoughts on #metoo

The #metoo campaign has been on my mind since it first appeared in mid-October.  I am saddened but not shocked that so many I know have been assaulted or raped.  In the midst of that first week, a male friend made light of it.  I wanted to tell him off, but I bit my tongue.  We were in mixed company.  This group of friends is thicker-skinned than me.  It is assumed this particular friend is just joking.   We make allowances for him.  I bit my tongue because I am the quiet one in the group who feels she has to speak loudly and rudely to be heard. I bit my tongue because I knew saying something would do no good.

Unlike a lot of women I know personally and virtually, I am fortunate that I have never been assaulted. I’ve never been in a situation where I was absolutely powerless.

In tenth grade, another student on the school bus described in detail how he would like to tie up me and a friend and what he would do.  We said nothing.  I remember to this day feeling threatened and vowing never to be alone with that kid.  He was two years younger than me, but bigger and stronger.  I’d found him creepy before, but now I had a definite reason.

A year later, at a new school 150 miles away, I walked home from school one day when two boys decided to follow me home in a car.  They drove slowly, keeping pace with my steps, yelling that I was a bitch and that they would kill me.  I did nothing to provoke this.  I barely knew these kids.

That time, I did say something to my parents.  They followed up with the principal.  The principal followed up on something unrelated my Dad told him.  It was associated with the shouted death threats but as far as I know, there were never any repercussions for them, just confirmation what my dad said was true.

Years passed.  In college and grad school, I did a few stupid things like walking alone across campus well after dark and accepting a walk home from a man I’d never met in person.  I never felt unsafe with any of men I socialized with at the time, whether they were friends or something more.  I trusted them and never felt any of them would be violent towards me.  

In my twenties, I settled for a relationship with a man I did not fully trust, who I was not completely comfortable with.  He was verbally and emotionally abusive.  I truly believe he would have been physically abusive had he thought he could get away with it.

These are the experiences I remember.  These are the times I remember feeling unsafe, the times I was made aware that the men hurling words at me could physically overpower me.  

Words have power.  Words can summon fear.  Saying what you would like to do to another person does not make you more attractive.  It does not make you stronger.  It does not make you better.  It is not funny.  It is behavior that should not be brushed aside or laughed about.  This behavior is not acceptable.  If it makes you uncomfortable, call people out for it.  Don’t bite your tongue like I did.  The next time it happens, I am speaking up.

My experiences pale in comparison to what so many have had to endure. But I will stand by the women and men who have experienced assault and abuse.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Words I Don't Keep

The words I don’t keep
That I set free on paper
Are my gift to share
If they are too easy,
Too plain, too transparent,
Pass by

If they are too obscure,
Too hard, too much,
Seek them only if you choose

If my words sing to you,
If they solve a mystery,
If they make you wonder
Know I am grateful
Know that I am honored

The words that I set free
Are my gift
Accept them as you please

Inspired by an interview on NPR with Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, found here:

Saturday, September 23, 2017


Two poems, written a lifetime apart:

(January 29, 1993, two weeks from being 21)

            Learn what you want
                        (And some of what you don’t want)
            Do well
            Eat your vegetables
            Blow soap bubbles in the spring
            Appreciate some fine art
            Play in the snow
            Take night walks
            Blow bubbles in your milk
            Be nice to yourself
            Be nice to others
            Have a good cup of coffee
            Have good friends
            Fall in love
            Wear hats
            Travel (if only in your mind)
            Be yourself
            Never forget to be young (ever)

(September 3, 2017, smack in the middle of being 45)

Take the meeting
Ask the question
Open up
Get hurt
Don’t dwell
Don’t hold back
Assume people like you
Don’t worry when they don’t
Know you’re good enough
Run if it feels wrong
Stay if it could be right
Go with your gut
Send the resume
Trust yourself
Own yourself
Be yourself
Don’t let go of who you are
Kiss the boys
Take the chance

I don’t often wear my heart on my sleeve.  I save it for paper.  This has been my modus operandi since I was a teenager.  It has not changed in part because I have written sporadically as an adult.  Before, I wrote constantly from the age of 10 until I started college.  Sometimes, it was for school.  Most often, it was for the fun of it.  I just did it; it was part of who I was. 

The core of who I am does not change.  When I wrote “Advice,” I had completely forgotten about “Memo to Myself.”  Written a lifetime apart, they speak to each other.  They speak to me.  I am writing to my older self and to my younger self.  At least one of us is still around to take note.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Friendship, Flirting, and Digital Angst (1994)

In the waning days of college, my best friend Jennifer and I decided to take a road trip to Iowa City. We would drive her shiny new red Grand Am six or so hours to a gathering of like-minded people who we’d never actually met.  We knew them from ISCA.bbs.  Added to the mix, we were going two hours out of our way to pick up a friend in Cedar Falls.  

Bulletin board systems, or .bbs for short, were social media before anyone coined the term, but without the graphics.  ISCA.bbs was the Iowa Student Computing Association bulletin board system.  Users from all over the world logged on.  If too many people were logged on, you waited in the queue until somebody logged off and it was your turn.  If you had access to a computer, a modem, and some time, you could be there.  The vast majority of us were college students, though there were some high school kids and a few past adults past their 20s.  

This was before the internet as we now know it existed.  Netscape was brand new in 1994. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, wasn’t even a teenager.  Outlook and Gmail didn’t exist.  Basic e-mail was picking up steam on colleges campuses.  If you received an e-mail from an address you didn’t recognize, you would probably open it and try to figure out who sent it.  Sometimes it wasn’t hard. I received a few messages from GoD.  I knew exactly who it was. It really was the Wild West. 

Even without graphics, it was possible to spend vast amounts of time online on a .bbs. There were “forums” or “rooms” for all sorts of topics on ISCA.bbs, from the esoteric to the silly.  You could have private conversations via eXpress messages, or “Xes” for short.  You could argue about history and literature or get critiques of your writing.  

You could commiserate or blow off steam.  You could mess with people’s heads just for the sheer black-hearted fun of it.  You could tell jokes or spread rumors. You could make friends or enemies. You could laugh or cry.  You could flirt or fall in love.  You could do almost anything on a bbs, and you did it with text.

When you created an account, you had to come up with a new name to use online.  You could use your real name, but most of us came up with something new.  On ISCA, there was CatsEye, Glass Falcon, Cyanide, Captain Chaos, Caramel Delight, and Vlad the Impala among thousands of others.  We were from Iowa, Michigan, Maryland, Washington, Australia, the United Kingdom and just about everywhere else.

Jennifer and I set off for Iowa during rush hour on a Friday.  It was a few days after Kurt Cobain died. Stuck in construction traffic outside Lansing, we heard about it on a random radio station as we channel surfed for better music.  We didn’t care.  Grunge wasn’t our thing.  I remember we couldn’t find anything good on the airwaves. Instead must have popped in a CD or continued our four-years’ long conversation about absolutely everything.  
Jennifer was my other half.  We talked from the night we met at freshman orientation until a few years after graduation. We synced in all sorts of ways.  We finished each other’s sentences.  We looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking.  Sometimes, we even got our classes mixed up. She was a little shorter than me, more outgoing and a lot smarter.  We did everything together.  I think we even signed up for ISCA at the same time. I really believed we would always be in each other’s’ lives.

I haven’t seen Jennifer in close to twenty years.  We lost contact for a while but it doesn’t change the fact that she is the only friend I’ve loved like family.  To this day, I would drop everything for her if she needed me.

So, around Chicago that night in April 1994, we lost the thread from I-94 to I-80.  We were north of where we were supposed to be.  We drove into the darkness of I-90 west of the suburbs, then south on I-39 and finally, to I-88 west.  No lights, no exits, no cell phones. Just a road map and hours of darkness ahead of us.  At the end of it was a friend from ISCA we’d never actually met, waiting to be picked up outside a bar in Cedar Falls.  Was that as sketchy then as it sounds now?

Sometime after midnight, we stopped at the last gas station in Illinois to call information for the number of the bar where our friend was waiting.  We called and the bartender paged Rob.  He laughed at us and took it in stride, like it was no big deal that we were running late. The bar would be closed well before we arrived.

We’d never met Rob in person.  He could have been an ax murderer for all we knew.   What I did know was this:  he’d had a rough few years.  He smoked. He drank.  (I didn’t do much of either.) He was intelligent with a subversive streak and a loner– totally my type in those respects. He was also a few years younger than me.  I found him sometimes unsettling and a little dangerous, but instinctively I knew he had a good heart.

The previous semester, Rob taught me to flirt - in brilliant green and amber text. It was an education he perhaps didn’t know he was providing.  We were very different in some ways and similar in others.  He wasn’t the only guy I flirted with on ISCA, but he meant the most. We connected on an emotional level.

There was no eye contact or stammering to worry about on a .bbs…in theory.  Even though we sat typing at computer monitors hundreds of miles apart, I often blushed and averted my eyes from the screen. (I was a master at avoiding eye contact in person.)  A rose composed of an ampersand and punctuation marks could make my day. We communicated on ISCA, through e-mails that the other person didn’t always receive, talked on the phone, and exchanged blurry pictures through the mail.  

I think we met in a forum called Babble.  The name says it all.  In Babble, users talked about everything and anything.  We talked about life.  We joked.  We healed.  We flirted.  We held virtual happy hours and crashed on virtual couches in dark corners. We were lighthearted.  We were serious.  

I remember when one user burst in to Babble and said his parents were getting divorced. He didn’t know what to do.  We were there for him, reaching out and listening across the miles, across dial-up connections from everywhere. 

The first exchanges Rob and I had were about a mutual admiration of vampires.  Before the end of September 1993, we were talking a lot in private eXpress messages and exchanging e-mails.  

Because I wrote about that year in excruciating detail as it unfolded, I have a record of what was typed when things moved to more than flirtatious, banter between unseen strangers.  It went like this:

Rob: “So what do you look like?”

Me (coyly):  “What do you want me to look like?”

Rob:  “Yourself.”

That stopped me in my tracks.  He wasn’t flirting.  He really wanted to know.  Be still my bruised heart!  

The fall of 1993 I was reeling from breaking up with my first serious boyfriend. Scott and I had known each other since the second week of our freshman year.  Near the end of that year, we stopped ignoring what was obvious to everyone but us.  We were wildly attracted to each other.  We were a couple for the next two years. Between my junior and senior year, we broke up, painfully but without malice.  For other reasons, he transferred to a school close to home.  

I did not know college without Scott.  His absence was palpable. I was so used to him by my side that I could feel he wasn’t there. Anything would remind me of him.  That we never stopped talking even though we’d broken up couldn’t have helped.  I was fragile. I was tough. I was a mess. 

I tried to run from all that by writing a lot, by spending too many hours on ISCA, and by flirting more than I ever had before, mostly online.  I was still shy, but I could be daring behind a keyboard.  It was a real rush!

My fling with Rob was over by the middle of October, but we remained friends.  We still talked online and on the phone.  By the spring of 1994, there was still interest in meeting IRL –in real life – so I jumped at the opportunity to go on a road trip to Iowa.

By the time Jennifer and I got to Cedar Falls, it was 3:30 in the morning.  The bar had been closed for an hour and a half.  As we rode up, we saw Rob sitting on the curb reading, his long legs stretched before him.  

He walked up to the car like he knew exactly who it was. (For all he knew, we  were the ax murders.)  I stayed in the driver’s seat.  Jennifer got out of the car and greeted him with a hug.  I did not because, well, it was apparently time to put my guard up even if I was truly happy to finally meet. 

From there, we drove to a Happy Chef diner.  We were all hungry.   I later recorded it as “a pale imitation of Denny’s.”   What I didn’t record was what we talked about or how much my guard was up.  I now have no idea what the conversation was.

Rob was pale, tall and thin.  He stood about a foot taller than me.  Online, he had a knack for saying things I didn’t know how to respond to, because it was off-color or because I had absolutely no frame of reference. His brown hair was dyed black and shaved underneath. What wasn’t shaved fell to his shoulders.  Like every other guy I ever really cared about, he wore glasses.  He had kind eyes and a nice smile. 

Sometime in the next few hours, he snuck in between my defenses, ever so briefly.  I remember a hug that was a little handsy if polite.  No lines were crossed.   He knew his way around a girl.  He didn’t need directions, just signals I wasn’t giving.  

I was 22.  I was growing my hair long again.  It was dyed dark reddish brown against my fair complexion.  I wore lightweight tortoiseshell glasses and a motorcycle jacket that always made me feel tougher than I actually was.

I was a bit intense, I guess, and apprehensive about my future.  Graduation was just weeks away.  Grad school was in my future, but the details were unknown.  

Even in the long skirts and loose t-shirts I often wore, I was a somewhat of a tease.  Coy was my middle ground.  I may have come out of my shell that year, but I had no idea how to proceed.  

I had a delicate confidence.  I felt a certain power of feeling attractive even though I was self-conscious. I knew how to take things only so far with any sort of romantic or physical attraction.  I was afraid of how I would react, so I either ran when things got too close or I became standoffish for what I thought was my own protection.  I held myself back from emotional danger even if it meant withholding friendship and affection, even if I wanted the very same thing in return.

There are a few pictures of that weekend.  In one, Rob’s arm is around Jennifer.  They lean into each other in one while another friend from ISCA looks on. There are smiles all around. In another, a group of us are at a party.  Rob has his arm around me; I am not completely comfortable but not hating it either.  I let my guard slip. Is this visible in the grainy picture?

Most of the weekend, he tried to get closer. Most of the weekend, I inched just barely out of reach.   Someone should have told him, “Just kiss her or don’t.  Stop acting like you can’t find her lips.  Someone should have told me, “Stop playing keep away and just kiss him already.”  He was a gentleman and I was curious but afraid.

All there ever was was a peck on the cheek at the end of the party and a peck on the cheek when we dropped him off at the bus station the next morning.  His ride home fell through. We could not afford the time to drive him back to Cedar Falls, so I bought him a bus ticket. 

I lived in my head so much that year.  I journaled obsessively.  There are five composition books of every tiny painful detail of being twentysomething, passionate, confused, heartbroken, hopeful, and exhilarated with life.  Rob is mentioned often.  I  would not have encountered him without ISCA.bbs. I’ve never had another friend quite like him.  

On ISCA, we were Akasha, Didi, and GoZeR.  

Didi:  “Thank you” doesn’t say enough for our endless conversation all through college. Thank you for being my best friend even though I didn’t like Doctor Who then.   Thank you for dealing with my sad manic self our senior year. (Okay, and every other year, but especially that year.)  You are a saint.  I miss you.

GoZeR:  Thank you for bringing me out of my shell.  Thank you for listening and making me laugh.  Thank you for everything on ISCA I remember and probably some stuff I don’t. Thank you for tracking me down every so often in the years since.  Thank you for giving a damn. 

Thank you for being there, for being who you were that moment in our lives.  You helped me find my way.  I love you both.

Author’s note: “Friendship, Flirting, and Digital Angst (1994)” was inspired by the perfect storm of finding an old friend from college one week and the very next week, learning an old friend from high school had died.  Each was present in my daily life in some way only about a year.  The friends we may be close to for only a short time can have a lasting impact on our lives. 

Reach out to your old friends. I don't care if you haven't seen them in decades. Find them; it is so much easier than it used to be. Find them and let them know they made a difference in your life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


(May 8, 2008)

Shirt rumpled, sleeves rolled up,
Deadline looming, wheels turning
Pausing only to put thought into words
Furrowed brow, mussed hair,
Tie loosened, open shirt collar
Lean back in the chair,
It’s after hours

Papers scattered, thoughts focused
Intense, adrenaline-fired exhaustion
Lights dimmed,
Features bathed in monitor glow,
Intelligence, inspiration in overdrive, overtime
Inspired by Ira Glass and “This American Life Live” as seen at Kerasotes Showplace 16 in Rockford, IL.  In Dec. 2008, I saw him live in Springfield.  And yes, I'm a giant dork, but you probably already knew that.

Address Rasa

(July 31, 1999)

At the cusp of the future
I sit in the blank void
Listening to the voices
I caught years ago
When someone else was me

Friday, August 12, 2011

Best Friend

(December 12, 2010)

The sisterhood of comfortable silence
Of girlish laughter and knowing looks
Being only a phone call away

The sisterhood of facing it together,
The crazy joy and tribulation of life,
Or just going out on a messy December day

I miss you like the one that got away