Tuesday, November 9, 2010

For Everyone Who's Ever Made A Mistake...

Welcome.

I looked in the mirror today and had an overwhelming sense of time passing. That happens to me almost continuously now – a sense that time is running out and the best, or at least the majority, of my life is behind me. The youth, the ability to direct my life’s path – gone. Where I am now is who I am and the whole thing equals what I’ve become and the legacy I’ll leave, which is…

What?

When I was young I let myself off the hook often for my mistakes, feeling that my life was just starting and there were plenty of years to define who I was. The mistakes would get overwhelmed with the successes, surely? But then I hit adulthood, and I started to feel that my mistakes were of more monumental proportions; the hurts I caused were more severe, the choices more indelible, the relationships I was losing – my mother, my father - more and more substantial and irretrievable. By the time I reached middle age I had regret. Not just minor disappointments, but big, serious opportunities lost and life choices I’d give years off my life to undo. I’d made mistakes, done things wrong, broken things I’d valued to such a degree that I felt the hope and possibility of youth slipping away. By age fifty, I had sorrow, guilt, and at least some degree of all the major negative emotions that come with getting it wrong and screwing it up. I looked at people who had lived safer, ‘cleaner’ lives, and kicked myself daily for all the stupid mistakes I’d made.

And I can’t undo it. I’ll never be fresh-faced, unsullied, na├»ve or innocent ever again. I’ve told too many lies, spoken too many harsh words, broken too many promises to ever be that girl again. And there’s tread on these tires and on this face. Faster and faster I am turning from the young, fertile woman to the crone – that female figure in Shakespearean literature, devoid of promise, who has been beaten down by life and loss, bad choices and inner darkness. My life is sliding past and I can't stop it, and I have yet to make my mark for good in this world.

I suspect others feel like this – especially other women. That sense of panic – of terror – that ‘it’s all slipping away’. But nobody says it. We’re all so busy trying to convey a sense of success, a sense of contentment. At the very least we portray ourselves as domestic martyrs, wives and mothers worn out through trying so hard, making such an effort, for family, friends, or our community. A sense of being 'good people'. Nobody wants to say “I blew it. I had one life and I’ve screwed it up.”

Well this is my confession; I didn’t work hard enough, I wasn’t honest enough, or loyal enough. I was too lazy, too self indulgent, too selfish. In the continual scrambling to get to a place of ‘ok’ – of ‘safe’ - I missed being the best I could be - or perhaps much good to this world at all.

I don’t know – and will never know – what I could have become or what I could have achieved had I put my head down and truly tried, had I worked out my goal and gone straight towards it, deviating neither to the left hand nor to the right. That dream is dead and I will never know, and I am overwhelmed with regret and panic when I see the sand in my personal hour glass running away without pause and me being no closer to reaching some identifiable, valuable destination. No success, no definition, no sense of “I did this and this is who I am.” I’ve heard doctors say that it’s almost impossible to get an unhealthy person to change their life habits and that the dependence this society has on medication is because people simply won’t lose weight, stop smoking or drinking, take up exercise and adopt a truly healthy lifestyle. I’ve heard those same doctors say that the one window of opportunity they have to make people change is directly after their first heart attack; that that period of time represents the one open door for their patients to move from ‘here’ to ‘there’. Well, middle age was my emotional heart attack. It was my crisis of identity. This is my now or never moment.

Afraid of taking a leap, I have hovered on the precipice of indecision for decades wondering what I should DO with my life – till that life has almost passed me by. Fifty may not seem old to some, but my parents died at ages 52 and 58, so this is a significant decade for me. Part of me wants to stay frozen, like a rabbit staring into the oncoming headlights. But something else in my heart has stirred, which whispers in my ear “Do it now, Kareyn. Do it NOW.”

I have been sure of two things in my life; that I love Jesus and that I am supposed to write. Be it books, blogs, poems or letters, as sure as I am of my religion, I’m sure my gift is with words and that words are powerful. The pen truly is mightier than the sword. So to this end I thank God daily for this gift and pick up my ‘pen’ and write. I have three more books to go in the Prism series, one coffee table book to write with a friend, and then my time will perhaps be my own, to blog, to write poems and stories for little children – simply to add joy and innocence to the world. I have a passion also for animals in pain - emotional or physical – and I’m doing what I can to raise awareness on the issues associated with their plight. Words are my gift, and I’m trying to use them judiciously, sparingly, accurately, healingly, joyfully, and quickly.

Will it be enough? Will I feel as though the contribution made will justify my existence, or even balance out the mistakes I’ve made and the black marks I’ll leave on this world? I feel as though I’m trying to shift a mountain with a teaspoon while somebody with a dump truck continually deposits loads of dirt and rubble on top of its peak. Will I ever make a difference? Is it even possible?

Underneath the panic, underneath the feelings of failure, speaks a still, quiet voice:

“Dig, Koo. Dig.”


“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval.….These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it plain that they are looking for a homeland, and if they had in mind the country from which they went out, they would have had a chance to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
Hebrews 11: 1, 2, 13-16.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I, The Consumer - One woman's refusal to accept violence against women as entertainment.

For a long time now I have considered writing a post about the treatment of women in the media. I’ve put it off because I don’t want to be branded a zealot, a weirdo, a ‘pinko liberal commie bastard’, a ‘typical hysterical woman’, or anything outside the boundaries of what’s normal and socially acceptable female behavior.

But it occurs to me now that what’s normal and accepted is exactly what’s wrong. It’s exactly what I want to stand against. So here’s me, leaping the barricades of mainstream behavior and baring my chest (or my back, for the more cowardly) and speaking against the great Nameless Faceless They – the mainstream media (those elitist bastards!) (NB tongue in cheek nod of the head in the direction of Alaska and its most famous export).

Unless you’re blind or don’t own a tele, you’ve probably noticed the huge upswing recently in police/crime/detective shows. Crime, its detection and punishment as a form of entertainment, is on a seemingly exponential increase in mainstream media, and the vast majority orbits around crime against women. Call me old fashioned – heck, just call me old! – but these days, I’ve found myself sitting - unmoving - through things on the television I would never have seen thirty years ago and would have been outraged by if I had. I’m not entirely comfortable sitting through them now; I feel myself looking away, or feeling embarrassed if I’m watching them with somebody else. Somewhere, deep inside, I know – this is wrong. Women being raped, murdered, tortured, drugged, forced into prostitution, hit or abused in any way is not acceptable. But it’s EVERYWHERE – and I’ve learnt to suppress my own discomfort and accept it as a genuine part of common plot structure on tv.

And yet, this is not ok. In fact, this is a very, very, long way from ok. When I did some post graduate training in the area of dispute resolution, I remember having members from the police force come and speak to us about crisis negotiation. They told us, and research later supported this in my own experience, that the most effective way of decreasing stress in any situation is to role play it. Role playing stressful events multiple times was the most effective way – in fact the only reliable means – of decreasing the stress associated with that same event when it occurred in reality. Numerous reports have been produced over recent years finding that violent video games lead to a deadening of sensitivity – of conscience, if you will - in some players to those same crimes being committed in real life. "But it's not real!" is no longer an adequate defense against what must be seen as gateway behavior. My firm belief is that continually seeing women portrayed as victims leads to an acceptance in the real world of women as legitimate targets of abuse. In other words, it deadens the shock. We’re no longer appalled and, while we find it sad and unacceptable, nobody seems to be standing up against the continual portrayal of women as punching bags.

But the effect has been more widely spread. I spend a lot of time reading what’s on the internet. In fact, my friends often joke that – if it’s on the internet, I’ll either know it, have read it, or be able to point you towards it. And what I see in entertainment blogs is women being insulted in repulsive, verbally offensive terms if they deviate to any degree from what the blog commenter thinks is less than perfect. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful women in the world categorized as ‘dogs’ or worse; America Ferrera, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Love Hewitt (anyone whose name is Jennifer, apparently!), Uma Thurman, Demi Moore, any woman more than 110 lbs, or less than 110 lbs, or too short, or too tall, or not enough to the liking of whichever man is writing the comment is fair game to be condemned as ugly and sexually unacceptable. We seem to have reached a stage where women are valued primarily for their sexual allure – a completely subjective and ephemeral thing – and pilloried if failing to make the grade. These women have their bodies discussed and ranked in intimate, descriptive detail, by men they’ve never met and who they’d never date in a thousand years. And yet, in that instant – in that snapshot of internet culture – women are pushed down into the role of valueless beings save for any sexual service they are able to render.

I am aware that many men treat women this way due to their own insecurities. But when women are insulted, patronized, passed over for promotion, bumping into the glass ceiling, harassed in the press, their places of business or leisure, when they’re hit, ridiculed, assaulted, looked down on by a culture which has been allowed to form simply because from the beginning of time one gender has a little greater muscle mass, there is SOMETHING WRONG. And when we, as people, ignore it or, worse still, allow it to become a form of entertainment – a part of the general cultural landscape – it’s time to pull our heads out of the sand, shake them HARD, and take a look at who we are.

But do we? On the whole – no. As women, we so often play the game. We buy into the culture and ‘try to compete from within’ – which is euphemistic for ‘being unwilling to exist outside’. As women, we often seem so desperate to be loved and accepted, we will sell our souls in an attempt not to be part of The Great Unloved – those unpartnered, or socially, relationally unchosen. I’ve seen the Facebook pages of young women where they’re made fun of and verbally debased by their own male friends – and they accept this because “that’s how everyone talks these days, Kareyn!” And then these same young women trot meekly behind these young men, hoping to be asked out, chosen, picked. They spread their legs, squash their own abilities and suppress their own views – all because they’re afraid of being alone or of having to fend for themselves. They embrace their own weakness and use it as a form of seduction, never seeming to notice that they’re writing checks for their own debasement.

Women, take a long, hard look at your life choices and actions, and see in what way you’ve accepted an oppressive culture. Speaking out against it won’t be popular, I’m sure. But find your voice, and say ‘no more’. We don’t need to make ourselves less so we can be deemed pretty or popular or acceptable or loved. We need to find who we are, in our strongest, most talented, individual selves, and be that. We are more than sources of sexual satisfaction or a means for some men to feel better about themselves by making us feel worse.

So tonight, let's look more closely at what we’re watching on television or at the theater. If that show or movie is not portraying women as strong, respect-worthy individuals, let's vote with our feet. We are the consumer. We control advertising, ratings, production. Let’s use the media to educate that we are strong and valuable and that violence is not ok. Let’s make hitting a woman no longer a form of entertainment. Let’s return it to the realm of 'horrific' and 'appalling' and totally, utterly unacceptable.

We are not weak. We are equal.