Wednesday, October 26, 2016

To the Man Who Tried to Hurt Me

“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” 
― Mary OliverWild Geese

Today is Wednesday. Over the past few days, numerous people have asked me if I am ok. This question, simple as it may be, has made me pause and think. If by ok, you mean am I able to go about my life like normal, to teach my classes, to train, to be a mom, then yes, I am absolutely one hundred percent ok. Sunday's situation has not changed my actual life one bit. But if by ok you mean am I still angry, still sad, still disappointed, then the answer is no, I am not ok at all.

Many of these well wishers have been men, and when they ask if I am ok, they all have the same look on their face. I didn't really understand that look at first, but now that I have had a few days inside my own head, I get it.  I realize why, despite the very perfect resolution that my husband provided for me on Sunday, I am still positively furious. Despite witnessing a whole team of black belts literally have my back, I am still furious. And hurt. And confused. 

I stood up to a bully last Friday. I spoke up for someone who was being mistreated, someone who is a bit weaker, someone who was not in a position to speak for themselves. I did so in a private conversation between myself and one other person. No one else heard it.  But because I did this, I was verbally and publicly attacked. I was threatened and shamed in front of my family, my friends, and a room full of black belts who have known me for years. I was shamed in my own dojo, in my own house.  By a man in a position of power. 

What a cliche.

While all this was going on, out of respect for the people who were taking promotion, I held my tongue. My husband did not. He pronounced the promotion over, called forward his army of black belts and together we stood, us against the world, until everyone else had left the building. Because no one messes with our family.

I am deeply grateful for the people in our little Upper West Side dojo. I am so thankful for my husband who immediately stood up to defend me and our team, who is a leader in every sense of the word. You don't always get an opportunity in life to really see how many people love you, to see who is willing to stand by your side when a choice has to be made. It was beautiful.

Yet still, I am angry. 

Immediately after the promotion ended, two women who are very close to my heart came over to me. One of them said, "I can't believe you didn't cry. I would have been in tears." The other one gave me a hug and said, "I am so sorry this happened to you."

I do not regret what I said to this man in defense of our student. I also do not regret holding my tongue while he retaliated in a very aggressive, very public way. It was the right thing to do at the time.

But martial arts masters get confused sometimes. You forget that the respect people give you is earned. You forget that we bow to you because of your years of experience, because of your talent, because of your generosity. You forget that we bow to you because we choose to. You forget that your belt, no matter how many stripes are on it, is not a get out of jail free card. You don't get to bully people just because you can. Because of your name or your rank. Because you are physically stronger. Because you are a man. You do not get to make me feel small in my own house. 

So for every woman in that room on Sunday morning, and for every woman anywhere who has ever been belittled and bullied by a man, this is for you. On Friday I stood up for someone who was being treated unfairly.  I would stand up for him again, just like I would stand up for any one of you.  I do not care if I am lectured for twenty minutes or 4 hours and I do not care how many people attempt to embarrass me for it.  I am a fighter. I am a teacher. I am a wife and a mother and a successful business owner. I strive each and every day to contribute to the good in the world. Those students fighting for their black belt on Sunday contribute to the good in the world. The other karate teachers in the room that day contribute to the good in the world, as do every single one of their students.

To the man who tried to hurt me, I do not know what personal struggles you are dealing with in your life right now. I do not know what pain has led you to such a dark place, but I hope it is short lived. I hope you find peace from your bitterness and anger. I hope you find joy again. I really, truly do. The man I used to know was warm, and passionate and full of life. I hope to see him again some day.

But I know who I am. I know who my family is. I know who my team is.  Nothing you say can touch that. You can't break it, and you can't take it away. I am a strong woman with an even stronger team behind me.

You are either with us or against us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

F*&k the National Anthem

While I do not shy away from stating my opinion on this blog, I usually try to do so in the least offensive way possible. I am an atheist, a Democrat, a martial artist and a dog person, but you do not have to be any of these things to be my friend. You just have to not be an asshole. That's all. Pretty simple really. Just don't be an asshole and we can hang together.

Not gonna do it today.

Today I am going to break my own rule and just come out and say it: ya'll have to stop with the national anthem. It is a fucking song, people. It means the damn game is about to start. It means someone is about to win a bet for how long Beyonce can hold a high note. That's it. And the game will start whether the players sit or stand or lay down in the grass and get themselves a suntan.

It does not matter what the fuck you do when this song plays. Really. What matters is that people are dying. Period.

But wait, there's more. If you are one of those people who actually feels offended when an Olympian just stands there, or when a football player takes a knee, then you are making shit up to be angry about. Listen buddy, you don't have to make stuff up, there is plenty to be angry about already. Why don't you take a moment to actually think about why there might be a few protests happening right now. Because people are dying. Over and over and over again, black people are dying in ways and situations that could have been prevented, that would have been prevented had the situation been just a little bit different. But thinking about that makes you feel funny. You'd rather not. You'd rather complain about a song instead.

Oh yeah, there are also some bombings going on. And a whole lot of unconvicted rapists. And four year olds who accidentally shoot each other with daddy's gun. Also some of your neighbors are struggling to feed their kids breakfast every morning.

Did I mention that the cops keep shooting black people? And yes, you and I, we are white people so that's not really about us is it? But actually it is, because those black people are our friends, our neighbors, our children's classmates, our fellow fucking human beings!

But yeah you go ahead and get angry about the national anthem.

And before you get all pissy, you should know that I know a few really great police officers. And that I support and respect the NYPD completely. It is a hard job to be a cop. And you know what makes it even harder? When freaked out cops keep shooting people! Because the thing is the more this shit happens the more the cops will be on edge, and the more the cops are on edge, the more they are going to mess up. And the more they mess up, the more people are going to die.

I am a white woman. I don't know what it is like to get pulled over and fear that I might not survive. But I can close my eyes and imagine how scary that must be. I can imagine what it must be like for the mothers of young black boys who have to sit their kids down and explain exactly how to behave when a cop speaks to them.

Listen buddy, no one is asking you to give up anything. Just to be aware. Be aware that institutionalized racism is a real thing, even if you don't quite understand it. Be aware that your life, and mine, have been automatically easier because of the color of our skin, even if you don't quite understand it. You do not have to stop living it. Just be aware and listen and care. And for goddsake stop talking about the national anthem like it fucking matters. Like it means anything. Stop getting angry about some dude taking a knee because you are too much of a fucking coward to admit that you don't really get the other stuff. That the word racism makes you feel funny. That talking about dead black boys makes you uncomfortable. It should make you uncomfortable. You don't get it. I don't get it either. That's the whole point.

Go ahead, read from the required script now. Your line is, "Well if you hate it so much here why don't you leave?" That's what you wanted to say wasn't it? But the truth is I love it here. Why wouldn't I? I am not the one being discriminated against.

Why don't you try this instead.
Just repeat after me:
I Do Not Understand.
I Do Not Know How to Fix This.
I Am Sorry You Are Hurting
How Can I Help?

Dude, your precious song is a lie. "Land of the free, home of the brave?" For who? You and I, that's who. That song, it is about us. And if you were a real patriot, instead of whining about where to put your hand during the anthem,  you would be furious that those powerful words do not apply to half of the people who are listening. You would have your knee right there on the ground with those protesters. As every single player, at every single game should. As we all should. Because we are ALL Americans, and more importantly we are all human beings. And when our fellow humans are being hurt it is time to stand up for them.

Or in this case, kneel down.
Or if you can't handle that, then please just shut up.
Thank you.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reasonable Fear

When you are climbing up a rock wall, you spend a lot of time assessing things. Is that grip a good one? Do my feet feel secure? Are my arms too tired? Often there is a mental struggle between unrestrained terror (OMG I am so high up, I am going to die!!) and reasonable concern. (Is my knot tied correctly? Is the caribiner locked? Is my belayer paying attention? Ok then, climb on!)

I have one of those brains that likes to get carried away sometimes, particularly when it comes to my health. (Something hurts today, it must be jiu-jitsu related. It still hurts a few days later? Maybe I am sick. A week later? CANCER!! ) People with health anxiety learn to distinguish between normal concern and paranoia. We learn to give our body a chance to fix things first. We stay away from Web MD and under no circumstances do we Google any symptoms, ever! We get our annual blood tests and scans and then we avoid the doctor the rest of the year, unless that cough gets worse, and then we just go get a Zpak.

This mental gymnastics is what living in NYC is like nowadays. I remember back in 2012, feeling relieved that the horror of Sandy Hook occurred on a Friday. I had a whole weekend to cling to my own child before I had to exhale and drop her off at school again, knowing fully well that there was a slim to nothing chance of anything bad happening at her local Brooklyn school but nervous nonetheless. The first time I rode the subway after 9/11 I was a mess, even though the heightened security in the city at the time probably made it the safest ride I ever took.  

Now there are bombs in Chelsea. And once again we all have to wrestle between reasonable caution and panic. That is what terror attacks do. They mess with your sense of normal. Are there more bombs out there? Do I keep my whole family home, inside,  forever? Eventually, because we are New Yorkers, we simply grab our Starbucks and we go. We drop the kids off at school. We head to work. We change nothing because like one interviewee said in the NY Times today, "If its happening, its happening." 

This morning everyone got an emergency alert on their phones. The FBI is searching for a suspect. He may be armed and dangerous. Everyone tiptoes around his Muslim name. We don't want to offend anyone. The Trump supporters say look what happens when you let those people into our country. The Hilary supporters say that a bad guy is just a bad guy and we shouldn't generalize. It is a stupid debate. This new guy is probably an Islamic terrorist. Adam Lanza was a white dude with a gun. I have Muslim friends whom I love who would never hurt anyone. I have white friends who are filled with more hate and anger than all of Isis combined. 

None of that matters. What matters is kissing our kids goodbye and watching them walk through the schoolyard. What matters is driving over the bridge into Manhattan and wondering, wondering. What matters is that we still need coffee in the morning, that laundry still needs washing, that our boss still needs that file by noon.

In November of 2004, I called my karate instructor's cellphone multiple times and no one answered. Later that morning, we learned why. And although my brain knows fully well that a phone going to voicemail does not always mean a dead body, I can do nothing about the flood of panic that overtakes me whenever Matthew does not answer his. He goes off to jiu jitsu every single Tuesday and I make him text me when he gets there. It is stupid. I know it is stupid. He is no more likely to die on the BQE on the way to class than I am likely to plummet off of the rock wall. But it is what it is. 

So here we go again NYC. Another day of weighing what is reasonable. Do you take an Uber to work today instead of the subway, just in case? Do you drive down a different street? Carry a knife in your pocket? Ask your spouse to text you when he gets to work? And maybe again at lunchtime? Or do you do nothing different because by now this tiny humming undercurrent of fear is old hat. It is normal. It is just our life, we are New Yorkers, and fuck if anyone is going to keep us from our Frappachinos.

Be safe out there everyone. 
Whatever that means.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Climb On

I wrote a blog post this morning. To be honest, it wasn't very good. It has been awhile since I have written anything and I am out of practice. But I worked on it for an hour and then, right before hitting publish I reread it and said, nope, not posting this. 

If you are my Facebook friend you know that we have been doing a lot of rock climbing lately, not just at the gym like always, but also on real rocks. So I wrote this post about climbing. It went something like this:

"I would not say I am an adventurer. That being said, I love love love this climbing thing. Like really love it. And yes, it is pretty damn scary. But that is not why I love it. We are actually not really the risk taking type, Matthew and I. So while yes, rock climbing is inherently dangerous, we do everything we can to minimize the risk. We climb with helmets. We strap ourselves to everything, all the time. We climb slowly and carefully. We double check all knots and caribiners. Could an accident happen? Sure. But then again, I could also crash my car on the BQE if I am not paying attention. A lot of people think that we must love climbing for the adrenaline rush. But the truth is, I love climbing for the puzzle solving. I love it for the thrill of learning what my body can do. And yes, it feels great to overcome my fear of the woods and the fear of falling and even my fear of being far away from the car. But mostly, it is just beautiful out there. "

And then I posted this picture:

High Rocks at Ralph Stover State Park

That was at the very end of the post. The first four paragraphs were all disclaimers. About how despite my Facebook posts about biking to work and climbing cliffs and grappling, I am actually just like you. I am normal. I pay bills. I stress about work. I yell at my kid. I go to Costco for toilet paper.

The point is, apparently to my brain it was not ok to just say hey everyone we discovered this awesome place to rock climb and it is really cool. I had to apologize for it first. To make sure everyone knew that I was still afraid of flying. And that I only really bike from my house to the dojo. And that yes, I am a little afraid of the woods but don't worry we didn't have to walk too far from the car to climb.

In other words, in order to post about how excited I am that we are all learning this new skill, I first had to make sure that no one thought I was bragging. That no one felt bad. That everyone who had to sit in their florescent lit office all day on Wednesday understood that I was really just like them. I too have to work. I too have to parent. I too have chores. Just not on Wednesday. On Wednesday I was at High Rocks.

Why is it that I always feel so compelled to apologize for our life? What is wrong with our society that I feel the need to say hey I am sorry I didn't work 10 hours today for a boss I hate to make money to buy the stuff I want? 

I made choices. WE made choices. We chose to skip some areas of life in order to be able to have others. We didn't magically end up this way. And all of the people who wish they too could be doing BJJ and climbing rocks, well go ahead! Do it! Stop living the life you think you are supposed to live and go live the one you want instead. 

Of course we are not happy all of the time. Of course we have stress and fear and pain. And in case you are wondering, of course I know that this all could end. At any moment one of us could get sick or injured. The dojo could fail and we could have to both go get 9 to 5 jobs.

Do I really need to say this in order to then tell you about how much I love to rock climb?

And no I do not think we are better than you. But we are pretty damn cool. Not because we are wild adventurers, but because we are grown ass adults who have chosen to learn a new skill. We are cool because we have chosen to get out there and DO something instead of just watching everyone else do things on the Internet.

And you, you can do it too. If you want to, that is. Go do something. Like really do it. Learn something new. Have fun. Play. 

Or something like that anyway. I am no Tony Robbins. 

And yes, it is scary as f%ck up on that cliff face but once you get over that it is absolutely amazing.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Deja Vu All Over Again

I spend an awful lot of time nowadays trying not to be angry at my fellow human beings. I know how toxic it is to walk around with that knot in your stomach all the time. But then Orlando happens. And Facebook explodes with useless thoughts and prayers again but in Washington, where laws are made and change can occur, nothing. Again. Nothing is done, nothing is voted on, no laws are passed. There is a great little protest which causes a stir for a bit but in the end it dies just like all those people in that night club. Because too many people in this country are selfish. They want to say meaningful shit but no way in hell are they going to ever give up anything to help others. Especially not for gay people. Or black people. Or poor people. So they post a little meme on the Internet while deep down a little voice is saying not me, don't touch my life, don't touch my guns or my fancy house or my giant TV or all these things that I think are important. I just want to sit here and pretend I am sad, but I don't want to actually change anything in the world, ever. 

And then there is another police shooting. Another black man who wasn't really doing anything wrong is dead. And there goes Facebook again, all those hashtags. We are so disappointed and so angry. How is it that this is happening again? How is it that you can be a white college rapist in this country and get practically zero jail time but a black guy selling CDs is dead? Meanwhile somewhere, maybe somewhere right nearby, a fellow human being is saying well he was a criminal right? He had a record. I am sure the cop had a good reason. Maybe he pulled his gun and you just can't see it clearly in the video? And somewhere else, maybe somewhere right nearby, another fellow human being is saying well yeah, sure, I'd shoot him too. F&*king N&%ger. Yes, someone is thinking this. They are sitting in a bar somewhere right now and saying those terrible words like they are the baseball score. Like they are nothing. Because even though we have come so far in so many years, in some parts of this country we have come nowhere at all.

How do I be a white person right now? What am I supposed to say to my black friends? Sorry again buddy? Sorry my race still can't get it right. Moreover, how do I even be a human being right now? How do I not decide to just lock myself up in a little box, to protect and love my own family and to hell with the rest of you?

I am an atheiest. For the most part I am one of the quiet ones, the kind who tries to accept everyone for who they are, regardless of whether or not they agree with me or not. It is only when someone uses their God as an excuse to do horrible, horrible things to their fellow human beings that I get angry. 

I do not believe in God but I understand why you would and it is fine. I imagine God is kind of like a warm blanket in January. He (or she) is comforting. He stops the shivers. He makes you feel like you are not alone in the cold, cold world. 

Besides, the truth is it does not matter what you believe. It matters what you DO. You are judged by what you do and if what you do is hate, and hurt and destroy than that is what you are; a hater, a hurter, a destroyer. You can speak your hate with a bible verse attached but it is still vile and ugly. You can come up with all kinds of rationalizations for your actions but in the end, hate is hate, racism is racism, murder is murder. And if there is a God,  there is no way he is ok with this. Any of this.

In fact, if there is a God, he probably checked out a long time ago. Because we humans clearly didn't get it. We totally missed the point. We just heard what we wanted to hear. It was supposed to be "love thy neighbor", not "love thy neighbor unless they are poor, or black, or gay, or a woman."  

God should be ashamed of creating us.

So once again I will go about my day trying not to be angry all the time. I will love my daughter and my husband. I will go to jiu-jitsu class and be thankful that I can, instead of just really pissed off that all the cops don't do the same. I will teach my little kids and try to feel like I am at least making some kind of a difference in the world. Most of all I will once again close my cellphone so I don't have to read all the Facebook comments, to witness all of my fellow human beings once again feel angry and sad and helpless. 

We can do better. 
We won't. There will be yet another school shooting and then another cop out of control and another bombing and on and on and on. We won't change a damn thing.
But we can do better than this. 
We are better than this.
Some of us will go on trying to help. Even when it feels useless. Even when it feels like every step forward is actually two steps backwards. 
Some of us will continue to love even when there is so, so much hate.
What other choice do we have?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Insert Curseword Here

Does anyone remember this article:

It was from December 14, 2012. Right after Sandy Hook.

Sandy Hook was four years ago. It was four years ago! And yesterday, 50 people shot dead in a nightclub in Orlando. And today, Facebook, more thoughts and prayers. Because that is the best we can do, it is all we are ever going to do, ever. Change our profile pics and donate some money to some cause that is never going to be able to accomplish their mission, ever.

And when I say we, I don't mean you. You voted for change. You donated blood. You sent money. You did something. I know you did. But it didn't matter. Because the guy who shot those first graders four years ago was a human being who lived here. And the guy who shot up that nightclub was a human being who lives here. And Donald Trump is a human being who lives here. And fucking Brock Turner is a human being who lives here.

And I know the drill. When the world feels evil, be good. Look to the helpers. Don't let anger and hate win. Choose love. Beware the path to the dark side. I know all that.

But I am so damn angry and so damn tired and so damn tired of being angry. If 26 dead kids didn't make anyone do anything differently, then 50 dead club patrons certainly isn't going to matter either. I know there are good people all around us but to be honest you guys, today I am just ashamed to be a human. Seriously. I look at my dog lying in the sun and I am filled with envy. We suck. We are hate filled, ugly, stupid and useless. Fuck us. All of us.

Ok, not you. You guys are the good ones. I will remember that tomorrow, I promise. But right now I am going to take my kid to the park and sit in the sunshine hating everyone. Forgive me.

"Americans reported feelings of overwhelming disgust with whatever abhorrent bastard did this and with the world at large for ever allowing it to happen, as well as with politicians, with the NRA, and above all with their own pathetic goddamn selves, sitting in front of a fucking computer instead of doing fucking anything to help anyone—Christ, as if that were even fucking possible, as if anyone could change what happened, as if the same fucking bullshit isn’t going to keep happening again and again and fucking again before people finally decide it’s time to change the way we live, so what’s the point? What the hell is the goddamned point?" The Onion, Dec, 4, 2012

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Rape is Not a Spelling Error

There is certainly no shortage of blog posts out there about Brock Turner and his terrible crime. Writers far more prolific than myself have dissected the entire case, have shamed the judge Aaron Persky, have expressed outrage at Brock's father's statements. So my addition to the pile is going to be nothing unique, but still I feel compelled to throw my two cents in.

There are many reasons to be angry about this story; the latest in a never ending series of disappointments when it comes to our culture and the way we handle rape. But I am a writer. I focus on words. And there is one word that keeps coming up that really drives me crazy.


As in Brock Turner made a "mistake." 

He got drunk, found an equally drunk, mostly unconscious woman, and oopsy, accidentally raped her.  Cause you know, alcohol.

Here is the definition of the word mistake: 

an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong.

Rape is not a miscalculation. Missing your turn on the freeway is a miscalculation.

Rape is not a misunderstanding. It is not a slip. It is not a blunder.

Hanging your queen in a chess match is a blunder. Rape is something different entirely.

Listen I have been drunk in my life. Very, very drunk. Throwing up on random street corners in New Orleans drunk. And I even did some things in college while intoxicated that I would consider "mistakes". 

And my friends at the time, who were also very drunk, did some stupid stuff as well. Like the time my buddy left the bar and wandered off through the meat packing district in the middle of the night because he was "walking home".  That was a mistake. 2am pizza, always a mistake. There were drunk arguments, drunk kisses, dancing country on the top of a bar called the Village Idiot, which thankfully no longer exists. All the kind of stupid messy things college kids get into when drinking.

At no point did any of my friends rape anyone. Why? Because they weren't rapists. They didn't kill anyone either. Because they weren't murderers.

Sure alcohol can make you lose your inhibitions and do things like run naked through a parking lot or jump into the ocean in January. But forcing yourself sexually on an unconscious woman is not a mistake. It is a crime. It is a violent attack on another human being that no amount of drunkenness can make any different. You don't rape someone because you are drunk. You rape someone because for some reason, deep down, a part of you believes that this behavior is ok. Because you think you are entitled to a little fun. Because whatever, its no big deal. Because the line between consensual and non-consensual sex is kind of blurry for you. Because it turns out that actually, drunk or not, you are a rapist.

Who is to blame for this? Is it your parents? Is is society? Is it college itself, an environment that often seems to encourage drunken stupidity just as much as it encourages improving the mind. And does this act mean you cannot learn and change? Does it mean you are a horrible person who deserves to die? 

No but a slightly longer prison sentence wouldn't hurt.

Listen, I am sure Brock Turner regrets what he did to that girl and I hope he grows up to be a wonderful man. But right now, at this moment in time, he is a rapist. He is not a misguided college swimmer who made a mistake. 

College students get drunk and hook up all the time. Sometimes they cheat on their girlfriends and boyfriends in the process, and when they wake up the next morning with cotton mouth and a pounding headache they will regret everything they did. They will text their significant other with a desperate pleading "I am so sorry. I made a mistake." 

But there is no amount of alcohol that can cloud your mind enough to suddenly make using an unconscious woman as a blow up doll ok. 

By the way, in case you were wondering I am one of those people who believes in both sides of the coin. I certainly think we need to teach our boys about consent. But as the mother of a someday college-aged daughter, I am sure as hell going to teach her about what to watch out for. I am going to warn her about drinking too much. I am going to warn her about putting herself in a situation with a boy that will be difficult to extract herself from. Not because a woman who parties too hard is "asking to be raped", but because in the end the only person who can really protect my daughter is my daughter herself. 

Also by the time Maya gets to college she is going to be a black belt in like four different martial arts so I am not really worried about her.

But please, please stop saying this dude made a mistake. This was not a drunken hookup between two sloppy, giggling co-eds. This was not even a case of "she started kissing me but then she changed her mind"; still not a reason to rape but understandably confusing for everyone. No, this was just assault. No different than me punching you dead in the face and then claiming it was an accident. My arms, my fault. Your penis, your fault. Period.

Oh and while we are on this topic, can everyone please stop talking about what a great swimmer this dude was. It is insulting to all of us other athletes.

Speaking of which, I am going to get ready for jiu-jitsu class. I will try really, really hard not to make any "mistakes" on the way there.