We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Semiotics. Up Close and Personal.

Spring                                                                              Passover Moon

Female Golden Stag Beetle

Female Golden Stag Beetle

In a long ago TV program, the name of which I can’t remember, a character said of his Porsche, “It’s my carapace.”  Yes. The vehicle we choose is a statement about us, carmakers learned this from the carriage makers. Kate and I drive a Rav4. It’s functional, unexciting, and a mostly serviceable way of moving from point A to point B. We bought it in a hurry when our Tundra had a fatal seizure not long after I’d given the Celica to charity.

But we’ve added a bit to it. First, there’s that damage to the front end, unrepaired. Long unrepaired now, maybe 2 years. That’s a statement. We also have two stickers on the back: Our House Runs On Clean Energy and Fin Del Mundo: Ushuaia. During the presidential campaign, we also had a Bernie Sanders sign. There is a small sticker on the side window for the planetarium in Boulder. Gertie and Rigel ride with us from time to time. Another statement.

fishI mention the Rav4 and the Porsche first because these thoughts often occur to me while I’m driving. Vanity license plates. Fancy wheels. Political bumper stickers. Coexist. Rainbow pride. If you’re going to ride my ass, at least pull my hair. Keep honking I’m reloading. Flagpoles on the back of the pickup: the red white and blue on one side, the yellow, Live Free or Die flag on the other. Gun racks. Lowriders. Bentleys and Priuses. The occasional Maserati or Ferrari. Maybe you’re on a motorcycle wearing colors. Maybe you’re pulling a boat, or a camper, or a horse trailer.

As a culture we have chosen our vehicles as a prominent way to signal to others who we are, or who we would like to be.  I read an article that said the political leanings of a particular area could be sussed out by the number of pickup trucks on the road, the more pickups the redder the politics. I’m sure you could find a similar metric by counting Cadillacs or Hummers or expensive sports cars.

I used to have a ponytail and I’ve had a beard almost all of my adult life. Look at a woman’s nails, at earrings, necklaces, bracelets. All semiotics.

evolvedAt home. Even the dogs with whom we live. Semiotics. Furniture. Art. Books. Rugs and window treatments. Semiotics. Both to others, but also, and often more importantly, to ourselves. Reminders of who we are. Or aspirational signals about who we want to become. Or, false flags, representing how we wish others to see us. The solar panels on our roof. The well maintained exterior of our home. Even the stumps of the trees cut down for fire mitigation. All messages to the world.

We are opaque. Who we are, what we mean in the world, is not evident from our bodies. We want to know, need to know, what others are like, but we’re very poor judges. That’s why stereotyping exists. It attempts to add semiotics to skin color or body shape. Because we want some advance clue as to the nature of the other. Are they are a threat? Are they a potential mate? Might we agree with them on something important? Could they be trusted?

grateful deadWe all know this, at least at a subconscious level, so we offer clues. Those Grateful Dead Dancing Bears. The menorah lit in the window. The stylized fish. The stylized fish with legs and Darwin in the middle. A Bronco’s sticker. A Viking’s sticker. A lacrosse stick. Somehow we feel these things reveal a portion of who we are. Make us less opaque, perhaps a bit more transparent.

As a long ago student of anthropology, these kind of things fascinate me. I offer no conclusions, other than what they reveal about our essential opacity and our desire to be known in spite of it. The wide range of these semiotics are perhaps more necessary in a diverse nation with no tribal traditions, no single ethnic heritage, no long history as, say, Franks or Germans or Spaniards.

 

A Year and 7 Days

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Subway in Singapore

Subway in Singapore

It’s been a year and a week since Joseph and SeoAh were married in Gwangju, Korea. We were in Singapore on this day a year ago. We met Anitha, mentioned below, at Relish, a restaurant near Mary’s home and dined that evening at the Tanglin Club, a holdover of the British raj, a private club for owners of rubber plantations.

After coming home to a 46 inch snowfall, we picked up our dogs from the Bergen Bark Inn. Vega got bloat, was operated on the same day and died the next morning. A huge heartache, doubled by its surprise.

Passover 2016

Passover 2016

That May Jon and I dined at a Mexican restaurant in the heavily Latino portion of Aurora where his school is located. “Jen and I are getting divorced.” Oh. My. Still echoing today though the final orders for the divorce were read into the record in November of last year.

That same month I got a letter from a photographer accusing me of using one of his photos without a license. He had me. I was guilty, guilty, guilty. A negotiated settlement passed a thousand dollars to him and inspired a weeks long project of removing all photographs and suspect images from Ancientrails.

The Old Man of the Mountain

The Old Man of the Mountain

Last year was also the peak of fire mitigation work. The sound of the chainsaw was heard in the land for hours at a time. It was fun work and created a zone of safety around our house.  I’m especially grateful for that work this year since we’ve had very little snow and it looks to be a long and potentially hot summer.

In June Timberline Painting put stain on the garage, our two decks and the shed. It was in the same month that Kate and I began to attend the mussar sessions at Beth Evergreen. This was Kate taking up the law of return, re-embracing a decision she’d made 30 years ago to convert.

Too, the Presidential campaign was very much with us. Even though Trump made us shudder, his chance for victory, either for the Republican nomination, or God forbid, for the Presidency itself, seemed very, very unlikely.

20160925_133910That August buddy Mark Odegard, older than me, pushed himself to do prints of all the bridges crossing the Mississippi in Minneapolis and St. Paul. He finished and had a show of his work. That same month we contracted with Bear Creek Design to redo our downstairs bathroom into a zero entry shower.

In September I traveled by car to Minnesota, taking in a reception for Joseph and SeoAh at Raeone’s new home near Central High School in St. Paul. The Woolly’s were having a retreat day that same weekend, so I got to reconnect with my brothers in Stillwater, overlooking the St. Croix.

20161201_201051That driving trip convinced me that my left knee had to get better. Driving made it so painful that sleeping was tough and long stretches on the road difficult. After consulting with Lisa Gidday, my internist, I visited orthopedic surgeon William Peace. We scheduled the replacement for December 1st.

Kate and I observed our first Sukkot in a booth built on the grounds of Beth Evergreen. We continued to get more deeply involved there, attending High Holy Day services and some evening mussar events.

20161022_113629We voted by mail on October 19th. Didn’t help. Trump got elected. Joseph deployed to Qatar. Mark (brother Mark) continued to teach in Saudi Arabia. Final orders for the divorce were handed down and we celebrated Thanksgiving.

Then I had knee surgery. Ouch. I woke up about six weeks later. Only to discover that Donald Trump had, in fact, been elected and that, even worse yet, he would be inaugurated on the 20th of January. Not even the morphine, oxy and tramadol could repress the pain of that realization. And so it came to pass.

It was in the context of all this swirl and drung that I reached the biblical three score and ten. A new decade of life, a sense of completion and a feeling of a new beginning. Still seems odd, still living into that. Somewhere over the course of this time I joined Beth Evergreen, made friends there.

Ruth at Wild Game

Ruth at Wild Game

This month Ruth turned 11 and Gabe will turn 9. Jon’s begun to look for houses, to check out mortgages. Kate and I have our physicals tomorrow. She’s got some serious issues that will become clearer over the next week or so. I have some anxiety about them. My health seems pretty good, even though our time here in Colorado has seen me down a prostate and up a new prosthetic knee.

The year after Joseph and SeoAh’s wedding has been full. Maybe a quieter one coming up?

The Wanderer

Spring                                                                        Passover Moon

Mark on the sands of Araby

Mark on the sands of Araby

Brother Mark has been in town for the last couple of days. It was, in some ways, as if I saw him for the first time this visit. His lifestyle is unusual, truly counter cultural. He works at his long time occupation, teaching English as a second language, saves money, then heads off to travel for a few months. Over the last five years or so he’s worked in Saudi Arabia, teaching in Hail, Jubail, Jeddah and a couple of other places I don’t recall right now.

He’s seen every continent except Africa, crossed the old Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a trip he started in Beijing, and worked day labor type jobs when his funds from the teaching ran low. He also makes time to drop in on relatives and friends, staying a while, then moving on. I admire his willingness to live frugally and engage his passion, to see the world. So, a shoutout to Mark, the wanderer.

 

State Sponsored Violence

Spring                                                                    New (Passover) Moon

This disturbing documentary from the New York Times made me remember a long ago lecture on violence by Bob Bryant, my professor of Constructive Theology and my friend.

The gist of the lecture was this, violence exists on a continuum. At one end is extreme trauma meted out by instruments of destruction like bombs and bullets. At the other end of the continuum is violence perpetrated by neglect, by public policy, by omission.

President Duterte of the Philippines bends the continuum into an Ouroboros-like circle where his policy results in extreme trauma. As “I’ll kill you.” gets carried out by police, military and vigilantes, the rule of law, the notion of a system that can make mistakes and must be checked by the courts, gradually dies, too.

It would seem that Duterte is an outlier in both his rhetoric and the results of his policy. Yet consider this. Estimates by policy wonks about the number of people who would die in the USA without Obamacare suggest that approximately 43,000 a year-a year-would die from lack of medical care if ACA had been repealed and replaced by the Republican “plan.”

What Bob Bryant taught me was that the violence continuum was only about means, about tactics. The results are the same. If you die from a vigilante’s bullet in the Philippines, you are no more dead than a young child in the US who dies because they can’t afford an inhaler for asthma.

This is important to understand. It means the healthcare debate, for example, is not only about medicine but also about state sponsored violence. Even the debate about Meals on Wheels and the school lunch program are also about state sponsored violence. Framed in this way the matter is not one for think tanks and ideological purity but one for those who believe compassion and care are marks of a decent society, who believe government exists to serve, not deprive.

Mud Bugs

Imbolc                                                                           Anniversary Moon

20170318_161305

During the meal

Ruth’s play was in the morning. We drove into Aurora to see it, close to the airport. We came back home, took a nap then went out for the No No’s crawfish boil. Well, I went for the crawfish boil and Kate came along as what the reservation referred to as a non-crawfish eater. We got there early so we saw the waiters put together four tops into single long tables, five of them.

These tables got covered with thin plastic from a roll and the plastic got covered with what I’d expected, newspapers. After we were seated, waiters first brought small plastic containers of fried dill pickles. Wonderful. Next came gloved waiters with metal containers of boiled potatoes and slices of andouille sausage. They simply threw potatoes and sausage slices on the table for each person. Andouille is spicy and a real New Orlean’s treat.

Finally, in the same metal containers came the crawfish, red and spicy from their hot water bath. The waiters tipped the containers over in front of us and small mounds heaped up. The room quieted as we all got to work.

Early in our marriage Kate and I went to New Orleans for a continuing medical education event. It was notable for three reasons. The first and least significant was seeing a grumpy Jerry Lewis pushing a stroller off a plane at the airport. His family looked equally happy.

Having been to New Orleans several times in the years prior to our trip, I wanted to see the area around New Orleans rather than stay in the narrow area of the French Quarter, so I drove out to the bayous. It was April. When I found a bayou that was also a state park, I pulled in, found the boardwalks and walked out into the swampy grassland. Much to my delight and surprise the bayou was full of blooming irises. They were everywhere.

IrisLouisianaHeaderw.title3

The alligators were just waking up, too. I saw several, moving slowly, trying to get their reptilian blood warmed up. They hunt nutria in this area and there were plenty of these large rodents. The alligators, however, were not up to speed and I witnessed many clumsy attempts by sleepy, cold alligators to catch one. The nutria, far faster than their not yet fully present predators, escaped easily.

20170318_154231The last and most memorable moment of the trip came after I decided to drive around in cajun country and find an authentic cajun restaurant. I found one in a small town somewhere not too far from the bayou. I went in, it was in the middle of the afternoon, and I was the only diner in the place. A waitress came over and I told her I wanted to try some authentic cajun food. What would she recommend?

I don’t recall the other things she brought, but she did bring me a plate of boiled crawfish, fresh from the bayou. And proceeded to peel them and feed them to me. It was odd, intimate and unexpected, but seemed perfectly natural.

As I pinched off the tails of No No’s mounded crawfish and leveraged the meat out of them by breaking the small chitinous bands that held it in, I thought of her, that small restaurant, and all those irises.

 

 

Here’s to 27 more

Imbolc                                                                             Anniversary Moon

Well. 27 years ago today Kate and I walked up the steps at the Landmark Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, went into an old Federal Judge’s chambers, stood before Harry Lichy and said our vows, stomped on a glass and started something that has changed both of us for the better.

20170129_112922

We spent the night at the Nicollet Island Inn on the Mississippi River, then took a taxi to the airport where we boarded a Pan-Am flight (yes, it was that long ago.) for Rome. Our honeymoon, three weeks of following spring north in Europe, went from Rome to Inverness, Scotland before we turned around and took the night train from Edinburgh back to London.

Though an overused term, I’ll say that for our lives this was an epic journey. We spent time with each other in many different circumstances. There was that 10 hour train ride from Venice to Vienna through the Dolomites where, to our dismay, we discovered they sold no food. Our trip to Pompeii found Kate carrying water in a backpack. The result? Bad back pain. There was the laundromat owner in Paris, on the left bank, who gave us a beautiful poster which now hangs in our home. The Reject China Shop where we bought our Portmerion china. A wonderful walk along the River Ness on a foggy night in Inverness. And so much more.

Bee-guy

We’ve had quite a life together so far. 17 dogs. Bees. A big vegetable garden, a big flower garden, an orchard. A firepit. Raising Jon and Joseph. Marriages and a divorce. Grandkids. Another epic journey from our 40 year home in Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Both encouraged, by each other, to create. Kate’s quilts and other handwork. My novels.

Mostly though, a quiet love that has persisted. Just like Elizabeth Warren. Persistence and resilience are too often overlooked as key ingredients of a successful life. We’ve had them both. And will into our future.

In, but not of

Imbolc                                                                    Valentine Moon

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall, 1933

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall, 1933

In, but not of. Yesterday at mussar, a spiritual/ethical system within the Jewish tradition, I had a complex moment. We were discussing truth and mercy, the relationship between them. To compare mercy and truth I defined mercy as suspension of judgment. Truth though is a sword and a judgment. If that’s correct, then not all truth is merciful. Rabbi Jamie started to dispute that, but had to leave for his daughter’s wisdom teeth extraction.

truth

In the conversation that followed afterward my use of the sword metaphor was identified as a Christian trope, “I come to not bring peace, but a sword.” I’ve been working very hard over the last year to bracket my mode of theological thinking while absorbing a Jewish style of thinking. This requires effort because though I abandoned Christianity over 30 years ago, my seminary education and professional life as a clergyman reinforced my already strong Judaeo/Christian enculturation. Christianity does still define much of how I think and feel about matters religious and secular.

While that’s obvious, I still felt a flush of embarrassment at being identified with a New Testament informed concept. That flush, as mussar teaches, is an important signal about where growth is necessary.

On the way back up to Shadow Mountain I described my situation to Kate as similar to traveling. “I love to go where the culture is very different from mine, where I’m a stranger. It helps me know my self.” Kate’s journey is one of a Jew deepening her own understanding, her own identity as part of a religious world. My journey is closer to travel, “It feels like I’m traveling on the inside.” In this case no geographic change is necessary for me to be a stranger.

travel

This inner travel exhilarates me, but it also confuses and, in a mild sense, scares me. I’m trying to gain wisdom and personal growth from Beth Evergreen while maintaining my own identity as a pagan. But, not only that. My life as a pagan is not divorced from my enculturation as a Christian. I’m a cultural Christian in many ways. That means I encounter many shocks to my inner world, shocks that wake me up, like a Zen koan, but that also and in the same instance disorient me.

Yaowarat

Yaowarat

It’s like being on Yaowarat Road in Bangkok on a weekend night. On Friday and Saturday night the sidewalks of Bangkok’s Chinatown, of which Yaowarat is the main street, fill up with small restaurants, often two tables, some chairs and a street vendor style kitchen with a wok, propane tank, utensils and a stack of plates and soup bowls. What food are they serving? I don’t know. I speak neither Thai nor Mandarin. Many people are there who do understand the food offerings, how to eat them, but I’m not one of them. I’m in, but not of the street life. Observing, yes, eager to learn, yes, but even after sampling some food and gaining some insight, I will go back to my hotel, a stranger traveling through.

I’m grateful to the folks at Beth Evergreen and Kate for putting up with my being present as a stranger and an inner traveler. A long journey, barely begun.

Becoming Coloradan

Imbolc                                                             Valentine Moon

No snow. 10% humidity. A spate of small wildfires. Result: stage 1 fire restrictions put in place by Jeffco. In February. Winter has gone on holiday and the outlook for summer is fiery if we don’t get more moisture in March and April. Like death, oddly, I find the whole wildfire possibility invigorating. It motivates me to work on our lodgepole pine and aspen and it brings those of us who live in the mountains closer together. A common foe.

fire-danger-high

Lodgepole pine. From our bedroom window I look out and up to a jagged line of tree tops. On clear nights stars often align with the tops of the pines, giving them a decorated for Christmas look. Sometimes stars also align with branches further down, emphasizing the effect.

Which reminds me. Monday or Tuesday night of this week I looked up at the pines, as I often do before falling asleep. They were lit up with what looked like lightning bugs. What? The phenomena went on for quite a while, small specks of light flashing off and on. Obviously in February and up here on Shadow Mountain, no lightning bugs. A complete mystery.

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While waiting on the Rav4 to finish its spa day at Stevinson Toyota I spent some time considering whether I had become a Coloradan yet. First thing. I left my prostate and significant portions of my left knee in Colorado. No flowers in my hair, but I do feel I’ve contributed in a meaningful, whole body sort of way. Then, living in the mountains. Everyday. Learning the rhythms of mountain seasons, the wildlife, the vast number of hikes and sights and sites to see. And we’re adjusted to life at 8,800 feet. A very Colorado and mountain thing.

Of course, there are Jon and Ruth and Gabe, family links to schools, synagogues, sports, life as a child in the Centennial State. Our dogs, too, as Dr. Palmini said, are mountain dogs now. Due to the spate of mountain lion attacks on dogs in the last month or so, I have a concern for their safety that is very Coloradan. In fact I bought a powerful LED flashlight and have my walking stick ready to do battle with a mountain lion if necessary.

Kings Peak near us 4 pm 12 29

Kings Peak near us 4 pm 12 29

Congregation Beth Evergreen, in addition to a religious community, also facilitates ties with people who live up here like the lawyer, Rich Levine, we saw last week. Many others, too. Kate has integrated quickly thanks to the two sewing groups she belongs to: Bailey Patchworkers and the Needlepointers. Her integration helps mine.

The town of Evergreen has many great restaurants, as does Morrison. We go to jazz and theater in Denver.

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That’s the coming to Colorado part of the story. The other is my relationship to Minnesota. Of course there are the Wooly friends, especially Tom, Mark and Bill and the docent friends, many of whom I connect with through Facebook, but also through visits, e-mails, the occasional phone call. Those connections are still strong, even though attenuated by distance.

Minnesota will always occupy a large, 40-year space in my heart. That’s a long time, enough to become home. So many memories, good ones and bad ones. But, it is just that now, a 40-year space in my heart. I do not want to return. Life is here, now, and that, more than anything else, tells me that, yes, I have become and am a Coloradan.

 

Why leave?

Imbolc                                                                            Valentine Moon

facebook1Often on Facebook I see people taking time off, time away. An article on how to cope with the flood of news now available and clamoring for our attention suggested not reading any news online at all. Read a newspaper and when you finish it, throw it away. Of course, the idea of a vacation is not reserved for hypervigilant news consumers-like me, for instance-but has broad application in the workplace, too.

It’s an interesting notion, vacating something we either enjoy too much or have too much of, regardless of its valence for us. The theory is, of course, that we leave something behind for awhile, don’t interact with it. We distract ourselves by going on a cruise, hopping a plane to another state or another country. We “unplug”, an interesting metaphor, from the internet or from Facebook or Instagram or whatever time eater we’ve grown accustomed to using.

good-for-the-soulI’m a bit suspicious of our motivations. We may be solving the wrong problem. I love travel, seeing new places and becoming a stranger in someone else’s world. I love travel not as a distraction from work or home or the current political climate, but for itself, for the fact of being, literally, somewhere else. It seems to diminish travel, at least as I understand it, to use it as escape. Perhaps the differences here are prepositional. In my sense of travel, I travel to places. In the escapist sense we travel away from something.

When we feel a need to escape a cyber world, a work situation, a too familiar home setting, a relationship, is escape the best answer? I’d say no. The more important question is why do we feel the need to escape? What in the current situation seems so unresolvable that only leaving it behind can help?

Those of us who’ve spent any time in AA meetings know about the notion of geographical escape. Alcoholics often convince themselves that only if they were in a new place, a new job, a new relationship, then their troubles would melt away, vanish. The trouble with the geographical escape is the cliched, but true: Wherever you go, there you are. The you addicted to alcohol travels with you.

chiloAddiction is an overused idea, so I’m not going to talk about Facebook addiction or any other, but the issue in all these instances seems the same as a yearning for geographical escape. Something is not working right now, so I need to go. The problem is, there you are.

In other words distractions like new places, new people, new things to do don’t change your inner life. The first question is, what in me needs to be away from this? Is it that this work just doesn’t fit me anymore? Is it that I’ve worked too hard and become exhausted? Have I read and read and read about other people’s lives while forgetting to be in my own? Have I somehow misused the opportunity that this job or this person or this cyberplace has to offer?

Answering these sort of questions before deciding to vacate makes a lot of sense to me. This is not an anti-vacation diatribe, however. Rather, it is a how you define is how you solve sort of diatribe. Identify the true issue and work on that first. Then, figure out someplace or something you can move towards, travel to the beach or the mountains or Korea or the ballgame, not away from wherever you are.

Sexual Aggression.

Fall                                                                                  Hunter Moon

sexual-aggressionSexual aggression and its effects. #PussysGrabBack is a hashtag encouraging women to vote and to vote against the would be pussy grabber in chief. The Access Hollywood video tape with its lewd, rude, casually mentioned and approved sexual assault language has caused an outpouring of actual stories from women in all walks of life and of all ages.

I want to add a male perspective, not because it’s more profound, it isn’t; but, because its relative rarity can underscore the climate of fear this despicable breaching of personal boundaries produces.

When I was young, my parents not only allowed me to travel by myself, but actively encouraged it. I would go down to the Greyhound Bus Stop by Stein’s Tailor Shop, load my suitcase underneath and go up the stairs to my seat. On my lap would be a fruit basket from Cox’s Super Market. Wrapped in a colored cellophane would be apples, bananas, perhaps some grapes, food for the journey.

greyhoundThe Greyhound was not then the dismal transportation method it has become today, but an affordable way of moving long distances. And I traveled long distances, going from Alexandria, Indiana, 60 miles east of Indianapolis, to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. All of my father’s side of the family lived in or near Oklahoma, so this was a way for me to get to know them. And never, on any of those trips, did anything untoward ever happen to me.

It was different though when I boarded the train headed for Arlington, Texas. This was a really big adventure for me, my first time riding a train. When we reached St. Louis, I had a long layover so I put my bag in a locker (this was before the time of bombs in lockers), took my brownie camera and went out into the humid heat of a Missouri summer afternoon.

brownieA Sunday, downtown was empty of workers and there were no tourists on the streets. I had stopped by a doorway to stand in the shade while I took snapshots of buildings. A man came back, noticed me squatting down changing the film in my camera. He said something, I don’t recall what and I replied because I was a courteous boy from the Midwest. He squatted down, pretending to be interested in my camera.

Then his hand was in my crotch, kneeding my testicles. I stood up, bolted up more like it, said, “You shouldn’t do that,” collected my camera and clutching it to my chest ran back to the train station where I remained until the train came that would carry me onto Texas. He didn’t pursue me, gave me no resistance. But I was shaken in a way that at that age I could barely comprehend. I was maybe 11 or 12.

During college there were various situations in which gay friends came onto me in a sexual manner, but I never considered that assault. It was the exploratory process, learning how to be sexual in a time of drastically altered mores, the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Just three weeks ago, in Minnesota, I had a very unsettling experience. I had driven for two days, leaving Conifer on a Wednesday, staying overnight in Lincoln, Nebraska, then on the road Thursday. It was about 4 pm and I was tired, my leg hurt and I was looking forward to getting to my hotel.

ford-truckWhen I reached the intersection of Broadway and Central in Northeast Minneapolis, I noticed a Ford pickup, black with large tires that made it ride high. The driver gunned the engine, came up suddenly on cars in the lane beside me. Jerk, I thought. Then, he did it again. Very aggressive driving.

The second time he did this brought him parallel to me. I looked up, wondering what the guy (I assumed it was a guy.) looked like. He turned his head toward me. Cupping his right hand, he moved it back and forth in front of his mouth while pressing his tongue against the side of his cheek. A rude gesture, especially in a very casual, momentary encounter. He nodded at me, took his right hand and gestured again, this time to himself, then to me and indicated that I should follow him. He was much bigger than I was and had a rough looking face.

I turned my head away, looked forward and turned left away from him. He was in a lane that had to go straight. The encounter ended. It was brief and reasonably safe. I was in my own car and would have had no difficulty losing him even if he had decided to pursue me. But it didn’t feel safe, not at all. It shook me. I felt frightened and, yes, violated.

Neither of these two instances, and they were 50+ years apart, resulted in any physical damage. Both of them resolved quickly. Yet, they both left me repulsed and feeling vulnerable. They both made me rethink my normal assessment of the world as a safe place to be.

I can only imagine how I would view the world if I experienced these encounters regularly, as seems to happen to women. (I say seems because I’m not a woman.) I would feel that my world required constant diligence, constant attention to dangerous surroundings. My sense of safety in the world would probably be compromised beyond repair. And this is in the usual, the day to day.

It does not include a time when a candidate for the Presidency openly brags about such aggression, about the privilege that celebrity brings, about being able to do whatever he wants. This is a validation of sexual aggression, a lived experience for many, many of us, most women, a granting of legitimacy to these acts from a person vying to become the nation’s leading political authority figure.

Adding this abomination to the gradual accretion of insults caused by cat calls, by presumptive hands or body checking, by date rape and rape culture, makes our common space seem fraught with peril, even on a normal day. This is not acceptable. Fear is not the norm we want for our daughters, granddaughters, wives and mothers, sisters.

It’s a problem only solvable by alliances between men and women. Let’s strengthen them over the coming weeks and months.

April 2017
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