Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post: The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About

woman being oogled and cat called

(Image/Odyssey)

Editor’s Note:

I’m not going to hold men’s feet to the fire for finding women attractive, and acting like it. We’ve been pummeled with pretty faces and/or sexually suggestive marketing messages since having the awareness to notice TV ads, magazine covers and highway billboards. Even if those didn’t exist, I think men would still feel physically attracted to women. (Because that’s the signal the storks need to deliver the babies, of course.) And that’s okay. It’s not wrong.

But treating people as “things” is. If the Universe saw fit to magically transport a starving child to a place just outside the front door of everyone with middle-class-and-up income levels, there wouldn’t be any more starving children. We’re all so good at Out of Sight, Out of Mind. I’m a freaking master.

Men sometimes treat women (who aren’t their daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, etc.) like things. Their very own animated masturbation devices to do with as they please. Not unlike Shitty Husbandry, I perceive this to be more the symptom of thoughtless action than calculated abuse.

My blog-friend Gretchen Kelly is an excellent writer, and last year she published the following post on her blog. It profoundly affected my understanding of the everyday female experience.

I forwarded it to a few of my female friends, asking: “Is it like this for you, too?”

They all said yes.

By Gretchen Kelly

There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture and sexism. I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

They don’t know.

They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we are not always aware of it. But we have all done it.

We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness.

It’s not something we talk about every day. We don’t tell our boyfriends and husbands and friends every time it happens. Because it is so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know.

Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile, with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore.

So routine that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing.

Not showing our suppressed anger and fear and frustration. A quick cursory smile or a clipped laugh will allow us to continue with our day. We de-escalate. We minimize it. Both internally and externally, we minimize it. We have to. To not shrug it off would put is in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation. Learning by way of observation and quick risk assessment what our reactions should and shouldn’t be.

“It’s the reality of being a woman in our world. It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.”

We go through a quick mental checklist. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Does he seem reasonable and is just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something impact my school/job/reputation? In a matter of seconds we determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear/see/feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

It is the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It is the customer who holds our tip out of reach until we lean over to hug him. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a “friends with benefits” moment even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We see it happen to our friends. We see it happen in so many scenarios and instances that it becomes the norm. And we really don’t think anything of it. Until that one time that came close to being a dangerous situation. Until we hear that the “friend” who cornered us was accused of rape a day later. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Years Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those times stick out. They’re the ones we may tell our friends, our boyfriends, our husbands about.

But all the other times? All the times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times we just go about our business and don’t think twice about.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world.

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to your stomach that we had to “play along” to get along.

It’s feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s taking our phone out, finger poised over the “Call” button when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon when walking to our car.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend just so a guy would take “No” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded bar/concert/insert any crowded event, and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass.

It’s knowing that even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a big box store and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear as he berates us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? You got a problem? Pffft… bitch.

It’s not telling our friends or our parents or our husbands because it’s just a matter of fact, a part of our lives.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s realizing that the dangers we perceive every time we have to choose to confront these situations aren’t in our imagination. Because we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted or raped.

“Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.”

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this. They have heard of things that happened, they have probably at times seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors much of what we say or do and how we do it.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop ignoring it ourselves, minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? They’re not bad guys. They just haven’t lived our reality. And we don’t really talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience. So how could they know?

So, maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on a regular basis.

Maybe it is so much our norm that it didn’t occur to us that we would have to tell them.

It occurred to me that they don’t know the scope of it and they don’t always understand that this is our reality. So, yeah, when I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the every day sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching… when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing… they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe I’m realizing that men can’t be expected to understand how pervasive everyday sexism is if we don’t start telling them and pointing to it when it happens. Maybe I’m starting to realize that men have no idea that even walking into a store women have to be on guard. We have to be aware, subconsciously, of our surroundings and any perceived threats.

Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

We de-escalate.

We are acutely aware of our vulnerability. Aware that if he wanted to, that guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman.

We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We develop into women while our minds are still innocent. We get stares and comments before we can even drive. From adult men. We feel uncomfortable but don’t know what to do, so we go about our lives. We learn at an early age, that to confront every situation that makes us squirm is to possibly put ourselves in danger. We are aware that we are the smaller, physically weaker sex. That boys and men are capable of overpowering us if they choose to. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

So, the next time a woman talks about being cat-called and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t dismiss her. Listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called “Sweetheart” at work, don’t shrug in apathy. Listen.

The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language, don’t belittle her for doing so. Listen.

The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable, don’t shrug it off. Listen.

Listen because your reality is not the same as hers.

Listen because her concerns are valid and not exaggerated or inflated.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows personally has at some point been abused, assaulted, or raped. And she knows that it’s always a danger of happening to her.

Listen because even a simple comment from a strange man can send ripples of fear through her.

Listen because she may be trying to make her experience not be the experience of her daughters.

Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

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About the Author

Gretchen Kelly writes at Drifting Through My Open Mind. You can also see her work in The Huffington Post. Connect with Gretchen on Twitter.

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Guest Post: The Rewritten Life

pen_and_paperNOTE: This is the fourth in a series of guest posts set to run while I’m away. And it’s written by one of my favorite writers who hardly ever writes. But hopefully that will change. What little he has written lives at “Unloaded.” He’s a good writer. A good man. (And in the ultimate display of vanity…) He reminds me of me. I’ve written four posts about this man. You just didn’t know it. He inspires me. And I hope I get to keep reading his work because I think he and his wife have a bunch of lessons for this world. So, DD. Thanks for writing this.

I have been away from my blog for a few months now. I see that a lot in the world of thera-blogging.

New ones pop up, old ones go down. Hearts are broken, hearts heal. Lives take unexpected turns.

You feel like you have a connection, and then poof—gone. At first you miss them. You wonder.

Eventually you forget.

Sad, I suppose. But I get it. Hell, I did it. I consider my blog a new one that went down prematurely. I assume that logic would account for many of the ones out there.

I started my little journey right around the same time as Matt and MBTTTR. For much, if not exactly the same reasons. His wife left, my wife left—on the same day. He drives a Jeep he can sort-of afford, as do I. He upgraded to it from a sweet-as-hell 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix. I know how sweet-as-hell it is because I drove the same car—same year, same color. Black.

The creepy similarities list goes on and on, but what resonates with me most is the personal things we share. The pain. The confusion. The embarrassment. The recovery. The understanding. Half the time I read MBTTTR, I see my life. I picture my dirty taco dishes in the sink. My lame Match profile and short stature.

My fiscally irresponsible bills piling up.

My neglect.

My memories.

My wife.

I get it. All too well, in fact.

It is not something anyone should ever want to “get,” but with it are great lessons to be learned. And I feel fortunate we have been given the chance to learn them. Even considering the cost. We have learned hard truths that have made us better men. Better husband material. Better fathers. Better writers.

At some point our paths diverged, Matt and I’s. I never chose divorce. I chose to see this whole husband/wife/family thing through. Whether she wanted to or not. I pushed along because I love my wife, and all the ifs, ands, and buts we both carry. I love the possibilities. And now I know the bond of marriage is not unbreakable, but rather always under construction.

We were separated for six months. We have been back together in “our” house since October.

Roughly, or rather exactly the same period of time I have neglected my blog. I keep wanting to write but came up with myriad excuses not to. It’s just—different now. I hope to use this as springboard for sharing again. To share my story of reconciliation. Of how to heal. How to build trust again. I can only hope it helps even one person, one family, as I know so many others have helped me and mine.

One MAJOR disclaimer: My marriage is in no way perfect now. But it is better than it ever was. I only intend to share what happens. What really happens. Not a watered down, “Oh, things are peachy,” version. I have learned what that sort of communication gets you. I have learned how to shut out an audience.

So onto my first excuse for not writing.

WoN: My family’s privacy. This one kills me. I have come up with fifty different reasons alone under this excuse not to write. There are some pretty painful and personal indiscretions laid out in some of MBTTTR’s posts about My Digital Doppelganger, i.e., Me. Ones that are not exposed in my personal blog. There are also some personal things in my blog which would identify my family. The two major problems with this argument? No one reads my blog. There is not much content and I could easily just start a new one. But what I have come up with now is to just privatize or edit some of the existing “identifying” posts. Rocket surgery.

ToO: My initial thoughts right after our reconciliation was to write about dealing with the causes of our break-up, and the ramifications of some of the hurtful decisions we made. I was concerned the pain was too fresh to be shared publicly. This one is moot now. I am already getting over that pain.

The memories are there, and there are triggers now and again, but it is no longer my obsession. It sort of just falls under excuse one.

ThREA: I didn’t want it to interfere with our communication. This is just plain retarded. My writing is the best way for me to communicate to my wife. It is part of why we are together today. It is where I can honestly share my thoughts, without my kneejerk mouth getting in the way. Moron.

FoRe: I don’t have time. BUT—I have watched every episode of Dexter in the last two months. Laziness.

FiVe: I may pull traffic away from MBTTTR. No, not really. But I can truthfully say I was a little hesitant due to my new path versus Matt’s. There was a bit of “winner’s guilt” going on. I am that vain. And insecure. Stupidity.

We all write for our own reasons. Mine is pride. I am proud to put myself out there, even if it is anonymous. I am not always happy with the product (this piece, included,) but I like thinking I created something that may resonate with someone.

Something that will someday be missed, wondered about and forgotten.

Here is where I make my expectations clear. ~See that, I have learned something.

I want to thank Matt for giving me this opportunity to share. He has thrown me an exceptionally large bone and I am very, very honored. He is a gentleman and a Google scholar. And he writes good shit.

To whatever extent you may admit, we all want more traffic, whatever our reasons may be. So share MBTTTR with that girl next to you on the train. And that guy you see every morning when you get coffee. And your personal masseuse. And oh, oh, most importantly of all, share it with your shitty husband.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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Guest Post: I Got Your Back

Artwork by Letholdus at Deviant Art.

Artwork by Letholdus at Deviant Art.

NOTE: This is the third in a series of guest posts scheduled to run while I’m off doing something else. Today’s post has been previously published. The author is Gretchen Kelly who blogs at Drifting Through My Open Mind. I asked Gretchen if I could share this post, specifically, because it really struck me as important the first time I read it. I think it’s a great human story. And I think it’s another reminder to always choose gratitude. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thank you, Gretchen!

“Yesterday, lost in a crowd, yesterday lost in a crowd, I was lost… now I’m found.

Yesterday I was lost, and you kicked me some food. Boy it was nice, to be here with you.”

Rusted Root, Lost In A Crowd

My childhood was one long, awkward period. Most people have a few awkward years, I had about a decade.

I was a total tomboy who didn’t care about clothes or looks. By the time I entered middle school in 7th grade, I started to notice boys and decided I should get with the program. This also happened to be when I found out I had severe scoliosis and would have to wear a not-so-cute back brace. This lovely accessory consisted of a hard plastic shell that wrapped around my torso, covering everything from my shoulder blades to my hip bones. It was not subtle or discreet. Big shirts and sweaters did little to camouflage what could best be described as a large plastic turtle shell.

I was a good patient, I wore the brace for the prescribed amount of time, 23 hours a day. I could only take it off to shower and do my back exercises. I tried to make the best of it.

Luckily, the kids at school were pretty cool about it. For some reason they spared me of any kind of harassment. This was surprising since I went to a rough school where girls got beat up in the bathrooms and the bus driver sold drugs to students. Many kids took to knocking on the back of my brace to get my attention. This was done as a friendly gesture and even though it was acknowledging my freak status, I knew it could have been much worse.

Still, I had a decent amount of self pity. I rarely voiced it, but I definitely thought it and felt it.

I was pissed I had to wear this thing.

I hated that it cut into the top of my thighs every time I sat in a chair, causing my legs to go numb.

I hated that it made me look like a hunchback.

I hated that I had sweat trickling down my back even in the dead of winter.

I hated that when lying down I could barely get up without someone’s help.

I hated the two giant Velcro strips that held it in place across my stomach.

In all, I really just hated everything about it.

Every few months we had the pleasure of meeting with the doctors to hear how everything we were doing was not working. The S-shaped curve of my spine was getting worse. They started discussing the option of surgery.

“We’ll give it a little while longer, but I think it’s time we start facing the fact that the brace isn’t working.”

Not exactly motivation to keep wearing the brace, but pleaser that I am, I complied with their orders to wear it for a little while longer.

I wouldn’t say I sulked when we went to these appointments, but I was not my usual chatty self. I basically buried my nose in a book and tried to ignore my surroundings.

One day I looked up from my book long enough to notice a little girl bouncing around the waiting room, talking animatedly to anyone who would listen. She was about five years old and all the nurses loved her. She seemed to know everyone in the office. A nurse confided in us that the little girl’s spine was so severely curved that it was in danger of crushing her lungs and heart if it wasn’t corrected. A case like hers at such a young age was extremely rare. Surgery basically stunts the growth of the torso, and the doctor’s weren’t sure how to proceed.

It wasn’t long after we learned about this little girl that the doctors informed us that I would have to have the surgery. Even though it wasn’t unexpected, this was not what we wanted to hear. The doctors started detailing the ins and outs of surgery, risk of paralysis, two weeks in the hospital, a cast for six months. At some point I stopped listening. All I could think was that I wore that *$#@-ing brace for over a year for nothing… Mom and I had a tearful moment in the car after that appointment.

After we hugged each other and cried,  I remember thinking about the little five-year-old in the waiting room. The adorable little girl who walked around like she owned the place and knew all the nurses and staff by name. She was this little spunky ray of light in a dreary institutional office. She was also going to have the surgery. Except her growth was going to be stunted at the age of five. They didn’t know what would happen after that. Even though I was scared and knew my mom was scared, I also knew I would be okay. That little girl had a much rougher road ahead of her and no one could tell those parents their daughter would be okay.

The surgery took eight hours. They placed a steel rod from the top of my spine to my tail bone, tightened it with screws at each end to instantly lengthen and uncurl the S-shaped curve of my spine. Everything went well. But the pain was beyond description. Every nerve in your body is attached to your spine. My entire spine had been tampered with in a somewhat brutal way. There was no part of my body that wasn’t screaming in pain.

Probably the worst part of the whole experience was when the nurses would come in to my room to turn me. I had to be turned over every two hours to prevent bed sores. The bed I was in was a special bed designed specifically for these kinds of surgeries. It was a narrow bed, and when it was time to be turned over, the nurses would lay an identical bed on top of me, clamp a large wheel down and lock the two beds together, with me in the middle, unable to breath. They would then spin the wheel until I was rotated to the opposite position. Not only was this ridiculously painful, but it had to happen 12 times a day. Once I became lucid enough to know what was going to happen, I would start to panic whenever I saw two nurses enter the room. Two nurses meant I was being turned.

One time in particular I decided I’d had enough. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I would not be turned again, bed sores be damned. I kind of freaked out. I had no control over what they did, but I freaked out as much as someone who can only move their mouth and eyeballs can.

One of the nurses calmly knelt down next to my bed so that I could look her in the eyes. In a gentle, yet firm voice she told me about another patient who was down the hall who’d just had the same surgery as me. He had been in a horrible car accident and experienced a devastating impact on his spine. He was lying down the hall experiencing everything I was experiencing. Except he was deaf and blind. He was in the same situation as me. Except he couldn’t hear or see. I was stunned. This shut me up pretty fast. What she was telling me sounded like hell.

To be in this kind of pain. To be in the dark, in every way, while lying immobile in a hospital. To be in this, the most vulnerable of positions, and to not know what was going on at all times, to have to rely on someone else being there with you to communicate everything going on… the thought of this man and his experience haunted me the entire time I was in the hospital.

As bad as this all was for me, I still could see who entered my room. I knew when the mean night nurse was on duty. I knew when the two nurses were coming to turn me. I could see the big smile of the sweet lady who brought me my meals. I could communicate with each person that entered my room. I could refuse medications that I knew would make me sick when a new nurse came on duty. I still had some control. This man they told me about was vulnerable in every sense of the word. This man’s story didn’t make my pain or my fear go away, but it sure put it in perspective.

As a parting gift before I could leave the hospital, I was transported to a special room where I was lifted up to lay and balance on a narrow metal bar. While nurses held on to me so I didn’t fall, a technician wrapped warm damp plaster around my torso.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. I guess I assumed it would be similar to the back brace. But this was way worse. It also was a hard shell, this time of woven plaster. But this shell didn’t stop at my shoulder blades, it came up over my shoulders, covering every part of my torso. And this was permanent, for six months, at least. This one wasn’t coming off until it was sawed off. As much as I hated those loud, obnoxious Velcro strips on my brace, I really missed them now that I had to live in this contraption. I cried for a while back in my hospital room after they put it on. No one really had explained what it would look like. And it was so bad. And I would have to wear it for six months.

I had to be on bed rest for a few weeks after returning home from the hospital. Friends came to visit me. They brought me cassette tapes to listen to with my Walkman, they brought me dog-eared books of theirs to read. They sat on the end of my bed to catch me up on all the crucial middle school goings on. These were some of my closest friends, but I was embarrassed for them to see me. I could tell they were trying not to stare at my cast. I could tell they wanted to tell me it didn’t look that bad, but they also didn’t want to lie to me.

Finally the day came when I was declared liberated and could leave the house. I should have been excited, but I was dreading going out in the real world. I had always been on the go, spending all my time outside. I got stir crazy really quick, so it wasn’t like me to want to prolong my confinement. But I was terrified of people laughing at me, of looking ridiculous. I knew that my cast was going to attract a lot of stares. I tried to give myself a pep talk. I knew my parents were excited for us all to go out to eat. I’m sure they felt liberated themselves. I tried to will myself to not care what people thought. The old me, the tomboy who didn’t care about looks, she would have come in handy at that time.

When it was time to leave I broke down. I confessed my vanity to my parents. I was so ashamed to feel the way I was feeling, but I couldn’t help it. Of course they understood. But they also knew I couldn’t become a shut-in for six months. My mom tried. She told me I was strong and after everything I’d been through, I couldn’t let what other people think stop me from enjoying my life. Everything she said made sense, but it didn’t cut through the stubbornness that had taken a hold of me.

A few minutes after she left my room, my stepdad came in to my room. I was braced for him to order me to get up and get in the car. Instead he sat down on my sister’s bed and put his hands on his knees like he was getting ready to talk and it wouldn’t be easy for him. This was unusual. Emotional matters were always handled by my mom. He started explaining that he knew exactly how I felt, that he had actually felt the same way many times. I had no idea what he was talking about. He held up a hand and kind of waved it, trying to clue me in as to what he was referring to.

Ohhhh. That.

He had been born without fingers on his right hand. Of course I always knew this, but I never really thought about it. I never thought of it as something that would bother him. It was just part of him, it seemed normal to us.

He explained the looks he gets from some people when they see his hand. The reactions he gets when someone reaches out to shake his hand and pulls their hand back, startled. He had been teased when he was younger. And his hand was there forever. It’s not something he just had to deal with for six months. He pointed out that it never stopped him from doing anything. And it didn’t. He played football in high school. He built a deck on the back of our house. He could fix just about anything. I guess that’s why I never thought too much about it, he never let it stop him. He told me he had to learn at a young age to shrug off people’s reactions.

As he’s telling me this, I feel like he’s sharing something really important with me. He is a quiet man. He doesn’t share his feelings or emotions easily. But he was talking to me about something I’m sure he didn’t really like to discuss. I felt honored. He approached me with understanding and love and patience and he shared a piece of him that I had never understood or even really thought about. And he got through my insecurity, my nerves, my anxiety. If he could go out in the world and deal with people’s reactions and not let it affect him, then I could too.

I got through surgery. I got through the ordeal of wearing a cast for six months. I survived the humiliation. I was incredibly lucky that once again all the kids at school were totally cool about it. My friends weren’t embarrassed to hang out with me. I was so lucky that I came out unscathed. And I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the brave little girl in the waiting room. I am grateful the nurse told me about the patient who couldn’t see or hear.

But what I’m most grateful for, the part that has stuck with me all of these years later, is that my stepdad shared his experience with me. I have since paid a little more attention and am amazed at all the things he’s accomplished. So many of them are things especially difficult to do with a disabled hand. I kind of wonder if he subconsciously chooses hobbies like golf, rebuilding car engines, or making specialty bullets for his collectible guns, precisely because they are difficult for him to do. It’s like he is continuously showing himself and the rest of us that nothing’s going to stop him.

In addition to helping me leave the house that night, he also gave me an even better gift. He showed me that he loved me, that I was his daughter, that I was worthy of sharing a very private part of himself with. At the end of it all, this scoliosis…  this surgery…  it showed me just how lucky I really am.

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Guest Post: The Pigs Were Important

Important.

Important.

NOTE: This is the second in a series of guest posts scheduled to run while I’m away from real life. Ironically, in today’s post, David mentions Milan, Ill. And as long as I’m not dead, that’s exactly where I am right now, immersed in the warmth of friends and family I don’t see often enough. I asked David (the blogger behind both The Marmot in My Head and Sounds like Orange) to write because I believe we’re kindred spirits. Because I believe we both find unique beauty in the mundane. Because David is just very real, very… human. And that’s something that means a lot to me. Because that’s exactly what I want to be. Thank you, David.

Have a seat everyone. Get comfortable. We’re going to talk about livestock, pigs, uncles and chess.

Grab a beer or pop from the fridge. Yes, that’s “pop” because, today, location matters. You see, my roots overlap with Matt’s, barely I suppose, but closer than you’d imagine. They overlap in a place where “soda” is for baking and “pop” is for fizzy-drinking. Where? Milan. Matt’s dad ended up in Milan, Ill. My aunt and uncle live just outside of Milan on a farm.

I can assure you that the Milan in Italy and the Milan in Illinois differ. In two hours in Milan, Italy, I did two things: change trains and find an internet cafe. Neither are possible in the Illinois version. True, my actual roots are from a little farther west along the Iowa-Nebraska border, but culturally, they are almost identical.

We’ll start in Elk Horn, Iowa, a town 10 miles off the interstate halfway between Des Moines and Omaha that billed itself as the Danish capital of America. Yup. They have a windmill and a museum to prove it. I don’t remember exactly, but I think I was five years old when my family and I visited, staying at my grandparent’s house on a farm just outside of town. It was a typical farmhouse, seemingly both spacious and cramped all at once. There were toys, too, including that electric train track that always smelled like it was smoldering.

I was bored.

I could go outside, I suppose, but as a “city kid” (anyone living in a place with more than 5,000 people), I wasn’t allowed to go near the farm equipment, the road, the barns, the pastures, the animals. Really, I was allowed on the porch and the driveway. Boring, yes, but the noisy tractors were scary and the weirdly massive pigs were scarier yet.

Oddly, at the other grandparent’s house, where several barns were partly fallen down, a windmill that had stolen part of my dad’s finger when he was a child, “filled in” outhouse pits and tractors that were older than my parents, I was given free reign. Not in Iowa, though.

For whatever reason, my uncle found me, not my brother or sister, but me and invited me along to do chores. He was the tallest in a family where, at 6’4″, I would be the shortest adult male in two generations. First (and last), we went to the pig barn where there were creatures that looked like the Jolly Green Giant’s hot dogs, with surprisingly agile flat pink noises and almost as much hair as in my grandparent’s ears.

A quiet sleeping pig is not that scary, but when food is coming or the mud is just right, they turn into terrifying steam engines randomly bouncing off one another. Worse yet, I’m told, is their behavior around threatened piglets. My uncle, one of the calmest, gentlest people in the world, opened the door to the pen, lured me in and told me to stand quietly just over there near the edge. He poured feed into the trough and the pigs (were they hogs?) surged. They bumped into my uncle. He shoved them back. Then, from off to the side, a piercing squealing noise. One of the piglets had gotten a foot caught in the wire fencing. Sure my uncle could handle that all by himself, but he called me over anyway.

So, I delicately stepped past mud and pig poops, worrying about a pig tsunami, to join him by the fence. While he held the 40 pound piglet in his arms, I worked the wire out from around the pig’s hind leg. Then, once free, my uncle set him down, shutting down the pig air raid siren and letting the piglet scurry beetle-like over to the trough with the rest. I’d still be afraid to step into a pig pen, but I learned that calmness in the face of fear is often all that’s needed for things to work out.

But wait, there’s more. Later that week, my uncle got married. I remember that day because he was getting married on my birthday. At the time, I thought he chose that date just for me. After all, he gave me a spectacular watercolor paint set and unlike my infinitely cuter (and younger) brother and sister, gave me nothing to do at his wedding. I got to just sit and enjoy it. Obviously, it wasn’t for me, but, when you’re six years old, who can tell?

My uncle had a way to be an adult, a real adult, and be with children, treating them not as pests or annoyances, but as real people who, for the moment, are smaller than the rest of the world. Among my favorite memories was him lying down on the floor to teach me how to play chess. I was and still am horrible at it, but there he was at my level, in my world, showing me how my world worked.

I don’t see him much, but that doesn’t keep me from being impressed by him. Later, I don’t know when, I remember him being the one person who could give real advice to my sister. Later still, when my life was a mess, he was the only person I knew who could accept me as an expert at digging holes in life and still offer constructive advice for living better. Most recently, he finished grad school again (a veterinarian in the past and now a public health degree) and takes periodic trips volunteering for agricultural education in Tanzania. He’s not perfect by any means, but he accepts life as it is, lives it as best he can, and leaves the best bits of himself lying around for the benefit of others.

I’m not like him, but I want to be.

Maybe I am and I just can’t tell.

I’ve left bits of me lying around, but sometimes I needed those bits myself.

I’ve botched a marriage, but then again, so has he.

I never did get as tall as he is… but that’s okay, I guess.

I’m tall enough.

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Guest Post: How to Adapt to Dating After Divorce

The key to dating after divorce? Adaptation.

The key to dating after divorce? Adaptation.

NOTE: This is the first in a series of guest posts scheduled to run while I’m out of town getting a little R&R with friends and family. This post is from Lisa Arends, author of the book and blog “Lessons From the End of a Marriage.” I asked Lisa to guest post because divorce recovery is a central theme of MBTTTR, and I don’t believe anyone can bring more to the discussion than she. I can’t impress upon you just how important I think her story is for people dealing with divorce or the end of a meaningful relationship. And if you’re one of those people, I hope you’ll visit Lisa’s blog and immerse yourself in those stories. Healing and enlightenment live there. Thank you, Lisa, for your generous contribution.

When change happens,

You can complain.

Or you can adapt.

Guess which one the dinosaurs chose?

One of the trademarks of marriage, especially long ones, is that we become comfortable. We know our environment and we know how to survive within it.

And then divorce changes that environment as surely as an asteroid stripping the earth bare. The behaviors and habits that once served us well become vestigial or even maladaptive.

It makes me think of Darwin’s finches, stranded on islands with plentiful food and yet no way to access the sustenance as their beaks had evolved for other food sources. Some of the birds never changed and they failed to thrive, bloodlines becoming extinct. While others, slowly and over time, adapted to their new environments, their beaks changing to reach the available nutrition. And those are the finches that have thrived, their offspring populating the islands to this day.

Divorce treats us like one of those birds, suddenly abandoned on an island that may possess the resources we need to survive, yet we are unsure how to access them. Our metaphorical beaks developed for the married life, with its unique demands and challenges, not for the suddenly single world that we now find ourselves in.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

Adaptation occurs when you use your experiences and environment to create change and continually modify your approach based upon your circumstances. Adaptation is a process, not a state. It is ongoing, responsive. It is imperfect; using trial and error to make the tiniest steps forward. It challenges us, requiring growth outside our comfort zone. It forces us to continually reevaluate our self-image and assumptions.

Change is hard.

But it’s reality.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

I first became acutely aware of the need for adaptation not too long after my husband left. I started dating relatively quickly, probably from a combination of wanting to be more healed than I was and wanting distraction from the hell that was the legal system.

I didn’t have a problem finding men or attracting them. But I had a major problem with dating them. You see, I was adapted for marriage, with its intimacies and vulnerabilities. I knew how to be married, but I had no idea how to date. Those first few men (apologies, guys!) found me, almost upon introduction, acting as a wife.

It wasn’t intentional. I certainly wasn’t looking for a husband. But I was maladapted to the dating world, so I reverted to what I knew. And what I knew included being way too open too soon. Looking to my date to fill the role of life partner before I even knew his life story. And making plans for the next step before the first one was even taken.

Needless to say, that behavior didn’t work out very well.

So I adapted.

I learned to recognize my wife-like behavior and stop myself before I asked a man after a first date if he needed anything from the grocery store. I committed not to a single man but to practicing dating until I could get it right. I looked for clues to determine if my approach was appropriate or not. I looked to others who were more adept than I at dating and I used them as mentors, imitating what I observed.

I erred too far on the other side at first, going from wife-like to almost clinical detachment, keeping dates at a pro basketball player’s arm’s length. I would initiate a date with the proclamation that I was moving out of town within a few months and that I was doing just fine on my own.

Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well either.

So I continued to adapt, eventually finding a balance that led to a new marriage.

Where I then had to adapt again. Because one relationship isn’t like another. I may have known how to be married to my ex but that’s different than being married to my new husband.

Change is a certainty.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

You are more malleable than you realize. You can adapt to conditions that, at first glance, seem unable to support life. You can adjust and readjust until you have developed strategies that allow you to conquer your circumstances. You can use change, even unwanted change, as an opportunity for growth.

And it begins by truly seeing your environment. Look with your eyes, not your assumptions, at what is around you. It’s scary to face change. We often want to put our heads down and run through it as if it’s not there.

But it is.

See your new world. Feel it. Accept it.

And then try something new.

You may fail. That’s okay. Remember that adaptation is a process. And failures help us learn what works and what doesn’t.

Keep trying. It took Darwin’s finches generations to adapt. You can be patient with yourself.

Use imitation. Mimic the success of others, modifying it to fit your needs.

Slowly, ever so slowly, you’ll learn what works. And you’ll begin to adapt to your present reality.

And that island that once felt so barren and inhospitable will be teeming with possibility.

Control is an illusion.

Choice is a certainty.

And you can choose to complain.

Or you can choose to adapt.

Lisa Arends works as a math teacher and a wellness coach. After using her own sudden divorce four years ago as a catalyst for positive change, she now helps people navigate their own divorces and transform stress into wellness. She loves to lift heavy weights and run long distances, and she is still learning how to meditate. She can be found at her blog, Lessons From the End of a Marriage and on The Huffington Post.
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