Covfefe

According to Urban Dictionary, I live in a “Big Town” because we fall between 7,000 and 20,000 people.  We have a population of about 18,000, but it’s one of the larger towns in the state, so we call it a city. Everyone who has been here longer than 5 years knows everyone else, at least by reputation, and you can easily get from “uptown” to “downtown” on foot without getting tired. I wasn’t raised here, but many of my friends -including my boyfriend- were, and they’ve watched businesses close, affecting numerous families in the community. They’ve seen their own friends die from drug overdoses, following a sad trend that has existed in this area for decades, with no apparent end in sight. They’ve burned bridges with employers that they have had to interact with again down the line, whether waiting on their ex-boss at the store or restaurant, or having to do outside business with them in their new job.
But there are also times when interactions just get weird. You don’t need to live in a big town to know that, but it certainly helps. I believe in signs, to a certain extent, and like to follow the lead of the universe in a lot of what I do. Coincidences and clairvoyance are an everyday occurrence in my life, to the point where it freaks out those around me. I don’t feel like going into that right now, but maybe I’ll forget that I wrote that, and still say something further down in another paragraph.
I normally go to the same Cumberland Farms (gas station in the Northeast) location for my coffee, whenever I can. The clerks all know me as a “regular” there (haha, coffee jokes) and I always get the same thing. Sometimes, I get up to the counter, and someone has paid for my coffee already. That’s the thing with Regulars. It’s like a communal offering. Only it started happening more and more frequently, so I started calling my stalker (I finally saw who he was) “Coffee” and avoiding entering the store if I saw he was there. This is tough to do, when you run on a routine that is similar to someone else’s. It makes for a lot of awkward dodging, and apparently for a 25 minute visit to the gas pump until I finally go inside.
I didn’t want to deal with “Coffee” anymore, so I started making my own coffee at home, which of course was not the same. I had to get back to the real stuff: the Primo shit straight from Africa or Colombia.
This morning, I told my boyfriend that I wanted to go to Cumberland Farms, and he joked: “Six guys are gonna pay for your coffee.” Haha yeah right! We laughed and laughed.
Then, at Cumberland Farms, someone paid for my coffee.
I don’t normally even go to this location of Cumberland Farms, but I was on that side of town so I stopped in for my fix. As I approached the parking lot, which is on the corner of a busy intersection, I noticed that there were 2 parking spaces available, but I was quickly cut off by two (separate) guys driving pickup trucks. They each slid into one of the available spaces, forcing me to have to back up and park near the garbage dumpster in the dirt. I mumbled something about the patriarchy, and how ladies are only allowed to let men to do EVERYTHING for them, or NOTHING – we can’t pick and choose which things are okay, and then not accept other things. I mean, if we can accept a man holding the door open for us, we should also be happy to accept their catcalling as they pass by. I ended my mumbling by shrugging and saying I don’t care about parking in the dirt.
When I went inside, it was a much different story. There were 3 female patrons, including myself, and about 15 guys. To be clear: it was 7:00 AM, which is change of shift in a factory town, so I was expecting there would be more men than women, it wasn’t a big deal. I made my coffee, and without making eye contact with anybody, I scoped out the other patrons, because that’s what I do. I have to make sure I know what people look like, in case I need to identify them in a lineup or something. I could see that I didn’t know anybody in the store. By the time I went to pay for my coffee, there were significantly fewer people in the store, and the last of the other two females was paying for her coffee in front of me. I got to the front of the line, and the clerk says “He paid for your coffee.” I thought he was talking about that woman, so I say, “Hey, she’s a woman.”
“No, the other guy paid for yours.” He says.
So, I say to the clerk, politely yet still confused, “Who paid for it? I literally know NOBODY in this store right now.”
The clerk chuckled. Ok, I do know the clerk, but only from having stopped in that store before. I don’t know if he knows my name, but I’ve seen him in there on the night shift, hating his life. He has seen me in there on the night shift, looking like a voodoo doll that got stuck in a garbage compactor.
“He’s gone now,” says the clerk. “Just some older guy.”
Me: “Well, did he pay for everyone else?”
“No, he must have just liked you.”
Now is a good time for me to bring it back around, that I had scoped out the people in that damn store, and I didn’t see any older guys, unless the clerk was being an ageist and the guy was like 40. I realize I myself am no spring chicken, but 40 doesn’t seem old to me. In this case, I wasn’t willing to let age be the deciding factor, because I instantly remembered that I had seen a 40-something asshole cutting me off in the parking lot just minutes prior. Now he was willing to pay for my coffee, like “Hey, here’s a charity coffee, on me. Now walk your ass to the other side of the parking lot, where I made you park.” It’s a fucking dollar, dude. Please, don’t do me any favors.
So now I had all kinds of principles telling me to pay for my coffee, because WHY the fuck didn’t he pay for the women in front of me (I watched them pay for their coffee)?  Why should anyone in that store think I would walk in, with no means to pay for my purchase? Did they really think I needed to save that ONE DOLLAR?
I put my buck-oh-six on the counter, and said “Here is the money for my coffee. Mystery guy just bought the next guy’s coffee.” It made me feel awesome that the guy ended up paying for another man’s coffee instead of mine. The other people in the store (all dudes at this point) were like “wtf?” but you know what? Fuck that. They don’t even know me by reputation, if they think I want some coffee ghost following me around town.

-jg

Why Women’s Empowerment Is Important To Me

I have been asked what made me start a Women’s Empowerment Group. There is no simple answer, being that I became interested in women’s strength when I was just a teenager in the 90’s, looking for some feminism. While I would love to credit that interest for the reason I became active, it simply isn’t the case.
I started the group because I was once a damsel in distress. I had nobody to help me out of the darkest, deepest hole of my life:  a failed marriage with children involved. My husband had slowly controlled every small aspect of my life, while making it invisible- almost enjoyable -to me, until there was nothing left. He literally walked away from me and the kids like we were a detonation site. I had no job, no money, no phone, no computer access if I even had wifi to turn on, no car, no tv, no friends, and no family to lean on. I know my parents will read this, and they’ll feel insulted that I’ve said no family to lean on. The truth is, I’m certain I could have gone to my grandparents or my mother at any time, and they would have helped me, with no questions asked.
But I would have asked questions of myself, and I didn’t want you to see that process, so I didn’t ask. Asking you for help would entail me finding a dollar in change somehow (because apparently there is a place I haven’t checked for change before…) and piling my 100 lbs of children into a 50 lb stroller, and finding a payphone, telling you about how my husband found a younger woman without kids, and tried to stretch out two lives for as long as possible. I would also then have to tell you that when it stopped being possible to cheat on me for that long, he decided it would be better to leave the three of us behind, and not ever come back or check on us. I would probably also have included the information that he had his girlfriend come to our house to pick him up. But then, I would also have to face the questions (there they are!) about why. Why was I not enough? Why was my passion and dedication to our children not enough? Why were my domestic efforts not enough? Why was my faithfulness to our marriage not enough? There are questions of how as well. How did I become so undesirable, when he had just married me the year before? How could I not notice the signs sooner? How am I going to word this to my grandparents, or to my mom, in a way that won’t sound like I need them to save me?
I felt alone. In a way, being alone was better than being pitied. When I wasn’t alone, it meant someone was sitting around, listening to my plight, and agreeing that it sucked. Nothing changed, and nothing got better. They just agreed that my situation was fucked up, and thanked “god” that it wasn’t them.  I wanted to minimize the circle of people who fit into that category of “visitors” and decided being alone was the way I needed to go. I had my kids, and immersed myself in being with them, and taking pictures of them. But I still felt an emptiness inside, where my pride used to be. I had lost what people like to call “my voice.”
For years.
So, when I noticed a sadly obvious trend among my girlfriends, I couldn’t help but feel a duty to them; a duty to help them understand that there IS someone out there who wants to listen. There ARE other women who know what she is going through. She just doesn’t know, because she has lost her voice for everything other than asking herself the same questions I suffered through.
I started the Women’s Empowerment and Education Group online, and invited all of the ladies I thought would benefit from it. I posted articles from psychology journals, educating women on things that were happening to them, that they couldn’t understand. I posted funny blogs by women who used humor to ease their pain in their own situations. I posted links to events that could be helpful to women, for whatever reason, which I didn’t need to know. It was a casual forum, where women could read about issues females face in our society, as well as other cultures. But I didn’t know how effective the group was, until our first actual meeting.
There were only a handful of ladies at the first meeting, including my teenage daughter, which upset me at first. I had put the event together, because of some very specific ladies who had been coming to me for advice. Imagine my surprise when many of them didn’t show up. My disappointment didn’t last long, and the meeting was a great success. I met a new friend, and was able to help old friends vent out frustrations they had been sitting on. There was a TON of “Yes! Exactly!” and even talk of our next meeting. My new friend messaged me the following week, and said she couldn’t wait for the next time we could meet in person, because she loved the group. My other friends said they loved the small setting, and felt like they could talk about anything, despite having just met each other that day. My daughter said she had a good time, and learned a lot about what life is like outside of the nuclear family. I found it eye opening to see how my friends easily interacted with each other, and decided this had to happen again soon.
As things have progressed, I’ve seen both the rewarding side of helping women in less than desirable situations, as well as the scary side that tests your conscience to see how much you really want to help. I’ve been in the position where I’ve had to consider that someone would come after me and possibly harm myself and my family- or worse. I’ve considered my name being dragged around the internet, I’ve considered that I may be followed, or my car may be tampered with, or my house might be broken into. I don’t know what will happen. I do know that Matt recently lost a great friend because he tried to help his sister-in-law escape a violent relationship. Her boyfriend drove 600 miles to find her, kill her, and then kill the family who had tried to help her. Three people were murdered that night, including Matt’s friend and his (friend’s) wife…in front of their 4 year-old daughter. Months after, I read about a woman who I had known to be in a very violent situation for years, getting shot by her boyfriend. This was after people repeatedly told her that “nobody risks their freedom to get back at a girlfriend.” I guess he was willing to risk it. Her mother stood fearlessly between them, and saved her daughter from being killed by her attacker, though she did end up in ICU for her injuries.
Matt has been worried that I will end up on the unfortunate side of things because I tried to help. This is a very real concern, but when I think about what would happen to these women if I abandoned them, I can’t bring myself to leave them. They have nobody else to go to. Nobody else to trust them, or let them know that their feelings are valid. Nobody who cared enough to listen, much less give advice or make moves happen. My role in these women’s lives is important. They gain strength through my love and support, and are able to look at themselves differently, and are able to fight their way to something better. Even inspiring one woman is enough for me to not turn my back. If I stopped helping because I was afraid, I would be leaving these women to fight alone, when they are much more afraid than I am.
I started a Women’s Group, because I wanted women to stop being told nobody is going to listen to them. I started it because it was necessary. I tell them to be strong and never give up. How could I not practice the same for them?

-jg

Many Hats, Many Questions

As a writer, I feel compelled to share stories of life, with others. Sometimes, we don’t recognize certain struggles that we ourselves aren’t facing, and thereby we become blind to them while others are eyeballs deep. There are observations to be made, and our goal on this planet is to pass on the information we obtain through those senses. If I can help even one person see something they hadn’t noticed, I feel like I’ve made a difference.
As a woman, I feel compelled to share strength and inspiration for other women to steamroll into strength of their own. I have survived some impossible situations, and I am fortunate enough to remember how I felt during those times, as well as what I had to do to keep myself alive. Not every woman needs someone to save them, and some of them don’t need to be saved at all. They just need to hear that someone knows their voice is unique and valuable, and that they will also survive.
As a mother, I feel compelled to shield my children from the harshness of the world, and the cruel intentions of the people they will face on their own, one day. I can’t give them the false sense of security that the world will not hurt them, because it definitely will, and I prepare them for that, but there really is no way to make them cognizant of that hurt until they experience it. I don’t want to see that, and I know those days are coming soon, so in a way, I also have to shield myself. I have to show them that I stand up and stick out my chest and pull back my shoulders and throw my chin high in the face of anything that comes toward me. Whether I get hurt or not is beyond the point; defeating those unknowns brings the victorious feeling that grows into confidence that you can do it again and again.
As a partner, I feel compelled to defend and destroy. While I may not agree with everything my partner believes in, I never betray him. I am not at his side, and he is not at my side. We are equals, and we are back-to-back in this fight of life. He doesn’t need to hold my hand to feel my strength and support, he only needs to lean back and trust that I will be there. When challenge comes knocking at our door, in our most relaxed and vulnerable moments, I have my armor on for him.
As a friend, I feel compelled to be better than I actually am. I want to be able to provide better conversation, more interesting anecdotes, stronger reliability, and a willingness to listen. I’m a shoulder, an ear, a hand, a strong back, whatever a friend could need, but I want to be bigger. I want to not offend, or misinform, and I want to be able to be there when I say I will be. Sometimes, when I can’t be present, I bathe in guilt until I’m convinced I’m everyone’s worst friend. I’m sure I have friends who understand that certain things are beyond our control, but I absolutely have friends who have zero concept of “shit happens.” I want to be good enough, that there is no need to complain about me behind my back. That’s the kind of friend I want, and want to be.
Does this make me a whole person? What about the things that don’t involve other people? What about my internal struggle? What about my controversial thoughts that I don’t share? What about my conscience? What about my thoughts of the future? What will I be? What values will I inherit from my own experience, that change how I see the world? Will I like myself? Am I a friend to myself? How could I be better as a temporary vessel, as well as a better soul and mind?

-jg

Am I Write?

I am having a difficult time organizing my thoughts to write.
I have a notebook of graph paper next to me, as well as a black sharpie, a blue papermate, and a black v-ball pen, just in case inspiration strikes in another form, because this whole writing thing isn’t working out for me.
I have nobody to whom I can express my distaste for my writing. Everyone says they love it, but I am not sure anyone would tell me if they didn’t like it. I can’t even imagine what that would look like. I can’t even imagine why anyone would want to read my writing, because it is essentially just a lot of this. I am literally reading my own thoughts on screen, as I’m having them, and that’s what the reader gets from me too, in a way. Why would anyone want to waste their time just observing someone else’s thoughts? Weird.
I struggle with finding topics to write about. Matt says I should write a fiction novel. I don’t know what fiction is. Everything is fiction to me, so I just write about what sounds like a story to me. I see artistic elements in interactions, machinery, and nature. When I recognize patterns in people, or see emotional intelligence in “real time” where most aren’t cognizant of what is truly happening, I try to capture how I would deal with the same circumstance. I used to not be very emotionally intelligent. I remember what it was like, and wonder if other people see things like that too. Of course, they have to. Or else there would be nobody to teach it to me. But why isn’t it more common? Emotional intelligence is right up there with disease and natural disasters, when it comes to human demise.
I don’t write self-help, because I don’t feel that I’m in the position to help anyone, because I don’t have any of my shit together. My shit is living in separate houses, separate neighborhoods, different zip codes, diverging paths in the future. My shit doesn’t want to get together. My shit wants to be happily separated, providing multiple Hells for me to suffer.
Some people say I should write a book about being a parent. That is a mistake, and I can’t believe anyone would say that to me. What they really mean, is that I should document my parenting mishaps and surprises from the past 16 years, and relay them in a hysterically relatable way, because I have no problem with divulging the bad stuff. I don’t care about the pretty stories as much as the real ones that people encounter like “What?! Literally none of my friends put this on Instagram! What’s happening?!” That’s what I tell people about. I have nothing to hide. That’s probably why it’s a terrible idea for me to write a parenting tale. I’ll sum it up here: Having teenagers is like getting to the end of Chutes and Ladders, only to land on the slide that kicks your ass back to the beginning. You know why? Because teenagers are a special kind of rude and inconsiderate; a kind that saturates your insides with boiling blood, because they are quite capable of being considerate to you when they want something. But you love them anyway, and that makes you even more furious, because I can tell you that (at least for me) you don’t want to show the love when you’re trying to be a hard-ass.
It is possible to have a respectful and considerate teen. I just haven’t had that experience, so I can’t speak to that. If that describes your reality, please let me know what medication your kids are on.
Just kidding about that medication thing. I take the over-medication of American citizens very seriously, as it -ironically- sickens me.
I have done a lot of things in my life, which would more than fill two autobiographies, but then we would have to go back to the whole “sharing too much” aspect of things, because I would need to mention quite a few people, who would undoubtedly be described too specifically for it to remain any sort of a mystery. As long as I don’t use names, all bets should be off, and I should be able to plunge cleanly into the not-so-clean waters of my past. What could go wrong?
I have survived situations that could have been the end of me. I would have died, surrounded by idiots who may have weighed their options between getting help or dumping my body, and chosen the latter. Nobody would have heard from me again; not my parents, my grandparents, my siblings. I was so selfish, I very well could have passed on a life of my kids explaining why they don’t know their mother, years of sadness and confusion, filling in the blanks of who I was. I was their only reliable parent, and I shook the dice on abandoning them. I was in such a dark place, that I put myself in danger, and I am lucky to have come out alive. Ever since, I have decided being present in my kids’ lives is the only thing I care about.
Things are mounting in my life right now. I don’t have a job to go to, where people can tell me I’ve succeeded at something, or “hey, good job.” I don’t have much of an existence outside of taking care of my family, so while they are all away, I don’t feel like I’m powered ON. I feel like a robot that someone drags out of the toybox when they get home, and then I have meaningful purpose again. I sit here and stew on the things that are going wrong. And then at night, I stew even more, on things that may go wrong in the future. Or, they may not happen at all, and I just torture myself all night. Waking up in the morning, is like being pissed on by a volcano. I know I’m going to somehow manifest these hypothetical scenarios that are rooted in my imagination. That’s probably why I hate my writing so badly. It just reminds me of my negative outlook too much. Puts me in my own head.
I know I am a victim of my own circumstance, as I chose to take advantage of the opportunity to be a  domestic wizard (or “stay-at-home parent” as some people call it; like a woman doctor, or a male dancer, because you have to remind people that even though you’re doing something crazy -such as being a woman- you can still be a person -such as a doctor- just the same, or even be a parent despite the fact that you’re staying home!) I did choose to stay home, for the benefit of the teenagers I talked about up there a few paragraphs ago. I do my best work alone, and prefer to be in control. I don’t work well for other people’s success, especially when I’m taking my stress home to my family, so I eliminate any chance of that, by immersing myself in things I can control. I can make my home the way I want it, I can cook whatever I feel like cooking, I can plan things for the future,  I write, I draw, I paint, I design houses,  I take pictures of things that draw my eye. I let my creativity guide me, but far too often, I revert back to stresses as a parent. After all, that is my #1 purpose in life. Why do I sound so defeated when I say that?
I wonder if people think I don’t like being a parent. I’m strict, I’m unreasonable about certain things, I’m unwavering on principles, I expect my kids to do the right thing without being told, all despite the fact that I know their brains aren’t fully developed yet. I understand they are teens, and I try not to rush them into growing up, but they need to learn that the real world is a cold-ass place, and I don’t want them to learn it by getting hurt. Of course, I can’t avoid that, and now I sound like every parent before me. They have to get hurt. They have to be treated like shit by people. They have to be let down. They have to be told what to do. They have to be unfairly judged. They have to be stolen from, taken advantage of, and betrayed. All of these things will unfortunately occur in their lives, and it pains me to think of this, so how do I prepare them? I want these years to last forever, so they can experience love and care for as long as possible, but that won’t teach them to form any sort of tough exterior, and they’ll get eaten alive in life.
People with smaller children aren’t thinking about these things the same way. Obviously they don’t want any harm to come to their kids either, but it’s a different kind. Acceptance among peers, forming bonds, learning at a “normal” pace, are all things parents of young children are focusing on. Suicide, hopelessness, lack of direction, pregnancy, internet predators, college finances, learning how to drive a deadly weapon on the road, violence, truancy, drug use, problems with the law, are all things that a parent of teenagers must think about. At any point, my kids can make up their mind to get into one of these situations, and there is nothing I could do to prevent it.  The best education about risk and danger, the biggest net of love and support, the most open mind, the strongest bond, the deepest trust, can only go so far. They make their own decisions, and their brains haven’t yet made the “Don’t do that” connection in a lot of potentially dangerous areas. It is absolutely NOT easier or better when they start to gain independence; just because they’re not eating small objects that aren’t food, doesn’t mean they aren’t making equally poor decisions. Their perceived “free will” encourages them to explore unknown things in environments that you can’t always predict. At least with a small child, you’re hip to pretty much everything they can possibly do, and you’re much faster than them, so you can prevent a lot of accidents. If you’re reading this, I don’t think I need to tell you what teenagers are capable of doing. We know it’s worse.
As much as I complain about how difficult and unrewarding it is to be a parent, I wouldn’t trade it for all the writer’s inspiration in the world, because to me, they are LIFE inspiration. They keep me going, by ensuring that I struggle and grow, and never let my brain or nerves rest. You couldn’t fill a library with that kind of art.

-jg