Everything I Did Was Extra

I was raised to be secondary.

That never occurred to me until the other night when I was talking with a friend about his possible retirement. It’s a big challenge for anyone whose work life has been central to their identity.

But I realized that it was less of a challenge for me than I thought it would be. And it wasn’t because I didn’t love my work. I did. Almost more than anything. 

When I quit, I felt like I had nothing left to prove. I’d already exceeded people’s expectations of me. Actually, I’d probably done that five minutes after taking my first professional job forty years ago. 

All I was supposed to do, all I was shaped and raised to do, unwittingly, just naturally because that’s how it was, was this: get married and have children. And maybe help my husband if he was in a situation where my help would be needed which, if I made a decent match, would be unlikely.

Remember I am a person who took shorthand in college. I wasn’t a gal in the aim high club.

So when you think about how I was raised and what was expected of me, I’ve done okay. Moreover, being raised with low expectations gave me a weird kind of freedom. Nobody expected much of anything from me. So in that context, my whole professional life has been gravy. 

In contrast, my male friend, having been raised to be primary, feels burdened by the expectations laid on him by his parents, by society, by himself. Though he has done an extraordinary amount, he can’t be finished yet. There is a pinnacle he thinks he hasn’t yet reached. It’s burdensome, those expectations.

I think things have changed for women and men but I don’t know that to be true.  And until this conversation it never occurred to me really that I was raised to be secondary. But I was. And it has had its peculiar benefits.

 

These are Some Mean Times

We dumped our investment advisor because he loved Donald Trump.

Oh, there was more to it than that. Somehow, he felt emboldened to send me a nasty, untruthful meme about Barack Obama during the 2016 election. It was so out of character I figured someone had hijacked his account.

But no, it was him. He defended himself even after I pointed out how his meme was factually incorrect (as if facts matter). And then he went on to explain how Trump’s election would be fabulous for all of us.

We’d known this guy for a long time. Trusted him with some pretty important decisions and certainly a lot of information. We had invested years in our professional relationship with him but it was finished in mere minutes. Done, just completely done.

There was no way we were going to do business with him anymore. That’s how immediate and extreme our reaction was. And that was before we even knew how epically bad Trump would be as president.

Now, I’m not sure I could even carry on a conversation with someone who still supports Trump. And that’s not good. We used to be able to overlook someone being a Democrat or Republican. Heck, we figured all stockbrokers were Republicans, focused completely on making money and minimizing taxes. We were down with that even though when we aren’t talking investments we are on the far left of the political spectrum.

So we straight up asked the next investment guy if he voted for Trump. We now had a litmus test and there was only one right answer. A yes with an explanation wouldn’t work. This was a yes or no question, the upshot of which might have been stuffing our money in the mattress.

It hasn’t stopped there. I just can’t fathom someone still supporting Trump and, as unpleasant and closed-minded as it seems, I can’t knowingly do business with a Trump supporter. I will cross the street, find another gas station, find a different store, change my own oil if I have to but come at me with anything with the slightest whiff of MAGA and I will have to go.

And it’s not one-sided. Oh no, don’t think that it’s only liberals who are drawing their lines in the sand. The MAGA folks are doing the same only they’re louder and not so discreet. Don’t get me started.

It’s kind of crazy if you think about it, that we basically can’t even stand to look at each other. Let’s hope it’s just a moment in time.




The Long Process of Making Amends

I think the trick to dealing with terrible stuff in your past is to own it.

Virginia Governor Northam wouldn’t be in the fix he’s in if he had Xeroxed the page from his yearbook, kept it in his wallet, and pulled it out every chance he had to talk about race, racism, white privilege, and arrogance.

He could have said, “I did this. At the time, I felt that it was okay to do it. It was only later that I figured it out and I’m here to talk about me then and me now.”

I would have listened.

I’ve never been in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) but I know people who have so I’m tuned in to the notion of making amends (Steps 8 and 9 in the 12-step program).

Governor Northam could have spent the entire time between his medical school yearbook’s publication and last week making amends for participating in a blackface/KKK event memorialized in a photo which he now disputes included him even though it’s sitting right next to his graduation picture in the yearbook. Quite an editing error, I’d say.

But he didn’t do that.

He pretended like what was in the yearbook didn’t matter. He ran for office, asked for support, got others to mobilize the substantial black vote in Virginia, and never once mentioned that he’d had this awful behavior in his past. Two explanations for this oversight: either he thought no one would ever find his yearbook or he thought it didn’t matter. In either contingency, he overestimated himself and underestimated others.

Think how differently this whole mess would have played out had the dear Governor decided long ago to make amends.

When a recovering alcoholic makes amends, he is really doing three things. First, he is owning his behavior. Even if he doesn’t remember it, even if he was blacked out at the time, even if he knows he wronged someone only from the dreams of his now-sober sleep, he is claiming his own deeds. That takes great honesty.

Second, by his apology and his efforts to make amends, a recovering alcoholic is validating the distress he caused others. The acknowledgement of the pain one has caused has great meaning to the people who were injured. “Thank you, it’s not nothing that you wrecked my car, punched out my brother, and retched all over my wedding gown.” It takes courage to acknowledge and apologize directly to the persons one has harmed. It’s humbling, maybe humiliating, and then it’s righteous.

And last, owning up to one’s past and making amends reminds everyone of this one essential truth in life: Redemption is possible. It has to be or we’re all sunk. There is nothing greater, nothing more impressive than someone who has seen the error of his ways and now spreads that word to folks hiding their own failings. It’s powerful.

It isn’t the photograph that has disqualified Governor Northam from holding office. It’s what he has done since the moment he opened his yearbook and saw the photograph sitting there next to his yearbook picture. He had a choice right then and again at every college reunion, every walk down memory lane, every time he pulled the yearbook off the shelf to show to his colleagues, to his children, to make amends and be an example of change and progress.

That wasn’t his choice, though. And so it’s right to expect him to resign. Now he will have the time he needs to understand the damage he caused and begin to make amends. I wish him well in that long process.


Unbeknownst to Me

My dog has a dent in her head about two inches long and an inch wide and I never saw it before the vet pointed it out this morning.

“She has partial facial paralysis,” he said, adding that was why her left eye was red and oozing. She couldn’t completely close her eye so it was dry and irritated. The facial paralysis meant that the unused muscle on the left side of her face had atrophied, hence the dent.

I’ve lived with this dog for 14 years. She lies near me pretty much wherever I am. I talk to her, I pet her beautiful head, I hold her face in my hands. I never saw her dent.

Is this how it happens?

You think everything is fine, life is okay, adequate, maybe not spectacular, but fine, and you meet up with someone who hasn’t seen you for a long time and they right away notice the massive dent in your head?

I’m afraid to go out.

Dog Days

Today was a better day with my new dog, Romy. I didn’t get head-butted putting on his leash. I can still feel the result of yesterday’s crash if I move my fingers along the bone under my eye but there’s no bruise. So it can stay our little secret.

The task really is to tame him. At first, it was to give him a home. Then it was to keep our older dog from being hectored to death. Now it’s to civilize him and help him find his place in the world order. We can’t let him be a crazy shit dog because we feel sorry for his poor beginnings because, who knows, maybe he was born in the backseat of a Cadillac and ate poached eggs every morning. I’m not going to assume.

He was a decent citizen today, good for long stretches of time, sometimes even sleeping in the same room with the ancient Minnie without going after her hind legs. But then a switch flipped and he ran like a deer through the house, leaping from the stairs, jumping high enough to look me straight in the eye. We went for our second walk then where he immediately found a half-eaten sleeve of Ritz crackers (yesterday it was a champagne cork) and carried it like a small mouse for half a block. He will give things up which is amazing. I figure if his world order includes me as the pack leader I need to be in charge of what goes in his mouth. So far, he’s agreed.

I’ve never really thought about any of this stuff before. We’ve had five dogs and they just sort of lived here, driving us crazy and then getting old. We yelled at them not to do bad stuff which they did anyway until they got bored with themselves and then they just laid about unless it was time to go run on the beach. This dog is different. I have to out-think him. He is too intense and smart for a laid back upbringing. We’ll wake up one morning and find he’s taken the keys to the truck and gone back to Alabama which we have kind of wished for but not really.

99 New: It’s a Dog’s Life

As grief-stricken as she might have been, our old dog, Minnie, also seemed liberated by the death of her long-time companion and frequent oppressor, BowWow. For years, BowWow, a smaller dog by half, exercised his dominance over her as the alpha dog. He stood over Minnie as she rested on a bed or a blanket or a space of earth on the planet until she got up and moved to another spot. It didn’t need to be a prime spot, an especially cushy or warm spot, it only had to be the spot she had. His mission was to make her move from her spot. For no reason. Just because he could.

I tried to intervene. I yelled at BowWow and told Minnie to stay where she was. Stand your ground! I shouted. Sometimes I grabbed the smaller dog by the collar and took him to another spot to lie down, a nice comfy bed on the other side of the room. But BowWow returned within seconds and continued his silent, oppressive standing over her until she moved, a big dog slinking off to find a cold spot while the smaller dog curled his satisfied self into a ball on the warm spot she’d just vacated.

When BowWow died, I watched Minnie shake off her learned inferiority. She slept wherever she pleased. Because she was old and stiff, we often threw a big comforter on the floor of the living room for her. We turned the TV on when we left the house so she wouldn’t be lonely and soon seemed to replace her regular meals with snacks from the cupboard and our plates. She took to sleeping in, sometimes needing to be rousted at 9:00 am, a sign that she’d left the days of BowWow-mandated early rising behind.

You know where this is going, right? Romeo, the new dog, spent an hour in his new home being sheepish and deferential, well, maybe a day or two, but quickly grew into his 13-month old balls. He has perfected the warm spot steal and is working, not very subtly, on muscling in on Minnie’s food bowl. Minnie stands back now from the stairs if Romeo is going down or up, doing that standing aside and looking at her nails thing that women do when they want to convey their superiority in an environment where they are being trampled, like, oh, I meant to stop here in this nice out of the way spot so all the guys could hurl themselves down the stairs.

Don’t let this punk intimidate you, I want to tell Minnie but she has already gone back to the land of deference. We intervene to try to teach Romeo decent manners and to keep Minnie safe, mostly she steers a wide berth around him, finding spots that he doesn’t want to claim as her own. She is a big, old sweet girl, precious to us but no revolutionary. She has no interest in living up to our feminist dreams for her. She’s just going to keep living her dog life the way she has for twelve years, doing whatever it takes to have some peace in her world and get a decent nap. That’s her right, I guess. Or her lot.