It Only Took One Question to Make Me Go Sit Down

“Who would vote for you?”

I’d scheduled a lunch meeting with my longtime mentor, a former priest who was an administrator at the local anti-poverty agency where I was working, to tell him I was thinking of running for Alderman.

And that was the first thing out of his mouth. “Who would vote for you?” It didn’t seem to be a question intended for analysis, like ‘let’s sort through how you would appeal to various voting blocs.‘ It was a reflex statement that read to me like ‘really? you think you should run for Alderman?’ And in that moment, I knew I’d overstepped. It wasn’t my place.

That was twenty-five years ago but I can still remember driving away feeling completely foolish. Who was I to think I could organize and run a campaign, raise money, go door to door, convince people to vote for me?

A friend put me in contact with a leader of an ad agency known as a political kingmaker. I was surprised when he agreed to meet me at a local Mexican hangout. We ate enchiladas on paper plates and he grilled me. “Are you active in the Democratic Party? Do you belong to a church? A synagogue? Do you belong to any groups? Any large groups of people who would support you?”

The answer to all of his questions was no. I didn’t have a base or a group or anything. I just had myself and my family. I also had a lot of experience and knew a lot of people. I had a good reputation and was willing to work hard. It seemed to me that the people who were already Aldermen didn’t have much more than that going for them.

He looked at me and shrugged, “Who would vote for you?” From the campaign kingmaker’s lips to my ears, ‘you wouldn’t have a prayer.’ And right there, in that moment, I gave up on the idea and almost became embarrassed for ever having had it in the first place.

The guy who was eventually elected was younger than me with less experience, a staff person in a neighborhood organization. A good looking guy, suave and lovable, but I don’t know which church he belonged to or who was his base. Apparently he had one, though, or people thought he did. So he won.

Looking back, I know it was my fault for being so easily discouraged. I let myself be marginalized and diminished, maybe because it was what I had come to expect being a woman in America, maybe because I thought it was what I deserved. But I accepted it, that’s the unpleasant truth. I didn’t question their judgement. “They said no one would vote for me,” I told my husband. He started to argue but gave up when he saw I agreed with them.

I don’t think I was unique or that I had some pathologically low self-image. I had plenty of ego even then. I thought I was smart and capable. I believed I was exceptional. Until two men told me I wasn’t. Who would vote for you?

So the women who ran for office twenty-five years ago, those women were lions. Because I’m betting they got the same reaction I did when they started out but they didn’t quit. They refused to believe that no one would vote for them. I wish I had been like them but I wasn’t.

And women who are interested in elective office now? They support each other. They train each other. They knock on doors and take over social media and they win. All over the place. Locally, at the state level, in Congress. It’s beautiful to see. Any one of the many women I know who are in office or are running would laugh in the face of any man who asked them “Who would vote for you?” and then they’d hand him an invite to a fundraiser and keep moving down the line.

It’s so grand. I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to see this.

Imposter Syndrome

This morning at the dog park I got irked by a man who wouldn’t keep his dog from trying to pick a fight with my dog. His dog was relentless, chasing, body-slamming, humping so much that my mild-mannered dog, Swirl, snapped back. He finally leashed up his dog and we split up on the trail.

Even while I was immersed in my aggravation, I realized that a few months ago I had a dog, albeit very briefly, who herded every dog he encountered, picked fights, pinned smaller dogs, and took running jumps onto the laps of people sitting on benches enjoying the sunshine.

How fast we forget.

I have been enjoying the sense of superiority enjoyed by a mother whose kid has never tantrumed in a grocery store. Other people might have awful dogs but I don’t. And, oddly, and pretty quickly, I’ve lost any empathy I might have once had for the owners of bad dogs. I only had empathy for people with bad dogs when I had a bad dog. Then we were in it together.

No more.

I’ve crossed over. I’m with the moms whose kids sit quietly in the grocery cart and sing songs from day care and never ask for candy at the checkout. I’m with the moms who shake their heads at the screaming two-year old in the next lane over grabbing gum from the rack and throwing it over his mother’s head at the old lady trying valiantly to smile and be understanding.

Never mind that I’ve had this dog for six weeks and he spent his entire life of seven years raised in a kennel with 200 other sled dogs so however well-behaved he is has zero to do with me or my dog handling capabilities.

I’m not going to let that small piece of history bother me. I’m going to act like I belong here – with all the other owners of good dogs. This is my life now. I’ve earned it after all those years at the grocery scrambling around putting the gum back in the rack.

One Eye Seeing

The week has been eye-opening. Illuminating. Clarifying. Humbling.

I had cataract surgery on my left eye. The process had all the accouterments of having surgery except I got to keep my jeans on which gave the whole thing kind of an outdoorsy feel. The operating room, the IV, the warm blanket, the faraway chatter, the fleeting admonition to myself to think only of paddling our canoe as a way to steady my nerves, the sudden having it be over and finished, all of it was like getting my cochlear implant although then they drilled a hole in my head while I was busy paddling.

This time they inserted a tiny tool in my eye and broke up my old lens. Oddly, I could see this happening, the shards of the lens like pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope and I was fascinated and taken by this, the colors moving, and then I saw the looming dark profile of the surgeon bending over me like a shadow in a closet in a very scary movie. I knew it was the doctor though so it was all okay. After the light show, unbeknownst to me, he inserted another little tool which had my new lens spring-loaded so it unfolded like magic while I was dozing, I guess, because it wasn’t clear to me, as they say, until much later.

Since the surgery, I have been washing my face every morning, yes, with soap, and putting on moisturizer and walking out the door. I figure with all the doctor’s precautions about infection and the four times a day steroid drops I ought not be confusing things with Maybelline Great Lash. Why screw things up for the sake of vanity.

But truth be told, I have been feeling lately as if my true face ought to be sufficient, that I can’t be bothered doing everything I used to do to make my face look better. I will just go around and have my face. I do have a killer haircut, that is one important indulgence, but make-up, I’ve been letting it dry into shards on the shelf, like my lens, I guess.

Years ago, I would look at older women who didn’t wear make-up, the ones who wore flannel shirts and old jeans on their way to the day’s garage sales, usually these were women who five minutes ago were doctors and lawyers but were now retired, and I’d think “Why are you giving up?” After a while, the older I got, I started to regard their facial nakenness as liberation. They earned the right not to care anymore. Soon I would be there and not care, too. Just like them. Screw the patriarchy and its fucked-upness about what women should be doing with their faces.

But I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, my bare face and mascara-less eyelashes blending into a beige, unremarkable landscape of deep wrinkles offset by my two blue eyes, one of them way more capable of taking in the detail than the other and I thought, “Jesus H., Jan, why are you giving up?” So I went to Target this afternoon, which, yes I know there are whole stores devoted to make-up where some 25-year old could give me advice but I’m not there yet, I’ll never be there, there isn’t enough time left for me on the planet to make that leap, and at Target I bought all new make-up – foundation, powder, new eye shadow, new mascara, and, a brush for my blush.

I also bought sunglasses. A pair of $15 sunglasses. This is remarkable in its own right because the years of prescription sunglasses which cost what I paid for my first car are over. I can also push my sunglasses up on the top of my head which makes me feel young and sporty like I used to feel when my sunglasses doubled as a headband for my hair.

I guess all of this goes by way of saying. I’m not dead yet. And I’m not giving up.

Love is Patient

“Wait a year until you let him off leash. Wait until he really knows you’re his people.”

So said Tasha, the owner of the sled dog kennel where we adopted our big beautiful sled dog, Swirl.

He follows us through the house, looks back at us when we’re walking sometimes, not very often, comes when he’s called at the dog park his own way which is running toward us and then past to let us know he heard us but wants nothing to do with us, a lot like our kids when they were teenagers, never really taking off but never under control either.

We spent the weekend at our cabin on Lake Superior. There we were with the sand and the lake and the bluest sky, the one that only exists up there in the north, and we ached to let him go. Watch him lope along, no leash, no harness.

But we did what Tasha said. She hasn’t been wrong so far, we figured. She was the expert on all things dog.

Later in the day, coming up the driveway to our place, we saw a red fox leaping high in the beach grass, flying across our property like a swooping eagle. It was breathtaking. For us and for Swirl and had he not been at the end of a leash I was holding he would have torn after the fox and gone wherever the fox decided to go.

It wouldn’t matter if we called him back. He wouldn’t have come. We’re his people. We know that. But we love him more than he loves us. He loves chasing the fox he’s never met more than he loves us. And it’s going to be that way for a while.

Maybe a long while. That’s fine. We’ll wait.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Muddy Waters

If big pompous guys knew how many times I’ve been waved away in my life and how inured I am to the gesture, maybe they’d try something else to counter my comments and questions. Minimize and diminish, it’s such a favorite tactic of big pompous guys. “You obviously don’t understand.”

I have on my To Do List a recurring task called “Call out B.S.” It never gets completely crossed out as completed, instead it is carried over from day to day, because the river of bullshit is wide and endless, starting somewhere in China and encircling the world five times at least, maybe more.

Wiser people than me say to let the bullshit river flow. Pay it no mind. Bullshit will find its own level as they say in the world of civil engineering and Emily Post. And a lot of the time, I adhere to that belief because, after all, it can be a full time occupation calling out B.S. and I have other things to do.

Still, some bullshit I can’t ignore. And so I call it. Sometimes in person but usually on social media because Facebook, in particular, is a bullshit magnet. And it never goes well, no one rowing on the bullshit river ever hangs up his paddles willingly. I know that. I get the futility of it but somebody has to talk back sometime or we will just be flooded by, you guessed it.

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

Upper Peninsula Chainsaw Friday Round-Up

I’m of the opinion that it’s healthy to regularly do things you’re afraid to do. I like this idea as a professional thing more than a personal one. For instance, I might be afraid to write a huge federal grant with a lot of complicated, cranky, self-interested partners who might sue me for malpractice if we lose but consider it a grand challenge. On the other hand, I let the registration date pass for a women’s “Take the Reins” class because I knew the first thing the instructor would do would be to hand me a halter and send me into the corral to fetch my own horse.

I looked at the big box crammed with tampons and pads and thought, “I can carry that.” And I was fine lifting it out of the truck, even though I had to wrestle with it, but walking with it I knew it was too heavy but I looked ahead and it didn’t seem that far if I could just hold out and then I tripped on the top stair and fell. I skinned my knee and it hurt like skinned knees do, although the last one I had was in the middle of a different century, and there were a bunch of other bumps and weird aches along with the astonishment of having fallen. I said to my husband, “Don’t tell any of the kids I fell” realizing the stigma attached to being old and falling notwithstanding the big box one was carrying at the time.

Watching Nancy Pelosi tie Donald Trump in knots is one of my favorite things ever. She knows where all his little scaredy man things are and she goes after them with a hatpin. Remember hatpins? Pop, pop, pop.

When we got stopped by the Michigan State Patrol, two officers came to our car, one on either side. It felt like Bonnie and Clyde. The woman officer came to my side. I said hello, looked at her arm full of tattoos and decided to just stare straight ahead while my husband rifled through his wallet for whatever the man officer wanted. We were warned. Which is always better than the alternative. Still.

“I forgot my chainsaw.” Words I never thought my nice Jewish husband from Philadelphia would say to me. “For what?” I asked. “Whatever” was his answer. Whatever. Yes, we must always travel with a chainsaw. So I just asked him if he minds if I call him my “nice Jewish husband” when referring to his chainsaw comment to which he responded, “It does presuppose that Jews don’t do stuff with chainsaws.” I guess.