Friday, August 12, 2016

This Space Is Mine

There is a thing that men do, probably without even thinking about it, and that women experience on varying levels from annoyance to terror. They touch us. They touch us a lot. Strangers. It's putting an arm around us, or "accidentally" grazing a breast or ass cheek. It's leaning in within an inch of our faces, it's aggressive eye contact.

For the love of fuck, guys, you have got to stop this. Tell your friends to stop. After the last few weeks, I am going to refuse to be polite. I insist on being viewed as a person with feelings and boundaries. I demand respect. My response to unwanted physical touch is going to be very clear from now on.

For the last week, I've been victimized by my Depression. It showed up, unannounced, like it always does. Finally, I felt like trying to shake it off. I went to a favorite bar where my burlesque mentors were going to perform. J and I got stools at the corner closest to the stage; it wasn't overly crowded like it is on the weekends, it felt comfortable enough. There was a group of men and women next to us, but J and I tried to keep to ourselves, both of us feeling fragile from our depression at the same time.

One of the men decided to start a conversation with us. And not by saying, "Excuse me, ladies..." No. When my head was turned away from him, he put his whole arm around me, his hand landing at my waist. I am a person with space issues. I am a person who doesn't always like to feel feelings, let alone the body warmth of another person. I certainly do not appreciate being embraced so personally by a stranger. It's rude. It's creepy. It was alarming.

There is something that I do when fighting for air during a depressive episode. If I'm in public and I have to engage with someone, I act cheerful. Because if I'm not forcing overt cheerfulness, I risk falling into a crumbling heap on the floor. I also risk letting out any internal rage I direct at my Depression onto a person and that never ends well.

So, even though I was appalled at this man's assumption that he could touch me in a place and in a way that I consider intimate, even though I wished I could shape-shift myself into a giant boa so I could simultaneously squeeze the life out him while ripping his arm off, I smiled. I answered his questions. I told him where I'm from, how long I've been here, what I was drinking. I allowed him to lean over me and talk to J. I allowed him into my space. I allowed him to continue living under the illusion that women are objects, toys, that we don't deserve the freedom from being man-handled any time we walk into a bar.

I censored myself that night. A few weeks before that, J censored me. It's what we do to each other. We remind each other not to Make A Scene. Just be quiet and it will end on its own. We were at a different bar, one we had been to recently and returned for karaoke. Because it's Nashville. It's what you do. I wasn't depressed, but I was grumpy.

The second we walked in, the dude at the end of the bar asked what we were drinking and said he'd buy our drinks. He was very drunk. I thought he was on his way out the door, so I let him. But no. No, he stayed. He stayed long enough to put his hand on my lower back and lean in. When I turned to J, like, "What the fucking fuck is he doing!??!", she told me to ignore it. See how we are conditioned to this shit? A disturbingly drunk man gropes a friend and we calm the other one down so as not to create further drama.

He tempted me with a very enticing offer. Going back to his place to drink a beer. I declined. "What? Why? I am re-fucking-diculously good-looking and I have a cute penis." I agreed that that was a VERY tempting and gracious offer, but no. "But why?? I have a couch!! Don't you want to go to my place? Why not?" No answer I gave him was satisfactory. None. Because, as a man, who was just allowed to touch me, who paid for my drink, he could not fathom that I, as an object he had just partially paid for, would refuse him. That doesn't happen in his world.

After a while, when he got quiet, I thought he might just pass out on the bar. He shuffled away, to my great relief. Short-lived relief. Because I actually heard him ask J if she wanted to go to his place to "make love." I looked right at him and said, "Are you kidding me right now? You're hitting on my friend after I just turned you down?" To keep from hurting my feelings, I can only assume, he said I could come too. We could go to his work. There's a couch there.

J tried a different tactic. "I like girls." That was okay though, because it seems his penis is so cute it would turn her to the side with the Y chromosome. Surely. His cute penis is potent enough to change the mind of someone who, presumably, had been incorrectly sexually oriented for decades.

Now, during all of this extremely attractive and romantic behavior, Drunk Dude's friend stood behind us, between us. He leaned up against our  hips, our thighs. When we called this contact to his attention, he backed up for a second and then came back even closer. We tried to distract him by encouraging him to do a karaoke song. We assured him that he would be great at it.

God, it was exhausting.

Before you suggest that we, we women, we of the fairer, weaker sex, assert ourselves like a man would, know that we have tried. We have tried so many strategies. We shrink so as not to be noticed. We are polite. We claim to have a "boyfriend." One who will "be right back." We try to ignore. We invite ourselves to blend into a group of women we don't know for protection. We know that anything more direct or assertive than this will only create anger, produce aggression, be met with hostility by the offender.

Drunk Dude is the perfect example. When he finally accepted that there was nothing he could say or do to convince one of us to go home with him, he yelled to this friend, "Fuck them, they're fucking bull dykes!!" and slammed out the door. We were rid of him, but the cost was an angry outburst and the small, insistent fear that he would be outside waiting when we left.

So, gentlemen. I'm about to piss a lot of you off. I'm not going to apologize either. I'll be a bitch or a cunt or a whore, or whatever you need me to be to fit into your limited world view, your standard, your norm. But I will not be unwillingly groped. I will not be embraced without permission. If you don't know my name, you don't know me well enough to put your hands on me. My first "no" is my final answer. I don't owe you an explanation or a reason. You're just being friendly? That's fine, I'm just standing up for myself. I am refusing to perpetuate the idea that Neanderthal behavior is desirable. I don't secretly want what you're offering in your drunken stupor. I don't buy into your cocky attitude. I don't have to believe you're a good guy or see you as you see yourself. I have my own idea, my own opinions, and my own agenda that 99.9% of the time has nothing to do with you.

This body? It's mine. It's 100% mine and you have no god-given right to it. I'm taking up my space and you're only allowed in when I invite you.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Starting a Conversation

The events of the last week....
The deaths of the last week....
Where to start?

I currently have too many thoughts in my head and trying to organize them all in a way that makes sense to even just me seems nearly impossible. There are emotions. On all sides. But why are there sides?

I think I learned about racism in sixth grade. David, a black boy, liked to snap the straps of my bra, which infuriated me to no end. And yet I didn't tell on him (which says more about sexism than I was aware of and is a completely different topic). I glared at him and he laughed. Our teacher, Mr. Black (a white Mormon), pulled me aside one day. He said that David reported that I told him to "keep his black hands off me." I was horrified. I cried. I didn't understand completely what it meant, but I understood it was terrible. I understood that I shouldn't feel that black was different or that being black was wrong. I was devastated that someone would blame me for thinking that way.

When I think about it more, there were other things that happened that pointed out to me that being black was different. My parents never said that black people were less. Not in those words, but in others. Our white, elderly neighbors were robbed late one night when they arrived home. The robbers were two black men. That's all I know. I only know this because that was how it was reported to my parents who related it that way to me. We moved because "too many black people were coming into the neighborhood." (Also - we had the luxury and the privilege to move away.)

I always knew that having a black boyfriend would irritate my parents. I wanted one, I never got one. I wasn't really that brave.

My parents moved to a small town in Oregon when my brother was a baby. We were having lunch in a restaurant near a window. Outside, in the parking lot, were a couple of young black men. My two-year-old brother looked at them and exclaimed, "Those men are dirty!!" He had never seen a black person before. I tried over and over to tell him that was the color of their skin. He shook his head. "No. No, they're dirty." I looked at my mom and told her she should not have left Southern California because now she was raising a racist toddler. She laughed.

Why am I telling you these things? It's not to tell you that my parents are bad people. They're not. It's to tell you that, as white people, we have some pretty fucked up ideas about people whose skin is a different color. And it's not as easy to label someone as being "bad" for thinking what they do because the messages feel so subtle sometimes. I wasn't told that my family didn't like blacks or that they were inferior. I wasn't taught to hate them. The message was simply that they were undesirable to live next door to.

All of this is to say that I understand the complexities of racism. I understand how it's sometimes hard to acknowledge when one is behaving in a racist manner. That it seems preposterous to call some behaviors racist. I know there is a learning curve. I also know that denial perpetuates the violence. I know that we can't continue the way we have. I know that there is injustice in the world. Grave injustice. I know that large sections of the population in my country are hurting. They are suffering, they are losing people they love, and they are dying. They are dying because they're black. They're angry because they're dying. I know this has to change. I know we have to do better.

Social media is the most useful tool when used responsibly and the greatest divider when it's not. It becomes a platform for people to spread hatred and to show the worst of humanity. The ugliest parts of themselves that we wish didn't exist.

There are a couple of things I've read in the last couple of days that gave me what Oprah always called "an aha! moment." These articles helped to put things in perspective for me in a way that I could relate to. As a woman, they made so much sense and I'm hoping that sharing them with you will help my white sisters understand and start a dialogue that helps us to move forward in helping our black sisters and brothers.

The first was an article about a BLM group meeting in the Nashville library. When it was discovered that the group was only open to persons of color, they were told they couldn't use the library as a meeting place anymore. The question was raised that white people might like to help and isn't it discriminatory in a reverse sort of way? But then the author gave the perfect analogy. Suppose a group of rape survivors decided to meet for support. A man approaches and says he wants to help them through their trauma. He is not a rapist, he has never hurt any of these survivors. But he's a man. He represents the gender that violated them. He won't understand, his help isn't welcome.

A second article compared racism to rape. We hear (and say) the same things about both.

"If she wasn't drunk..... If she hadn't worn that..... If she didn't flirt with the other guy....."
"If he kept his hands on the wheel.... If he just kept quiet and didn't ask questions..... If he weren't wearing a hoodie....."

Do you see the similarities? A woman doesn't ask to be raped. We don't ask to be catcalled. We don't ask to be objectified or marginalized or touched inappropriately or ignored or shamed or blamed for the thoughts a man has that we aren't aware of or in control of. People of color don't ask to be shot or suspected of crimes or profiled or accused. When we are just going about our business we don't ask to be victims. If we take ourselves outside of our own perceptions for a second, then maybe we can see that we have similarities.

Another problem I see on social media, and one that I have been confronted with, is that if I care about one cause, I must not care about another. Enough has been said about Black Lives versus All Lives, but this is related. There are several causes I care about and am passionate about. I can care about more than one at one time. I have enough emotion and enough space in my life to do so. Some become more pressing at times than others. If a woman is raped today and she is being vilified in the media while her rapist is being protected, then that is where I turn my attention. If I see an abused dog brought into a shelter who is in critical condition and needs immediate funds for medical care, then that is what I focus on for awareness. If there is an Amber Alert for a missing or kidnapped child, then that takes precedence in that moment and for that day. It isn't all or nothing for one cause and all the rest be damned.

Last week, while talking about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the greater problem of racism, I was called a cop-hater. Because I care that two men died unjustifiably does not equate to hatred of all police. I can and do understand the enormous sacrifice that officers make on a daily basis. I can feel for their families and know that they also make sacrifices in loving someone who might not come home that night. I can have the utmost respect for men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect me while also calling out that mistakes were made because other lives were ended. There aren't sides. There are people with beliefs and prejudices making decisions that they might not be prepared for, and that result in the loss of lives. That this happens over and over means that something needs to change.

I went to the BLM vigil/protest in Nashville on Friday night. There were two black officers within visual sight of the gathering. One male, one female. Those attending the assembly weren't confronted with a large show of police, they were allowed to congregate without interference. And yet, before the event started, I watched two young black men walk by, silently flipping off the two officers. My immediate reaction was, "Why? They're here to ensure that you get your say, that you get to honor your loss. They're also black, like you. Why so hateful?" The next day I had to separate my own reasoning from their emotion. Maybe it was the uniform itself. And they weren't confrontational, they were expressing their frustration. It was a safe place to do so and they did it peacefully.

If we can stop the automatic voices in our heads for a few moments and try to understand, then we start to be part of the solution. Stop saying, "But I have black friends.... But I have never said that... But I have never done that.... But that's not me....." Because it is. We have all done or said something that contributes to the problem, that separates us from the solution. And even if you have never used the "N word" or refused to hire someone because of their skin color, there is a person of color who has had that experience. Saying that you don't do it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen to them.

And if I take this further, just because something hasn't happened to you doesn't mean that it won't or that it can't. I've never been raped, but it's a possibility. I've never been mugged, but it's a possibility. I've never lost a parent, but that is something that looms in my future. Just because something hasn't happened to you doesn't mean that it won't. And it doesn't mean that it hasn't happened to someone else. It may have happened to someone you know and care about, but they don't talk about it because, most likely, it happens so often it's hardly worth mentioning anymore.

I've come to understand some things in the last few days that I didn't even as recently as the last year. I was in Southern California during the Rodney King riots. Granted, I was safely ensconced in my college environment in Orange County. I watched the horrors from a distance on my TV. There was no social media then so I was allowed to form my own opinions without interference from other, biased comments. What I believed was that it was terribly wrong. What I saw was anger and frustration and fear from a community I wasn't part of. And, naively, I thought that things would change. I thought that this country saw injustice, paid the price, and would move forward.

I was so wrong, because here we are. I can't say if it's worse because we see more of it or if it's less but the worst is being broadcast more easily through modern technology. All I know is that it shouldn't continue, not in any amount. Twenty four years later and we're still having the same conversation. 24. Two decades. 

What I know is that my own internal voices need to change. They way I communicate to those around me needs to change. I can no longer sit by and say, "Oh, how sad. It's terrible but what can I do?" I have a voice. I can use it. It's just one voice and it won't reach everyone, but if everyone like me spoke up too? If we all silenced our own experiences for a minute. If we listened. If we acknowledged that we have more similar experiences than we think while also understanding that what certain groups experience is also profoundly different. If we stop denying that. If we accept and admit that we have been part of the problem. And if we decide we no longer want to be part of the problem. If we educate ourselves, if we look at history, if we open our minds and our hearts.

Oh, what would we do if we realized we could do it? What if we used our White Privilege to reach out? I feel like being white provides yet another advantage. Will you listen to me before you listen to "another angry black person?" Can you understand it coming from me? Does it make more sense? Can you have a conversation with me that you couldn't have with someone else?

Because I'm willing. Are you?

Starting a Conversation

The events of the last week....
The deaths of the last week....
Where to start?

I currently have too many thoughts in my head and trying to organize them all in a way that makes sense to even just me seems nearly impossible. There are emotions. On all sides. But why are there sides?

I think I learned about racism in sixth grade. David, a black boy, liked to snap the straps of my bra, which infuriated me to no end. And yet I didn't tell on him (which says more about sexism than I was aware of and is a completely different topic). I glared at him and he laughed. Our teacher, Mr. Black (a white Mormon), pulled me aside one day. He said that David reported that I told him to "keep his black hands off me." I was horrified. I cried. I didn't understand completely what it meant, but I understood it was terrible. I understood that I shouldn't feel that black was different or that being black was wrong. I was devastated that someone would blame me for thinking that way.

When I think about it more, there were other things that happened that pointed out to me that being black was different. My parents never said that black people were less. Not in those words, but in others. Our white, elderly neighbors were robbed late one night when they arrived home. The robbers were two black men. That's all I know. I only know this because that was how it was reported to my parents who related it that way to me. We moved because "too many black people were coming into the neighborhood." (Also - we had the luxury and the privilege to move away.)

I always knew that having a black boyfriend would irritate my parents. I wanted one, I never got one. I wasn't really that brave.

My parents moved to a small town in Oregon when my brother was a baby. We were having lunch in a restaurant near a window. Outside, in the parking lot, were a couple of young black men. My two-year-old brother looked at them and exclaimed, "Those men are dirty!!" He had never seen a black person before. I tried over and over to tell him that was the color of their skin. He shook his head. "No. No, they're dirty." I looked at my mom and told her she should not have left Southern California because now she was raising a racist toddler. She laughed.

Why am I telling you these things? It's not to tell you that my parents are bad people. They're not. It's to tell you that, as white people, we have some pretty fucked up ideas about people whose skin is a different color. And it's not as easy to label someone as being "bad" for thinking what they do because the messages feel so subtle sometimes. I wasn't told that my family didn't like blacks or that they were inferior. I wasn't taught to hate them. The message was simply that they were undesirable to live next door to.

All of this is to say that I understand the complexities of racism. I understand how it's sometimes hard to acknowledge when one is behaving in a racist manner. That it seems preposterous to call some behaviors racist. I know there is a learning curve. I also know that denial perpetuates the violence. I know that we can't continue the way we have. I know that there is injustice in the world. Grave injustice. I know that large sections of the population in my country are hurting. They are suffering, they are losing people they love, and they are dying. They are dying because they're black. They're angry because they're dying. I know this has to change. I know we have to do better.

Social media is the most useful tool when used responsibly and the greatest divider when it's not. It becomes a platform for people to spread hatred and to show the worst of humanity. The ugliest parts of themselves that we wish didn't exist.

There are a couple of things I've read in the last couple of days that gave me what Oprah always called "an aha! moment." These articles helped to put things in perspective for me in a way that I could relate to. As a woman, they made so much sense and I'm hoping that sharing them with you will help my white sisters understand and start a dialogue that helps us to move forward in helping our black sisters and brothers.

The first was an article about a BLM group meeting in the Nashville library. When it was discovered that the group was only open to persons of color, they were told they couldn't use the library as a meeting place anymore. The question was raised that white people might like to help and isn't it discriminatory in a reverse sort of way? But then the author gave the perfect analogy. Suppose a group of rape survivors decided to meet for support. A man approaches and says he wants to help them through their trauma. He is not a rapist, he has never hurt any of these survivors. But he's a man. He represents the gender that violated them. He won't understand, his help isn't welcome.

A second article compared racism to rape. We hear (and say) the same things about both.

"If she wasn't drunk..... If she hadn't worn that..... If she didn't flirt with the other guy....."
"If he kept his hands on the wheel.... If he just kept quiet and didn't ask questions..... If he weren't wearing a hoodie....."

Do you see the similarities? A woman doesn't ask to be raped. We don't ask to be catcalled. We don't ask to be objectified or marginalized or touched inappropriately or ignored or shamed or blamed for the thoughts a man has that we aren't aware of or in control of. People of color don't ask to be shot or suspected of crimes or profiled or accused. When we are just going about our business we don't ask to be victims. If we take ourselves outside of our own perceptions for a second, then maybe we can see that we have similarities.

Another problem I see on social media, and one that I have been confronted with, is that if I care about one cause, I must not care about another. Enough has been said about Black Lives versus All Lives, but this is related. There are several causes I care about and am passionate about. I can care about more than one at one time. I have enough emotion and enough space in my life to do so. Some become more pressing at times than others. If a woman is raped today and she is being vilified in the media while her rapist is being protected, then that is where I turn my attention. If I see an abused dog brought into a shelter who is in critical condition and needs immediate funds for medical care, then that is what I focus on for awareness. If there is an Amber Alert for a missing or kidnapped child, then that takes precedence in that moment and for that day. It isn't all or nothing for one cause and all the rest be damned.

Last week, while talking about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the greater problem of racism, I was called a cop-hater. Because I care that two men died unjustifiably does not equate to hatred of all police. I can and do understand the enormous sacrifice that officers make on a daily basis. I can feel for their families and know that they also make sacrifices in loving someone who might not come home that night. I can have the utmost respect for men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect me while also calling out that mistakes were made because other lives were ended. There aren't sides. There are people with beliefs and prejudices making decisions that they might not be prepared for, and that result in the loss of lives. That this happens over and over means that something needs to change.

I went to the BLM vigil/protest in Nashville on Friday night. There were two black officers within visual sight of the gathering. One male, one female. Those attending the assembly weren't confronted with a large show of police, they were allowed to congregate without interference. And yet, before the event started, I watched two young black men walk by, silently flipping off the two officers. My immediate reaction was, "Why? They're here to ensure that you get your say, that you get to honor your loss. They're also black, like you. Why so hateful?" The next day I had to separate my own reasoning from their emotion. Maybe it was the uniform itself. And they weren't confrontational, they were expressing their frustration. It was a safe place to do so and they did it peacefully.

If we can stop the automatic voices in our heads for a few moments and try to understand, then we start to be part of the solution. Stop saying, "But I have black friends.... But I have never said that... But I have never done that.... But that's not me....." Because it is. We have all done or said something that contributes to the problem, that separates us from the solution. And even if you have never used the "N word" or refused to hire someone because of their skin color, there is a person of color who has had that experience. Saying that you don't do it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen to them.

And if I take this further, just because something hasn't happened to you doesn't mean that it won't or that it can't. I've never been raped, but it's a possibility. I've never been mugged, but it's a possibility. I've never lost a parent, but that is something that looms in my future. Just because something hasn't happened to you doesn't mean that it won't. And it doesn't mean that it hasn't happened to someone else. It may have happened to someone you know and care about, but they don't talk about it because, most likely, it happens so often it's hardly worth mentioning anymore.

I've come to understand some things in the last few days that I didn't even as recently as the last year. I was in Southern California during the Rodney King riots. Granted, I was safely ensconced in my college environment in Orange County. I watched the horrors from a distance on my TV. There was no social media then so I was allowed to form my own opinions without interference from other, biased comments. What I believed was that it was terribly wrong. What I saw was anger and frustration and fear from a community I wasn't part of. And, naively, I thought that things would change. I thought that this country saw injustice, paid the price, and would move forward.

I was so wrong, because here we are. I can't say if it's worse because we see more of it or if it's less but the worst is being broadcast more easily through modern technology. All I know is that it shouldn't continue, not in any amount. Twenty four years later and we're still having the same conversation. 24. Two decades. 

What I know is that my own internal voices need to change. They way I communicate to those around me needs to change. I can no longer sit by and say, "Oh, how sad. It's terrible but what can I do?" I have a voice. I can use it. It's just one voice and it won't reach everyone, but if everyone like me spoke up too? If we all silenced our own experiences for a minute. If we listened. If we acknowledged that we have more similar experiences than we think while also understanding that what certain groups experience is also profoundly different. If we stop denying that. If we accept and admit that we have been part of the problem. And if we decide we no longer want to be part of the problem. If we educate ourselves, if we look at history, if we open our minds and our hearts.

Oh, what would we do if we realized we could do it? What if we used our White Privilege to reach out? I feel like being white provides yet another advantage. Will you listen to me before you listen to "another angry black person?" Can you understand it coming from me? Does it make more sense? Can you have a conversation with me that you couldn't have with someone else?

Because I'm willing. Are you?

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Big Reveal

My daughter was born a girly girl. Her first word after the parental syllables was "shoe." She was boy crazy at four, passing toys to the neighbor boy between the chain link fence next to our townhouse. By the time she was eight, she'd had more boyfriends than I had in my life. She did ballet for ten years. She giggled in the back seat with her friends about high school dances and holding hands with boys on the ferris wheel. Her favorite color was pink. Or purple. She adored makeup.

She was the stereotypical girl.

She also loves to play the guessing game when she's afraid to tell me something. Which she did ten days ago. It goes something like this:

D: I have to tell you something.
Me: Okay....
D: Only I don't want to.
Me: Okaaay.... (immediately irritated)
D: Well, I want to tell you, but I don't.
Me: .......... (rolling my eyes and heavy-sighing)
D: It's just... I wish you just knew already.
Me: How can I know if you don't tell me?
D: ......
Me: Fine. You had sex.
D: No.
Me: You got drunk.
D: No.
Me: You got in another accident.
No.
You quit your job.
No.
You're friends with that horrible girl again.
No.
You're pregnant. (Because after exhausting the obvious and the stupid, I start throwing out the crazy.)
No.
You're gay. (AmI right? This girly girl? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.......)

She looks at the refrigerator. The girl has zero poker face.
But you're kidding, right?
No.
You can't be serious.
Yes, Mom.

............

I'd had a cocktail at this point and quickly gulped down the equivalent of another shot. Remember the stereotypical girl? Which I asked her. Or, rather, told her. "You were always boy crazy." Yes, she thought she was, but then she wasn't. But what about her boyfriends? What about drooling over Josh Hutcherson and Ian Somerhalder? What about, what about, what about?

I took a quick break in the bathroom where I furiously texted my best friend. "Don't judge, I said." Her response? "Oh God, what did you do???" When I told her what it really was she said, "We have always supported the gay community. Now it's just time to prove it." Okay......

Yes, I was in shock. It was the last thing I imagined from D. I knew her. I gave birth to her. I held her and cradled her and met all of her needs as an infant. It wasn't that I was against it. I wasn't and I'm not. I had even commented to friends in front of her that I would accept having a gay child but I would mourn my dream of what I thought they would be. That was what she remembered. That is what stuck in her heart and why she was so afraid to tell me.

So I finished my drink and I tried to let her talk. I tried to ask the accepting questions, all the while my brain was reeling from the news. I told her over and over that I'm not disappointed. Not like she thought I would be. It's not necessarily disappointment, but an adjustment. I have to shift my thinking.

When she was a senior in high school, she was temporarily but extremely suicidal. I reminded her that I would take her and keep her any way I could get her but I never want to lose her. I told her she could see how it felt without choosing labels yet. She told me she was confused. Ah, confusion. It's not real. Just a phase.

Now, if anyone thinks at any point thus far that I said the wrong thing or reacted the wrong way, you're entitled to that opinion. But if you're just not prepared for something, you can't predict your reaction. This outcome had just never occurred to me. Not in a million years.

The next day was a struggle between reassuring her that I do love and accept her, which I completely do, and balancing my own confused feelings. I asked if she was sure because she had been confused the night before. No, she was talking about being confused when it all started for her. Oh. Well, damn.

My second concern was for her safety. My whole life has been about protecting her. It's my job. I'm not so afraid that she will be physically harmed, but the thought of someone slamming her with vulgarity while she walks hand-in-hand with a girlfriend makes me want to rip an imaginary asshole. It's hard to embrace something that I think will hurt her.

It's been a process. I'm still processing it. A few days after she came out, I asked if she was sure this isn't just a phase. I got the hateful teenage reply that basically identified me as in insensitive dinosaur.

The next day I asked how long she'd known. Since freshman year of high school, which equals five years. I had known for five days. She agreed this wasn't fair and allowed me to ask any and all questions I had, which I prefaced by saying that I'll always love her and I will get to the point where I openly accept and embrace this "new" identity but that it will take time. I asked questions I didn't really want answers to. We supported each other throughout the conversation.

My emotions have been all over the map and probably around the globe a dozen times. I'm scared for her. I felt deceived by her and lied to. I have to clarify that these are not rational emotions, but we can't control feelings. I can't. I felt that if I had been a better mom I would have known. How the fuck did I miss THIS one??

There have been other thoughts too. I was never hung up on having a son-in-law. Weddings with two brides are often beautiful. I halfway adopted a handful of her friends growing up anyway, I'm used to it. Plus she's promised me I will have grandbabies. That's all I really care about, I'm just asking for a couple extra now.

Over the last year, I have been worried about her capacity to love. We moved to Nashville and she went through half a dozen boys in a matter of months. She seemed to get bored or to lose interest really quickly. Of course I blamed myself for divorcing her father and for dragging her through the subsequent Bad Relationship. All of this must have affected her ability to be intimate, to love someone. Now it's somewhat of a relief that might not be the case. I want her to love deeply and be loved to the core of her being. I'm not going to be able to choose that person anyway, so why should I choose their gender?

She had the brilliant millennial idea of coming out on Facebook. I didn't expect that today she'd be ready. Always keeping me on my toes, that one. The shooting in Orlando over the weekend was her motivation. She's scared now. She should be. I'm scared for her. And yesterday we went to the vigil downtown because I wanted her to be with people like her and to see that there is love in the fear. I want her to know that she's supported, that even if I can't be there always to protect her, I will do everything in my power to ensure that she feels loved and supported. She said she wanted to be brave. The truth is, this wasn't just an act of bravery. Brave is what she is. She's been brave with her depression, she's been brave with making her own choices about her future and she's brave now to come out when it would be safer to hide.

Her responses so far have been overwhelmingly supportive. I suspect there are some who aren't and they're just staying quiet and that's okay. Their silence still speaks and she knows it. I wonder how my own friends and family will react. I wasn't going to say anything until she was ready, but now that she's just jumped into the deep end, I'm jumping with her.

I'm still scared. All the more so now. I've avoided much of the news from Orlando because it hits too close to home this time. My best friend says it always should have been personal, and she's right. I just lived in a smug little straight-privileged bubble when I thought my child wouldn't be targeted. I'm flying the PFLAG now. I have to be as brave as she is.

I was never in love with anyone the way I was when this precious child came into my life. Never since and I never will be again. The thought of someone taking that from me, or from any other parent, chills me to the bone. Nobody has the right to take love from us. I am scared, but I will not live in fear. I will love her and I will love people like her and I will stand with them and next to them.

I'm proud of her. I'm proud of Nashville, our city. Last night's vigil gave me hope. Hope that I won't have to be afraid forever. Hope that love will prevail. Hope that she will love and be loved.

That's all any of us can hope for, really.




Like a Giant Push-Up

Last week I was veering dangerously close to a depressive episode. I felt it coming, heard the rumbling in the distance. The days leading up to Friday were fraught with events and activities that were draining any emotional energy I was trying to hold onto. I was running on empty. The temptation to hide under my covers until the storm passed was great. This happens to me on occasion. Sometimes I know why, sometimes I don't. This time I knew exactly why and I feared exposing myself to further energy drain and risking a deeper depression.

All of this is to say that Nashville surprised me. Nashville fits me more the longer I'm here.

Friday was a long-awaited burlesque show, which included dinner beforehand with new friends. Having to be "on" around new people is risky when I'm on the edge like I was. I know I was a little bit manic in my animation to make up for what was lurking under the surface of my skin, but it was manageable. (Manageable mania - oxymoron?) The show itself was wonderful and inspiring and full of acceptance and love, the way that burlesque is intended. There were hugs and laughter and beautiful costumes and quirky routines. It was just what the doctor ordered. If the doctor prescribed boobs and pasties.

Saturday the bestie and I went to see Stephen King speak. I wasn't sure how it would play out, I knew it wasn't a typical book signing with so many people there. SO many people. So MANY. People! The line wrapped around the building. Around the alley, behind the bars on Broadway. During CMA Fest. Cigarettes and drunk people and sewage liquid on the road. In the heat. The hot, hot southern heat. The Ryman was hot. Crowded. Sold out. Over-stimulating. Between the crowds, the confusion, and the odors, I was nearing a meltdown.

Ann Patchett walked out onto the stage. I feel a bit smug knowing that I can go into her business space any time I want at Parnassus Books. It's like my little nerd privilege. So I perked up. She introduced Donna Tartt to introduce Mr. King. Her small speech reminded me that it's okay to be different. It was beautiful and heartfelt and touching, without any pandering sweetness.

When Stephen King walked onto that stage, he was greeted with a standing ovation. There was an immediate sense that we all, in that audience, shared a common ideation in our love of writing, of books, and of a certain author, if not authors in general.

I want so badly to remember every word he spoke. He didn't only talk about writing, or his creative efforts, but he also gave us glimpses into who he is as a person. Someone who is not only a brilliant and prolific writer, but a humble family man with a wicked sense of humor. He curses in the exact appropriate places and he's just academically intimidating enough without being a boorish snob.

The whole experience of being in his presence, of sharing fellowship with others who chose to forego music festivals and street revelry to talk about a shared love of books, left me with a full heart and renewed soul, knowing it will never be duplicated because momentous events like that are rare and precious.

I woke up Sunday to the news of the tragic shooting in Orlando. Tragic shooting. Act of terrorism. Loss of lives. Devastation. How do I put what happened into words that make sense when the act itself doesn't? How to define the emotions. The anger, the fear, the complete what-the-fuck and why-is-this-happening-again. The overwhelming sadness and desperation to control something that can't even be predicted because who thinks of doing things that are so terrible when you're just going about your life and you're celebrating that life in a way that doesn't hurt another person and yet you and the people you care about are targets of something that can only be described as hate. Random hate because how can you even hate faces you've never met?

I don't understand it and I will never understand it and I'm tired of trying to understand it because there is no reason, no justification. Because it wasn't 50 people. It was 50 plus those who loved them currently plus those who knew and loved them last year plus those they were meant to affect and love and be loved plus the impacts they had that they don't know and we don't know and will now never know. 50 plus 150 times 18 plus infinity. It is indirectly countless people around the world. How does one person cause so much hurt?

Our mayor in Nashville, Megan Barry, posted on Facebook. She and other members of our local government and our police department organized a vigil for the victims. I knew I had to go. Whatever it meant on whatever scale, I needed to be among that support. I needed to contribute with my paltry presence. By that point I wasn't able to connect at an individual level with anyone there and had a hard time feeling like I belonged, but my body needed to be there.

Despite the disconnect, I was proud of the people who were there. The mayor. The police. The members of the city council. Those holding flags and posters. Those who changed what plans they had to show up and be present and to be heard. I know I planned on watching Game of Thrones last night and resting up for the week, not spending yet more emotional energy on things I can't make sense of.

Our city was beautiful last night. There were rainbow lights. Candle lights. Faces of determination. Hugs and displays of support. The noise came from the music in the bars, sounds of joy. Inspirational speeches and choir voices raised in community spirit.

Although I felt sad, the storm of depression had abated. I lay in bed feeling all of the support I had received over the weekend. The support that Nashville gives to the arts, whether it be burlesque or literature. The support of the LGBT community. I felt over and over that Nashville cares about the things and the people that I care about. In each instance I felt a sense of belonging and of validation. The connections brought me back from the loneliness of depression.

So, Nashville, thank you for being the giant push-up bra that held me together, that lifted me up, and that kept my emotions from sagging and dragging me down.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Summer Book Drive

It's Friday night and for once I'm home. It's storming, I have a martini and I'm just waiting for the kid to get home so we can have pizza and watch movies. Also, Facebook is being a shit right now which limits my ability to waste time mindlessly.

So, I'm going to try to do something useful. I'm not sure how effective it will be since like two of you regularly even pay attention to what I say here, but I'm making the effort anyway. The road of good intentions or something like that.

Since we moved to Nashville, I've been listening off and on to a radio show. I say off and on because it's a country format and we all know that's not my favorite. But my drive to work is now 45 minutes and I get bored. I mean, the lake is pretty, and I look for my horse friend every day and now there are babeh donkehs, but the rest is boring.
I digress.

 A couple of weeks ago, the host of the show (DJ? star? main dude?), Bobby Bones, released a book that is mostly about his life and the struggles he has overcome and how he got out of his sad little town and achieved his success thus far. D and I went to his book signing because she has a little crush on him. She was so super excited and I coached her on what to say to him. It just so happens that he gets his hair cut where she just got a job so that was an easy in. She was cute. He drew a little stick figure of himself in her book with his hair. It was all cute. Until I did my normal thing of freezing up in front of the author. It doesn't matter who it is. If my dog wrote a book, I'd just stand and stare at her while she pawtographed my book, mutter something resembling "thank you", and back away slowly. Ultimate book nerd.

A few days later, I saw this on Twitter:


Since I'd read his book (in like two days), it really confirmed that he is the person he appears to be. Honestly, sincerely good. My second thought was, why don't we all do that?? Mr. Bones has a huge following. He was #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List after about a week. There were loads of posts about how people were reading his book, even people who hadn't read in years. And I LOVE reading and I LOVE books and I want to spread this love and I don't think anyone should go without a book they want because of stupid money.

Now, this is where I become a copycat. Jenny Lawson, A.K.A The Bloggess, (if you haven't read her blog, go do it now. I want to kidnap her and make her be my friend but she lives in Texas and I'm too lazy for long-distance shenanigans) organizes gift-giving for those with less at Christmas. She's been doing it for a few years and her method last year works PERFECTLY for my little idea. She asked people to make a wish list on Amazon for things their kids were asking for and then her readers could purchase those gifts for them. It was basically brilliant.

Here is my idea. Scads of people want Bobby Bones's book. Maybe someone else wants a different book from someone they admire. Or a child is a voracious reader and her parents can't afford her disgusting reading habit. Whatever. It's not Christmas, but books aren't seasonal. I want those of us who HAVE to help those who HAVE NOT. And books aren't expensive. And Amazon is easy.

This is what you do. If you are someone who is book-thirsty but resource-poor, make a wish list on Amazon and post your link in the comments. If you are someone who feels generous and you are able, follow the link, purchase the book(s) and fulfill that wish. If you want a whole set of  Harry Potter, add the whole set. The Generous People can buy one or two or the whole dang set as they wish. Don't worry about being greedy. There's no such thing when beautiful words on pages are in play.

You may notice that the woman Bobby Bones helped out also wanted a bottle of wine. I see nothing wrong with this. The only beverage better to drink with a book is Irish tea. So add a bottle of wine if that's what you need. Even if you're asking for kid books, you may need the wine to get through the bedtime process. I remember what a process it is.

If you need recommendations for good books, I have a ton. Bare Bones is not just the inspiration for this effort, it's also really good. It's honest, sometimes raw, and completely relatable. And if you're a Bones fan, you'll want other people to read it too. D and I have some favorite kid books. I've read several classics and can steer you away from the bores. I have over 200 books on my "to read" list on Goodreads if that tells you anything.

Alright. Are we ready?

1. Make your wish list.
2. Add the link in the comments here.

Or -

1. Buy a book (and wine) for someone.
2. Share with anyone who wants a good summer read or anyone who wants to participate in my book drive.

And...... go!!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bumps and Grinds and the Bulge in the Mirror

When I started burlesque a few weeks ago, I imagined having funny stories to tell or how I would magically feel better in my own skin after a couple of weeks. The only funny story is that I started to sit down on and get up from the toilet with my butt sticking out and I did the same thing in Target stooping down to look at something on a lower shelf. I guess that could be slightly entertaining to anyone watching.

The thing I abhor about dance classes/gyms/yoga is the giant mirror on one wall. It's necessary to ensure you're using proper form and all that, blah, blah, blah. But it's also a reflection of how you look in that particular moment of time. Usually not the best moment. Workout clothes. Little or no makeup. No cute shoes. Bad hair. Sweat.

With burlesque, there is the added element of trying to appear "sexy." Boobs up and forward, shoulders back, back arched, butt out. Even this isn't that bad because, come on, what girl hasn't posed to find her best angle in a mirror? But then add movement to that. Add boobs out, hand on hip, bend over, stick that ass out, arch that back, and - OH GOD!! WHY is my stomach laying on my LEG??? This is not a good look!! This is a TERRIBLE look!! How many people are seeing this right now? This is exactly why I shouldn't have done this. Right here. Evidence that I am NOT sexy. Nope, nope, not even a little. I need a mask and a muumuu and a triple cocktail.

And that, because of what has been ingrained in me since I was a walking, talking member of society, is what I remember in the days after. That is my self-image for weeks after. The girl who can't suck her stomach in enough to keep it from touching her thigh. Who wants to see that? I mean, I don't have thigh gap and I'm good with that. It's hard to peel a stocking from your hand if you can't squeeze it between your thighs. Thigh gap is gross. But can I have a gap between my thigh and my belly? For fuck's sake??

So, no. No, I have not learned to love my body and its flaws by looking at myself during a class. Even if the song that is repeated over and over for the routine we are learning contains lyrics pontificating the virtue of confidence. Nope. It's not happening.

I'll tell you why it isn't happening. Yes, most of it comes from my inside voice. My inside critic. My inside bitch who wants to limit my happiness. It also comes from messages I've received during my life. Things like, "If you stand like that, your legs will bend the wrong way." "Did you ever break your nose? It looks like you did." "Do you EVER eat??" (This was when I was very young and very thin, a place I will never return to and don't really want to anyway, but it was still a message that I wasn't measuring up to an invisible standard.) "There's no way you still wear a size 4."

It also comes from every image we see in magazines, movies, the media, online, and on and on. There is one body type on magazine covers. There is one body type in movies and on the red carpet. There is one body type in music. There are billboards for losing weight. There are too many diet fads to count, sugar-free this and "light" that and research upon research of how to avoid killing yourself while still breathing air.

What, then, is the reason I have fallen in love with burlesque and my community in particular? Listen and I will sing you the song of the strippers.

I went to a couple of burlesque shows before I started taking classes. I have been to a handful since then. What I noticed the first times resonates with me now and that is that there are different body types on that stage. Rail thin. Chubby. Tiny boobs and flat asses and big boobs and flat asses. Toned bodies. Rolls, bumps, even dreaded cellulite. Round butts, long legs, short legs, tattoos, colored hair, shaved heads, and anything in between. The girls from two acts can be completely different and yet they have one thing in common. They're ALL fucking sexy. They're sexy because they're beautiful and what makes them beautiful is that they are talented and confident and they're all individuals.

When I see someone with my body type on stage in sparkles and glitter, shimmying and twisting and bending and teasing and getting roars of approval from the audience? I can't think of anything more validating. And when I see someone with more rolls than mine or dimply knees, I do not think, "At least I'm not that big!" Instead, I covet her curves and I envy her spirit, that in those moments, she is ALL woman, in every sense of the word.

This community I have found myself in goes beyond that. Performances aren't the pinnacle. Or they are, in a sense, but the real magic is what these women do every day, on a normal basis. They support each other. They cheer one another on. I've been part of group discussions where we've basically vomited out what we think is ugliest about ourselves and there has been no judgment. None. It's a perfectly safe, comforting, cozy den of acceptance. Behind the pink door nothing really changes but also everything changes. We don't turn into unicorns. I'm not getting on stage tomorrow. Nobody is turning the world upside down. Rather, we are changing each other's worlds. With a smile, with cheers, with a small "amen, sister." With understanding and compassion.

Will I still stare at the food baby I carry everywhere and will it to disappear? Yeah. Honestly, I will. When I try on the dress that looks so good on the hanger but squeezes in uncomfortable and obvious places, I'll admit to some self-loathing. But I'm learning to love other women's bodies. And since so many of them look more like mine than not, and definitely more like mine than anything this society has tried to force on me, I'm learning to love my body also. Or at least appreciate it.

Or to know that if someone else looks fucking hot in that pink plastic dress even though she has a tiny bit of back fat showing over the top, then screw it. I can be that hot too.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Partying With Women Who Sell Vibrators

This past week I attended my second Pure Romance conference, this time in Orlando. If you've ever wondered what happens when more than 3,000 women who sell vibrators get together, take a seat. It's a lot so I'm going to have to break it up over two posts.

I also must note that I resisted going to this one. My best friend had joined in the previous year or so and we attended our first conference together. I didn't want to go without her. She was my crutch as well as my partner in crime. What I learned over the last few days is that I can love my business in my own way and that's okay and I don't need her joined at my hip to know that I have her support. We grow the most when we like it the least and I ended up being exactly where and when I needed to be.

Day One.
I have another job so I left at noon and arrived in Orlando in time to take a shower, adorn my non-bridal white dress and hit the South Beach White Party. I missed opening session where our fearless and fabulous leaders Patty Brisben and Chris Ciccinelli speak. Boo.

The dress code for the White Party was all white. Self-explanatory, but harder to shop for than you would think. It actually looked beautiful - a whole room of white with pink lighting. And let me tell you, Pure Romance knows how to throw a party. There were 22 bars inside the dance room alone!! Let that marinate. Dinner was provided along with the first couple of drinks and then we danced all night!

I somehow managed to lose everyone in the groups I was hanging out with so I hung out in the area above the dance floor and that's where I met my first friend for the week. Audrey is from Oregon so we had an instant connection. We also had a mutual disdain for all of the girls throwing themselves at the adorable boy guarding the stairs we were next to. Dignity, ladies.

My roommates were still awake when I returned to our room and we stayed up until 1:00 in the morning talking about our businesses and our lives. Pillow talk at its best.

Day Two
This was a day of classes and the first one gave me loads of information that I could use and implement immediately.

I should point out that several of our classes are conducted by fellow consultants. When we say that Pure Romance is a sisterhood, it truly is. Our top consultants freely, willingly, and enthusiastically share with the rest of us what has led to their success. They don't selfishly keep their best tactics to themselves but show the rest of us how it's done. This might be the best thing I like about this company but in another few minutes I'll come up with another favorite.

The next class was a top company star sharing her information. This woman is a star in every sense of the word. She's tall, she's beautiful, she's funny, and last year her team sales were $23 million. Yes, million. A fucking 23 MILLION. I was behind her waiting for the elevator one night and I wanted to touch her dress just to see if some of her magic would rub off on me. Except you don't have to do that when she willingly TELLS you. I'm not sure girl crush covers it.

There were two more classes with doctors who research sexual health and behavior, both of whom I saw last year and present us with tremendous amounts of information. The adorably cute brunette doctor used the "p" word more than once and I would have fallen out of of my chair if I weren't sitting on the floor where my phone was charging.

When classes were over, it was time to grab some lunch and head to the room for a much-needed nap before preparing for formal awards night.

The awards ceremony is an event in itself. It's like a mini-Oscars party. There are categories based on consultant level with awards for those who attained the highest personal sales, group sales, or recruits. There is recognition for those attaining higher levels for the first time. The best and the brightest walk the stage in their glamorous get-ups while the rest of us cheer and celebrate their successes.

If you ever see a consultant post about how this company takes care of them, let me give you an example. One woman stood on stage as a record-breaker for personal sales. Now, she already made money. She made money from her team. I'm sure Chris and Patty sent her flowers during the year. She probably won a trip or two. Most likely a lifestyle bonus every month. It's a nice way to make a living. But right there, in front of everyone, Patti presented her with a personalized Louis Vuitton handbag, designed and made in Paris. Two plane tickets to anywhere in the country. And $5,000 cash. Pure Romance appreciates its consultants and rewards them beyond their dreams.

Once the ceremony was over, we filed out to the waiting banquet tables topped with meat and cheese delicacies, Asian spring rolls and dim sum, salads, bread, lobster pasta (with freaking giant pieces of lobster meat!) and stacks of desserts. We piled our plates, ordered our drinks, and made our way into the ballroom once again.

This time, aside from the multiple bars, there were women performing aerial acrobatics on silks, rings, and one hanging from a chandelier pouring champagne upside down into flutes below.

We ate, we drank, we danced, we drank some more. I ran into my new friend from the night before, met her friend, and once the last song was over, we all went to our room to drink some more and laugh our asses off playing Cards Against Humanity and toying with a Tinder dude until 3:00 a.m.

And it still wasn't over......

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Teaching Old Hips New Twists

I decided to take a giant, running leap outside of my comfort zone and signed up for a Burlesque class. Why learn to tap dance demurely or take piano lessons from a woman with a house full of cats when I can learn to strip to music? In front of other stripping women. Yep. Going for it.

I'm two weeks into a six-week workshop. What I feared so much before I now can't remember as it's really very much like a regular workout class. My legs and back hurt after the first night. My hips pretty much laughed at me when I asked them to shimmy. And, aside from the tall gazelle with the great ass, we're all just regular women in there. Learning the same awkward moves. Some of us have body parts that move better. Apparently butt reverb is a thing. I don't have it.

The side effect of taking a dance class of any type is that you start to notice more about how your body moves. Notice what different muscles actually do and what they can do. And muscle has memory. Whether you want it to or not. So you might fell yourself standing up from the toilet differently. Or you might be bent down to look at something on a lower shelf in Target and not realize until you're done that you just stuck your ass out and straightened yourself provocatively. Luckily nobody saw you that time. You hope.

Also? Your daughter doesn't want to see you practice because you're a mom and it's "sexual and weird." At least I'm getting the sexual part down. Probably in a weird way.

I do have a stage name in mind, but will still take suggestions. Must be sexual and slightly weird.

Ode To a Mockingbird

Harper Lee was not a prolific writer. I didn't even read To Kill a Mockingbird until after the age of 30. And yet, she is one of the most important writers in my life. When I found out last week that she died, I felt like a small part of my childhood died as well.

When I was growing up, without DVD's or Netflix or Hulu or any of the other couch-potato accoutrements, we watched movies on TV the night that they came on. There were a handful of them we watched every year. Some I still crave, like Sound of Music, and one or two I could never see again. (I'm looking at you, African Queen.) To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my favorites. I don't even know if my dad had read the book, but he insisted we watch the movie any time it was on.

I loved it.

I had difficult relationships with my dad(s) so I loved Atticus Finch. He was so wise and strong and Good. I wanted be be brave and saucy like Scout was. I wanted a brother like Jem and I wanted mystery and adventure on summer days. The film is black and white, but so easy to fall into. I swear I could smell Calpurnia's cooking, the dusty roads, feel the bark on the tree where Boo hides his gifts.

And Gregory Peck. I mean, come on. I didn't even know who Robert Duvall was for years and didn't realize he was in this movie until after I'd fallen in love with him as an actor. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Finally reading the book was just as glorious. Every page I lived in Maycomb, walked the dirt road to school, sat at the kitchen table with Atticus, Jem, and frequent guests, watched Atticus in the court room, listened to Tom Robinson tell his story, and learned the same lessons as Scout.

I like to think that my parents passed on important lessons they didn't know how to otherwise tell me through that story. I knew to never use the "n word" and that life just isn't fair a lot of the time. That there are injustices and some things can never be made right but that doesn't make the world a dark place. And people can surprise you in the loveliest ways.

I owe a fathomless debt of gratitude to Harper Lee for the memories of my childhood, for a book that I can dive into and emerge a better person each time I read it. Her words are forever etched onto my heart.


 
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