Broken Glass

On the night of November 9-10 1938, thousands of Jewish homes and business and over 200 synagogues were destroyed by Nazi Storm Troopers and civilians. After this, over 30,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to concentration camps. This event was reported on by foreign journalists stationed in Germany, Austria, and Sudetenland to the world… yet the rest of the world did nothing to stop what would become the Holocaust.

All my life I have never been able to fully understand how people could let things like this happen. I always thought it was just massive fear and silence. But after the last six months when 200,000 people died in this country due to a pandemic that could have been contained, after seeing people unleash their fury on others while not wearing masks, after watching glass broken, I can understand it now.

It’s not fear and silent complicity either. It’s a willing embrace of other people’s suffering, that it’s right and good that other people suffer while you don’t. It’s willingly embracing ignorance, hatred, and trying to destroy empathy and compassion in those who believe in it, show it, and try to live it.

Last evening when I heard the news of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, a song came into my head from out of left-field. The song was ‘Broken English’ by Marianne Faithfull. There’s a line she repeats over and over in the song: “What are we fighting for?”

This is a question I’m asking myself now: what am I fighting for?

For the right to live. To exist. To think and feel freely and openly. To live without pain and suffering. For others to live this way.

And yes, people have fought for these things by breaking glass. Sometimes literally, and sometimes figuratively, like Justice Ginsberg did in her long legal career fighting to practice law.

But the most painful thing for me to write right now is this: my own fears. I woke up in the dark with a pounding heart and a righteous anger from the night before. Yet as I came awake, that pounding heart stayed but the righteous anger fled as a wave of fear swept over me. Fear that I won’t be able to take care of myself, fear that I will retreat into silence, fear that I will give in to this feeling that I am not worthy or capable of speaking out and fighting to live my life.

I will continue to swallow my tears, take those deep breaths, and find some way to fight to end the suffering of others. Whenever I feel like I’m in a deep well of sorrow, I don’t pray to God to heal me or lift me up. I ask Him to heal those in real pain, to lift those who truly need to be lifted up. I thank Him for the breath in my body, for the emotions I feel so strongly at times, for the words in my mind and the ability to share them. I tell Him I will not give up, and that I will do better. I tell Him now I will break my silence once and for all. I tell Him that when I hear the words in my head, I will do my best to write them down and share them.

I understand that the hardest choices, even if they’re the right ones, aren’t the easiest. To feel so deeply not only my own feelings, but the feelings of others, to feel deep pain at the suffering of others, is hard. But feeling those emotions is how to stand against evil, hypocrisy, and corruption. It’s how to see past the broken glass on the ground, and inside us, and want to heal.

And we can learn from complicity to evil and how people can choose to hate and glorify the suffering of others. And I can learn to swallow my own tears, take a deep breath, and get my damn shit together once and for all. For I know all too damn well someone in this world is not going to like what I’m writing here.

Yet I will say this now:

Look past the broken glass outside yourself, and inside yourself. And know that things that are broken can be fixed, and that you can heal from those wounds.

And that the world can heal from the wounds of broken glass.

Broken, But Never Giving Up

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why people said they were broken inside. In the last few months, I’ve finally begun to understand why. Life has a way of breaking the glass inside us, or trying to anyway.

Four years ago, I told the year 2016 to go to Hell when Carrie Fisher died followed by her mother Debbie Reynolds a day later. Today I said 2020 can go to hell following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I’m seeing a lot of wailing and moaning that we’re all fucked because of her death and the vacancy it opens on the Supreme Court.

All my life I have felt like I have do things for myself. I have never, ever felt like anyone is going to come in and save me, or even save the rest of us from fascist evil and those complicit with that. I still believe that now.

Instead I believe I have to keep at things until I find a damn solution to my own problems. I have to keep thinking about solving my own problems even when it exhausts me because there’s no other option. Why? Because I have always felt I do NOT have the option to fall apart and let my guard down because I honestly feel like no one will be there to hold me, or pick me up off the floor if that happened. It’s why I didn’t let myself fall apart almost twenty years ago as my mother was dying and all the damn decisions fell on my shoulders because my father collapsed from exhaustion.

So to anyone wanting to fall apart now and say we’ve had it:

Don’t give me that fucking shit.

And if you think I’m being a mean-ass bitch, you’re not the first person to ever tell me that nor will you be the last. I’ve survived being told that shit all my damn life and I’m still here alive and kicking.

Right now, I think the world needs a serious ass-chewing. And if you’re reading this, you’re getting it from me. We don’t have time to say we’re fucked and it’s all over. It’s only over when you’re dead like RBG, my mother, and all those who’ve gone before us. If you’re alive, you keep going and you keep fighting. And yes, people are going to give you shit for this. They’re going to tell you you’ve got a shit-ton of pride stuck up your ass and that you need to let your guard down and not be such a fucking hard-ass.

I’ve never felt like I had the luxury of letting my guard down and not be such a hard-ass. I’ve always felt like I got dealt a shitty hand and the only way I could deal with it was to play it the best I could. I’ve got a body that hates my guts: bad back, allergies all to hell, bummed-up right knee (it’s healing up but sore as hell at times). I’m broke, living on the edge, and sometimes just making shit up as I go along. My big fault with myself is that I stay silent because I don’t want to deal with people’s bullshit.

Not anymore. You can disagree with this all you damn well want. I can feel things with absolutely searing empathy and compassion that could rip a flood of tears out of me if I let it loose. And I’ve used silence to hold that in but not anymore.

If you can’t see past broken glass, hatred, propaganda, and feel that suffering is glorious and right, I can’t change that way of thinking. But I know that no one else can get inside my head and change the way I think and feel. Because in the end, I’m all I’ve got. I’m all this world has of me. But I also have hope that if someone reads my words they’ll start thinking about things they haven’t challenged or questioned. They’ll start digging through layers of rhetoric and bullshit, of manipulated emotions and relentless noise. I hope they’ll see past the broken glass and ask why was that glass broken in the first place.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg broke glass ceilings in her lifetime. These glass ceilings needed to be broken, and we have to keep breaking them. Even if we feel broken inside. Because in the end, I don’t think it’s about me, but about the world I live in, and the story I’m a part of, and not just living on my own.

The picture is a quote from an old Marianne Faithfull song that came to mind because I heard it yesterday on the Sirius XM radio channel 1st Wave. She recorded that song in 1979 after beating a heroin addiction that could have killed her. And she beat back covid-19 by the way and is still with us.

In the Silence With My Mom

My mother has been dead for almost eighteen years yet I still think about her all the time. But how I think and feel about her has changed because in death, I feel like I’ve gained more of an understanding of her life and how she lived.

Growing up, especially after I began writing, I felt like I was more like my dad. Why? Because I was creative and inquisitive like him. Yet as I look back, I realize I was more like my mother than I ever realized. I was shy and quiet like she was, reserved until she felt comfortable enough to let her guard down.

My dad always said my mother had grace under pressure and how he loved that about her. I’m going to say that grace under pressure isn’t always a good thing. For her, it was the way she learned to be from very early in her childhood in how to deal with things. She never told me a lot about growing up but what I did learn made me understand why she was one to fight like hell to keep it together. It was why when she got sick I made it clear to her that when it was just the two of us she could let down her guard and bitch, rant, and rave about her illness and the shit that came with it.

My mother would be one to say she had no real imagination or creativity. That wasn’t the case because although she didn’t write or do anything creative like that she had imagination in her own way. She loved to read, watch movies, and listen to music. And she loved art and beauty and nature, too. But she was not encouraged at all growing up to be imaginative and curious. In fact, she once said to me about her childhood: “God forbid you had an original thought in your head.”

To rise up from that and not turn inward as hard as her mother did (my grandmother was an extremely conservative woman), was a gift my mother gave to the world. My mother’s opinions were more practical than anything, something I have a great respect for. For example, she didn’t object to two people living together per se, but just felt that marriage gave people more rights if a situation like that went down the toilet. She also used to say, if they’ve done it to someone else what makes you think they won’t do it to you? She’d follow that with, because people like that very rarely, if ever, change. Also, when I started working she told me two things: the walls have ears, and don’t go fishing in the company pond.

In the early 1980’s, my mom went through what she termed her ‘rebellious period’. It was mild by any means of comparison: going to a movie by herself, going out drinking with co-workers, listening to Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ album (which I traded her for with an Air Supply tape- though she’d come and borrow the Prince album all the time), reading books about gay people (she grew up super-conservative Catholic so she told me this was seriously-forbidden territory to her). Looking back, I wonder just how much shit she got for this. Probably a ton but I was glad she took me along for the ride because we began to talk one-on-one very honestly about a lot of issues. It was good preparation for what was to come later.

But as I write about breaking my own silence, I think about my mother’s silence. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, all she ever heard was that she had to be strong and fight the damn disease twenty-four/seven. But what no one told her was there would be motherfucking assholes who would say some seriously fucked-up insensitive shit that she would have to suffer in silence with because of her job or something else being on the line. It was why I was so damned determined to give her a space to vent and rip it all to hell. And trust me, we ripped it all to hell together on many, many occasions. I told her the day that we couldn’t talk like this was the day we would be at the end. Three days before my mother died, a tumor in her brain took away her ability to speak.

As I get into my story of breaking my silence, I’m beginning to realize how much of a part she has in it. How much her own story mirrors mine in many ways. And it’s a good feeling. Because despite all these years without her, this is proof she’s still with me. It’s proof that we never forget those who go before us. This is what I will tell anyone who has lost loved ones, or who may ask how you would deal with that loss if it hasn’t happened to them yet.

Grief isn’t silent. And no matter how much time passes, the stories are still there, just waiting to be told.

To My Younger Self

In my mind, I see myself as an ten-year old child in her room. She sits on the floor with posters all over her walls, books stuffed into bookshelves, papers and pencils on the floor. She sits in front of a stereo with records stacked in front of it, cassettes in a box, and a radio set to her favorite radio station. I go and sit down in front of her and she looks up at me.

“Who are you?” She asks.

“I’m you. As a grown-up, older than mom and dad are now.”

“Why are you here?”

“Because there are some things I’m going to tell you, things you won’t remember as words, but as feelings.”

Younger me sets aside her paper and pencils and looks right up at me. I can feel how hard that is for her to do, how shy and scared she is. She wants to be brave, but she feels weak and fragile.

“The first thing I’m going to tell you is you’re not weak and fragile. Physically, in about three years, you’re going to find out why you’re awkward and clumsy. The good thing is it’ll get you out of most of the stuff in gym class you already hate.”

Younger me smiles at that but she says nothing so I continue.

“You’ll start writing a lot more in the next few years. You’ll get good at it, in fact it’ll keep you passing classes when you forget to do your homework.”

“Why would I forget to do that?” She asks.

“Because you’d rather write and live in your imaginary world than the real one.”

She nods to that and I continue to the hard part of this story.

“Twenty years from now, your whole world will come crashing down on you. One day all of the decisions that have to be made will be made by you. You’ll be strong, but inside you’ll be terrified that you’re going to shatter into a million pieces. And you’ll be alone through this time. Because no one is going to get close enough to you, and hold you, and tell you everything is going to be alright. Because you know it won’t be. But you’ll survive.”

She feels my remembered pain and anguish from those years and I focus on giving her strength instead. “Like I said, you won’t remember these words, just the feelings. And nine years later, it’ll happen again but this time you’ll be better prepared.”

“But alone?”

I just nod to that.

“Why?” She asks me.

“That’s a question I’m still trying to find an answer to. I’m working on writing a book about it. It’s about you, and me.”

Younger me smiles at this. “Does it have a happy ending?”

“It has a hopeful one. My future is still waiting to happen. And I still have hope that maybe some day someone will come into my life, and be patient with me.”

We look at each other for a moment then she crosses the small space of time between us and I hug her tightly to me. She doesn’t cry and neither do I. I hold her for as long as I can then as I let her go I tell her one last thing:

“In the future, where I’m at now, you’ll have a dog and cat.”

She giggles at that then she fades back into time and I return to my present. I know she won’t remember my words, but she’ll remember the feelings I want her to have the most: wonder, and hope.

Most of all she’ll have hope, like I do now.

Pieces of Memory

For the longest time, I couldn’t look at old pictures of the Twin Towers before 9/11 because all I could remember was what happened that day.

But over time, I could see those buildings as they were, tall sentinels of the New York City skyline, two tall buildings towering over lower Manhattan island. I can watch a movie and see them and think to myself, ‘This movie was made before 9/11.” When I was a kid, one of my favorite tv shows was ‘Barney Miller’ and the first season didn’t have the Twin Towers in the opening credits but after that it had this iconic shot of both towers in the sunshine. I also remember the movie poster for the very first ‘Spider-Man’ movie that was of a spiderweb spun between both towers. Now that poster is a collector’s item.

My dad said he thought the Twin Towers looked like a stack of staples and that the buildings were built for function and not form, though if you look at old photographs of them up close and inside they actually had attractive and creative interiors and exterior features, too. And for a while, they were the tallest buildings in the world.

So how do memories like the ones I just wrote about piece back together with what happened nineteen years ago today?

With time. Just the passage of time and life going on. We grieve, we remember, and yet we still keep living.

This piecing of memories back together is something that I think you learn over time. My father once said years after my mother died, “I choose to remember the good.” Because as he also said then the bad memories will always be there. And they are as I remember this date nineteen years ago. Seeing those buildings come down, the Pentagon on fire, hearing those last words of the passengers of Flight 93: “Let’s roll.”

Tears will still come years later and they do every time I think of Flight 93, and the sacrifice those passengers knew they were making. They knew they were going to die but knew they had to try and save other lives, just like all those firefighters and others who went into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that day.

To those who only know this day from a history book or an old video, it’s okay to feel and think the way you do. For me, it was how I felt and thought about the Kennedy assassination or Pearl Harbor had been for my parents and grandparents. And how the Challenger explosion was for the generation that came after mine. We went from radio like Pearl Harbor- my grandparents told me it was at least a week or more before they saw the films. For my parents, it was television though the film of the actual assassination (the Zapruder film) wasn’t seen for years later. For my generation, unless you were watching the launch, you didn’t see the film of the Challenger explosion until later.

Memory is a complex thing. Over time, the intensity of the emotion eases off yet every so often, it will come roaring back to life. Life changes us, and sometimes it brings back the intensity of the past. The world is constantly changing, and so are we, and also how we think and feel changes over time.

But time does put pieces of memories back together even though we will never forget.

Self-Worth From the Driver’s Seat of an Uber

WARNING: MAJOR RANT AND RAGE HERE. ALSO, VERY BAD LANGUAGE HERE SO READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Last night I picked up three drunk bros for a short ride to another bar. It was the first time since the bars closed back in March that I’ve picked up a group of drunk bros and I have to say it still sucks. I honestly wish there was a way for Uber to let drivers know they were picking up potential assholes and offer some additional financial compensation. But that hasn’t happened though a feature like that in an app would be worth a billion dollars.

Why did I think they were assholes? Let me count the ways.

Whining about the mask requirement. Don’t whine about wearing a mask in a vehicle with other people. That shit is so fucking unattractive it makes me want to projectile vomit over anyone who whines and bitches about wearing a mask in the middle of a raging pandemic.

Making racist comments (they were all white dudes) even if one of them followed that fucking-bullshit comment with telling me he was an asshole over and over again. Like really, dude? If you know you’re an asshole quit being one.

But the last turd in this toilet-bowl of a ride was when the most obnoxious of the three dudes asked me at the end of the ride if I would date him. My reply, “No.” Then when he just sat in my vehicle I had to turn around and tell him one thing, “Out.” Needless to say, I wished him a lifetime case of jock-itch and limp-dick.

Yet it got me thinking I certainly didn’t miss anything by not doing the bar scene in my twenties and thirties like I thought I had a couple of days ago. I’m going to write that moment off as a misfire of bullshit in my mind because if that is what’s out there then I dodged a whole case of turds there.

The self-worth part of this comes from knowing damn good and well I don’t have to take shit like this even if the assholes of this world see me as ugly. And please don’t tell me I’m not ugly because I know my appearance won’t get me an Instagram influencer gig. I’m off-balance (thanks, scoliosis!), fat, and have a lovely double-chin. But even I know I don’t have to take shit for that. I don’t have to take crumbs of pity and tell myself that someone is just an asshole and I have to accept that.

No, you DON’T have to accept that someone is an asshole. You can call them out on that then walk away. You don’t owe anyone like that jack-fucking-shit. Yet so many people think they have to put up with it.

No, you DON’T. If you’re not shitting all over people in any way, if you’re just trying to do your own thing and take care of yourself, and most of all, if you’re doing your dead-level best to be kind to other people and not be an asshole, you’re doing just fine. And don’t let assholes take this from you, and don’t let them gaslight your ass into thinking you’re the worthless sack of shit because you care about other people and the world we live in and don’t want to turn it into a huge dung-heap.

I think a lot of what’s happening now in our world is more and more people are starting to say ‘Enough!’. They’re starting to say, ‘No, you’re a fucking asshole and I’m not going to have anything to do with you because of it.’ People are realizing their purpose on Earth is not to take a crowbar to someone’s backside to get their head out from there.

Growing up I was raised with this belief I had to just accept some people in this world were jerks and they weren’t going to change. I was told not to stand up to them or call them out because they weren’t going to change. That in turn led to this belief that I just had to suffer in silence. Well, I’m breaking that silence and calling it out. I’m saying being an asshole is the most unattractive quality in a person, someone who is thoughtless, mean, and totally selfish, and worst of all, someone who scorns kindness and compassion and says those emotions are weak.

I used to think I was a weak-ass piece of shit for valuing kindness and compassion and I’ve had people say I need to harden up and just shut all my emotions down.

No. I refuse to feel bad for busting my ass to be kind and compassionate. And most of all, I refuse to shut my emotions down all together because someone doesn’t like how I think and feel.

So my message to anyone reading this here is don’t base your self-worth on someone who really doesn’t care about you. If they say mean and cruel shit, they mean it. It’s not the booze or drugs or whatever. And you have the right to walk away from it and stand up for yourself. And yes, you have the right to wish a never-ending case of jock-itch and limp-dick on any asshole because of that.

A Question Without a Single Answer

Over the last few years, a question has been asked a lot: are people born without empathy and compassion, or are they raised that way?

Science has proven that diagnosed psychopaths and sociopaths have brain abnormalities that show the parts of their brains that govern empathy and compassion are non-functioning (link here). But for those without brain abnormalities, how are they without compassion or empathy?

My answer is I think it’s a personal choice. And I’m going to tell my mother’s story here to explain my answer.

My mother once said if she could summarize her childhood in one sentence it would be this: “God forbid you had an original thought in your head.” Nothing about empathy, compassion, or anything she was really taught to value or believe in other than rote Catholic dogma. She was to obey with total silence and submission the way she was being raised. And she was raised in what I would call a hellish environment- her father was an alcoholic and her mother was an extremely-conservative religious fanatic. My mother once told me one of her earliest memories was being thrown the stairs of the basement when she was four years old by her father in a drunken rage. (I didn’t ask for any more details or other times like that because I didn’t want to hear anymore, and she didn’t say anymore either though I have a feeling there were more stories like that.)

My mother would be the first to admit she was far from perfect. But not because she was humble, but because she had no self-confidence and no real self-esteem. Yet she didn’t raise me that way. She never put me down by telling me I was ugly, stupid, or going to hell just because I was female. In fact, when I was about eight years old we were at my grandmother’s house having lunch when my grandmother started in on me being overweight. For the first time in my life, I saw my mother completely lose her temper. She lit into my grandmother so hard my grandmother sat down and cried as she apologized over and over to me and my mother. I remember my mother saying, “You’re not going to do to my daughter what you did to me.” Because growing up my mother was told she was fat, ugly, and stupid though she wasn’t in any way, shape, or form.

My mother wasn’t very affectionate or very expressive emotionally with words. It was just something I accepted because that’s what I first remember. But I always felt like she believed in me and wanted me to be happy. I hated the fact when I started writing I put a bit of wedge between us because of that (that’s a story for another time). But she never stopped me from writing and though I never really showed her a lot of what I wrote, I wish I had.

I don’t believe my mother was raised to believe in, understand, or have compassion and empathy for herself or for others unless they fit an extremely rigid criteria for acceptance. I think she spent her adult life trying to overcome that and knew it was something she should try to overcome. When she did open up with people, they could be really awesome to her, or they could be total fucking shit-heads, too. Her trust issues and closed-off emotions have mirrored my own life and over the last few years I’ve gained a considerable understanding of her. Her silence has mirrored my own and it comes from similar places.

I believe she chose to do things differently as an adult. To try and overcome the rigid, horribly conservative ideology she was raised with, and to try and be a much-better mother than the one she had. I think she did a damn good job considering how much she had to overcome and deal with. I believe she had to fight a shit-ton of fear and conditioning to do things differently with me. I’m fucked up in a lot of respects but I’ve never dwelled too much on my looks or lost faith in myself. Like my mother, I stayed silent and took a lot of shit because I didn’t want to lose my shit and rage all over people.

So yes, I do believe empathy and compassion can be a choice people make. As to how and why they make that decision, that’s up to each person. But if you believe empathy and compassion are to be severely rationed, or barely felt, or only for those deserving few, may God have mercy on your soul because I sure as hell don’t. Disagreeing with someone over something simple like mayonnaise on a hamburger is one thing, disagreeing with them on something that involves compassion and empathy for someone suffering needlessly… there’s no need to attach love to hate because to me, hate is a lack of empathy and compassion towards suffering.

Though my mother never told me she loved me very often, her other words and actions said it for her. Her love didn’t hurt, her words never hurt, and I still miss her terribly almost eighteen years after her death. And I still love her, admire her, and respect more than anyone I’ve ever known because of the choices she made, and how damn hard she worked to overcome the way she was raised.

Writing Through Indoctrinated Fear

When I first joined my local romance-writers group in 1996, one thing I heard almost from the beginning was not to talk publicly about politics or any other ‘controversial’ (the quotation marks are mine) issues. The well-intentioned reasoning I was given was if you did then readers would turn on you and never buy your books, and in turn publishers wouldn’t publish your books and you would never have a writing career. I see that for what it is now: wrong as fucking hell.

One, no writer will reach, please, or satisfy every single reader on the planet. That’s called reality and there’s nothing wrong with accepting that. But living in fear of readers who won’t get into your work is bullshit and a huge waste of time.

Two, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution hasn’t been repealed yet, you know the one about Freedom of Speech. And yes, this does govern speech you don’t agree with or like. It means everyone has a right to speak, bitch, complain, or even talk out of their asshole if they want to.

Three, this indoctrination into not speaking out against issues like racism, sexism, rising fascism, etc. is not helping the cause of freedom. Silence on these issues aids the oppressors. In the romance-writing world, it kept racism and homophobia in the romance-writing community from being exposed and dealt with for far too many years. It created an incredibly hostile environment against authors of color and LGBTQ authors. Because of that, racism and homophobia are deeply-entrenched not only in the romance-writing community, but in our society as a whole. Silence is a form of fear-mongering and the good-intentioned way it’s presented is that if you stay silent then you won’t be hurt.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve been silent and that didn’t prevent me from being hurt in any way, shape, or form. What it did prevent me from doing was putting up a shield against thoughtless bullshit and casual cruelty, and it prevented me from keeping people from sinking their razor-sharp talons into my heart and soul.

I’m going to say this right here and now: if more people had spoken out over the last twenty-plus years against institutionalized racism and other shit like that, maybe most of the shit that’s happened since 2016 wouldn’t have happened. Maybe reforms and changes would have begun two decades ago and we’d be seeing some results now. Maybe we would respond so much better to crises like pandemics. And maybe so many people wouldn’t have died.

Yes, I know that sounds brutal. And I know some readers here might be thinking how do writers, especially silly little romance-novelists play into this?

Well, us writers, and yes, us silly little romance-novelists have audiences. And yes, we may have pissed off some of those readers if we had spoken out sooner against all the awful shit in this world but it would have been better if it happened back then and not now when we’re not even on the road to making any real changes. We are living not just through a shit-show, but in a dumpster fire. The problem is, the stuff we’re burning in the dumpster isn’t what should be burning. The contents of this dumpster we live in are fear, hatred, deflection, and gaslighting. This is what should have been written about two decades ago when I and many others were told to stay silent.

My fears of being exiled for speaking out are rapidly dying now for I know I’ve been an exile all my life. I’ve never fit in completely anywhere and I don’t know if I ever will find a place where I would fit in. But I’m okay with that. I’ve made it this far and as I write this I hear a thought in my head: you’re so much stronger than you have ever realized and don’t ever forget that.

Strength comes from facing fears and seeing they weren’t the fifty-foot fire-breathing dragons, or the huge smothering blankets of good-intentions you thought they were. In reality, they were nothing but smoke and mirrors. The smoke can be blown away and the mirror can be smashed to pieces.

Writing through this is hard and I’m not going to sugar-coat that in any way. But it’s worth it to me because the truth will set you free. Strength can come from a racing heartbeat and tightened lungs, from shaking jangly nerves, and from unshed tears. I know even as I keep writing in order not to lose my shit that solutions will come to me. They always have no matter how down I get.

 I once saw this saying and I still love it now as I’m learning to live it:

Feel the fear and write anyway.

Uber Tales – Still Not a Sure Thing, Edition

Last night I headed over to the airport to see what was going on and got two rides. The new waiting lot is nice because it faces the east runway and is closer to the terminals. But it’s still not like it was before and I honestly don’t know if or when it will come back up to pre-COVID levels.

I was talking with one of my passengers yesterday and I told him everything you thought was a sure thing wasn’t. As I was on the road last night, I felt like everything was an illusion. It felt like it was just a dulled-down version of what life was like before this pandemic. Yeah, you’ll see people out and about but nothing like before.

Before the pandemic hit, I was tracking pretty good with the driving and the Spring and Summer months looked like they were going to be huge. San Antonio was seeing huge amounts of visitors and tourist traffic, wedding season was about to start, and people seemed to want to get out and about. As I was telling one of my passengers last night, I loved driving back then. No two days were the same and Saturday nights were hugely-entertaining. Now… it just feels hollow.

I was trying to think when I felt that hollow feeling on the road and the only time I can remember is 9/11. I wasn’t an Uber driver back then (I don’t think the concept of Uber was even a twinkle on some Silicon Valley bro’s ass back then). I was working in my first call-center job (where managers actually were downplaying what was happening and told us not to talk about it- yes that place was that fucked-up). That afternoon I drove across town to pick up my mom from work and Loop 1604 barely had any traffic but what was especially eerie was the lack of airplanes in the air. Back then like pre-COVID, there were always airplanes coming and going over the 1604 corridor.

Another eerie-hollow time was back in March after the initial lockdown when I was downtown. All the big hotels and bars were closed and the restaurants were take-out only. It was like a ghost-down, or a San Antonio version of ’28 Days Later’. I was pretty bummed out going down South Alamo Street in front of the Alamo until this group of bicyclists came by me ringing their bells and waving to me. I waved back and thought, “Okay, I wasn’t expecting that.” But it made me smile, which was desperately needed as business had nose-dived pretty badly at that point.

Last night, I was talking with one of my passengers and she was wondering about Halloween. I said people could practice social distancing while trick-or-treating but the big haunted houses or gatherings were probably off the table. I also said I’m sure downtown will decorate for Christmas but I’m not sure if they’ll put the ice-skating rink in Travis Park up again. That was fun last year to see and weekends down there were hugely-crowded.

The thing is, we’ve all changed. Everything has changed. I think right now the shock is still wearing off and we’re trying to adjust and not lose it altogether. Working from home, kids out of school, people being assholes… whether this is a blip on the radar of years or something longer-term, or something that will come and go remains to be seen.

I’ve struggled to put this all into words because although I’ve enjoyed the lack of real traffic (only time the freeways get jammed if there is an accident now- the bottlenecks are nothing like they used to be). But I also wonder if this is just the calm before another storm of infections and hospitalizations rise up again. Hopefully most of us will keep our heads out of our asses and mask-up and social distance and practice good hygiene for as long as we need to.

Personally, I like the social distancing thing. And masking-up during the Fall and Winter when cold-and-flu might not be a bad idea.

But I want to ask myself a few thing here:

Will we ever take for granted the idea of big crowded events? Or will there be an ingrained wariness of them?

Will the bar and music scene fully recover?

Will the strippers be able to get back to work?

And most of all,

How will we explain the runs on toilet paper to future generations?

Reclaiming Happiness for Healing

When the movie ‘Flashdance’ came out in 1983, I along with millions of young girls wanted to be a dancer and have it all. We all had the soundtrack album, the leg warmers, and the ripped sweatshirt. In 1983, I was nine years old and definitely not dancer-material, or physically coordinated at all. And in that year, that was painfully driven home every single day in P.E. (physical education) class when we did our exercises to the song ‘Flashdance (What a Feeling)’ by Irene Cara. By the end of that year of P.E. hell, I learned how to hate that song and for close to thirty-five years, I couldn’t listen to it without those awful memories of being picked last for any team, laughed at when I fell on my ass, and glared at daily by the P.E. teachers I had.

But in 2018, I reclaimed my love for that song.

It started on a Uber ride one morning when I was in very heavy traffic and unable to take my hands off the steering wheel to change the radio station. So I had to listen to the song, and when I did as a forty-four year-old woman, I heard these lines:

All alone I have cried

Silent tears full of pride

In a world made of steel

Made of stone

(Lyrics by Irene Cara and Keith Forsey, Music by Giorgio Mororder)

When I heard those lyrics, I shocked and amazed that I had forgotten them. Then I got back to my place and put the song on my phone and put my headphones on to listen to it again while I made breakfast. But when I heard those lines again, I bawled my brains out over a plate of breakfast tacos. Luckily no one was around to see that and my pets kept their distance from me.

I’m glad I bawled my brains out over those lyrics because after that, I began listening to the song and not thinking about being bullied and teased as a little girl. I began thinking of myself as a woman who had survived all that shit and was on the road to becoming the person I have always wanted to be. And that person is one who can smile and sing along (quite badly, I will admit) to this song and yes, even move around to it. It was like I was telling myself it was okay to cry those tears in silence alone in a shitty world because if you listen to the rest of the song, you’ll understand why this is so liberating.

For many years, I glossed over a lot of those memories of my childhood and adolescence, unwilling and unable to talk about the shittier aspects of it. But because I had stayed silent about those shit-times, I had buried the good times, too. Because despite being bullied and hated as a young child, I had an imagination and through that imagination I had hope. Hope that I could live in a world where maybe I wouldn’t sing and dance, but where I would find my dreams and make them happen. I’m working towards that now and realizing I’m so much stronger than the lies all the shit-bag assholes of this world ever told me.

And being stronger than you think is also a message of the movie ‘Flashdance’ as Alex (played by the awesome Jennifer Beales) learns in the movie, too. That year in that P.E. class took that away from me, too but I’ve gotten that message back. So I want to say here to anyone reading this: you can reclaim the good and learn how to put the bad away in boxes and store them. You’ll never forget those bad memories but when you box them up, you take away their power and you remove their sharp talons from your heart and soul.

I recently found the word for this reclaiming process: healing. Healing is when you find joy and happiness that you’d lost, or had taken from you. Healing is when you find the good behind the bad. Healing is taking a deep breath, wiping away your tears, then smiling and singing along with the old songs that made you want to dance.

I don’t think I can stress the importance of healing now. For me, when this word came to my mind it was like a punch to my stomach. It knocked the wind out of me and pissed me off like pain does. But know this: healing is not rebellious and radical. And if someone sees healing as rebellious and radical, they can take that and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. We all have wounds we need to heal from. It’s not an easy process but one that’s well worth it.

Healing is what gives me the ability to write now and bring three very important projects together. It’s slow-going at times but that’s alright. The shit-heads of this world are wanting to burn it down and not nuke us like they wanted to back in the 80’s so there’s time to write.

Most of all, there is time to heal.