Friday, October 19, 2018

A Sex Object Manifesto

In the Fall of 2018, I enrolled in a modern art history class taught at my local community college. At the beginning of the semester, I noticed on the syllabus that we would be doing a reading response to Linda Nochlin's 1975 article, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

At the time, I was in the beginning of my midlife crisis, feeling defensive about all the efforts I had put toward various projects which I gave up near completion, and so I anticipated having a powerful response to the reading assignment, which I did.

It became my manifesto, which I shared with numerous friends. And so, I put it out to the Universe.


Amy Lewark
ART 207 - Art History 1900-Present
November 8, 2017
S. Newton

Reading Response to Linda Nochlin's Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

I have been curious about this reading since the day we were given the syllabus. There is a
certain amount of frustration I feel from growing up being told I could “achieve anything I put my mind to” and then experiencing the reality of being a grown female in the world, with or without children. A little validation goes a long way for me, psychologically speaking, and Nochlin’s article provided just that. I spent enough time in academia and the working world to understand what that looks like from a female perspective, and now sixteen years as a stay at home mother to see the “other side” of it. So my thought, originally, was that I could write a dissertation on the subject, but I will spare you, as I would probably be “preaching to the choir” as they say, anyway.

The first important point Nochlin mentions is that feminism must deal with scholarship, not just
real problems with everyday life. Certainly, aspects of everyday life are greatly affected by being female, and I do think that understanding traditional gender roles can help explain why even if there are actually some unrecognized great female artists, why there are so many fewer great female than male artists. I spend a fair amount of time reading sociological commentary on gender roles, being the parent of a boy and a girl, and living in a fairly non-traditional household (we are all home most days of the week due to our choice to homeschool and the way in which we do it, and my husband works from home and has a lot of free time). There was an article going around from a few months ago which a friend shared with me addressing many of the frustrations of being a working woman (Calhoun). I found it to be a little long, and somewhat of a diatribe, but a thorough discussion of the problems women in our generation still face. Through reading it, and also pursuing a line of inquiry of gender roles and human sexuality, I decided to turn my own midlife crisis into a body of art work. I am coming up with ideas fairly regularly which try to address the existential realities of being a man or woman in this world, and how modern societal framework helps exacerbate the negative implications of gender roles. That is a subject for another time, but I wanted to mention it because it is directly related to this reading and also to what I have learned regarding great modern art in the western world. The interesting thing about the Calhoun article was that although it was directed mainly toward working women, I shared it with the other stay-at-home and semi-employed women (not career-seeking) I know, and they still connected with the article. There was a particular part of the article which stoked our ire, all of us being the children of the women of the second wave of feminism, taught to believe we could accomplish anything with persistence, and it was this: men still largely shirk care giving behaviors. Even when there are no children in the picture, a woman is more likely to end up caring for an aging in-law than her husband would be. He is more likely to throw money at the problem.

So it is my observation that this generation X that is in mid-life, which is the most evolved mid
life generation in human history, still suffers from the problem of previous generations not grooming  men to be caregivers, due to an economic system that rewards itself for generating tangible goods and money over care and culture. Yes, women are “incapable of greatness” in the sense that their time and mental energy available for the creation of great art is, on the whole, much less than what men have.

I particularly liked Nochlin’s discussion of how listing the “great female artists” ignores the
question which can help us get to the root of the problem. In this class, we learned about Bonheur, Morisot, Cassatt, Claudel, Delaunay, Kollwitz, Modersohn-Becker, Goncharova, Hoch, O’Keeffe, Colter, Brandt, Hepworth, Savage, Lange, Karr, Krasner, Kahlo, and do Amaral, but only a few of those were ever household names (Cassatt, O’Keefe and Kahlo) compared to the dozens of male artists who most living adults would recognize. I believe most of these women never had children, which certainly simplified their cognitive load. Another troubling pattern in the art world is the role that women end up playing to male artists, which helps those men to be great artists. Think about Morisot’s body of work compared to Manet, Claudelle’s to Rodin, Sonia’s to Robert Delaunay, Kahlo’s to Rivera, and Krasner’s to Pollock. The women had far fewer recognized works compared to their lovers or husbands, but were no less skilled.

The one exception to this rule is probably O’Keefe’s body of work to Stieglitz, but she broke from him to save herself and thereby saved her art. I learned of two more troubling examples on my trip to Eastern Europe: Alphonse Mucha, who I had assumed married a woman who was from outside the art world, but he married a model who was also an artist. I don’t know if she gave up on her art to support his work and their children, but there are no examples of her art in the Mucha Museum in Prague and none in the book produced by the Mucha Foundation. Maybe her work was mediocre, but I will never know.

When I was young, my mother had a book laying around the house called “Second Banana” by Dottie Lamm, wife of Colorado Governor Richard Lamm. I remember finding the title humorous and asking my mother what it meant, and she responded with the well-known phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” It is actually a term used by comedians, another way of describing a “Double Act” where the comedic effort is uneven, but supported mainly through efforts of the “Second Banana.” A good example of this technique is the comic duo Penn and Teller. Teller has never uttered a word on stage, but without his supporting effort, Penn would certainly be a loudmouthed flop. Even Einstein was unable to do his work without a harsh agreement with his wife that she would not talk to him or otherwise get in the way of his thought. But he needed her to bring him food and otherwise take care of his needs so he could direct all his energies to his brilliant thought experiments. It is one thing to have a financial patron in order to pursue one’s passion, but yet another to have one taking care of all the human needs we have for food, clean clothes, someone to listen and provide validation and very importantly touch, and largely, throughout history, all these needs of the brilliant minds of our time have been met by women, because men have been unsuited to meet them, and generally do not meet them for women. The exception to this rule is in aristocratic life where it is possible to secure these services through servants. Again, men are able to throw money at the problem, whereas women must throw themselves at the problem. This is probably also why the great women artists that did exist were from families of some means, whereas great men artists come from diverse economic backgrounds.

The second example addresses a lot of the other concerns Nochlin raises in her article. Gabrielle Munter (1877-1962) has an enormous special exhibit at the Lenbachhaus in Munich which is home to many of the works of Der Blaue Reiter’s Wassily Kandinsky (a household name) and Franz Marc. I had not heard of her before, even after studying Der Blaue Reiter in our class. But it is my opinion that Der Blaue Reiter would not even exist without her. Did Stokstad even think to mention her? She received great amounts of private instruction from childhood onward, and dedicated herself to the pursuit of art. She traveled all over the world, spoke five languages, painted various subjects, met many famous artists, and kept on top of the avant garde trends in art. She was a prolific artist. The special exhibit at the Lenbachhaus makes a point to illustrate her diligent practice (she would paint the same scene many times) and intense curiosity about artistic experimentation. She never had children, and personally placed a priority on her art, probably rendering such “important” lifestyle tasks such as having clean dishes or freshly pressed or new clothes to the bottom of her task list. So, her mind was fully available to pursue her passion and develop her talent, and the relationships with other artists that would help inform her work, and theirs. She was the glue in her artistic community through her intense interest in and dedication to art. Not many women, even 100 years later, get to dedicate their lives to art in this way, either because they are married, or mothers, or because they are liberated and they now have the right to get paid as men do, so their “talent” is directed toward more lucrative professions (ultimately serving the patriarchy). Those who do pursue art or have a little free time to do it are either considered dilettantes, or consider themselves dilettantes on some level. (And, as Nochlin mentions, aristocrats don’t make particularly good artists, probably because their lives are not well-informed about the human condition.) This is part of the western white male narrative, which places value on money over cultural efforts to boot.

So why didn’t we learn about Munter in class? She is the entire reason Der Blaue Reiter
collection exists at the Lenbachhaus because she was a collector of her instructor Kandinsky’s works, as well as Marc’s. She carefully hid artworks in her house in Germany during World War II and they were never found, so that when she was much older she was able to give them to the city of Munich for display in the Lenbachhaus. Nochlin writes about the fundamental defect in Art History – that it is from the Western White Male perspective, and I think this is probably a big part of the problem with the lack of inclusion of Munter in Art History texts, valuing the same Western White Male qualities in artists. As Nochlin states, Art History accepts the “great artist as primary, and social and institutional structures within which he lived and worked as mere secondary ‘influences’ or ‘background.’” There had been rumors that perhaps Einstein’s first wife had participated in the writing of his 1905 Relativity Paper for which he won the Nobel Prize, and in fact their divorce agreement stated that she would receive half of the proceeds for the Prize, but even a female researcher, Galina Weinstein, who investigated the letters from both Einstein and his wife determined that because her letters did not contain references to relativity, she must have been no more than a “sounding board” (MIT Technology Review). Gabrielle Munter started out as a student of Kandinsky’s, and although Kandinsky was married, their teacher student relationship evolved into an extramarital affair. I propose that by being involved with Kandinsky sexually, the view of her by Art Historians may have been colored as to see her as part of Kandinsky’s support network, rather than as a great artist in her own right.

Women have long complained and known about being seen as sex objects, and I wonder how
many great artists who were peripheral to a male are discounted because of amorous relationships with male artists. How many of those women’s careers suffer due to the pitfalls of becoming Second Banana, and how many male artists, due to the emphasis society places on men being success objects, become energy vampires for the equally talented and hardworking female artists in their lives? I think that in order to break this pattern, not just for women, not just for artists, but for all people, parents need to be aware of these false dichotomies and raise all children, regardless of gender, to be self aware and generous human beings. If I am never known for being a Great Woman Artist, I hope at least to accomplish this with my own children, so that any relationships they have can be cooperative in nature and so that no one person is Second Banana in all realms of the partnership. If we can accomplish this goal on a societal level, it is my hope that men will have less pressure to be success objects, and that women can achieve greatness in whatever field they choose, but also that the larger effect will be to shift the economy to one that values caregiving and culture just as much as it does monetary and tangible ends. To this end, I hope to raise awareness of these patterns and their implications through my art, and I shall continue to eschew the status quo to which many women dedicate their lives in reinforcement (to the detriment of humankind, but the benefit of the monetary economy), in order to free myself to make art like my life depends upon it.

What I have learned so far in this class reinforces what Nochlin writes regarding the concept of a “mystique” surrounding great artists. The secret to great art is the diligent pursuit of the passion (eudaimonia) without regard to the question of success. Great art requires collaboration with like minded individuals. The belief that individuals are somehow imbued with a genius does a great disservice to society. Along these lines, there have been scientific studies showing that praising gifted children for their intelligence encourages laziness, and so I have always been careful to thank or recognize my children’s effort to encourage effort in general. Giving them time to pursue their interests has enabled them both to appear quite “talented” in their respective interests (computer programming for my son and art for my daughter) while also fostering their general intelligence.

It has been my observation that families in which the Puritanical (dare I say Patriarchal?) mindset of busy-ness for busy-ness’ sake reigns engender a general environment of anxiety, stress, a lack of self-reflection, a lack of “talent”, mindless behavior, and overall mediocrity. In the 18th century, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville noted a different mentality in the US from that of Europe, where Americans had a higher degree of stress due to the relentless pursuit of (empty) status, because there was no ceiling for what one could theoretically obtain through diligent work. I believe this mindset has engulfed our society, made people unaware of how their status-seeking impairs not only their own happiness, but also success, and how all the “status” we seek comes at the cost of someone else’s life. The question of women’s role in art is but one good example. Ironically, it was Einstein who wrote a note to a bellboy in Germany in 1922, when he did not have money to tip the bellboy, about how to achieve happiness (this note recently sold for $1.5 million at auction): “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” As Generation X women, this is what our mothers failed to acknowledge. Our mothers recognized our need to self-actualize outside the home, but they did not recognize the qualities or repercussions of empty, passionless success through servitude to the patriarchy. The second wave of feminism brought birth control and the ability to work in any field we desire, but it came at the larger cost of lost societal genius, as well as the growth of sociopathic and selfish behavior. When Nochlin wrote her prescient musing, women were still not allowed to wear pants to work, even though they were allowed to hold jobs and control the results of their own sexuality. Developmental stages in a child come in fits and spurts, with advancements always bringing chaotic behaviors as the new skills are assimilated within the context of old, outdated behaviors. I believe this is the typical trajectory for any sort of evolution, from the level of the cell to the level of society, and right now society needs to recognize that relentless pursuit of status is at direct odds with happiness, and also greatness. There will be no truly great female artists until there is equity among the sexes in caregiving, and also not until women recognize the potential in their free time and use their cognitive surplus for more meaningful pursuits than are currently encouraged by society (the patriarchy). It will require an irreverent disregard for soccer games, bake sales, mowed lawns, clean dishes, thank you notes, or anything else not proving meditative for the woman performing that task. It will require the ability to not worry about things that don’t necessitate worry, and for more behavior that, from the outside, might look selfish, but that will encourage more independence from the traditionally “cared for” populations (husbands, children). It will require us to be there emotionally for husbands and children, so they can learn to do that for others, too. As I like to say, “What’s good for the mothership is good for the fleet” and my pursuit of happiness through art is good for my fleet, it is good for me, and I hope it will prove to be good for society, too.

Works Cited

Calhoun, Adah. The New Midlife Crisis: Why and How It’s Hitting Gen X Women.

Jones, Josh.  Albert Einstein Imposes on His First Wife a Cruel List of Marital Demands.

MIT Technology Review. Did Einstein’s First Wife Secretly Coauthor His 1905 Relativity Paper?

Nochlin, Linda. Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Art and its Histories: A Reader – Section III, Gender and Art. 1975.

Monday, September 3, 2018


I was just barely 16 when it happened. For the last 27 years, I have gone back and forth between wondering if he had been a stranger, taking me at knife point, would the experience have been less traumatic? Maybe then, the effects would have been limited to just being afraid to walk alone at night. But this was someone I knew - who I thought I knew well. He was the first person I felt safe opening up to about my childhood trauma. He was 19 and was volunteering by helping our creative problem-solving team, so we stayed up late many nights, building things together, talking about all manner of things. I was attracted to him, but never imagined he felt that way about me. So when my friends warned me about him, I did not listen.

There was, in my mind, no reason he would think of me like that. Certainly not, because my ballet teacher had shamed me when I was 5 or 6 years old for my abdomen, which stuck out much more than the other girls'. Certainly not, because in elementary school, several boys called me "Amy McBunnyfreak" for my large incisors and love of rabbits. Certainly not, because my close friend's mother had expressed concern for her daughter's weight when we were in middle school, and I was even heavier. Certainly not, because that one guy in middle school called me fat in front of my peers. Certainly not, because just the year before, in dance class at school, a classmate had asked me if I was pregnant. Certainly not, because I was one of the only girls in my high school with braces and glasses.

I have wondered, over the years, if he knew the full effects of what he did, because I was not the only one. He liked virgins. Someone told me there were 14 before me. I knew two of them. Did he get to know the soul of every girl before he degraded and discarded her? Did all of them say "no" like I did, under the influence of alcohol, and unable to defend herself? Did he prey on the ones with insecurities?


I remember the day when the #metoo movement started. I remember thinking that it was great that women were finally speaking up, and also thankful that I had left social media, because I didn't have to concern myself with solidarity over an issue that was still actively eating me on the inside. A few months later, I would tell the only male friend I have had in twenty-five years, in the context of a discussion about the movement. It was terrifying being this vulnerable, even though it only took a minute. I am sure I was shaking.

The details I shared of my life with this guy - my hopes and dreams - my personal struggles - I had never shared with anyone before. So, when he used me for whatever validation he was looking for, and then discarded me - the effect was that I felt fundamentally broken. Fundamentally unlovable. Fundamentally worthless.


Last week my husband was walking alone in the park by our neighborhood at dusk. He came home sad and upset that two women he encountered on his walk were clearly uncomfortable when he passed them. One had stepped off the path to dial on her phone, keeping a close eye on him. The other stepped well off the path with her dog and watched my husband pass. For years, my male doctors kept suggesting that I walk several times a week not just to lose weight, but also combat depression. It took a hypertensive crisis on January 11, 2017 to get me to face Fear of Walking Alone Dragon. Two weeks later, I began attending community college with my son, and so I felt safe walking around campus by myself when he was in class.

I still had trouble wanting to walk around my own neighborhood - one I chose for the safe feeling it gave me - by myself. So, I started walking regularly with a girlfriend. One day, I thanked her for walking with me, sharing that I realized I was afraid to walk alone because of several things I witnessed over the course of my life.

The worst of these was when I was 17 years old. I was fueling up my pickup truck at the Conoco station a few blocks away from my house when a homeless man offered to wash the windows on my truck. Well, he didn't so much offer as he started to actually wash them. I told him, "No, thank you," but he continued. I barely had money for gas, let alone money to pay him for washing my window.

"Leave her alone!" I suddenly heard. I looked up from the pump and saw another man, pointing a gun at the window washer. A gun. I can't remember if I paid for the gas or not, honestly. I got in my truck and drove down Colfax a few blocks, where I knew I would find a police officer. He immediately called dispatch and left for the Conoco station, so I don't know what happened after that.

That was the closest call, but I also witnessed two assaults from the front windows of my homes - one as a teenager, and another as a young mother when I first moved back to Colorado. For some reason, people yell when I'm walking, even if I am with my husband. Maybe it is not at me (although it has happened enough when I am all alone, I always wonder).

So, just walking alone feels like an act of bravery to me. This fear has impacted both my physical and mental health in a profound way.

It was interesting, last weekend, seeing my husband finally "get" how it is to walk through the world in fear. As a woman.

"Are women just always afraid?" He asked.

"Yes," I said. "I am, anyway."

After a few months of walking on campus, I felt confident enough to walk around a nearby sculpture park while my son was at class in Windsor. I walked there weekly on Sundays. Sometimes I would call my friend on the phone while I walked, and other times I would enjoy the sound of nature. One week, I became aware that there was a man walking fifteen to twenty feet behind me. I tried to walk faster to stay ahead, but quickly realized that I couldn't keep his pace. We were in an area with no other people, and no cars. If I could just keep up the pace until the trail came out onto the main road, I would be okay. There would at least be witnesses, I thought. I walked on the main road, passing two women and their children taking photos on the bridge. I rushed through their picture, apologizing. Then, I got to a fork in the road where I could either turn to continue the trail loop, or stay on the sidewalk along the road. I looked over my shoulder.

"I'm not following you," the man, who was now only about 10 feet away, said.

"Oh," I said, feeling like a tremendous idiot. "Sorry - past life experiences!" I shrugged. My mind was swimming. What if that man had been my son?

Or my husband.

Neither one would intentionally hurt a woman, I am sure of it. They are both acutely aware of the extent of the damage done to women by men.

So, for years, I have avoided men as much as possible. It's not hard, really, being a stay at home mom. Exposure to men occurs so much less - the ones I see with any frequency are my friends' husbands, and ones in a professional capacity (doctors, dentists, mechanics, store clerks).

For some reason, I didn't worry about older men. If they looked like my grandfather, and worked with lots of people physically every day, certainly they must be safe, right?


I have gained and lost weight over the years like the tides. The first time I lost a lot of weight was through walking and counting calories, over the course of about two years from 1998-2000. Then I became a mother. I then slimmed down again through breastfeeding from 2004-2006. The weight came back as I threw myself into cooking nourishing meals for my children, and so in 2009 I lost it all again with a regimented exercise program and a low-carb diet. The weight came off so fast that my hair was falling out, and an extreme depression set in, so I added back carbohydrates in order to heal, and in the process, got up to my highest weight ever.

This time, I decided, I would take a moderate approach. The word "sustainable" became the cornerstone of my health routine. It has been challenging, where I live (everyone is on a diet and belongs to a gym, it seems), to dig my heels in and defend my sustainable approach. If I am tired from not enough food, lack of sleep, injury, too much drama, or because I am getting sick, I take a break from exercise. I try to walk 3-6 times a week, getting at least 6000 steps a day. Six thousand isn't very many, but it's enough that I have to put some shoes on and get out of the house.

I think often of my female ancestors who didn't have gym memberships, knew nothing of intermittent fasting, and lived to be at least 80 years old, despite exposure to significant lifetime stress and lots of second-hand cigarette smoke. They weren't concerned with what their long lost acquaintances from high school were thinking.

After my moderate routine was fairly well established (it is difficult to maintain over the holidays and the hottest months of the year), I found a physical trainer to give me a routine.

I chose my trainer specifically because I knew she and I would see eye to eye on nutritional requirements, but also I knew that she was not in the business of getting people "jacked" but trying to help people heal. Still, though, I expected she would give me a routine that would keep me busy while my son was in class, so I could use the rec center. What she gave me was so sustainable, it was ridiculous. The first time I did my exercise routine at school, it took me 45 minutes to change into my clothes, do the routine, add interval training, shower, and get dressed again. So, I decided to just do it at home, to make it a lifelong habit.

The struggle here has just been eating enough, and getting the right food, and feeling strong enough to do the very simple routine. Last spring, I made the mistake of pushing myself to do it when I was frustrated about something, and I hurt my shoulder, badly, trying to work out some stress.

My personal trainer helped me deal with the shoulder pain using some energy healing and hypnotherapy, but it was stubborn and kept coming back. So I went to see my chiropractor, who I hadn't seen in years.

This is when I would learn that even Grandpa sometimes isn't safe.


I thought I was asking a professional question when I inquired if the size of my chest could be causing the shoulder and neck pain I was experiencing. I mean, he's a doctor, right? The weight had melted off the rest of me, leaving my breasts larger than they had ever been, so it seemed like a reasonable question.

The conversation got weird, fast.

He started talking about his own chest, and the chests of his friends. He asked me if I was thinking about getting a breast reduction.

And then, he sat down beside me and put his hand on my upper thigh.

"What?" I thought. "Is this really happening? This isn't happening. It's all in my head."


A female friend recently talked to me about responding versus reacting. I had never really thought about the difference between these two things, because I realized I do neither. I realized, when she was explaining the concept to me that, "Oh, I am a freezer."

"A freezer?" she asked.

"Yes, a freezer. I do nothing." I explained.

In talking to other women about what happened with my chiropractor, they were all surprised that I did not do anything. But this response, or lack thereof, is common for survivors of abuse, I learned. Furthermore, the personal and private nature of most abuse makes survivors end up questioning their sense of reality. I now see a therapist at least once a week so I can tell her about my life, what happened, and how I responded, in large part because some of the things that have happened to me are so unbelievable I worry that it is all in my head. That's why they call it "crazy making."

In the months since this has happened, I realize how my silence over the years has enabled abusive relationships on many levels. And, thanks to therapy, and witnesses, I know I'm not imagining these things.

I looked at my silence as a way to remain easygoing and likeable. Maybe, on some level, it helped me feel lovable, at least consciously. But I wasn't loving myself, so I really wasn't lovable.


The Universe is funny. Sick funny, I think, but still wise and wonderful. One of the ways I have been able to work through this tremendous pain, and still accomplish anything, is by being a life-long learner, and looking for lessons in my experiences.

When I was born, my mother was sure I was going to be a boy. She knew that she would name me "George" after my two grandfathers, George Graves, and George Robert McMullen. I always felt like I had escaped a fate worse than death since I didn't like the name George. But now I see how I have a little bit of St. George in me, and it probably would have been a great name for me, had I been male.

So many times in my life I have had the sensation that in following my intuition, questioning the status quo, I have been both foolish and brave. When this happens, I feel both exhilaration, and terror.

Writing this is one of those times.


The last two years have been the most psychologically difficult in my life so far. One of the things I learned during my homeschooling years is that keeping busy helping others is a way for me to avoid facing my Dragons. Since my inner St. George actually loves the business of slaying Dragons, I am really good and finding unsuspecting Dragons to slay.

But when I finally slowed down a few years ago and had to be content just being for a while, the Dragons got a lot bigger, and a lot scarier. Like this #metoo Dragon.

Several situations, all at once, would force me to look at how focusing on pleasing everyone else was robbing me of my self worth. I made the decision to speak up. I spoke up for my kids, so they could see how to advocate for themselves. And, over time, I finally started speaking up for me.

I lost several friends, with whom I had abusive relationships. In trying to please these people, I gave them all the power in the relationship. There was a common thread - if they needed my help, they were aggressive and even forceful in their use of my time, which I enabled. But when I needed reciprocity, they were nowhere to be found. The relationships were slowly eroding my sense of self worth. My own needs were unimportant, it seemed, because their problems were worse, and I was not even deserving of an answer when I would reach out for connection.

I have thought, "I should have been voted most likely to be ghosted when I was in high school."

It was just a pattern, right? Sharing myself completely with someone, and then being ignored. Actively ignored. Avoided. Sometimes silence can be violent.

In these friendships, I constantly felt like that fly in the blue guy's soup on Sesame Street. An annoyance to the blue guy, and to Grover (the most lovable monster - who wants to annoy the most lovable monster?), and to the kitchen staff, and even to the contents of the soup, which were going to be wasted.

When I feel like that, I know it's time to speak up and let go, and that that is also an act of love, because letting people behave in abusive ways without speaking up lets them continue behaviors that absolutely make them hard to love, and make it harder for them to love themselves. Life is full of difficult discussions. I think it's important to have them.


I developed early, so the comments about my breasts also started early. My middle name is Elizabeth, after my biological great-grandmother who raised my grandmother and mother after her husband committed suicide during a very long battle with tuberculosis during the depression. Adah was a gentle-hearted woman, standing not even 5 feet tall, with a generous chest. Her mother, Edith, for whom my sister was named, was slender and tall. My sister and I resemble our respective namesakes.

In high school, my sister was popular, always had a boyfriend, and a very close-knit group of friends.

I kept myself busy with clubs and after school activities, on the periphery of the various groups. I had one close friend from most groups, and was rarely invited to things, unless a friend needed a sober driver.

I was Miss Congeniality. For real. I participated in a pageant in high school and won Miss Congeniality.

So it is interesting to me that the majority of my body image issues have nothing to do with my relationship to men, and everything to do with my relationship to women. Being around women all the time for the last 12 years has done a real number on my self-worth.


Because, I swear, women hate their bodies. It is almost impossible to spend time with a woman socially without her complaining about how she has recently gained weight, or how she is bloated because it is her "time of the month." Discussions of what constitutes healthy and not healthy food is always a favorite subject. I have been very careful about what I say about myself around my daughter because I do not want her to have the same insecurities I do. But I have two family members who would regularly discuss dieting, juice fasting, and one of them even refused to eat anything but celery for a whole weekend while visiting. I was always nervous that my daughter was in earshot, and I worried that she would pick up their insecurities and hold herself to some ridiculous standard the way they did. They are both thinner than I am by several sizes, and so when that was going on regularly, it was nearly impossible for me to come away from being with them without totally hating myself, because in my mind, they were way more beautiful than I was.

Here is the really disturbing thing. Like I mentioned before, I am used to being ghosted, being treated like I am invisible. I mean, who wants to spend time with a pathetic SAHM who doesn't know how to have a good time? Everyone clearly wants a MILF! During the times when I lost weight, the craziest things happened. People I had known for a long time didn't recognize me. Certain people seemed intimidated. They called me beautiful. They wanted to know what I was doing to lose the weight. The cashier at NAPA hit on me when I was buying washer blades. The tire guy flirted with me. Women were kinder than usual. The tour guide in Prague suggested a kinky rendezvous under his breath. A guy bought our couple friends and us several rounds of drinks, while going on and on about my dimples in front of my husband. An older man in Australia in a bar went to a liquor store and brought me back a bottle of wine from his home town. I hadn't even exchanged words with him. Everyone was flirting with me, telling me how nice I looked. It was weird, because I was the same person on the inside. I can see how if one was accustomed to this treatment, it could be quite confusing if the treatment suddenly stopped. For me, all the attention made me confused, and a little sad. That is the hardest thing to accept about life, I feel - that ultimately people subconsciously treat you in proportion to how beautiful they think you are, and could care less about who you are on the inside.

And so we do this to ourselves - judge ourselves by our outward appearances, rather than by loving our whole selves. It is a terrible shame.


So, to deal with the burning junkyard of existential crises in my mind (thank you, dragons, for setting everything on fire), and also my screwed up shoulder, I turned to contemplative yoga and meditation.

Soft woolen blankets, Indian meditation music, and my instructor's soft voice would help my soul, breath, and body finally relax. For a while.

My instructor looked at my website and decided to ask me if I would do line drawings of the yoga poses for her. I was flattered, and it seemed like an easy task.

We got together before meditation class to take photos of the poses. I thought maybe she would do the poses, but when we got there, she was wearing her baggy pants, and my fear was confirmed when she asked me to set up in shavasana.

"I must not look that bad." I thought.

Later in the week, she sent the pictures, and I was mortified. Mortified.

I was laying there, spandex-clad, little left to the imagination. None left to mine, that's for sure.

"I cannot do this." I thought. "No way. Is this a test? This must be a test. She must know. She's a guru. She wants me to push through this pain and fear." She probably had no idea.

Several other really difficult things happened that week when I was bloated and needed to be alone. The week before, I had been contacted about the acceptance of some of my writing into a book, but the pain of having to face the reality of pictures of my body in spandex, and several other intense psychological developments overshadowed any joy that brought. As the moon became fuller, the shadows took over my mind.

The funny (not funny) thing about mental health issues is the tremendous amount of guilt associated with just having those issues. Anything hurtful I have ever done has been at a time when my Dragons have hold of me somehow. Those Dragons - Fear of Failure, Fear of Rejection - tend to rear their heads when I haven't been taking care of myself. They really like to come out and play at the end of my menstrual cycle when I need most to care for myself. Because I am a caregiver, I desperately need this time to be alone. Maybe if I had a red tent tribe to sit around with, eat ice cream, and watch sappy movies with, I wouldn't need to be alone. Being alone allows me to have a little heart-to-heart with the dragons. It helps me to accept they are there, and that they are not all of me. If I don't get time alone, the worst dragon of all comes out, Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids. This one is the worst because it tells me that my mere existence is screwing them up. When Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids comes out, I know that I am in the state I call Not Fit for Public Viewing.

Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids Dragon is much, much less likely to come out to play if I have been doing things that make my heart happy. When the Obligation Meter is near full, and the Satisfying Experiences meter is low, Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids is ready to burn the whole house down. Feeling rejection while simultaneously having committed oneself to drawing pictures of one's own body falls squarely under Full Obligation Meter territory. So, I did not handle extended family obligations on top of all that very well. Lets' just say that Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids Dragon was like, "Let's do this thang! You have some kerosene, right?"

So, instead, I sat with Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids Dragon, and we had a little heart to heart about how whenever it shows up, when I win, I am stronger for my efforts. Ultimately, I feel tremendous guilt for bringing kids into a fundamentally screwed up world where they will be judged for their looks and used for their kindness, and think how great it would be to clock out, but then realize that each second here is a damn gift, and that with the great pain is always great joy. And I have so much left to learn. I locked myself in the guest bedroom for a whole day and studied something new, spent lots of time laying on the sofa in the quiet, and also meditated. When I felt strong enough, I worked on some art. I know, when I can bring myself to work on some art, that everything is going to be better.


Having vanquished Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids Dragon again (thankfully its arrival is not a regular thing, since I keep a close eye on the Obligation and Satisfying Experiences meters), perspective fully restored, Fear of Rejection and Fear of Failure Dragons were way easier fights.

"How do you eat an elephant?" a friend once asked me. "One bite at a time."

Humor often helps me feel a little braver, so I thought of something funny to draw to help myself feel better. A yoga hippo. I drew it in my head, doing warrior pose. It made me happy. I imagined Martha from the children's books George and Martha, doing yoga.

Then, I realized, a line drawing abstraction like what my instructor wanted was not going to give away too much. I just had to open the files again in my art program, swallow my pride, and start.

I told a few good friends what I had to do, and they responded in ways that let me know it would be very difficult for them to do. I am pretty sure they aren't survivors of sexual assault, but I know most of them have body image issues of some kind. One friend asked me, "So, what are you going to do?" And I said, "Well, I am going to have a good stiff drink and get to it."

So that's what I did. And, most importantly, I breathed.

It was terrifying. Every step of it from opening the file, to selecting the tool I was going to use, to tracing the first curve of my body. This body, that gave life to two people. This body that has known both pleasure, and pain, and nearly died twice.

But with each line I drew, I saw a beautiful me. I saw the peaceful me, who loves herself, who cares and feels deeply. I saw the me who will drop everything to be there for a friend when that friend is experiencing pain. I saw an Empress, The Divine Feminine, in myself. I was a freakin' Fertility
Goddess. Take that, Fear of Failure and Fear of Rejection!

I realized that the rejection, the ghosting, and the abuse I experienced over the course of my life are not a reflection of who I am. They are a result of the insecurities of others - those behaviors are how other people protect themselves from rejection, ghosting and abuse. It's a power play, an act of self-protection, for them, and they don't realize how it propagates that same behavior through society. And, I saw that the way to break that cycle is to learn to love myself. Loving myself makes it easier to let go so I don't fall into the same behavior pattern.

As long as a person is actively trying to better him or herself, in the attempt at self-love, I can forgive them for mistakes of all sorts. But if the relationship is like Einstein's definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results), then I have to honor myself. Otherwise, it is just a dragon-feeding exercise.

And I'm here to slay dragons, not feed them.

That's what makes me worth it. That's what makes me lovable.



Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dear Mister Rogers

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
Fred Rogers 

Dear Mister Rogers,

Thank you for being you. I also like you just the way you are. No, I love you just the way you are. I think people have screwed up the word "love." I think they confuse it with a feeling of desperation and possession. I think they confuse it with lust. Sadly, many people also equate money and love. Thank you for showing me how to love unconditionally, to meet people where they are at, and let them go while still loving them. It hasn't always been easy, in fact sometimes it has been so hard I was sure I wanted to give up entirely, but what you taught me has come in handy almost every day of my life.

“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

I watched you regularly as a child, and you filled some holes where my teachers would have been, if they weren't getting to know thirty new students each year. You filled holes where my grandparents might have been, had they been alive. You filled holes where my aunts and uncles might have been, if they had lived closer. You filled holes where my parents might have been, had they not had so many struggles with their adult relationships and careers. You helped me feel wanted in the big, cold universe. You, and others like you, who stepped outside of the grownup world to be with me, helped me see how important love is in the world.

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
Fred Rogers

Some people say that your message of unconditional love, that we are all "special," led us all to believe we are entitled to things, and to special treatment. I know you didn't really mean that, because you lived a fairly humble life yourself, content with yourself for your ability to love your neighbor. You simply believed that everyone deserves to feel worthy of their life here. Sometimes it is hard to feel worthy of the life we are given, when so much value is placed on aesthetics and wealth. Many people suffer because our society values image and money over kindness. People who choose to value kindness over status end up struggling because they chose caregiving professions which require them to work long hours for little pay. Some of them give up because they cannot afford housing and go into a profession which makes better money, but leaves them feeling lonely at the end of each day.

“The thing I remember best about successful people I've met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they're doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they're doing, and they love it in front of others.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

It was very challenging at times, especially due to the isolation which I had to fight constantly, but I was able to take your message with me into my adult life - nearly half over, now - so that I could do my best to raise two children into secure adults. I chose to give up my career as a scientist so that my kids would know without a doubt that they are wanted and loved in this world. Sometimes I feel guilty for bringing people into this world because I feel like most people have given up on the idea that being a kind person is enough. It seems that some people feel like kind people are faking it, or are just boring. Often I feel that people only like me for what I can do for them, and so I try very hard to please people. I worry all the time that I have failed at helping my kids feel loved, because I know it will be difficult for them to feel like they are "enough" just being kind people. Many times when I meet people and tell them I chose to educate my children at home, I get the feeling they think I thought I could do it "better." It wasn't like that at all. I received an excellent public education and got a graduate degree in a difficult field. I have no doubts about the educational system's ability to make economy-supporting individuals. Doors to many occupations are open to me because of my education. I chose to educate my children at home because I wanted to protect them from the stress and bullying I experienced growing up. I didn't want them to feel badly about their bodies, their interests, who they love, their haves or have nots. These are the worries that I have that keep me from succeeding in the "real world." They are worries I did not want my children to have. Learning at home is easy in the context of following our hearts and intuition, spending time with others who made the same choice for the same reason we did - they want to raise children who feel loved, who feel excited about learning at their own pace, whose confidence hasn't been stripped away by the trickle-down economics of narcissism that prevails in this country.

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers, I know that you were deeply saddened by the events of September 11, 2001. I was, too. I was alone that morning, nursing my 4 month old baby boy down for his morning nap. I had no deep friendships in California where I was living, and our families were so far away. I had brought another person into this cold, lonely world. We had made the decision to move back to Colorado to be near family, near where we thought we would find love again to support our little family - where we could be more than an employee in a company, a house in a planned urban development. But Colorado had its problems, too. A few years earlier, I watched, horrified and alone in California, packing my suitcase to go defend my thesis in Ohio, as helicopter footage of the Columbine High School massacre streamed across my television. In that moment, I had felt that the bloodbath was the result of children who did not feel love for themselves or other people. Very disturbed youth took vengeance on the community they felt had failed them. In the years since your death, entire industries have arisen to protect us from the wrath of the unloved, and people are becoming more and more distrustful of each other. Our elected officials are increasingly people who value money over kindness, and display these values in their business, career, and lifestyle choices. Political alliances end up being more about career advantages than helping constituents or communities. Me, me, me, the world cries, as everyone wonders why even though they got that bonus, they still feel empty inside.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Fred Rogers

I can tell that people are scared. I am scared, too. But I do think that what we're dealing with is nothing new. It used to be that the common man had no choice in his life, and so this question of wealth and power over people was largely left to aristocracy alone. But in this democratic state, now everyone has the chance to "make it big." To live the "American Dream." To prioritize status. As more and more people have chosen paychecks over people since the 1970's, the basic things we need - shelter and food - have gotten more expensive. And it takes more time to earn the money needed for these basics, so there is less time to love one another, and that empty feeling seems to be growing.

“Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.”
Fred Rogers

This is, I think, a huge opportunity for change. If, instead of frantically trying to fill that empty feeling, each person were to take the time to notice it, to become really aware of it, to really feel it, and then fill it with acts of kindness to others, rather than material acquisitions, the world would change. I really believe that if we were put here for anything, it is to love each other. A friend once asked me, when I proclaimed that I was certain that the reason I am here is to love other people, to help them feel less lonely, "But how do you deal with never getting love back?" Well, I thought in that moment two things (which I did not say), 1) that finally I had met someone who tried and understood how challenging it can be to love, and 2) how sad I was that this person had not felt love. This is, I feel, a casualty of people conflating love with possession and lust. If love of the variety that you practiced were everywhere, maybe we wouldn't be so afraid to really love one another. Love wouldn't be so much about loving and losing, as abundant love.

“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers, I am afraid that people will read this and think it is a bunch of malarkey. I do hope they will take the time to see the movies made in your memory - the recently released Won't You Be My Neighbor? as well as Mister Rogers and Me, which is currently available on Amazon Prime. I can't imagine what the world would have been like without you. You were the only one giving an unadulterated message of love to many of the children of my generation. You made it okay to feel anger, sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, joy, hope, love... all of the feelings. Yes, I was a huge fan of yours. I know you met many, many people during your career. Do you remember spending 20 minutes with a little brown-haired brown-eyed dimpled girl in the narthex of your seminary colleague's church in Denver, sometime in the 1980's? Do you remember that the little girl gave you a snake scarf she knitted herself with a rick-rack tongue and button eyes? You were that girl's hero, and you were exactly the beautiful loving person she hoped you would be in real life. You are the reason that every time her heart breaks, she tries even harder to love more deeply next time, even though it's becoming so rare that people think she is weird and often hurt her.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
Fred Rogers

Please, I ask you, help me to not give up on the world. It's so hard, and I hurt so much. I'm so tired, and I am having trouble being optimistic as my kids become young adults. People keep telling me this is a good way to be, but I just don't know if I can do it anymore. But I'll try, just for you. For humanity.

With all the pieces of my broken heart,