Saturday 28 October 2017

Samhain Musings

Nov 1 is the Celtic New Year.  When first I heard this, I thought the middle of fall an odd time for a new beginning.  But, on further reflection, it makes sense.  I have never found Jan 1 a satisfactory date for new beginnings.  It's officially Xmas until Jan 6, and I squeeze every last second out of the holiday season.  Jan 1 is a major holiday, with the house decorated, full of treats and guests and a celebratory usual-rules-are-suspended atmosphere.  Who the hell is going to get to the gym, start a diet, or begin any other ascetic project then?  Most resolutions don't last beyond Jan 10.  I understand eating healthier and working out after the indulgences of the holidays, but it's just too depressing in the bleak days of winter to turn a blank page in every sphere.  Summer feels like a viable fresh start time to me—the light and warmth are motivating.  But I have always structured my life around the academic calendar so the main time that feels like a clean slate is autumn.  Sept comes at the end of summer, when you are vacationed-out and ready to get back to work.  Jan 1 comes at the beginning of a miserable, dreary winter, when you need to keep your spirits up any way you can.  In contrast, with autumn comes the proper readiness to turn over a new leaf, literally and figuratively.

Nov 1 is a bit late for that, pity the Celts didn't make it Sept 1.  But their lives were oriented toward survival, not giving up their daily Starbucks latte or using their gym membership.  Late autumn meant the end of the agricultural year: The crops had been harvested and stored, animals slaughtered or herded to winter pastures.  It wasn't so much that winter was a new beginning for the Celts—it's a modern interpretation to call it their new year—as the harvest represented a significant ending, with survival ensured for another winter.

It's not perfect, being midway between Sept 1 and Jan 1, but I always use Nov 1 as a take stock time.  Where are my priorities?  What do I want to accomplish by calendar year's end?  What part of my life hasn't yet gotten an autumn reboot?
Home, hearth, and fire formed a focus of Samhain rituals, as did a renewing of laws and tribal relationships, and divination to predict future fortune.  Superstitions called for the banishing of evil spirits, as this liminal time was thought to make passage between earth and the spirit realm easier.

There's not much for an atheist to work with there.  My take:  Since there are no spirits, no afterlife, and no way to divine the future, it is critical not to waste time.  Life is heartbreakingly short and if your basic needs for the winter are taken care of—food, a roof over your head—then your priority should be on making the most of what little time you have.  The Celts' Samhain festivals included feasts, pranks, and sex; it wasn't all slaughtering roosters and sprinkling blood on the threshold for good luck.  (Note to the Piranha Chickens:  You don't have to worry, that's emphatically not my thing.)

Over the summer, a former work colleague died of breast cancer.  She was exactly my age—our birthdays were days apart.  She had everything going for her, both personally and professionally, and I was terrified by someone my age being struck down.  Of course, people my age and younger die of illness, accident, or violence every minute but it affects you profoundly when it is someone you know.

When I went to my sister's wedding in July, I met my cousin's best friend.  They'd grown up on the same block in London and were close friends since primary school. She and my cousin had big plans to celebrate her 50th birthday the following week.  The wedding had a Steampunk theme and when I complimented her on her outfit, which included a black lace corset, she joked about how it showed her "shark bite" but she didn't care.  I figured she must be joking and gave her a sceptical look.  She said she'd had breast cancer 7 years prior and she called the scar her shark bite.  Fast forward to a later conversation at the reception when I asked her what she did for a living.  She said she had been made redundant about 6 months prior and decided to collect her pension rather than look for work.  I was puzzled how she could collect a pension at 49.  She replied matter-of-factly that you can do so when you have terminal cancer—hers had recently returned and spread.  We've kept in touch via social media and I have been following her bucket list travels with a mixture of fear, pity, sadness, helplessness, and rage at the brutal unfairness of life.

My mother had breast cancer 14 years ago.  Luckily, she hasn't had a recurrence (not that she is inclined to be tested, and I can't say as I blame her) but her friend, who has been helping her in practical matters, this summer suffered a recurrence of her own breast cancer.  It has spread to her bones and she, too, is ticking off items on her bucket list.
Also through social media, I learned that a classmate of mine from college has cancer.  She has posted pictures in her hairless mid-chemo state, with depressing updates on her multiple surgeries, treatments, and prognosis.  She had recently lost her own mother to cancer.  Another college classmate, two years older, died of breast cancer this summer as well.  An acquaintance of mine from the Friesian horse world, slightly younger, died of breast cancer, and another horsey acquaintance, slightly older, was diagnosed with it.  A woman at my barn also died of breast cancer.  She insisted on working until she literally fell over and my trainer let her work as a favour, even though every stall she mucked had to be redone towards the end as her strength failed, because that normalcy kept her spirits up.  A beautiful memorial garden was planted for her at the barn.  We thought 2016 was bad (and it was) but 2017 has given it a run for its money.

Again, I know that the plural of anecdote isn't data—statistically, the fate of these women should not worry me any more than the horrors I read daily in the news—but these illnesses and deaths have touched me in a period when I was already making major changes in every area of my life, and considering priorities and plans.  Do I need to move back to NYC or another major city for better work prospects?  Am I going to be able to have children?  Is it too late to achieve any of my life goals?  I feel a desperate sense of urgency to do all the things; I've wasted so much time already.  I've been a lifelong procrastinator, both personally and professionally.  I've always put everything off, figured there was always tomorrow, always next year.  Anaïs Nin said, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."  I figured mine would kick in someday.

But the new wrinkles that appear on my skin daily, the new aches after a hard workout, the new age-related job rejections, all remind me that tempus fugit.  Some of my college classmates started an online menopause support group.  Um, what?  I haven't yet hit the milestones of marrying, buying a house, starting a family, embarking on a career ladder, and my contemporaries are happily chatting about how to embrace "the change" and posting pictures of themselves visiting their children at parents' weekend at our alma mater.  There was this boat, see, and I missed it.  What was I doing 18 years ago when they were having kids?  I was living in Europe, pursuing education as an end in itself.  I'm happy with some of my life choices but most of them have been made through procrastination and a misguided sense that I had endless time and could put off seeing friends, practicing music, writing stories, not to mention earning a proper living, until some vague future reckoning when I'd magically overcome my pathological procrastination without effort.  I saw a fat girl at the gym the other day wearing the trite t-shirt slogan: "Be stronger than your excuses."  It's a testament to my current mental state that instead of rolling my eyes at its hackneyed sentiment, it resonated.
I can't keep "someday-ing" every facet of my life.  Someday I'll have children.  Well, I'm 48 ½ today.  Someday I'll have a farm.  Well, I have two deeply beloved horses, that it's gut-wrenchingly painful that I never see, whom kind people have been generously keeping for me for years, waiting patiently for me to get my shit together and get that farm, on which I also want sheep and reindeer, and to be able to have a dog again.  Someday I'll sing at the Met.  Well, I am beyond the age when voices start to deteriorate and you're considered washed up in the opera world. Every competition and program has a cut-off age of 30.  Someday I'll have great sex every day.  Well, I've reached the outer limits of fuckability agewise.  Someday I'll finish my PhD, get a book contract, write a piece for The Atlantic, visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter….you get the idea.  All has to be acted on now because we're not promised tomorrow.  Time to banish those demons (Maybe burn a little rosemary? Or was it oregano?  Damn, I forget.  How about I just simmer some mulled wine on the stove instead?) and accomplish something.

So, that's my mid-autumn check-in.  Happy Halloween.  Carpe diem.

Monday 23 October 2017

I'm Baaahk from NY Sheep & Wool

Spotted Jacob sheep, a rare breed.
NY Sheep & Wool is like Xmas:  I look forward to it all year, and when it's over, it's such a let-down that I start looking forward to next year to cheer myself up.

Last year I wrote a blog post about it, which you should re-read because you have forgotten it by now.

A few points to stick in for this year:

1) The Taconic State Parkway is lovely & scenic & also the deer capitol of the known universe.  Not just the odd deer grazing by the side of the road at dusk, right as I am driving home, but dozens.  Each year I worry that this is going to be the year one of them leaps in front of my car.  But this year there were none.  I didn't see a single deer, alive or dead (there are usually several of the latter).  It was weird.  I had been wishing NY would reintroduce wolves.  Perhaps they did.

2) There are parking areas along the Taconic to facilitate admiring the majestic views of the Hudson River Valley.  Except that when I see signs for "parking area" I think of a place to make out.  Someday I hope to be able to drag a long-suffering boyfriend to NYS&W just for this purpose.  The snogging will make up for him having to look at fibre animals and yarn and eat fair food all day.

3) It's a tradition to knit a so-called "Rhinebeck sweater" to show off, or at least a Rhinebeck hat, scarf, shawl or similar item of outerwear.  People oooh and aaah all day, complimenting strangers on their skill.  I tapped one woman on the shoulder and gushed over her intricate cable scarf.  She told me the pattern name and it went straight into my Ravelry queue.  (For my non-knitting readers, Ravelry is a website that provides a database for you to input all of your yarn, needles, books, etc., and create a queue of patterns you want to knit.  There are also discussion groups, and online project 'notebooks' where you can add photographs, details of what yarn and needle sizes you used, and notes on projects.  These notes help other knitters who knit that same pattern in future, both as inspiration and to point out difficulties, customization, errors in the pattern, etc.  Basically, the people who invented Ravelry are gods in the knitting world.  They deserve to be canonized whilst they are still living.  It is the best website on the Internet, and I am including every porn site in that assessment.)

Anyway, back to the Rhinebeck sweater:  It has been a record warm October and it was 78F on Saturday.  Some people just sweated it out in their woolens, determined to show off their hard work, others said fuck it and stripped down to t-shirts and tank tops, an odd sight amongst the fall foliage.  The vendors selling hot cocoa and cider must have cursed the weather.  Me, I enjoyed not freezing.

4) Speaking of vendors, I decided not to waste an hour of precious yarn fondling time in line waiting for a lamb sandwich at lunchtime.  I held off until 4pm, by which time there was no line.  It was worth delaying lunch, despite the fact that the vendor, keenly aware of both its popularity and monopoly, had increased the price from $10 to $12 this year.

5) Each year I allow myself to purchase a few unique skeins, yarn I would not be able to find again if I did not buy it then, and take photos/notes on the rest.  I fantasy shop, looking with envy at everyone with their bulging bags (there are people who save up all year for a yarn buying orgy at Rhinebeck), each time thinking next year I will have money to buy whatever I want, even a custom-made spinning wheel and some Gotland sheep.  And next year comes and I still don't have any money.  It's depressing and this year I really should have bought nothing.  As restrained as I was, it was still extravagant to even spend the gas money and admission price.  I felt guilty buying anything at all, as well I should.
This year's tiny but pricey Rhinebeck haul. Yes, those are hand-dyed gradients.
One thing I said no to was the world's sexiest sweater.  I would have bought just the pattern, saving it until I could afford the yarn at some point in the future, but the vendor, rather unusually, was not selling the pattern separately.  You had to buy enough of their yarn to make the garment and the pattern came with it.  In this case, it would have taken 5 skeins at $30 apiece to make the sweater, so of course it wasn't an option for me.  But just look at this cardigan, one of the most flattering I have ever seen.
For my non-knitting readers, let me introduce you to the concept of "negative ease."  A garment that is tight and shows off your figure is said to have negative ease; conversely, a loose garment has positive ease.  Whether and how much of negative or positive ease you want is a matter of personal style and preference.  As someone with a pear-shaped figure, I need my clothes to fit like a second skin in order not to look like a hippopotamus.  In other words, beaucoup negative ease, like you see here.

The pumpkins are just for decoration; I grew them in my backyard.
6) The Vetricyn was a gift-with-purchase of the chicken book.  Wait, chickens at Rhinebeck?  Is someone making yarn out of chicken feathers?  No, poultry are not fibre animals but the book sellers often include some non-knitting books and this author had written the best guide to keeping chickens I have ever seen.  Due to the rising popularity of chicken husbandry, zillions of poorly-written how-to books have flooded the market but this author knows her shit.  My hairdresser recently bought a house and is planning to get chickens.  She has been asking me zillions of questions so I got this for her Xmas present.  It's perfect.

The wine?  There is an entire building of local food vendors, including the NY wineries.  This had the virtues of being both cheap and the most unusual wine I have ever had, to be saved for a special occasion.  The jams include blood orange (2), cranberry, and raspberry bourbon, and the peanut butter has dark chocolate in it.  Each year, I stock up on three tubs of the Gobs of Garlic spice mix, which is the 'secret' ingredient in just about everything I cook.  (Shhhhhh.)

Monday 16 October 2017

P.S. #NotMe?

A quick addendum to my previous post:

In the wake of the Weinstein revelations, there is a viral trend on Facebook to call attention to the ubiquity of sexual harassment by asking women to post "Me too" as their status if they have ever been a victim of sexual harassment and/or assault.  Since literally every woman on the planet has been sexually harassed at some point in her life, the response rate if every woman on Facebook participated would be 100%.  In fact, there was previously a #YesAllWomen tag on Twitter to highlight that fact.

I had mixed feelings about this request.  I am not a joiner by nature; if everyone is asked to post something, even if it is something I agree with, my instinct is not to follow the crowd.  It's like in yoga class when the teacher asks us all to breathe or do an asana in sync with everyone else in the room.  I always follow an irresistible urge to break the rhythm, do my own thing.  I am both a feminist and a knitter but I didn't knit a single pussy hat last January.  I am quite proud of this trait—you wouldn't catch me participating in a wave in a stadium or holding up a lighter and swaying to the music with the crowd at a concert—so there is no chance I'd play along with a Facebook request.

I also felt I had never been sexually harassed seriously enough to merit saying "me too".  I've been catcalled on the street and online but I have never been personally harassed or assaulted in a work or dating situation, or any other context.  The random catcalls that all women experience just form part of the backdrop of being a woman in public; they're not in the same league of awfulness as, say, the childhood neighbour who was raped by her father when she was 12.  I fear my "me too" would minimize hers by seeming to equate our experiences.

There is also a form of survivor's guilt:  All these other women have been harassed and assaulted, why not me?  It is never the victim's fault—not at all, not even a little bit, not in ANY circumstances—so there is no possibility of rationalizing that I avoided it because I didn't engage in any particular behaviours.  The explanation that whispers in my head is that I simply wasn't attractive enough.

Both of those thoughts—that my harassment wasn't serious enough and that I wasn't attractive enough to be a target—are appalling.  Yes, it's objectively true that rape is way worse than a catcall, just as lynching is way worse than using a racial epithet.  But both are forms of sexism or racism and neither is acceptable in a civilised society.  And I certainly don't think any woman should judge her own attractiveness on the basis of whether she has been sexually harassed.  The fact that either of those ideas crossed my mind is indicative of how persistently patriarchal our culture is.

Finally, I was uncomfortable with the idea of the onus being on the victim, and it seems that I wasn't the only one as these two responses popped up:

"'If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.'
Let me translate that.
"If the victims would just all get it together to say something all at the same time, maybe then somebody will listen."
If the victims would
It's on the victims
It's on (statistically) women.

  'If all the men who have sexually assaulted, harassed, or coerced women into sex, allowed it to happen without doing anything about it, or ever gaslighted a woman about it, wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.'  There.  I fucking fixed it."

Sunday 15 October 2017

Not a Good Week for Women

Oh, it's great that Jabba the Hut in a bathrobe is finally being held accountable for 30+ years of sexual assault and harassment.  But the unfolding story is like Weinstein's expanse of back hair:  It just goes on and on and you don't want to contemplate its existence, let alone look at it.

(Incidentally, Weinstein's behaviour would have been reprehensible whatever he looked like but his hideousness and smarminess are so extreme that if this were fiction and central casting had sent an actor who looked like that to play the role he would have been rejected as a caricature.)

Weinstein harassed, threatened, groped, and assaulted women in many different places and contexts but his favourite method seems to have been to invite actresses to a hotel room to (supposedly) review a script and discuss a part for her.  He'd then request some sexual favour as a condition of getting the part.  His accusers have said he demanded everything from massages to threesomes but my personal favourite was this one:

He is definitely not alone amongst members of his sex in wanting hot young women to watch him flog the bishop, but definitely alone in thinking they would actually enjoy it.  Dozens of women (by the time you read this, there will probably be a few dozen more) have said that when they turned him down, their careers suffered.  Unfortunately, this means that we now look at the young women in his films with an automatic question in our minds about whether they gave in.  Even more disturbing are the rape allegations, and those victims are also coming out of the woodwork by the dozen.  It's easier for the ones who got away to admit they were propositioned than for the ones who either acquiesced or were raped to speak up.

What they all have in common this week is an unjustified backlash for not speaking up sooner.  The general outcry is that if someone had said something years ago, he could have been stopped before he harmed more women.  I even had to school one shithead who was calling for women who hadn’t spoken up to be prosecuted as accessories for his subsequent crimes.  Sexual harassment and assault victims who don't report the crime are sometimes wracked by guilt that the perpetrator will go on to hurt others.  But the cost to victims of speaking up is almost always higher than to perps.  Less than 12% of reported rapes result in any kind of conviction.  Some of Weinstein's victims did go to the police, who did nothing.  Others were paid off for their silence.  No-one in Hollywood was surprised, both because actresses had warned others and because the environment of male entitlement to, and objectification of, women is ubiquitous, both inside and outside of the movie industry.  The casting couch isn't a myth; it's a cliché.

The Weinstein scandal coincided with my efforts to help a friend who finally left her abusive husband, got a no contact order, and is attempting to start divorce proceedings.  But she has been unable to get an attorney because she was a SAHM for 18 years.  He was the breadwinner; he controls the money, and he has withdrawn all the money from their joint bank account.  She has called literally every divorce attorney in her (red) state, along with the bar association, legal aid, charities for domestic abuse survivors, etc., but there are no pro bono legal services for divorce in her area.  It's infuriating.  I did some research on her behalf and found precedent for petitioning the court to order the breadwinning spouse to pay for the homemaking spouse's costs in a divorce to make it a fair fight but when she ran that by some lawyers they scoffed that it wouldn't fly in 2017.  So, she is screwed.
Add to that Trump gutting contraceptive coverage, yet another anti-choice Congressman urging his mistress to get an abortion, and the fact that all of it is Hillary Clinton's fault ("Hog Emperor of Rape Culture" is my new favourite name for Trump), I was in no mood to deal generously with the inane diarrhea of messages from the online dating site I have been using.

I get around 10 messages/day and most fall into one of the following categories:

1) Men who send a generic impersonal message that they clearly send to everyone that gushes “I love your profile" or "we have a lot in common" yet when I check their profile, we’re 100% enemies.  This is the biggest category.  It seems to be common practice for men to send messages based on photos without reading profiles.  Wow, so, you’re a smoker who voted for Trump, doesn’t want kids, and is just looking for hook-ups.  Under favourite book you state that you don’t read and you think the country’s biggest problem is that “libtards" are trying to take your guns.  What is it exactly that we have in common?  Breathing oxygen?

2) Xtians telling me that I am going to hell for being an atheist and/or supporting abortion & evolution.  They usually have Bible quotes in their profiles.

3) Men who message me again after I don’t reply to their first message to tell me I must be some kind of stuck-up bitch.  That’s so endearing!  Gosh, I really missed a good one by not responding.  My loss!

4) Married men who are looking for some on the side.  (These constituted the majority of responses I got at first but they have tapered off since the site started filtering them.)

5) Men who are only looking for hook-ups.

6) Men who don’t want kids.  100% of the men who have messaged me so far don’t want kids.  At the very top of my profile it states that the ONLY reason I am on there is because I want biological children before I am too old.

7) Men who state in creepy, disgusting, or threatening terms what they want to do to me sexually.  I include in this category all the men whose messages aren’t explicitly sexual but ask bluntly where I live, if I am alone, what my phone number is, or ask me to send nude photos.

8) Men who are so illiterate or drugged out I can barely decipher their message.

9) Men who message just to tell me why they aren’t interested in me.  I find this category particularly hard to fathom as I have never felt a compulsion to message someone who doesn’t appeal just to tell them why.  (It has been suggested that men do this to women they feel are out of their league, but that's cold comfort for enduring the insults.)

10) Men who think I should feel blessed by their attention.  They usually say something to the effect that at 48 I must be thrilled to get any response.  They seem to assume they are the only one messaging me and expect me to fuck them in gratitude.  This category overlaps with one for men who tell me that I will never find what I am looking for so I should instead take what they are offering.  The married men and the men looking for hook-ups say that as a follow-up.  If I say, “not interested, looking for a relationship” they respond that, at 48, I should be grateful anyone wants to fuck me.  They disguise it as a compliment, “Wow, are you really 48?  You look amazing!  Maybe we could hook up?”  Their profile will list an age range of something like 20-35.  They don’t want to date me but deem me still attractive enough for a hook-up.  I can’t resist mentioning that these guys are usually ugly.  I get married Danny DeVito lookalikes who somehow imagine that I'd be eager to be a piece on the side for them.  The hubris that enables them to believe that any woman would want to fuck them must be staggering.  Is it the same mentality that leads repulsive monsters like Weinstein and Trump to believe that there is any woman on earth who wouldn’t be nauseated at the very idea of them?

11) Men who are looking for a rich woman to support them.  Yes, this happens a lot; it’s not all the other way around.

12) Men who friend-zone me because of my age, usually apologising that they are looking to date someone younger but that we both like horses or opera or Byatt or whatever so perhaps we can be friends.  I am happy to make new friends but could do without the preemptive age-related rejection leading into it.

13) Subs who want me to tie them up and humiliate them.  This dating site isn’t FetLife and I am not a pro domme, although it might be more lucrative than adjuncting.

14) The outliers: I’ve gotten the odd message from couples looking for a threesome, men in open relationships, and men who live abroad but travel to the U.S. on business looking for stateside pussy, etc.  What all the outliers have in common with the other categories is that they haven’t read my profile.  I have filled out every section, ticked every box that specifies serious, long-term relationship only.  Almost no-one who messages me is looking for that.  Of those that are, they have huge deal breakers:  they don’t want children, they’re Republicans, they smoke, etc.  I am overwhelmed with messages and I answer less than one out of 50.

Why don’t I just message men instead?  Because there aren’t any men whose age range goes up to 48.  60-year-olds list 25-45.  The only guys who have an open-ended age range are just looking for hook-ups.  The serious blokes are looking for someone younger even if they are my father’s age.  Yeah, yeah, I can’t blame them; it’s a biological imperative.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t piss me off and frustrate me.

Another thing that pissed me off this week:  The site has a rule that all photos must include your face.  No body-only shots, no pets, no inanimate objects, etc.  Most guys have multiple photos that violate this rule—their dog, a sunset, their six-pack, etc.  I have 7 clear face shots, more than most people, and I added in a photo of some ice cream, just for fun, with the joking caption that you have to compete with this.  Well, someone reported it and they removed it.  WTF kind of petty bullshit is that?  Why did this bother someone enough to report it?  I could report pretty much every guy’s profile for photo violations in retaliation.

Most of the messages I get are so daft or disgusting or show the asshole didn’t so much as glance at my profile, that I am getting both fed up and creeped out.  I am there for ONE purpose only: To have children.  I am not interested in hooking up.  I am not interested in dating.  I am not interested in a relationship.  (Am I not ever horny? Yes, unbearably so, constantly, but getting laid is not worth living with some narcissistic jackass.)  Above all, I am no longer interested in them.  They are a means to an end, nothing more–just as they are not interested in me as a person based on my profile but only as an object based on my photo.  Turnabout is fair play, dickheads.  I can’t afford a sperm donor nor can I afford to go abroad for IVF (no U.S. IVF clinic will take someone at 48 who refuses to use donor eggs because no-one has ever yet conceived via IVF with their own eggs at 48. The Guinness World Record is 46.) so I am looking for someone with the money to drop on IVF who wants kids right away.  That’s it!  I think the rest are all scary, egotistical douchebags & women should run a mile from them.

Now, is this bitter misandrist screed (which I appended to my profile and will probably delete in a week or two) going to reduce the number of messages I get?  No, because no-one reads my profile.