Svetlana and The Stone Thrower

Back towards the end of 2015, when the world was in its annual “oh my god let’s all make some intense promises and resolutions for the coming year that will be impossible to maintain for longer than 4 days” state of mind, one of the things I actually DID resolve to do for 2016 is to read more nonfiction.

I am a fairly avid reader, clocking in at between 40 and 50 books per year. If you’re like a lot of people in my life, right now you’re all “Holy hell woman, that is TOO MANY BOOKS.” And, if you’re like other people in my life, right now you’re all “Whatevs, talk to me when you’ve passed 100 books.” And this is fine, to each their own, etc. In the past few years I have found the time, or made the time to read more, and I’m happy about it.

If I go back through my Goodreads library (are you on Goodreads, we should totally be friends!) I notice there is a lot of fiction, with sporadic hits of nonfiction. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but in order to become a more well-rounded reader and individual, (and to partake of some seriously excellent writing) I decided to make an effort to add more nonfiction to my repertoire.

Interestingly, to kick off my nonfiction pledge, I read two father-daughter relationship stories back to back. This was not intentional (as always, the order in which I read things depends entirely on the HPL holds gods) and the fathers, daughters, families, situations, and relationships in both books could NOT have been more different.

Although, is that entirely true? So many themes relating to family are universal. And while you might not think that the daughter of brutal dictator Joseph Stalin would have anything in common with the daughter of revered and legendary football star Chuck Ealey…well you might just be surprised to learn that there are indeed some similarities.

Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan was one of the most intense books I’ve ever read. Particularly the first part, which described her earliest years, and coming of age during her father’s purges, the gulags and prison camps to which even his own family were not strangers. Svetlana watched her large, extended family dwindle as her father became more and more paranoid, and more and more brutal.

For me, there were two things going on while I was reading: the first was the story of Svetlana herself, which was interesting and fascinating and rather sad, but the second was the underlying knowledge of Stalin’s atrocities that were slowly revealed as Svetlana grew and began to better understand her father and what he was capable of.

The story of Svetlana’s life and family going about their day to day lives while Stalin was shipping people – including many of his own family members – off to gulags, and having them shot, was surreal, and at times macabre, but there was also some real affection within her family, some lovely people, memories, and stories. Hers was an unusual family, no doubt, but it was still a family. Sullivan does a fantastic job of weaving the two stories as one, as a parallel, always with the “real Soviet Stalin” never too far away. That Stalin often takes centre stage in the life of his daughter and in her story, and indeed Svetlana’s story could not exist without her father and her ultimate realization that she needed to get away from his legacy as best she could.

The story of Svetlana’s defection to the west reads like something out of a spy novel, all cloak, dagger, and intrigue, and indeed it really was, to be quite honest. Most defections do have an air of drama, because they need to be so well orchestrated, one wrong word or look can ruin the entire enterprise.

But, if the story of her defection was espionage, the story of her struggles to adapt in the west was more screwball comedy or farce, and this era for Svetlana was, to me, an extremely sad one. It was difficult for her to fit in, to cast off the stain of her father’s atrocities and his history. Happiness – real, true happiness – was always just slightly out of her grasp.

Svetlana was a woman in search of belonging, in search of a story that was her own, and not her father’s. She grew resentful of her past and attempted to throw it off by renouncing her Soviet citizenship, only to reestablish herself in the Soviet Union in later life, still floundering, still searching for her identity.

Flash forward many years, to suburban southern Ontario and Jael Richardson’s story. Unlike Svetlana who knew EXACTLY who and what her father was all about, Jael’s story is so much about discovering her father’s past in order to understand her own place in the world that much better.

Chuck Ealey was a high school football star in his hometown of Portsmouth Ohio, then a star at the University of Toledo (his undefeated record still stands in the NCAA) and ultimately a star in the Canadian Football League.

Full disclosure from me: Ealey is a LEGEND in my family, and indeed in the city of Hamilton.. He led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to the 1972 Grey Cup victory, at home in Hamilton, and he was probably one of my father’s favourite players of all time. Not just because of what he could do on the field, but also for who he was off the field, the kind of man he was.

Growing up in Mississauga, not really knowing much about her father’s past, except for the bits and pieces she could get out of him on occasion, Jael and family accompanied Chuck to his high school reunion, meeting his friends, former classmates and teammates, piecing together the life he had, the life he left behind, and the reasons for doing so. It was the trip to Portsmouth that helped her better understand her roots, learning about the experiences her parents had growing up in Ohio in the 1960s, in the climate of the civil rights movement, one of the most tumultuous eras in US history.

Richardson’s experiences in high school and university, of finding it difficult to identify with a particular culture, resonated. Many teenagers go through a period where they’re searching for identity, especially when that whole “so where are you from?” question is hard to answer.  She does an excellent job outlining her own lived experiences, juxtaposed with stories about her parents, their struggles and the choices they had to make.

While learning more about her father and mother, Richardson began to understand more about herself and her roots. It’s no surprise that when people discover where they’re from, what situations caused them to be the way they are, they embrace those things wholeheartedly in a sort of “yes, here I am, finally” kind of way.

Svetlana, on the other hand, rebelled against her dead father the best way she knew how, by defecting to the west. She wanted in absolutely no way to be associated with him, with his name, with his politics, his reign of terror. Even living in near poverty in the US and then the UK, she always refused to talk about him, she would never resort to granting an interview about what she knew, how she lived and experienced life under Stalin, even if it would have meant a more comfortable living for her and her daughter.

Two women, decades apart in age and experience, opposite sides of the world, Jael turning to her history and her roots as comfort and important, with a desire to know, in order to help her understand herself better – even when some of the story was difficult to hear, to digest. And Svetlana, running from her history, shaking off the experiences of her homeland, never completely sure of herself in the west, yet no longer a Soviet, in that whole “you can’t go home again” kind of vein, but far more complex, far more dangerous.

Am I reaching, to make these connections? Perhaps. And perhaps it was merely the back-to-back reading of the books that caused me to even try and draw any parallels in the first place. But the themes of belonging and happiness, of reconciliation and understanding, as well as that relentless search for our own place in the world…that’s what drew me into both books, because that is something we all share.These themes are universal, and in the hands of Sullivan and Richardson, they shine.

Whatever your history is, it’s impossible to ignore, and it shapes you. Whether you embrace it or run from it, it has to have an effect on your world, your make up as a human. Not everyone has a dramatic history with an actual dictator for a father, and not everyone has a football star father with a past he didn’t like to talk about, but we all have a story, and like it or not, it’s ours.

How we tell it is up to us.

 

The way.

Isn’t it funny how well I did for a couple of months with my blogging? And then I unemployed myself, and suddenly found myself with a lot LESS time on my hands? So strange how that worked out. But it’s true. And I’m probably not alone in this discovery, I imagine it’s kind of how newly retired people feel. Instead of banging on at the office or the wherever for 8+ hours a day, where your routine is set and immovable (for the most part), a person with many more hours stretching out ahead of them might find that they want to pack so much more in. Because they can. And they do. And, so do I.

I suppose if you asked me how I filled my days and I told you, you would cock your head confused puppy-style, and marvel at how boring it is. There is some writing involved – I am blogging for a friend’s business and I am loving it. I belong to a couple of committees, so there are occasional meetings and action items (can’t get away from workplace speak, like, ever) to take care of. There is general household houseworky chores and things that now don’t have to be done JUST on the weekends. And there are occasional naps and mid-afternoon reading breaks with cups of tea and cookies.

For the first couple of weeks of my self-employment I felt pretty guilty if I had a quick nap or took some time out for reading. Btw, I am under strict orders from my husband to NOT call it unemployment, cos I’m actually doing some stuff currently and hope to do some more stuff eventually, and self-employment – or freelance – just sounds a lot less negative than unemployment, so that’s what I’m going with. For clarification.

But, now that I am more than a month into this situation, I have considerably less guilt. There will always be some guilt of course, it’s who and what I am, and I can’t change that. But I am working on it.

One of the things I have started is something that is long overdue. I have begun to incorporate yoga back into my routine and my life, and it has been amazing.

About 15 years ago, when our youngest son was just wee, I decided I needed something to do that didn’t necessarily revolve around children. I figured yoga would serve a couple of purposes: it would allow me to have some time to myself, and it would be a type of fitness that I could (probably) handle. This was long before my adventures into karate and kickboxing, and my early-30s was not a particularly “fit” time in my life. I took to yoga immediately, partly because it took place in a darkened room, it was quiet, and I was there on my own, no one needed me for anything.

But the main reason I enjoyed it so much and looked forward to the nights when I had class was due to the teacher. M was one of those people who, when you meet her, you feel as if you’ve known her your entire life. You want to pour your heart out to her, and you don’t even really know why. She was so welcoming, so quietly enthusiastic, and her classes were calm, her instruction delivered with encouragement, with grace and respect, and without judgement. It was no wonder I fell under the spell. The classes were perfect for me, it was exactly the kind of environment I needed at that time.

I stayed with those classes, weekly, for about seven years.  Over that time I started to see other yoga classes being advertised in my city. Hot yoga, yoga dance, extreme yoga. The ads and websites showed people in – what I thought at the time – impossible postures. “I could never do that”, I would think. “Those classes are not for people like me.” I thought of my own teacher’s website and her smiling and welcoming face. That was where I belonged. I was never tempted to stray.

Eventually I became a martial arts student, going to karate classes and falling in love with that. For a time I tried to do both, but when I found kickboxing, the sport that I wish I had discovered in my teens, those classes conflicted with my weekly yoga class. I tried alternating weeks – yoga then kickboxing – but the sport won out. I loved it- still love it – so much.

“Well, I’ll just do yoga at home” I told myself. I never did, not even once.

Martial arts took over, and many years later, I earned a black belt in karate. It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment, and a very long haul, with a lot of injuries and pain along the way. In fact, injuries have forced me out of karate entirely, and my kickboxing career might also be in jeopardy, although I am working hard to be able to get back to that. But it’s like my body has had enough. A sort of “Look, girl, I got you through to that black belt, but you and me, we’re done now. Haven’t you heard of Netflix? Sit down.”

I go to massage therapy on a regular basis and my therapist mentioned yoga to me, as a less boring way to do the stretching she recommends to me EVERY TIME I see her, and which I have promised to do, but never get around to. By the way, you can’t fake that with a massage therapist. They get wrist-deep in all your muscles and they KNOW what has been stretched and what hasn’t. Trust me on that.

We talked a bit about yoga, and I told her I had considered going back to my teacher, now working in a different location, but that the class times didn’t work for me. “Why don’t you try a home practice first?” she said. And I thought, yes, why don’t I? Because I’d tried that before and it didn’t work? Because I don’t have time? Well, we all know I currently have time…so?

So two weeks ago, I dug out my yoga mat, and once the house was quiet I rolled it out on my kitchen floor. I began the way I remembered M beginning her classes, and oh boy, it was awkward at first. I flopped about like a fish, breathing hard, not breathing when I should have been breathing, stiffly moving from one posture to the next… You get the picture. It was brutal. But I persevered. The next day was better, and the day after that was even better. Finally by about the fourth or fifth day, I found my way.

I started to hear M’s voice as I went through the flow. Be mindful of the breath; let the belly be soft; find your edge – anything more would be too much, anything less, not enough; let your body come back to stillness… I was giddy. How is it possible, that something I had not done in nearly 8 years had come back to me so quickly, and so perfectly? I could go all Wizard of Oz on you and tell you that I had it within me all along, I just had to realize it, and to be honest, it’s probably true.

I think when you experience something that clicks with you, that provides what you need at a certain time, it can stay with you. It’s maybe why we get nostalgic for a particular time in our life when we hear a song, why we remember those lyrics so fondly, why 80s nights are so popular among people of my generation. You loved it once, you still love it, it still speaks to you.

M’s voice is like that for me. Coming back to a yoga practice after so many years has been a bit like coming home. Nostalgic. Fondly remembering the way I felt waiting for class to begin, the soft music, the smell of the burning sage, the quiet way the students would greet each other as we came together on our mats.

And sure, it’s very different being in my kitchen for yoga, in the light of day, with a cat wandering in occasionally, and the fridge making that weird noise. But so far it’s working, and it’s been good to get back to being present, being in the moment. To not pressuring myself to push harder or longer, or even to be better than I was last time. M taught me that it’s all about what you can do right now, don’t compare yourself to anyone else, or even to yourself yesterday. Be in the moment, do what works for you today, let go of the idea of perfection, and of judging yourself too harshly. Basically? Be kind to yourself.

It’s a good message. And one I really needed to hear again.

 

 

Day two of my captivity…

Wait, dammit, no. I meant day two of my freedom! To some it might seem like captivity in that I haven’t left the house since Sunday afternoon, but remember, this is all by choice. Also it’s cold  and windy out there, and, according to the Weather Panic People on TV, a storm is on its way to my part of the world, so best to stay put if you can. At least that’s what they are saying. So far there is nothing but cloud cover, although if the scary weather network music is any indication, we are practically doomed. As always, I will believe it when I have to shovel it.

So. You might be wondering “is it weird, being home and with no actual job to go to for the foreseeable future?” and it kind of is. So far this week seems as though I have just a couple of days off, you know, an extended weekend kind of thing. So it’s weird, but it’s kind of not weird at the same time. I have set up a little “office” at our kitchen table (which I have to dismantle before supper, so this might not be the optimal space for me, but it’s ok for now) and I have been digging into a few things, making some project plans, and generally just enjoying my makeup-free existence.

And I’m not alone. Much. My husband works from home at least 3 days each week, and our eldest son is around too. It’s only the 15-y/0 that actually has to leave the house on a regular basis for school, and so far he doesn’t appear too bitter about this situation.

The 18-y/o is part way through his gap year, and is in the process of auditioning for universities, taking music and theory lessons to help with these auditions, and looking for part-time work. Beginning in September, when school started, we have been ensuring that he is up at a regular “school day” time each morning, so he has the same routine as the rest of the family. He has been mostly fine with that. I say mostly because when you don’t actually have anything to be up for in the morning, and you’re 18, it’s hard NOT to stay up ultra late with Netflix or the PS3, right? But he’s been pretty good about it.

This morning I went into the boys’ room with the usual thinly-veiled threats about getting their arses out of bed, and while the youngest only needed to be told once, the older one could not be budged. Finally after an hour of speaking sternly go him and occasionally poking him in the ribs, he made his way downstairs.

As soon as I saw him I said “Are you ok? You’re awfully pale.” He said he thought he was ok, but that all night he alternated between being way too warm, and freezing cold. I took his temperature, and sure enough, high fever.

I sent him back to bed. He went willingly, and slept for another four hours. Aaaaand don’t I feel like a terrible mother now, demanding he get himself up and organized for the day. Poor kid.

It’s funny because  when kids are little and they have fevers,  you’re like “of course.” Because that’s what happens to little kids. Fevers and ear infections, colds and flu, strep throat and chicken pox. It’s par for the course, it’s having to cancel all your plans because you have a sick kid. You get used to it. Schools and daycare centres are petri dishes of germs and viruses, and a lot of kids get a lot of those common ailments in that kind of environment.

But when your kid is 18, and generally as healthy as a horse, you kind of forget that he is still susceptible to these same viruses and ailments. The difference now is that he can’t crawl onto my lap to be comforted, the Advil comes in pills instead of grape-flavoured liquid, and  I have to ask him to sit down so I  can reach his ear with the thermometer to take his temperature. I am not even kidding about that last part.

Before he went upstairs for a nap he said “Good thing you were home today to look after me.” And I agreed, it was a good thing. Then he said “What if you weren’t home? What would I have done?” And I said that he would have probably done the same kinds of things; Advil, sleep, tea. When you’re alone and you’re sick, you just kind of cope. He said “That doesn’t sound good at all.” I told him “That’s being an adult though. That’s what that is.” He looked unimpressed. Then he hugged me, and went to lie down. I checked on him periodically while he was sleeping, and it almost felt like he was little again, like I had merely taken a vacation day from work to look after him. The only thing missing from the scenario was his blankie.

 

 

Wire, Down to the

This is my last full week of work at my current job. This morning was the last morning for the foreseeable future when I could complain “Mondays, amirite?!” and get away with it. Yesterday was the last Sunday evening I needed to get myself organized for the work week: outfit planned, lunch planned, etc.

And it’s weird.

With the exception of a few layoffs, some time off to have babies, and a couple of work opportunity dry spells, I have held down at least one job since I was about 12. My first job provided me with the auspicious title “Assistant Dance Teacher”, which basically meant that I wrangled little kids into paying attention to what the actual teacher was trying to teach them, and maybe once in awhile demonstrated something for those kids. For this I was paid the grandiose salary of $1.00 per class. Every Friday night I would come home with between 2 and 3 dollars that I would proceed to blow on candy and/or Bonne Bell lipgloss on Saturday afternoon at Woolworth’s. Those were heady times, my friend.

Other, slightly more lucrative jobs followed, of course: retail work, a stint in the Naval Reserves (ask me about my knot-tying and my ability to knock back shots of rum before 9am!) a couple of holiday seasons as a historical interpreter at a downtown museum (I was an Edwardian maid before it was cool, y’all) and finally a wide variety of jobs in a wide variety of libraries, my chosen career and profession.

My current job was equal parts rewarding and emotionally draining; triumphant and painful. It was often frustrating and yet it was still such a privilege to be a part of a patient’s journey.

Friends have said to me over the years “I don’t know how you can do it”, and to be perfectly honest, for the first year or so I didn’t think I could do it. It was hard. Sometimes it was really hard.

People told me things. Test results, things their doctors told them, that they hadn’t even told their family members. They would come in to let me know their good news and their bad. They would cry, alone or with friends. They would ask me to find them a hospice, because their family was in denial. They would excitedly tell me treatment was working! And then a few months later, they would tell me treatment was no longer working, that there were no more options.

Sometimes patients would die. I have spent the past nine years scanning the obituaries, looking for familiar names. Sometimes they would come back, after a few years to tell me that life was good, they were enjoying being back at work, enjoying retirement, living life to the fullest. Sometimes I would get thank you cards from grateful patients. Some patients would just disappear. I would always wonder what happened to them.

When I started working here, I made a promise to myself that if I ever felt I could no longer be compassionate, I would leave. There is no room for indifference or a lack of empathy in this role. I am happy to say that my compassion, empathy and eagerness to help remain intact. But, given the way things are moving and changing in this position, and the other frustrations (unrelated to helping patients) that I have been enduring for the past year or so, it is definitely time for me to go.

Will I miss it, this job of nine years? Much of it, yes. When I was making this plan to move on, I said to my husband that I will miss being the “expert” in this area, I’ll miss people coming to me for information, for assistance, for guidance and for reassurance. His response? “You will always have those things. You have that knowledge, you know where to find that information, you’re that same person. You’ll just be somewhere else now.” He is so smart.

And it’s true. In Leap: Leaving a Job With No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want, Tess Vigeland writes

“Yes you may have put in a lot of years doing one thing and getting really good at that one thing. Lots of people asked me how I could leave radio journalism when I was so good at it and had devoted my entire career to it. Well, you know what? It was hard! But history shouldn’t be the thing that keeps you from trying something new or from finding a better place to practice those mad skills you do have. The things you’ve learned and become expert at don’t just go away – you always have them. Maybe you’re figuring out new and different ways to utilize them, or maybe you find that you really are done with them and you are ready to move on to the next challenge. But whatever happens, all that time learning how to be good at something made you who you are and taught you how to learn – a skill that will serve you no matter what you’re doing.”

Solid advice, friends.

It’s time for me to take my mad skills and find a better place for them.

TFW…

…you give two weeks notice at your place of work. After nine years, it’s time to move on. To what? Well, of that I’m not yet sure. I just know I don’t belong here anymore.

Welcome to your life, there’s no turning back…
-Tears for Fears

A love letter to my people

Last week I spent three days in Toronto at the annual Ontario Library Association Super Conference. And yes, it is a literal super conference, this is not hyperbole. Thousands of speakers and sessions, networking events galore, and a whole lot of library love in the room at all times.

I’ve been attending Super Conference on and off since the late 1990s, when I was but a baby library tech, with big dreams of learning, schmoozing, and drinking way too much coffee with my peers. Both the conference and I have matured over the past fifteen or so years, although to my mind, Super Conference is getting sexier (hello oxygen bar, yoga classes, and style makeovers!) while I am simply getting older (hello sore feet after wearing heels all day, buzzy headache from too much caffeine, and falling asleep at 10:30pm!) But that’s ok. Truly, we can’t all be rockstars.

Over the course of the conference, I attended a variety of sessions on many different topics. 95% of the sessions I saw were fantastic. The other 5% were…less than fantastic. But while it’s true that these 5% didn’t hit it out of the park for me, they certainly had one thing in common with the 95% that I loved: passion.

You are probably thinking, if you’re not already working in the library world, “Um, wut? Libraries and library people as bringers of passion?” But it’s true. It is astoundingly true, in fact.

I heard librarians talk about programs in prisons for incarcerated men and women with so much enthusiasm and passion that I got chills listening to them, and wanted to immediately go out and throw myself at a prison library in the hopes that I could be of service.

I watched librarians become overwhelmed and emotional as they talked about the transformation of their library to be more inclusive of the patients they serve, and more inclusive of diverse and marginalized populations.

I saw baby librarians (fine, not literal babies, babies are not going to library school these days, but holy hell these women were YOUNG) talk about pursuing their dream jobs, all passionate about helping their audience do the same.

I sat in a session where the COO of the goddamn Library and Archives Canada spoke excitedly about the changes coming to the LAC, and how “Oh boy, LAC is back, baby!” while the room erupted into hoots, hollers, and thunderous applause.

And, if I’m honest, I saw myself get excited, all shiny-eyed and hand-wavy  as I stood at the lectern and presented MY session, went through my slides, and explained my social media project and what it has done for my clients to the people who were kind enough to come hear me speak.

As I said. Passion.

And I think the reason that it hit me so strongly this year, is that libraries ARE doing it for themselves, with a lot less resources (be it people or money) than ever before.

How then, are they (we) able to exude such excitement when talking about everything from reference statistics to programming for teens? How is all this getting done on shoestring budgets and with limited staff or reduced hours?There are times when we rage. Oh, we rage. Against management, or budget cuts. Against “the man” or whoever it is that doesn’t replace colleagues who retire, or eliminates positions or programs.

It all comes down to the people we serve. Libraries are for the people they serve and library people want nothing more than to bring the services and information to these people. No matter who they are.

If you’ve ever been to a Hard Rock Cafe location, you’ll have seen the sign above the door that reads “Love All, Serve All”, and I have always felt that this is kind of a library’s motto as well. It doesn’t matter what type of library, or where it is located, if you’re part of that library’s client/patron/student/patient/customer base? We love you. And we want to serve you.

It is this passion for providing service and information that drives us. It’s also this passion that can frustrate us when we’re not able to provide the level of service we want to to be able to provide, when circumstances cause us to cancel programs or close doors. It is this passion that drives me, personally, and it is this passion I witnessed in abundance last week at OLASC16.

There is always at least one point during Super Conference where I look around and think “These are my people. Whatever happens, whatever path I take, whatever direction my life goes, I will always have these people, I will always be one of these people.” And this year was no exception. More than ever I am passionate about the profession I’ve chosen, and more than ever I know what I want to do in order to keep driving forward with enthusiasm, with excitement, and yes, with passion.

Thank you, my library people. It will always be a privilege to count myself among you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Randoms #1

I take the bus to and from work everyday, and it’s mostly fine. Sometimes buses are late and I miss my connection, and sometimes buses are early and I miss my connection. Sometimes buses are overly crowded, or overly warm. Sometimes people on buses are rude jerks, but in my experience, they are mostly not. They’re all doing what I’m doing, just trying to get to work or school or appointments, and then get home again, with as little anguish as possible.

Once in awhile I will witness some catcalling, some dude who just can’t keep his stupid thoughts to himself. Or someone who just appears to have a beef with a fellow passenger. But again, this seems to be relatively uncommon on my daily commutes to work. I know the jerks and the catcallers are out there, I know women who experience this kind of crap on a sadly regular basis, but I’m not one of them. At least not anymore.

My first experience with catcalling was when I was 10 years old. I was walking home from school, down my street, and two guys in a car pulled up beside me and drove slowly while I walked. Aren’t you a sweet little thing, they said. We like your dress, they said. (a pretty yellow dress with a Peter Pan collar that I got for Easter and loved. I never wore it again.) Wanted to know if I wanted to go home with them, have some fun. I kept my head down, kept walking, knowing that this interaction was somehow wrong, and bad, but not really having the words to explain why or how.

If you are a woman reading this, it probably doesn’t surprise you one bit, and your early experience with catcalling might be similar. If not yours, then other women you know. This is not news to women. At all. It starts early, and it continues, and it’s often just a part of your daily life. And it’s awful.

I don’t exactly remember when in my life the catcalling stopped, but it did. Maybe when I gained a lot of weight, and so now dudes just don’t bother, because as a fat woman, I’m not worth the effort? Because if you’re into catcalling, you’re also probably a “no fat chicks” kind of bro as well. Suits me fine.

Perhaps it’s because I’m over 40, nearly 50 now. Bros aren’t going to waste their time on some old lady, amirite? Again, not saying it doesn’t happen, but my experience has led me to believe that I am (happily in this situation) invisible, the older I get. (See my previous post about getting older for times when it sucks to be invisible as we age.)

But I like to think that the main reason I am less of a target for this kind of harassment is that years of taking transit have allowed me to perfect my resting bitch face so that it is more resting “cut a bitch” face, and people tend to leave me alone. Which is really what we all want when we’re out in public, isn’t it? And it usually works well. At least it did, until one day last summer.

On a very hot day after work, I was waiting for my bus connection. Leaning against a storefront, nose in my book, my usual spot. The bus I wait for often catches me by surprise when I’m reading, it can round the corner quickly and if I’m not on the ball, it will blow right by me. Annoying. So I sneak frequent glances up from my book just to keep an eye out. During one of these glances I saw two men strolling along, and heard them laughing. I must have made eye contact briefly before returning to my book, because the next thing I heard was this:

“Heeey there, ooooo, hey honey! Honey heeeeey, how you doing today?”

I kept my eyes firmly on the page I was reading but my thought process went something like this: “Wait, what? There’s got to be someone else he’s talking to, oh fuuuuuck he’s talking to me.”

As the two men walked by me, I tensed up but continued staring at the page and then I heard this.

“Awwwww nothing? Well ok then, you have a nice day, honey!”

And then I was able to relax. Because, if you’ve ever been in this situation (and if you’re a woman, I know you have) sometimes the next line after “Hey baby” is “Well fuck off then, bitch, I’m just trying to be nice!” or  “What, can’t take a compliment, fucking rude bitch!” or “Lol, whatever,  you’re a fat fuck anyway!”

You get the picture, yes?

So while I continued to wait, I found myself feeling grateful that this, my first catcalling experience in ages, was at least relatively polite. I mean, as polite as unsolicited attention from a total stranger who may or may not want to harm you can be, anyway. But I was still pretty annoyed that this random stranger made me uncomfortable, even for just a few seconds. Who did he think he was, that he had that right? Annoyed escalated quickly to angry and to “why didn’t I just tell him to fuck off?” Oh, I know why. Because I was, like most women, raised to NOT make a scene. So after that, annoyed and angry with him, became annoyed and angry with myself. All in the space of a few minutes. Thanks, guy, for wrecking my day.

Ten minutes later, STILL waiting for my bus, the same guy walked back up the street, this time on his own. Now I was bracing myself for whatever he was going to hurl at me, and I was going to be ready with a profanity-laden retort. And I heard this as he came toward me:

“Damn, girl! Are you still waiting for that bus? That’s a shame in all this heat! If I was your man, I’d make sure you had a ride home every day!”

And that was the end of my resting bitch face. I couldn’t help it. I looked up at the guy, laughed so hard, and said: “I will be sure to tell my man that when and if I get home.” He just smiled, and kept walking.

I remember thinking “Huh. Well played.” This was a situation that started off badly, could have gone worse, and yet ended up…ok. It’s like catcalling, but…interesting, and smart…or something? I don’t even know, but maybe because I was bracing for an insult, this guy took me by surprise with something other than the same old same old tired schtick. It was refreshing, almost. And, let’s be honest, pretty funny.

There is no moral to this story. There is no “see, not everyone who catcalls is awful!” lesson to be taken from here. It’s still not right to see a person and make them uncomfortable by commenting on how they look, what they’re wearing, or what you’d like to do to them. Ever. No matter how “nice” it might sound to you, to them, it’s an invasion of their space, their privacy. And it’s never right.

I still refrain from making eye contact with people, I still keep my nose in my book and have my earbuds firmly in place when I’m on the bus. And my resting cut a bitch face continues to be perfect. But I do laugh when I tell that story. Because if you’re going to catcall, fellas? At least put some thought into it.