Invisible Women


I waited a week to write this because I didn’t want to accidentally spoil anything. Now, you’re on your own. If you haven’t seen Ghostbusters, just know that you might get slimed with story points if you read further.

 

I was halfway into Ghostbuster, getting elbowed to death by my excited son, who kept reaching up with his greasy, pizza fingers to grab at my arm, or my shoulder, or my leg (because we went to an eatie theater, as we call them) to share his amusement, or delight, or actual sheer glee, when I realized I’d never seen anything like this before. Not like Ghostbusters because I obviously saw and loved the originals, but like THIS. I was watching an action/comedy with four women—my aged women—who weren’t built like Megan Fox, with hair like Blake Lively, and faces like Jennifer Lawrence. I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

 

This wasn’t Denise Richards playing a Daisy-Duke-wearing physicist, whose very name was chosen because it could be the punchline of an orgasm joke.

 

This wasn’t Angelina Jolie running through a video game plotline, boobs bouncing in a tight tank top.

 

This wasn’t even Rebel Wilson making jokes about how gross she is because she’s fat.

 

These were four women I could plausibly meet on the street, wearing clothes I might find in my own closet, doing science-y stuff with believable intellect and interest in the subject, who never once made a fat joke, or worried about having too many cats, or went and had a makeover before finding enough inner strength from their new outer beauty to ask a man to help them solve a problem. It was…I can’t really tell you how it felt because I’ve never felt it before.

 

I kept waiting for the fat joke. I kept waiting for the cat-lady joke. I kept waiting for the lesbian joke. I kept waiting for the biological timeclock joke. I kept waiting for one of them to lament her romantic loneliness. I kept waiting for one of them to apologize to a man for being awesome, or to have to go home to cook dinner for someone, or to break a heel. I kept waiting for the wink to the audience, to let us know that they knew they might be playing Ghostbusters, but they understood that they were only Lady Ghostbusters, not real ones.

 

Those jokes never came, and the only wink was Kate McKinnon’s gloriously daft scene-stealer. It was almost like riding up to the top of the roller coaster, only to have it curve gently and carry you back to the station without the usual drop off. Weirdly, I felt like something was missing.

 

At first, I thought it was the grounding in reality to the Sigourney Weaver, Dana, character. The character, who in the original is possessed by Zuul and does much the same as receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth and his biceps). But other than being possessed and rebuffing Venkman, Dana doesn’t play much of a part. And Kevin gives us both of those—his possession is as crazy ride as Dana’s, and his cool response to Gilbert’s drooling is exactly the male flipside of Dana’s exasperation with Venkman.

 

Then, I thought maybe it was in the character building. Maybe it was because we didn’t have a backstory on anyone other than Gilbert. But Venkman was the only original Ghostbuster who got any kind of work-life-balance story. (I have seen the first two Ghostbusters around 70 times, as those were the only movies the kids I babysat in the 80s ever wanted to watch. And don’t even get me started on the cartoon.) The Ghostbuster characters of today were exactly as fleshed out as the ones of old.

 

Then I thought it might have been because they never “crossed the streams,” and I wasn’t feeling the thrill of the original bromance, but they did their own version of the streams, and these Ghostbusters are immediately sticking out their necks for one another.

 

I finally had to admit that the problem was me. The problem was that I didn’t know how to watch a movie about middle-aged, average looking women, who wear work appropriate gear, do work appropriate things, and are hyper-competent without having to ask a man (or a better looking woman) for help. I didn’t know how to watch that movie because I’ve never seen that movie before.

 

The only other movies I could think of that even came close for comedy, action, or just saturation of female characters were my favorite Drop Dead Gorgeous, but that’s about a bunch of nubile teens after a beauty title (and the reason I forgive Denise Richards for any awful thing she ever makes because—please. Just watch Drop Dead Gorgeous), Thelma & Louise, but that’s all centered around a man, and men, and good lord does that end badly for everyone, and Spice World, which has comedy, action, and is nearly all women, but is hardly a movie. I’m sorry, Spices! You know I love you! Girl power!

 

Something like scales fell off my eyes. What was missing from the movie were the tropes, and the cues I’m used to following, telling me how to watch a woman as either the ingénue, the mother, the lesbian, or the crone. No one was telling me how to see these average women, who in reality would be socially invisible. There were no hooks, so to speak—no reason anyone would normally want to look at these people. I was watching invisible women do incredible things—how does that work?

 

How does it work when we’ve been trained to ignore fat, homely, too-tall, too-dark, too-pasty, bad-haired, poorly made-up, sadly dressed, average women over the age of 35, and suddenly, they are starring in the movie, and are the only people to watch? How do we watch them? No one has told us.

 

So, I’m going to go see it again. This time, I’m going to watch it with new eyes. I’m going to go watch the Ghostbusters vanquish their foes. I’m going to go watch the Ghostbusters do weird science. I’m going to go enjoy an action/comedy, and I’m going to enjoy watching invisible women doing the work. And I’m going to take my kid with me because he’s still talking about it in a way he has never talked about, or responded to the original.  Because these ladies are wicked cool.

 

And when he puts his little, greasy paws on me, laughing, I’m going to enjoy it even more because he’s growing up in a world where a woman really can be anything without apologizing for it. Even a Ghostbuster.

A Face Full of Myself


For years, my friends and I have had some good laughs over my inability to identify myself in a line-up, made apparent by the number of times I have pointed out my own reflection in a public mirror as a cute stranger. That number is somewhere between one and happened recently, so let’s not put too fine a point on it.

The best story, one I’ve told many times, is the time I actually walked into a column mirror in a crowded shopping mall. As I was weaving through the crowd, I saw a cute girl coming toward me. I liked her hair. I liked her sweater–the glimpses of it I could see. I thought, “I’m going to tell that girl how cute she is.”

But that girl kept walking right toward me. The closer I got to her, the more het up I felt. She should step to the side to let me pass. I intended to step to the side, but when she kept coming full on at me, I got mad and played chicken with her, setting my jaw as her expression changed to something determined, and a little angry.

She won, because I ended up with a face full of mirror, hitting that thing full force, with my nose and forehead taking the brunt of the blow. It knocked me backwards, and for a second, I thought the other girl had hit me, and I was about to look around for bystander help. It was the oily face-splotch on the mirror that finally clued me in to my mistake. That, and the weird looks from the bystanders.

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I have no idea what I look like.

I think about that every time I am in the grocery store, and someone is coming at me full-on with their cart. I think about how my determination of right of way left me with a face full of myself.

I think about it every time I am trying to exit a door, or an elevator, and people are pushing in on me. I think about how my insistence that I was the more important party left me with a bruised forehead.

I think about it every time I am trying to navigate a hallway, and someone is taking up the middle space, instead of staying to the right. I think about how my nose hurt for days, and how when I sneezed, it felt like my face was exploding.

I learned a good lesson about what happens when you put yourself first in a silly situation, and you come up against someone just as stubborn, and determined as you are. No one wins. My face certainly didn’t win, and that mirror looked like someone had slapped it with a cloth bag full of Crisco.

What would have happened, had I just stepped aside and smiled?

I’d have missed the mirror, and realized I’d been flirting with myself, and I could have had a laugh and felt good about it. Instead, I just hurt myself, embarrassed myself, and never got to tell that girl how cute she was, because by the time I got to her, I hated her on principle.

I think a lot of what we’re seeing in the world is a lot of us hating people on principle. We don’t want to take a step to the right because we think we are right. We are walking ahead, with our brains full of our own intentions. Good intentions! Intentions of compliments and offers of friendship! But we still think the other person should step aside, and when they don’t, we don’t ask about their intentions. We just headbutt them.

Or, we step aside, and when they don’t acknowledge our greatness, we get mad because they haven’t appreciated our magnanimity. We have to get over that. We have to get to the point where we step aside without an expectation of thanks, just because it is the kind thing to do. It’ll catch on. Kindness is just as catching as cruelty–it just takes a little longer to get to a fever.

The next time you have the opportunity to step aside for someone else, think about me and my busted face. Have a laugh, then skootch over.

We Don’t Kill People


Dear World at Large,

Maybe no one every told you, or maybe you’re too upset to remember, but this is important: We don’t kill people.

We don’t kill people.

We don’t kill people.

This is a rule.

We don’t kill people.

This is a law.

We don’t kill people out of offensive anger.

We don’t kill people out of offensive fear.

We don’t kill people because they don’t look right.

We don’t kill people because we want what they have.

We don’t kill people because we are afraid they’ll give us what we don’t want.

We don’t kill people because they believe something different.

We don’t kill people because they come from another place.

We don’t kill people because of the job they have.

We don’t kill people.

Stop killing people.

Just stop.

Please.

Please.

Stop.

Sincerely,

Your Neighbor

 

Hands Off Parenting


Thor: (as we were walking out of the house, and he was trailing his hands over everything in sight) I wonder why I like touching things so much?

Me: Probably because you’re a normal kid. You’re curious and human, and you want to know what things feel like. The trick is in knowing when you can, and can’t touch things.

Thor: Impulse control.

Me: Right.

Thor: I don’t have a lot of that.

Me: Again, because you’re a normal kid. The part of your brain that helps you control impulses isn’t finished yet.

Thor: When does that part get finished?

Me: Somewhere in your early 20s. That’s why you need parents. My job is to be the part of your brain that isn’t finished yet. That’s why I’m always telling you to stop things, or change things, or watch out. I am your impulse control center.

I honestly hadn’t thought about it like that until I said it to him, but I am my son’s impulse control at this point. Without me stopping him, he would have run out into traffic a long time ago. That is just fact.

Thinking about parenting as being someone’s brain made me laugh, but it also terrified me. I don’t always make the best decisions for myself!

We went on to the mall to chase Pokemon and watch a movie, and he leaned against me as we walked. He elbowed me throughout the movie, laughing, looking for my reaction. He pulled my arm around him in the car. He ruffled my hair and grinned.

He tickled, and poked, and grabbed, and hugged, and I found myself hoping that as his brain develops, and he learns to navigate the world without me, he never grows a brain wrinkle that kills his impulse to paw his mother.

 

Hi, I’m Sad. Have Some Chicken.


B and I got Thor up this morning, and asked him to come talk to us. The last thing you want is for your kiddo to hear bad news from someone else.

B gave him the breakdown of what happened in Dallas last night, and I told him we knew some people were going to be very upset today, and we wanted to make sure he heard it from us, not some random five-year-old. Because five-year-olds are notorious for getting the facts wrong. He laughed.

But, B worked from home this morning, and Thor stayed home with him, so we don’t really have to worry about that.

I made my way in to my Dallas office, listening to the radio stations reporting the latest updates. I listened to the mayor, and the police chief, and then turned in to Chick-fil-A and bought a tray of chicken minis because I kept thinking, “This is too sad. We’re going to be too sad. We need food.” I’m from the South. Death means food. Maybe you can’t be happy, but your mouth can. Maybe your heart can’t be full, but your belly can.

Here’s what I know: You cannot marginalize, dehumanize, and brutalize a group of people and expect civil obedience. You cannot excuse, defend, and protect what should be brought to justice and expect civil obedience. That’s because while the vast majority of people will protest injustice peacefully, there will always be the wingnuts who think they need to make a violent statement to be heard.

Here’s what else I know: Police Officers are men and women doing jobs that I am too afraid to do. Those men and women are just like the rest of the population. Some are good people, some are okay people, some are terrible people. They have good days, and bad days, and those days are exacerbated by where they fall on the scale of angelic to evil. Not all officers are going to aim a gun at you. Not all officers are going to fire on you. I think most officers are using violence as a last resort.

Something has to be done about the ones who drive up on children and shoot them without question, and the ones who pin men to the ground and shoot them in the chest while they are helpless, and the ones who invade the wrong houses and kill the wrong people, and the ones who break the necks, and the ones who deny medical treatment, and the ones who are just lousy human beings because they are making the job even more dangerous for the officers who are doing it right.

Something has to be done about the fact that people of color are disproportionately affected by police brutality.

And that’s what I’m thinking while I chew on my chicken mini. My mouth is happy, but I’m a mess, wondering what we can do? What can we do? How can we protect our neighbors, and how can we protect our officers? What can we do to make this place safe for all of us, and what can we do so that the only misinformation my son is hearing at camp is regarding where babies come from?

And that takes me back to the classroom. We owe our children, and our neighbor’s children, better education. Our society is skewed toward entertainment over intellect. We aren’t teaching the next generation to think, reason, and have measured debate. We are teaching them to yell and intimidate until they can bully the other person into backing down.

We need to pay our teachers better, and offer them the same support, and benefit of the doubt we offer to Tom Brady. We need to be involved with our schools, and not treat them like daycare for our kids. And, we need to be involved with our kids. We need to teach them to listen, and to express themselves, and to respect the people around them by modeling our own listening skills, modulated self-expression, and respect for them.

We need to care about each other as much as we care about ourselves–even the people who are different from us.

Dallas has been my home since 1981.

I’m going to go eat another mini. I’m sad.