I Have Never Once in My Whole Life Understood You

What if I’m spiritual, but I don’t believe in organized religion?

What if I want justice, but I don’t believe in organized rallies?

Should we open the zoos and let out all the animals?

Should we open the libraries and let out all the verse?

Maps are old-fashioned. They’re ancient. They point to places that aren’t even there any more.

Did your book clubs last? Mine started strong. I still read though. Every night I read.

Will our schools stop learning? Will we unspool education into threads?

In college they make you say — declare—what you will learn. Your major. The college says you have to —that you have to want to — learn one thing more than any other thing.

Study until they say you’ve studied it enough. Paper in a frame. Hang it.

I never not once in my life understood college. Not one time.

The transfer of knowledge from one person to another.  I dropped the baton. Then I found stuff on the ground I liked better. Ants and acorns. Shiny objects.

I thought things would make sense when I got older.

I eat healthy but I don’t believe in organized nutrition. Avocados can pray or not pray, as far as I’m concerned.

I can’t kneel at church. I don’t kneel. Don’t you know it’s taken me this long to stand tall, shoulders back, head up? Not everything is my fault.

I don’t believe in organized exercise. Pilates killed aerobics. Aerobics killed black coffee and cigarettes. If I want to run I’ll run to the basement and scream while the washer’s on so the neighbors can’t hear.

I drive but I don’t like organized transportation. Why should the government tell me where my sedan does and does not belong. Our old gray pickup growing up had three gears on the steering column. I stayed off the roads, so the government never found me. Underage driver. Coughing and sputtering and clouds of dust. Jerk shifts. I killed it.

I grew up far away from here. You never went there.

My friend Missy got her license and ten minutes later almost murdered us. Headed home from school at 90 mph. In some places 16 is still young enough to kill your friends.

I need a heart but I don’t believe in organized transplants.

Isn’t an audience just organized listeners?

If your alphabet isn’t organized you have a learning disability.

What if I like people but not all at once? What if I like people scattered, random, a little lost.

I have never once in my whole life understood you.

I want to make a church out of something you can’t see. What’s that sound? the kids will ask, looking up into their parents’ eyes. Eyes burning with love. With fire. What’s that sound?

We are closer now than we have ever been.

I have always wanted a god that had something to do with cardboard. Flea markets. A shaggy Shepherd wet from a storm, it shakes and the water drops fly. Who knows where they’ll scatter.

I miss people I don’t even know. I want to be with you. I want to zig and zag to get you a tissue in time when you sneeze. I want to be everything our Lord and Creator meant me to be. I want to share it with you. Everything I have.

But not every time.


I’m a Bitch, I Looked it Up

As a middle-aged woman, I’ve ninety percent stopped smiling. It’s not that I’m not happy. I don’t even know why I should have to explain that. I just don’t see the connection between, say, living my life and walking around with a grin painted on my face.

I’ve never really worn makeup. Maybe that’s what a smile is, another decoration for your face. Which makes us Christmas trees?

I went to Paris years ago and the guidebooks said don’t walk around smiling all the time or they’ll know you’re American. It being the age of Freedom Fries I wanted to, one, reflect well on the United States and, two, pretend I wasn’t from there.

I remember how weird it felt not to smile. Like my muscles were going backwards. My face kept making the motions and I’d have to stop myself. At ease, face. Do something else. Like see Paris, Bombay, Antarctica. The moon. Even though I stopped smiling in order to conform to yet another culture, it became an open door.

In Seattle I walked with my best friend a couple weeks after she’d experienced something horrifically painful. I couldn’t even believe she’d left the house. As we made our way through the crowd a young man barked “Smile!” My friend walked on. I looked at this man and I wanted to yell that he had no idea, no idea at all. I still hate myself for doing nothing. Meanwhile, this man has no memory. To him it wasn’t an event, a moment, it wasn’t anything.

What if my friends and I shouted out helpful suggestions to the men around us? Smile! Stand up straight! Try some hair plugs! Loosen your belt and your belly won’t so dramatically cascade over your crotch region! We’d chuckle and then pound some more mini Snickers.

For my trouble, I’ll expect a smile back. Recognition, from you, that I’m charming. Acknowledgement, from you, that I’m witty.  I will need reassurance, from you, whatever it takes you to provide it, that I am allowed to lob my thoughts at you, and that you will have to drop all your parcels and grocery sacks to catch them.

Or you’re a bitch.

You know who doesn’t smile? Babies. You smile at them for months and they don’t smile back. They don’t have resting bitch face. They have resting genuine true self human being face. The face created by their Creator.

I don’t think bitchy is a look. Bitchy is merely the absence of what you were expecting from my face. Your expectations are not my concern.

Though even in my 30s, I thought I had to answer to those expectations. I couldn’t let you down. I thought I had to respond to every inane comment that came my way. Do you know you have the complete option to look blankly at people who make inane comments? About you, your children, your choices. You can let them hang. Sure it’s awkward. But they can stew in it. You don’t have to think up a way to make them feel less awkward. You don’t have to toss them a lifeline. You don’t have to save anyone or fix anything. Walk on.

There is a school of thought about Christian kindness. I am not able to address this.

I’ve stopping using exclamation points in emails to try to seem more fun and less serious. Serious leads to cold. Cold leads to bitchy. I think this is where people can stop liking you, also a deadly fear for a woman. I’m stepping off the ledge. I will sit at home alone with no friends, not smiling at myself in the mirror.

I guess I’m taking the chance. It’s starting to feel worse not to.

I looked up bitch in the online Oxford Dictionary. I wondered if they’d actually list the word but of course they do.

Bitchy as an adjective had one meaning. Malicious or spitefully critical. Malicious means the desire to harm someone. Which is weird because the crime stats show the ones harming others tend to be the dudes. What’s the word for how a man’s face looks before he harms someone? Does the witness say, yeah I knew he was going to kill his neighbor, he had a total bitch face.

What’s the antonym of bitchy? There is none listed.

There are synonyms for bitch: vixen, she-devil, and hellcat. I was surprised when I read the synonyms because my first reaction was that those words didn’t seem negative. Maybe I’m way off but she-devil and hellcat I can almost picture on sports jerseys.

The second meaning of bitch is “a spiteful or unpleasant woman”. This is the second reference to spite. What’s all this fear of being spited? This meaning is marked informal so that you know only to call a woman a bitch in casual settings like a barbecue.

Here’s where I truly was surprised. And lost some wind in my sails. Under meaning 2 point A– marked as offensive so you know you’re about to be offended– bitch means “a woman”.

A woman. Just, a woman. Any woman. All women. Cheerful or spiteful. This takes all the impetus out of the smiling then doesn’t it? Because I lose either way. So does your mother. And your grandmother. Your favorite auntie who sent you tins of oatmeal cookies in college. Your kids’ 3rd grade teacher. The principal with the little duckie collection. The doctor who delivered your babies. The surgeon who knit your heart back together, scowling over your gaping wound. Your senator.

It’s not easy to stop smiling.

Oh wait.

It is.


My Personal Confidence is Leaking

I think it’s safe to say I’ve never scared: anyone.

Five foot five. Birkenstocks with socks. My wrists have the circumference of an Oreo cookie.

Not scary.

Or am I?

It’s a quiet moment in the restroom of a charming professional building in Portland, Oregon. Flowered wallpaper and cozy, golden sconces.

Then I turn my head. The alarm sounds.

PLEASE DISPOSE OF FEMININE PRODUCTS IN THE RECEPTACLE PROVIDED!!!!!(The bold, all caps, and garden trail of exclamation points are not mine.)

I’ve seen these signs all my life. Haven’t you? I see them so much I don’t see them. They blend into the woodwork.

And if you haven’t seen one of these signs, they’re not talking about “feminine” products like tiaras and toenail polish. They don’t mean glitter.

This is what those signs mean. They mean blood comes out of your body and, unless you’ve been shot, that is disgusting. Any items you use to deal with this blood are disgusting. Before you use them, they are embarrassing. After you use them, they’re embarrassing and disgusting.

No one wants women to be disgusting. Not when we need them to be soft and pretty and ready to be a helpmate. Blood ruins the illusion. Blood makes women people.

Please! Our pipes are old. Nothing down the toilet but toilet paper!!!

Landlords, maintenance staff, wastewater treatment facilities – I wish you no harm. That’s why I also don’t flush facial tissues, baby wipes, cotton swabs, diapers, phones, or puppies, which have also been found in community wastewater.


I’m curious about the “only”. If you put a paper towel in there does the can explode?

I would guess that the number of exclamation points in the sign correlates to how many plumbing backups have been experienced at a given property. Water seeping into the cracks in the linoleum. Cupboards rotted. Floors ripped out. I could really screw this up for someone. Some landlord, building manager, superintendent. Flooded. Broken. A city block brought to its knees.

Again, I wish no one any harm.

It’s just that, to be feared. It’s so new. Women spend so much time being scared. Mostly we’re trying not to get raped. It’s a fear we accept. Girl Power, Title IX, college, Sheryl Sandberg, and…all the while…don’t get raped! Like a lifelong simultaneous hobby.

It’s not like bloody tampons turn the tables, but just for a second I have to hmmmm and raise an eyebrow: Ladies…what have we here?

All those tampons we stash away. Hiding. No one taught you exactly, but we know to hide them. Even clean unwrapped ones. Just their existence is embarrassing. No one wants one to fall out of their hobo bag in a crowded Starbucks. You don’t tuck one behind your ear like a cigarette. (Even though smoking actually is disgusting.)

And it’s funny because the culture splashes women’s bodies everywhere. You’d think we loved women’s bodies. Especially boobs. Boobs in shirts. Boobs in shirts sell hamburgers, pickup trucks, gum. The only thing you can’t do with a boob is feed a person. That’s disgusting.

Women’s bodies. Hot. Sex. Mine.

Bodies doing what they do. Disgusting. Alone. Yours.

The woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated this year pulling her swimsuit bottoms down so far you can see her pubic bones. Does anyone wonder if this person on the cover of the sports magazine plays a sport? Does anyone wonder if the woman in the swimsuit, I don’t know, swims?

What if I told you she was menstruating? What if under that bikini suit she was wearing a bloody tampon. That as you ogle, she is shedding unused uterine lining!!! Would you keep the picture around? Or would you put her away? Until she can be good and sexy again.


There were teenage boys in the aisle when I took this picture. I was so embarrassed. Luckily, I didn’t exist.

When I started my first office job after college, I learned how to conceal tampons as I walked from my cubicle to the restroom. I tried to make sure I wore pants with pockets when I was menstruating. But when I forgot I would slip the tampon up the sleeve of my suit jacket and sort of hold it against the inside cuff. Just one finger tucked up so that it didn’t look like I was clenching my fist. All the while I strode down the hallway hoping my boss didn’t stop me to chat about the new marketing initiative.

I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s property. But maybe just one teeny time, just for practice, we could stand tall in restrooms across the city, and make people pay attention. Listen up city, I got at a network of weary, slightly anemic menstruating sisters. We’ve all got a jumbo box of Supers from Costco. We can stand here all day and twenty-eight after that.

And not to be a snot, but what do you have, monsieur? A little sign you printed on your printer and hung up with Scotch tape? You got “please” and seventeen exclamation points?

Here’s a secret. You don’t need to make signs.

The women who disobey your sign aren’t going to obey just because you added seven exclamation points instead of three.

And the women who wouldn’t flush a tampon down your creaky rusty stupid pipes because that would cause trouble and trouble isn’t nice —those women will wrap a used tampon in ten yards of toilet paper to try to un-disgust it before contorting themselves to reach the tiny feminine garbage can six feet away from where they sit with their pants down around their ankles.

And I would just like to suggest here in what I’m sure shows only my bitterness and lack of maturity but NO MAN WOULD DO THIS. A friend said, you know how they have those new toilets – flush up for pee and down for poop. She said a man would have another button for flush sideways for tampons. Flush diagonal for maxi pads.

You know what else clogs toilets? Giant poops. Does the men’s room have signs:


Like the airlines with the carry-on luggage. “If your bowel movement cannot fit in this box, please see an agent.”

And I’m not trying to get all over this but men are disgusting. They blow snot out their nose and it lands on the sidewalk. They hack up huge globs and hurk them out the car window. In front of other people. They leave the seat up and don’t even notice what is on the seat – grime and curly hairs and coagulated pee.

The man staring into his laptop, right next to me in the coffee shop, just sneezed a juice bomb into his bare hands and wiped it on his pant leg. In full view. Smiling before, smiling after.

His personal confidence.

I would flush for it.