Following yesterday’s post — this fills me with hope. Change happens one baby step at a time, and when all those steps head in the same direction, no matter where they begin.
I was at a student training event yesterday. Completely unintentionally and without malice, the speaker illustrated a point by offering a group of people as an example of old-fashioned, not savvy, not with the times.
I can think of so many examples that could be inserted in that innocent sentence that would have sparked outrage — groups based on gender or ethnicity or education or religion — and that outrage would have been 100% appropriate.
But this group? Not so much.
When we do this — when we offer a group of people based on some characteristic as the don’t be like this group — we diminish them both as individuals and as a collective. We create a social caste system where some are less than simply because of ______________ (insert characteristic utilized to create “Other”).
But language is tricky — I acknowledge this. Further, I believe most of us are well-intentioned and would be horrified to know that we inadvertently insulted another and contributed to a social climate in which large groups of people are rendered irrelevant.
And we all make mistakes.
I recently described someone as sounding like he was from HeeHaw — do you remember that show? I realized later that it could have felt like I was insulting people from the South but that was not actually my intended comparison — it was mainly the big, booming, overly friendly and exaggerated voice that reminded me of a character from HeeHaw.
But I see now that my meaning could easily have been misinterpreted and I feel shame about that. Even with good intentions, we trip up — because we are human.
And those trip ups are simply learning experiences — if we can acknowledge them, which is admittedly not easy.
It is a special kind of painful to be in a social group whose label or title is considered an insult by the larger society. To be perceived as diminished in capacity, understanding, and value because of some role, feature or characteristic is a gut punch to the soul.
But even more — to suggest that grandchildren are the reason you are suddenly an example of Don’t Be Like That is to suggest that their existence is a powerful force of Destruction. Not cool.
Being a woman who is older already carries such social stigma — I feel that every day.
On the other hand, the sexual harassment I endured for decades has finally ended — either we are less desired as we get older or people know better than to mess with a woman at this age.
“Sontag — I want you,” said my supervisor when I was a lab tech for ATF as an undergrad.
That was not the first or the last time such a thing happened.
I was 17 when my boss said he wanted me to have his baby, and just 13 when a general surgeon, who was removing a small cyst over my eye, did a breast exam on well-developed adolescent me.
Every stage of life as a woman carries its own socially constructed and sanctioned House of Horrors.
And now, by virtue of three amazing new human beings, I have arrived at a stage in life where I am viewed as less than because of them. How incredibly insulting and infuriating is that?
So watch your language around me because I won’t be surprised into silence the next time someone uses “grandma” as a pejorative, no matter the intention. Instead, I will say, “Oh — you mean fierce, fearless, experienced, and much too full of love to let that kind of shit continue on in my grandchildren’s world?!”
That went by fast. Sabbatical, I mean. I am back on contract, although I do not start teaching until next week.
I had an official Sabbatical project and it did not get finished — but it will. Other opportunities presented and I took advantage of those; in addition, there was Berkeley’s health crisis. (Note: There is still no explanation for the continued need to watch her blood sugar).
One opportunity was to co-author a book chapter about loss and grief of people in prison who socialize/train — and then relinquish — shelter dogs. It is a way for people whose mistakes cost them freedom to give back and learn skills, but yes — it sets up a vulnerable population for loss. The book will be published soon.
Another opportunity was to join a team evaluating a large federal grant that seeks to improve behavioral health care of children and adolescents in Montana — so needed. This is a large and sparsely populated state; Montana has about the same population as Rhode Island, but is 147 times bigger. This means services people take for granted in other areas are simply not available, and our suicide rate is appalling and sad.
Related — a third opportunity was recording for a podcast. We recorded over twelve hours but who knows what the production team will decide to do with it; the topics — loss, grief, suicide, and schools.
There were other things interspersed, including maintaining my involvement on another federal grant related to behavioral health in primary health clinics — but the bottom line is that Sabbatical is over.
I know how lucky I am to have a job that permits such a thing, but as you can see from above it is definitely not a long work-free vacation by any means. Rather, a sabbatical is a way to change the mental channels to something different for a while, and I suspect we could all benefit from that — even dogs!
It occurs to me that every day presents sabbatical opportunities.
When we choose to do something in a different way — or to not do something we usually do — we are giving ourselves a mini-break from what is usual and routine.
I love it.
As I end my year-long Sabbatical, I am going to look for ways to have micro-sabbaticals. It doesn’t have to be complicated or hard — just doing something different to cause a bit of a mental shift.
Use a different and special coffee cup, walk a new way to work, wear happy socks, drive to work in silence (or not), try a new sandwich, train the dog in a new behavior, avoid the news for a day, and so on.
Taking a break from what is ordinary is wonderful. And it makes going back to ordinary somehow new again.
So bring on the semester — I am ready! And I will do my best to use micro-sabbaticals on a regular basis to maintain my enthusiasm.
The best part of a micro-sabbatical? You don’t have to apply for one — you just do it. Perfect! Let’s all get busy.