Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Category Archive: Speak out

  1. Grey Area

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    Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.

    When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.

    A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:

    • a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
    • another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
    • a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.

    In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.

    In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.

    My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.

    Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive.  Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.

    Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.

     

  2. A Pinch of Salt

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    When Mr. Z. and I were in Paris last month, our hosts, the Scotts, took us to one of their favorite restaurants, Chez Denise. Even though my own lunch was delicious and satisfying, I openly coveted the os á moelle that the French couple next to us ordered.  My companions, veterans of French food and committed to their low-fat diet, declined to order it with me, Mr. Z wasn’t game, and I wasn’t quite ready to commit to eating a plate of roasted beef marrow bones by myself.

    When the woman caught me watching her prepare her next bite–scooping marrow out of the bone and spreading it onto grilled bread with a butter knife, then sprinkling it with salt from a bowl with her fingers–she gestured that she would be happy to share.  Our friends  accepted in French on my behalf, and we watched as she made me a bone marrow toast. I gratefully took the toast from her hand and ate it all. She would have continued to feed me from her plate if I had not been too full already.

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    I remember that lunch as my favorite meal of the trip not because of the bone marrow’s rich, buttery deliciousness (and its benefits), but because of the unexpected intimacy of taking food from a stranger’s plate and hand. 

    Where were the rubber gloves, the hand sanitizer, the caution and fear, the reminders of the woman’s otherness and separation and the potential danger of her body? Erased as I accepted her offer and ate her food.

    When I think about the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo office and Kosher market last week, and I see the pictures of people holding the “Je Suis Charlie” and “Je Suis Juif” signs and posting under those hashtags on social media, I remember the woman in the restaurant, and her willingness to share and my willingness to take and eat her food, and I think of the ways “Je Suis” the Parisian woman. I feel warm solidarity with the people of the world, standing up and speaking out against violence and fear.

    But at the same time that I say to myself, yes, Je Suis Parisians,  Je Suis Charlie and Je Suis Juif, I have to acknowledge that (more subtly and without obvious violence–I add disclaimers to be able to bear to write this–see below) I also must say Je Suis the silent, and  Je Suis the terrorists, and Je Suis the fearful censors of public speech and private thought, and on and on and on.

    I wish I could say or write “Not Afraid” with honest confidence, but I am frequently afraid–of offending, of overstepping, of being factually or morally or (most ridiculously) socially “wrong.” I censor my words and even thoughts every day. I could say that “no one dies” as a result of my desire to censor, but how do I know? What if my failure to speak out about, say, domestic violence, does in fact indirectly lead to someone’s death?

    Maybe saying  “Je Suis” about each other also requires saying “Je Suis” about the other. Sharing responsibility as well as food, blame as well as credit. Speaking out, using the space created by satirists like the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo (whose work often makes me cringe) to tell the truth of our own lives.

     

     

     

  3. College Brides Walk

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    On Valentine’s Day, I walked in the College Brides Walk to raise awareness about domestic and dating violence and to commemorate the life and death of Gladys Ricart, who was murdered on her wedding day by an ex-boyfriend.

    That’s me dressed in white in the middle of the picture (Mr. Z said he didn’t know I owned any white clothes, but that’s another story). For more pictures (and this one), check out this Miami Herald gallery.

    It’s the fourth annual event, and I was happy to attend for the first time. Going to events like this is energizing and affirming–so many other people focusing on an issue that is dear to me.

    But by the sixth mile of carrying a sign with a photo of Kalyn Denise O’Barr, 19, who died on January 5, 2010, I was emotional. According to my sign, “She was attacked while sleeping and strangled with an electrical cord. Her husband was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for her murder.”

    I walked (and I write and I speak) for Kalyn and way too many victims of domestic violence who cannot.

     

  4. How do you know?

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    You probably know the story: Dylan Farrow’s open letter to Woody AllenWoody Allen’s op-ed response.

    When I read Dylan Farrow’s letter, I was sure that she was telling the truth. I’ve heard enough victims of child sexual abuse write about the pain of their experience and the aftermath on IRL that I am familiar with survivors’ shame, reticence, and knowledge that a shitstorm of judgment is likely coming their way from both people in their inner circles and people they’ve never met.

    I am strongly biased in favor of anyone brave enough to come forward with her or his story.

    And then a friend told me that her husband has been accused of abuse by a young child. I know enough about the logistics of their situation (who is alone with the child and when, how visits are conducted, that sort of thing), that I don’t believe that he could have abused the child.

    Maybe someone actually abused her; maybe someone abused her by coaching her into a story that’s not true. I don’t know. I know that she was never alone with him, especially in the ways that she suggests in her story.

    In this situation, I am not relying on what I believe about the man’s character or the child’s likely truthtelling. I know that people are not always what they seem.

    Now the investigation continues, and I hope that the truth will come out and the child will move on in safety.

    But my automatic bias in favor of the accuser is shaken. I can see at least the possibility of another side. That’s probably a good thing.

  5. New Year’s Leaving

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    I know two women who left their abusive husbands over this New Year’s mid-week holiday. As soon as the new apartments were ready, while the men were at work, with careful planning and the help of  friends and family, they shed possessions and made a break for it.

    The moment of leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous one possible for the victim; it is the instant when the batterer (statistically most often a man) loses what he has sought above all else, what he has sought to obtain via physical, emotional, or financial abuse: control over the victim. It is the moment when he is most likely to be most violent as he attempts to regain what he is losing.

    To those courageous survivors who left today, may you be safe. May you inhale the fresh paint smell of your new apartment and know that your life will never be the same, that you’ve done the hardest thing already, that each day will get a little easier.

    And to the rest of us who are  already safe in our homes tonight, may we remember those who left and maybe even our own leaving, and may we take whatever risks we need to take now in order to have the lives we’re meant to have.

  6. Feminist

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    Things get weird pretty quickly when your search term on a stock photo site is “feminist.” Women with ropes, women with boxing gloves, women with their stiletto’d feet on the throats of men. Try it and see. Here’s a strange one. What does it mean?

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    To me the word has meant something simple and basic: pro woman. Women can or cannot be feminists. Men have the same options.

    I am a feminist; I happily take the label.

    When the pop singer Katy Perry said last year that she wasn’t a feminist, she elicited reactions ranging from “Katy Perry is an idiot” to “maybe if feminists didn’t think Katy Perry was an idiot she would be more likely to identify as one.”

    I rely on the recommendations of Mr. Z (who calls himself a feminist, by the way) to read a tiny fraction of the articles in the issues of The New Yorker that pile up on the coffee table. A couple of days ago, he suggested that I read an article by Susan Faludi about Shulamith Firestone.  I recommend that you read it, too.

    Firestone’s name is familiar to me, but by the time I was reading feminist theory in the 1990s, she and other “second-wave” feminists (Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, for example), no matter how influential, were already sort of “vintage.” I didn’t know her ideas and I didn’t know her story.

    Firestone’s ideas are still radical and fresh and needed forty years after she first wrote them.

    Firestone’s story is tragic and compelling and all too familiar.

    If more women and men knew about the feminists on whose shoulders we climb, would more people be honored and humbled to share their label, identify as members of their tribe?

    I think so.

  7. He Won’t Change, Rihanna

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    Many years ago, I waited outside my home while the police searched for my then-husband, who was threatening to kill me and himself.

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    A young policeman leaned into my car window and said, “Ma’am, get out while you can. These guys never change.”

    I didn’t listen.

    This morning I read an article about pop stars Rihanna and Chris Brown, who have apparently, while I wasn’t watching, reunited.

    She is quoted as telling Rolling Stone, “Even if it’s a mistake, it’s my mistake. I can handle it.”

    I thought I could handle it. I thought I could fix it. I thought I could somehow make the situation right.

    Now I know that it is unlikely that men who batter will stop battering, even with intervention.

    I hope against hope that I’m wrong, but, Rihanna: get out while you can. These guys never change.

  8. Marathon

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    Where does one begin to write about what happened in Boston yesterday?

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    Should I even try? Maybe it’s better to stay silent.

    This morning I read this post by Caitlin at Fit and Feminist and this one by Susan Orlean at the New Yorker.

    Yes, of course. I know this. The only way for me to write about this is to write what I know. Tell my stories.

    I ran  Grandma’s Marathon in 2001.

    I spent most of the 26.2 miles by myself, and at my five-hours-plus marathon pace, my place was toward the back of the pack.  But the crowds along Lake Superior were still there for me.

    Contrary to what I was experiencing at home at the time, I was lifted up by support and exuberance and, well, the  love of complete strangers.

    Somewhere around the 25-mile point, a woman spectator offered me a piece of orange jelly candy. I gratefully accepted it, and with that slice of sugar for fuel, I went on to cross the finish line.

    I cried this morning when I thought of the spectators in Boston yesterday, injured in body and spirit.

    The marathon depends not only on the runners, but also on the spectators, there to cheer people they loved and people they would never meet.

    I probably will never qualify to run in the Boston Marathon, but someday I will go to watch and cheer. And I will take orange jelly candy.

     

  9. Transformations

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    I met Alana Sheeren via my friend Jeanne, that great connector, and for the past couple of years I’ve followed Alana on her blog and social media.

    She’s doing a series of interviews called “Transformation Talk.” Here’s what she writes about them:

    Every Thursday for a year, starting in September 2012, I’ll post an interview with someone who is a force for good in the world. These men and women have either deepened their passion or found their calling after experiencing a loss, trauma or diagnosis

    I want to broaden the conversation around grief and its transformative power. My hope is that in their words you’ll find echoes of your story. In their inspired actions, you’ll see yourself and your immense possibility.

    About a week ago, I had the pleasure of being the “someone” she interviewed. Here is our conversation.

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    I realized this morning that today is April 11, a day that for me has become a day of unexpected transformations.

    April 11, 2007 was the day my ex-husband was arrested. April 11, 2011 was the day I gave my first public talk to a group. And now April 11, 2013, through no foresight or planning on my part, is the day of my first  interview.

    I really appreciate the work Alana is doing with respect to grief and loss and their transformative power. Thank you, Alana, for being part of my ongoing transformation.

  10. Handbagged

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    This morning I happened to be reading Deborah Tannen’s Talking from 9 to 5, the chapter on women bosses.

    Tannen critiques a Newsweek review of Margaret Thatcher’s memoir for its handbag image:  “The image of Thatcher ‘clobbering them with her metaphorical handbag’ undercuts the force of her actions, even as it gives her credit for attacking her opponents. A woman clobbering men with her handbag is an object of laughter, not fear or admiration.”

    Thatcher died today, and this afternoon’s  New York Times article about her life references the handbag metaphor, too: “Brisk and argumentative, she was rarely willing to concede a point and loath to compromise. Colleagues who disagreed with her were often deluged in a sea of facts, or what many referred to as being ‘handbagged.'”

    Regardless of any reservations I might have about Thatcher’s policies, and these are subject to revision based on this piece by Andrew Sullivan, I have to admit that I admire her force, her commitment, her political will. I think for a moment that I wouldn’t mind having it said about me that I “handbagged” someone. I like a good handbag as much as anyone, and I have been known to resist conceding when my convictions are at stake.

    But I’m thinking again. In between this morning’s coincidental reading of Tannen on handbagging and this afternoon’s reading of the Times on Thatcher, I had an intense conversation with a man about another man’s use of the word “rape” to suggest “plunder” in casual conversation. I believe with Tannen that words matter, and that “rape” is a very specific kind of sexualized violence and a word that should not be used lightly. The man I was talking with invoked dictionary definitions and said that I have a chip on my shoulder.

    He’s right: I do have a chip on my shoulder about rape.

    Or maybe it’s a shoulderbag.