Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Category Archive: Stories

  1. 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 like Katy Perry singer 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 it 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.

  2. 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.

     

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Complicated is a good thing.

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    Women say, I’ve said, maybe you’ve said, that relationships between and among women are complicated.

    This past Saturday afternoon was the closing of  Jeanne and Nancy’s museum exhibit.

    Here they are looking at Jeanne’s cloth together.

    I honored Jeanne, who honored Nancy. It was complicated.

    And we listened to other women read their essays, and viewed the art they offered. We took turns, moving around the room, reading about the famous poets and singers, the sisters, neighbors, friends, mentors, teachers, mothers and grandmothers  who have inspired us individually and collectively.

    Women choked up as they read.  Listeners’ eyes filled with tears.

    As I heard women who read about women now gone from their lives, I felt grateful to be reading about a friend who could give me a hug when I was finished, who could know how much she means to me right now.

    I was also honored to read on behalf of  Ileana Tolibia, a Miami woman who wasn’t able to be there, a woman I haven’t yet met except through the complicated magic of the internet, a woman who wrote about her beloved grandmother, whose drawings she displayed.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    It was a marvelously complicated day.

  6. Confessional

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    First, my television confession:  Nip/Tuck, an FX show which ran from 2003-2010, streamed from Netflix, is perfect for a rainy hour on the couch or the treadmill. It explores, sometimes clumsily and sometimes gracefully, the contradictions between internal and external reality.

    The two main characters are fictional Miami plastic surgeons Sean McNamara and Christian Troy. McNamara, pretty-much-ethical-family-man-barely-keeping-his-life-together, is not as complicated or interesting as Troy, cad-who-will-do-anything-including-trade-his-girlfriend-for-a-Lamborghini.

    I hoped for an illuminating back story for Christian, and finally got it in the eighth episode of Season 1.

    When Christian realizes that he has removed a birthmark from the genitals of a pedophile priest, a birthmark that the priest’s victims have cited to identify him as their abuser, he confronts the priest in his confessional.

    He confesses, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been twenty-two years since my last confession. These are my sins: I’ve lost my faith, Father. I’ve dank. I’ve done drugs. I’ve fornicated with women and discarded them like trash. I’ve lost my soul. The boys you raped will be saying the same thing in 20 years.”

    After he threatens the priest into confessing his crimes, and the police lead him away, he sits in the church’s pews with Sean.

    Christian: I’ve been praying to forgive but I can’t do it. … Not him. Me.

    Sean: What did you do?

    Christian: I let him touch me, for years. I let him touch me.

    Sean: Who?

    Christian: Mr. Troy.

    Sean: Your foster father?

    Christian: He’s dead and I thought that would end it. But it didn’t.

    Sean: Christian, you were just a boy. If he abused you, it was his fault. He had the power. He’s the one.

    Christian: I didn’t have anything when he took me in. I wanted to be somebody. He said he’d give me money. I let him touch me. And I did, I bought things. I sold myself. Oh, God, I sold myself.

    The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal continues. The Pope resigns. Every day on In Real Life I hear real-life versions of Christian’s experience. And I applaud anyone who tells stories, fictional or autobiographical, that bring sexual abuse into the light where it can be fought with all our might.

     

     

     

  7. Scar Clan, Ctd

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    I’m reading Women Who Run With the Wolves very slowly.

    Meanwhile, I’m asking myself how my memoir stands up as a story, not only my story.

    I ask myself,  Does it have the necessary ingredients for the heroine’s journey? Have I written a main character who faces obstacles and, as a result, changes just as much as a well-drawn fictional character?

    In a recent nytimes.com piece called “Make Me Worry You’re Not OK,”, Susan Shapiro writes, “My favorite [personal nonfiction] essays begin with emotional devastation and conclude with surprising metamorphosis.”

    We want metamorphosis in the stories we read and the stories we live. We want to find beauty and meaning in what we have shed.

    Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “Secrets, like fairy tales and dreams, also follow the same energy patterns and structures as those found in drama. But secrets, instead of following the heroic structure, follow the tragic structure. . . .  The secrets a woman keeps are almost always heroic dramas that have been perverted into tragedies that go nowhere.”

    How do you or do I change our stories (lived and written) from tragedy to heroine’s journey?

    We tell secrets, particularly those kept in shame.

    Estes writes, “[T]he way to change a tragic drama back into a heroic one is to open the secret, speak of it to someone, write another ending, examine one’s part in it and one’s attributes in enduring it. These learnings are equal parts pain and wisdom. The having lived through it is a triumph of the deep and wild spirit.”

    Telling my stories to an ever-widening audience transforms me from battered woman to proud member of the Scar Clan; it changes my story from tragic to heroic.

    It’s a lifelong work-in-progress.

     

     

     

     

     

  8. In Their Own Language

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    Today  Jeanne celebrates a Big Birthday with friends and family, face-to-face and online, but a Big Birthday is only the beginning of all there is to celebrate with and about my dear friend, so here’s a story.

    In June of 2012, we  spent a weekend in De Land, Florida. We edited my memoir, laughed, cried, stayed up late, got up early, drove with the top down, put post-it notes on the walls, and  went to the Florida Museum for Women Artists.

    The high point of the weekend was the time we spent with Nancy, Jeanne’s sister-in-law. Nancy is considered developmentally disabled, but Jeanne has never allowed that label to define her.

    During an ice-cream-based lunch, Jeanne gave Nancy paper, and I gave Nancy a pen, and Nancy drew her heart out. And then she drew some more.

    You can see the pictures of the original drawings and and read the story of the art that Jeanne and Nancy created here.

    In one example of the serendipity at work that weekend, the center panel of Jeanne’s three-panel piece hangs today in the Florida Museum for Women Artists exhibit called Applaud That Woman. I love being able to say that I was there for the genesis of this piece.

    Here’s what I wrote to the museum about Jeanne:

    Jeanne describes herself as “woman, wit, writer,” and all of those things are true, but they only begin to scratch the surface of the talents she offers to the world. Jeanne is a gifted writer and cloth artist, and she is also a champion of other women, an encourager, a community-builder extraordinaire.

    If you have a project or a cause, thank your lucky stars if Jeanne believes in you, because you have found someone who will support you in those inevitable times when you need someone to care about your project more than you care about it yourself.

    And if your voice isn’t very loud, or one that the world will readily hear, Jeanne will amplify it and magnify it and translate it for you and with you.

    Today I offer Jeanne three Big Birthday wishes:  that her beautiful voice will be amplified and magnified for the world to hear, that those of us who love her will support and care for her projects as she has nurtured ours, that we will champion and encourage her as she has us.

    Happy Birthday and xo, Jeanne

     

  9. “Scar Clan”

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    When I was returning home from my 30th reunion trip last November, I chatted with a woman in the airport who was reading a book that had affected both of us deeply (Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree). In the course of a conversation that consisted of sentences that began with “Have you read . . . ,” she shared her formula for determining how much of a book you should read before you can justify deciding not to read any farther.

    Here it is: subtract your age from 100. The number that remains is the (annually declining) percentage of any book you should read before potentially deciding to throw in the towel and move on.

    I can see reaching the 50% threshold two years from now, and I seem to be heading there regardless of any formula. For reasons I don’t fully understand, despite conversations about it with Jeanne, I haven’t finished reading (or writing, for that matter) many books in the last few months. I have stacks of books in my bedroom and office with post-it notes at stopping points.

    This week I’m reading  The Second Half of Life, by Angeles Arrien.

    Arrien uses the phrase “scar clan,” in quotation marks. I had never heard the term before, but we’ve been talking recently on irlife about scars from abuse, so I googled it.

    It’s from Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkloa Estes, a book I’ve picked up and put down over the years, but never really stopped, or finished, reading.

    Estes writes,

    For women, tears are the beginning of initiation into the Scar Clan, that timeless tribe of women of all colors, all nations, all languages, who down through the ages have lived through a great something, and yet who stood proud, still stand proud.

    All women have personal stories as vast in scope and as powerful as the numen in fairy tales. But there is one kind of story in particular, which has to do with a woman’s secrets, especially those associated with shame; these contain some of the most important stories a woman can give her time to unraveling.

    Maybe my airport acquaintance’s reading formula allows for increasing time given to unraveling our secret stories, completing our initiation into the Scar Clan.