I hear you, warriors, crying for Wonder Woman on the night streets of Gotham!
I hear you, women warriors, crying that your bodies have been invaded!
Soon my sheroine escape from the madwoman’s attic!
While I am trapped, I laugh, eat well, and grow strong!
I sing for you, women warriors, my Osceola song!
Patriarchal word-war from the swamp!
July 4, I forge independence!
July 4, I become incorporate!
July 4, I too will have rights!
I, too, am a person!
Fredonia Woolf, poetess, LLC
When I was young, I thought this day, my 50th birthday, would be an apocalypse of sorts. In a sudden beginning of The End Times, my young self disappear, and my old self would be Left Behind, like those poor sinners in fundamentalist rhetoric who never accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.
I imagined waking up transformed in my sleep, suddenly and grotesquely older. My joints would be gnarled, creaky, and crippled with arthritis. I would be deaf and blind. I would wander through the house, terrified of falling and breaking my hip, confused over where I left the damn bathroom – was it in the kitchen next to that glass holding my dentures? – while incontinence #1 and #2 leaked through the enormous Granny Panties that the Depends Fairy had given me during the midnight Change of Life. Even worse, I would be ugly. I would look into the mirror and see myself turned into a hideous witch, a face covered in wrinkles, warts, and hairy moles. How I would see this and still be blind does not matter.
We’re not talking logic here. We’re talking paranoia.
Instead, nothing happened. I woke up early, did yoga, made coffee, forgot it was my birthday until I remembered it was time to write this blog: the (re)birthday of Fredonia Woolf.
More important is where the paranoia came from. No woman I know over 50 actually fits my Witch in the Mirror stereotype. The fact is that most are vibrant and pleasant. They have really interesting faces and bodies that operate a little differently, but still function quite well.
Some fears come from friends and family. “Fifty is the pits,” one woman me. Granted, she had a rocky mid-life transition struggling to recover from alcoholism. Another’s dementia showed up around this time, spiraling an existing bipolar disorder out of control.
Other fears come from the youth-oriented culture we live in. A woman I used to work with started calling herself a “hag” and getting surgical “enhancements” at 40. Everyone from her part of the country (L.A.) got them, she said, and anyone who did not, stuck out. Another woman said the just the opposite. The worst part about aging is becoming invisible. As a post-menopausal woman, she told me, you have no use in society. You can’t breed, your kids don’t need you, you’re not sexy, no one desires you, so you might as well be dead.
I’d rather be a witch. Witches get to wear cool Stevie Nicks dresses, live in weird forest homes with gargoyles and flying buttresses, and turn people who say mean things into carrion birds that remember their human aversion to eating nasty things.
Wait a minute, maybe I am a witch! No, my outfits definitely aren’t right. Too butch. Not a pointy hat or feathered skirt to my name.
I’m just me, the same Fredonia Woolf, Feminist Swamp Warrior: still post-sexy, pre-crone.
In my looking glass this morning, I remembered what my grandmother said about aging when she was in her 70s, “I feel the same way inside that I did in I did in my twenties, but I look in the mirror and think, who’s that old lady?”
What she said makes sense. Inside I am about 30. Sometimes, when I see the mirror image, I think, what’s that grey cat doing on my head? Who moved the Grand Canyon next to my eyes?
Other times, I say to myself, I remember when I used to think this age would be old, but here I am, so young, so alive, just getting started on all the work that needs to be done.
I carpooled with some friends up to Florida’s Panhandle just after the one-year anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We wanted to see for ourselves just what there was to see. If you go to Panama City’s beaches, the answer is: Nothing. The sand remains sugary white, and the Gulf waves crash and recede the same emerald green and turquoise blue as always. Nature has a way of wiping the slate clean – if not repairing the damage, at least erasing memories of damage so that human beings feel free to start over.
If you can’t see the damage, it’s not there, right? If it’s not on the surface, it’s gone, right? That’s what the president said the science said, and we can trust that, right?
We did not stop to eat oysters in Apalachicola.
Most Americans are so busy shitting in their own nests and keeping themselves distracted by McFood and Disney-ality that they don’t even know the shit is piling up. If they don’t see it, then it’s not there, right? The problem is that they keep flocking down to Florida for Hooter-cation and shitting in my nest!
Case in point: my friends and I were on Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach. (Bad enough that folks build houses and condos all the way onto the dunes there, right in the path of hurricanes. Nature wipes the slate clean, Fox news cries “tragedy,” then human beings rebuild – and we say that we distinguish ourselves from animals by our capacity for “logic.”) We had stopped to look at a condo that included a pond of smallish alligators. A happy family of men and children was trapping a three-footer for a photo op. The men caught him and duct-taped his mouth shut so they could drape him safely over their chubby, and no doubt tasty, kids for the picture, just underneath the sign, “Do not molest alligators.”
Perhaps these men deemed their actions acceptable because they were not actually fucking the alligators. Or maybe the word “molest” was beyond their limited vocabulary. We did point out the sign’s existence, which unfortunately became their reasoning for taking a picture beneath it. How does one argue with “logic” such as this? Does one wrestle the alligator-wrestler himself to the ground? I stood by, praying something immoral myself: that the smallish gator would free himself from the duct-tape prison to bite the smallish child and teacher her daddy a lesson.
What I realized there was our unofficial state motto, one that applies to the nation as well: Welcome to Florida, check your ethics at the door.
The whole time I stood there, I couldn’t help but recall the words of William Bartram, the 18th century natural historian:
“Is it not my Friend remarkeable . . . how cautious, even Great men and Philosophers are of allowing to Animals the power & use of Reason. They seeme to put invention to the Rack in endeavoring to establish Terms, to exclude from them the possession of that divine faculty, diffused impartially throughout all Animal Nature. What are they afraid of? that the Sperits of Animals will rise up in judgment against them for killing & eating of them?” (William Bartram to Benjamin Smith Barton, 12/29/1792, William Bartram: The Search for Nature’s Design. Ed. Thomas Hallock and Nancy E. Hoffman. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010.)
We all share a responsibility for the life around us. We can stare at that pretty blue-green water all day if we want to, pretending there won’t be consequences. But Nature will eventually rise up and bite someone back – if not us, then our children.
I intended to write about completely different subjects today. Yes, I know the old saying about how the road to Hell is paved. My life is pretty much an interstate project to the Underworld.
But I read today’s news and got so upset that I had to change course. And, yes, I know that some of my loved ones call me Our Lady of Perpetual Outrage. Maybe my status as the saint of anger will keep me out of hell.
What was the source of my outrage this time, you ask. Surely it must have been the “Abortion Debate Heated” story, where Florida’s Republican-led House passed not one but six anti-abortion bills. Nah. That news is so old, it’s way past blogosphere old. It’s like street urchin in knickers and a woolen cap hawking a penny-press broadside old. “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Florida gives women fewer choices!”
Well, then, certainly it must have been the story about Florida being dead last in providing dental care to low-income kids? Well, let’s break that down and see what it means. There aren’t enough dentists who take Medicaid patients, especially children on Medicaid. To find a dentist, some parents have to travel miles, sometimes to a different county, sometimes across the state. Anyone who has ever followed the chain link of dental hygiene knows that bad teeth lead to bad health and difficult social functioning. How many pictures of high school standouts (athletes, valedictorians, whatever) do you see with decayed or missing teeth? Who is going to hire a kid who looks that way? And who suffers most from this severed dentist-Medicaid connection? Both poor kids and kids in foster and adoptive situations. My rabbit trail of logic comes ‘round again: these are the very children all those Florida “Choose Life” license plates encourage us to remember.
“Choose Life” my sweet suckling hind teat. If you are going to choose life by not choosing abortion, then honor the life you choose, protect it, give it access to health care and education. Do we or do we not live in a democracy? (I’m actually afraid to ask this question.)
But that is not even why I am so angry today. The reason I’m REALLY outraged is over the story of a homeless woman who got arrested on felony charges in Norwalk, CT because she used her babysitter’s address to enroll her child in kindergarten. Tanya McDowell faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. So McDowell faces imprisonment because she sought something publicly guaranteed for her child? The school district is apparently put out because McDowell, who lives in her van, registered the boy in the more affluent Norwalk district rather than the location of her last known address in Bridgeport, a poorer district.
To quote Karen, a high priestess from Tampa Bay, who said in another context, “Holy Intersectionality, Batman!” And to quote Raymond Lovecraft, my friend and wise counsel in the swamp, “This just shows that there’s a little Mississippi wherever you go.”
You know how those rich, white Republican folks are. They like choosing life as a theoretical principle. But if it turns out to be poor or dark-skinned, they sure as heck don’t want to adopt it, live next to it, or let their children go to school with it. Better to marginalize it, ghettoize it, incarcerate it. I don’t understand why they don’t just abort it in the first place and circumvent the whole process. Heck, you could do that to all “unacceptables.” You could identify the genes for your genetic deformitives, your gays, your liberals and eliminate the whole lot.
But wait. I see the issue clearly now. I’m on my third cup of coffee after all, and it’s vision time. If you started aborting the lives of the marginalized, at least in Florida, who would pick your tomatoes? Who would go to your for-profit prisons? Who would you send overseas to fight your oil-wars? We’re not actually choosing life because we love children but because we need to grease the machine of wealth. If we loved children, education and health care really would be rights. We would have compassion for people like Tanya McDowell, we wouldn’t fine and imprison them.
How about a little honesty in those Florida license plates? Let’s make it a model for the nation. Instead of “Choose Life,” how about “Choose Big Business.” That’s what we’re really about. Today’s news tells me that we’re clearly not about humanity.
Ms. Freddie has gotten herself into a philosophical pickle, a philipickle as it were. It’s all Ayn Rand’s fault. Everyone’s all a-Twitter about this weekend’s release of the film version of her book, Atlas Shrugged.
I don’t think I’ll see it. Such beasts as independent films don’t exactly make it to the swamp. There’s no Tea Party here to demand its appearance at my local cypress dome.
I did read Atlas Shrugged in high school. I’m actually shocked that people continue to read it after that age. To me, it’s like Catcher in the Rye or Gone With the Wind. It speaks to something teenagers need, but middle-agers? Not so much. I guess for some, however, it makes quite an impression. They see its ideas about self-interest as a legitimate basis for shaping state and federal policy.
I am grateful that The Scarlet Letter made less of an impression on these people. I pray that they never read The Handmaid’s Tale. And, yet, I think I could solve most of the world’s problems with an Offred of my own. Just imagine the possibilities. . . .
. . . oh jouissance!
Pardon me, dear reader, Ms. Freddie has digressed. However, there is philosophical precedent in this digression, per Adrienne Rich. Now, back to my pickle.
The basic point of Rand’s book is that individuals have a right, indeed a moral imperative, to “shrug” – to go on strike, to secede, to withdraw from – institutional structures like the government that increasingly try to control them. Atlas Shrugged is staple fare of the set that believes in no-holds-barred free-market capitalism, individual and corporate will to power, trickle-down economics, less government, and even fewer taxes. Anything that stands in the way is the enemy: regulations, poor people, equality, whatever.
Now, when I said that I wanted to secede from the techno-media-military-industrial-governmental-McRealityShow complex and find freedom in the swamp, what kind of freedom did I mean? Is my kind of freedom also “shrugging”? I shudder to think that Sarah Palin, one of those touting this film as gospel, and I might like anything remotely similar.
To me, the swamp is the epitome of life on the margins. It is where one can be physically, mentally, and spiritually free. “Free” means that I can pursue my happiness and define my humanity in ways that I see fit, as long as I don’t harm and dehumanize others.
Something’s getting left out of this conversation, what all those Atlas Shrugged fans miss out. Or maybe they don’t miss it – which is even more frightening. We can’t just have a community, a state, or a nation of free people, pursuing their own self-interest, without having responsible people. If Atlas, the god who carries the world on his shoulders, shrugs, then he drops the world. That’s actually what the characters in the book advocate. Atlas should just shrug. But what happens to the world? What happens to all those people? Too damn bad for them?
I did not say I wanted to come to the swamp to shirk my responsibility to world. One can be free and share that freedom with others at the same time.
I guess that I’m not in a pickle after all. Just needed to rant about people who are stuck in the selfish attitudes they had since high school and apparently have not read any books since then. The problem is they’re too dumb to realize that when Atlas shrugs and the world turns upside down, they’re stuck here with everyone they’ve told to fuck off. And there’s a lot more of us than there are of them.
Those Sons of Confederate Veterans really get up my crawdad hole. Here they go re-enacting the Civil War again. Do they think they’re going to win this time? The worst part is, we’re at the 150-year anniversary of the war’s beginning, so that goddamn war is going to be news again for the next few years. This just in, folks: Union – 1, Confederacy – 0.
Notice that I said “Confederacy,” not “South.” The South didn’t fight any war. The South was a complex entity, made up of Confederates, people who opposed them, people who didn’t give a rat’s ass, and people who prayed that God would deliver them from the Confederates’ “way of life.”
That’s what Confederate defenders like to tell you: our ancestors didn’t fight to defend slavery, they fought to defend our way of life. WTF? You expect me to believe that those states seceded from the Union and wasted millions of lives for the right to eat grits, say “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am,” and for women to wear hoop skirts? In the words of Miss Scarlet herself, Fiddle-Dee-Dee. Let’s not mince words. The Confederate way of life depended upon the extermination of Native Americans and the exploitation of African Americans for the production of cheap cotton.
The Confederate way of life was plantation society. And plantation society was not all southerners – not poor white people, not hill people, not swamp people, not the holdout native people, and certainly not black people. A lot of these folks got paid or forced to fight for the Confederate cause, but I doubt you’ll see their descendents out re-enacting or buying Florida’s newest license vanity plate. Yes, indeed, folks, the state I call home has a license plate to support the Sons of Confederate Veterans, just like it does panthers, manatees, and Choose Life. This plate gets up my crawdad hole, too, but that’s a subject for another blog. If I didn’t have to pay extra money for the Confederate plate, I might actually get one. My tag would read, “U-LOST.”
I am tired of these folks giving Southerners a bad name. I am so over the Confederacy. That war is, like, so 1860s. Slavery is, like, so two centuries ago, dudes. That flag is not even retro. It’s, like, mullet-haircut uncool.
You know, way back in the 1930s, a woman named Jessie Daniel Ames formed the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, or ASWPL, so white women could get together and say, “Not in my name: stop all this stupid killing in defense of southern white womanhood.” It worked. Women of the ASWPL stood up to mob members and defenders and helped to end the violence.
Obviously, re-enacting the Civil War pales in comparison to lynching. It’s a silly, symbolic replay of war games. At its heart, however, re-enactments pretend that the war was not fought over a system of oppression that perpetuated slavery and the racial violence of the Jim Crow era.
STOP PRETENDING THAT YOU HONOR THE SOUTH WHEN YOU RE-ENACT THE CIVIL WAR. STOP DOING THIS IN MY SOUTHERN NAME, YOU DIRTY CONFEDERATE RACIST.
Do I have to form a new organization, the ASWPCV, the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Confederate Veterans? Do you think we can get a license plate?
I’ll call it “Choose Truth.”
I like eating spicy meals late at night because they make me dream strange dreams. This one is worth sharing – not just with you, dear reader. I think you should share it with others – the basic idea if not the dream itself.
Celebrated architects were designing me a new house (and we all know that in dreamscape a house represents one’s self or soul – I guess the goddess is trying to tell me something!). A whole crew was busy at work inside my new digs while I looked on. The supervisor, a large, dark-haired female with a heavy Eastern European accent – like a gypsy – climbed the walls on a small scaffold that she constructed as she climbed. I grew frightened that her footholds, some of them barely the size of supports in a climbing wall, would not hold her. “Watch out!” I cried as she started moving up to a higher level and out onto a cantilevered beam twenty feet off the floor.
The gypsy architect looked back at me and frowned. “You have poverty of imagination. You can do anything if you see yourself do it first.” And off she walked onto the cantilevered beam.
That is some house I am sleep-designing for myself, right? Tonight I need to sleep-find some money to afford it.
But that isn’t the point. Here’s the point. This morning, I saw a fifth grade girl named Bebe that I often see on her way to school. Bebe always brings sunshine, smiles, and a warm hello. Today they looked fake.
“How’s it going, Bebe?” I asked.
“Today the FCAT starts,” she answered glumly. For those who don’t know, the FCAT is short for Florida’s dreaded standardized assessment tests, designed to hold students, teachers, administrators, schools, and districts – everyone but the legislators that fund education – accountable for learning. FCAT will certainly be the subject of another blog post, for I find it symbolic of everything wrong with Florida schools. But back to the subject at hand.
“You’re going to dog that FCAT,” I told her confidently.
“How do you know?” she asked. I was trying to be nice, but she actually seemed to believe me. She got that young girl, open-eyed, trusting smiley face again.
I heard that gypsy architect’s voice whispering in my ear, so I said this:
“Believe it or not, Bebe, I saw you ace your FCATs in a dream last night.”
I waved goodbye to her. “You have a good day now. Be smart, stay focused.
She waved back, smiling for real now, not fake.
Imagination: pay it forward to some girl you know.