Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Phantom of the Living Room



The Phantom of the Living Room

I've never seen a ghost. I also don't believe that they exist. While I believe in the human soul, I don't think it manifests itself in repetitive reenactments of one's death. Though we have such stories from various cultures, that doesn't make ghosts any more real. They are real to the believer, and unreal to the non-believer. Believing is seeing.

My mother and I once rented the first floor of a house built in 1922. Much of the building was updated, as it had been split into apartments in modern times. We had a large living room/kitchen, dining room, master bedroom, and a basement with washer and dryer. We also had a small backyard, where my mother kept a garden. It's fairly typical of old houses in the Pittsburgh area that were built after WWI, and before WWII. I liked the old charm of the house, though it had largely renovated. Still, I had a sense of what it looked like back in its heyday. There was a small, non-working fireplace in my bedroom, with a large mantle above; which I believe was one of the last remainders of the original structure.

Prior to the move to the first floor, my mother rented an apartment on the second floor. This was a nice-sized apartment as well, which had more intact fixtures of the original building. For example, the bathroom door was authentically from 1922, complete with brass doorknob, and keyhole. It also had a transom above the door, which still worked. Outside of that, the rest of the second floor had been largely renovated, and looked very new for the 1990's.
My mother once told me of a strange experience she'd had in the living room.

It was a hot summer evening, and so she had the living room window open, as the apartment did not have central air. The glow of the TV bathed the room in gray light, as my mother gently drifted off to sleep. She dozed on the sofa, and woke up several hours later.

She told me the following.

“When I woke up, there was a man looking at me. He sat right there (pointing to the rocking chair next to me) and he was dressed in old time clothes. His shirt didn't have a collar, and he had on a vest. He had a mustache like my father had.”

This clearly wasn't her father, he was living in a different neighborhood, and still very much alive at time.

It was also around this time that my niece, Rachel, was reluctant to enter the apartment. She would scream any time my sister brought her for a visit. She an infant at the time, so I assumed it was because her baby carrier may have been jostled by the trip up the narrow staircase. Her mother thought it was odd. My mother sister, who didn't children yet have children, also thought it was odd. My mother took note of it, and tried to link to two together.

My personal theory is that Mom had a waking dream. This is when your body says, “I'm awake,” but your brain says to you, “I'm not done watching this program. Give me five more minutes!” You are sort of awake, but not entirely. Your brain clouds your perception, and creates a mild hallucination. You are still dreaming, and yet partly conscious. I've had a few of them myself, but usually they take on the form of me talking nonsensically (more so than usual). Though visual glitches of this sort are very common.

I don't believe my mother saw a real ghost. Instead, she saw a ghost of the mind. The gray glow of the TV screen probably didn't help either. It would have also been beneficial to know what she'd been watching before she fell asleep. Or, better still, what she'd been dreaming. At that time I was reading a fair bit of James Joyce, Jane Austen, Bronte sisters, and Edgar Allan Poe. It's more likely I would have hallucinated a ghoul in a waistcoat. Or, preferably, a comely specter in a bodice!

Alas, said specter has not materialized. What I wouldn't have given to be Ray Stantz in that dream sequence. The macabre fantasies of teenage youth! Anyway...ectoplasm emissions aside, I've not seen a single ghost, ever.

I revisited the house on what would have been my mother's seventieth birthday. I was sad to see that it had been boarded up, and disused. The windows had been smashed in, and replaced with plywood. What had once been my bedroom, with large front window, now received no sunlight. The light blue paint of the wooden siding had faded. The side porch where I used to read, and drink tea, was now rotted and vacant. However, my memories of the place were very much intact.

I remember watching the X-Files with my mother on Friday nights. I remembered watching reruns of Leonard Nimoy's In Search Of...when I'd visit her on the weekends. She'd nap in the back bedroom, while I would do up the dishes, and make tea. It was in that kitchen that I learned her secret pork chop recipe, as well as how to cook a good steak. I also experienced the delicacy of ginger snaps dunked in tea! Yes, that sounds strange, but it tastes amazing; especially in winter. The ginger warms you right up!

It was sad to see that house unloved, and empty. I hoped a family, or at least new tenants would have occupied it. The old landlord had sold it years ago, and whoever owned it now didn't seem to care. That to me is more haunting than any ghost, real or imagined.


Copyright Riley Joyce 2016

The photo at the top of this post is of the ceramic haunted house my mother made in the early 1980's. It's been with me ever since. 


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sexism 101

Sexism 101
Suffragettes Annie Kennedy and Christabel Pankhurst 

Feminism: the concept that women and men are socially, economically, politically, intellectually, and spiritually equal.

Economics hasn't quite gotten there yet, but there's still hope. As for the other elements of classical feminism...society has come a long way. It still needs to strive though.

So, why does sexism bother me?

The answer to that is simple.

It devalues women.

Well, that's it then. End of essay.

Wait, there's more!

Not only does it devalue women, but it also causes men to devalue themselves as well. You see, women, contrary to popular belief, do not come from Venus. They are human, just like men. Sure their bodies are different, and they have the tendency to smell better than men, but that's another story. The point is that women and men both come from Earth. We're both from the same species, and we need to treat each other as such. 

So, where should we begin this humane treatment? I suggest it should start in childhood. It goes beyond the gendering of toys, or anything of the sort. It goes to how young men are conditioned to view women; especially as the men mature.

As I am a man I can speak from experience.

Here's what I've observed.

The way men were taught to view women, traditionally, were as maidens that need to be rescued. I have to confess that I sometimes fall into that mentality. I'm what I call, “a crusader type.” I'm always trying to save people, which is probably a motive for becoming a therapist. I'm always willing to offer help to anyone who needs it. No matter what time or day, or where I'm at, I'll do what I can to help those I care about. Sometimes I go a bit overboard. I have the tendency to try to solve people's problems, when in reality they don't need me to solve them; they just need support.

Is it more feminist to help a woman in need, or support her so she can help herself? I don't know. I have a feeling that if I ever get married I'll probably find out the answer to that one.
I'm also reminded of an episode of the American sitcom Modern Family. One of the show's protagonists, Phil, gets confused when his wife, Claire, needs help. She has a day where she feels overwhelmed, and Phil pretty much tells her how to solve her problems that day. While in a spa full of married women, Phil gets schooled. They guide him through a role-play about what to say to Claire when she's feeling bogged down. One of the pieces of advice, which I reference above is, “A woman doesn't want you to solve her problems. She wants you to support her as she solves her own problems.”

Perhaps there's some truth in that. It annoys me when people tell me what to do in life, and how to solve my problems. It feels like the other person thinks I'm incompetent, and can't figure it out. Advice is one thing, telling someone what to do is another. Granted, it may come from a place of concern, but there's a limit. It takes an act of will on the part of the person to solve their problems. Another person cannot solve them for them.

Men are also taught to view women as someone to be “won.” Sure, when Mary Jane met Peter Parker, she announced, “Face it, tiger. You just hit the jackpot!” He sure did, but do men need to convince women to be with them? Does a man need to advertise how great he is, in order to convince a woman he's boyfriend material, and “seal of the deal.” When a guy does that, it sounds a bit like desperation. It also sounds like he's saying, “I'm really a nice guy. No, I really am. I'm really, really, really nice. Please, trust me! Please, please, please believe me!” In that case, he's probably hiding something. Truly nice men don't have to convince anyone they are nice, or good; they just are. They show it through their actions.

Women aren't like cars on a lot. Sometimes I think men are conditioned to view them the way they view the new line of Mercedes, or the latest Hemi engine. Which one looks the best? Which one has the most horsepower? What's she got under the hood? Not you, if that's what you're thinking! Before Mercedes was a car, she was the wife of Carl Benz. In other words, don't treat women like cars. Don't trade in for the “latest model,” or optional “sun roof.” She doesn't need a “new paint job” to make you happy. She should only get one if it makes her happy. 

Speaking of which; redheads, brunettes, blondes, raven hair...they are hair colors, not personality types, or species of women! Blondes aren't stupid. Redheads aren't any more angry than anyone else. Raven-haired women don't have mystical powers. Most people in the world are along the “brunette spectrum” of hair colors anyway.
The language used to refer to women isn't always pleasant. Men need to work on this. If there's a woman you don't like don't call her a “bitch.” Calling her that suggests that there's something wrong with her for being a woman; like she's inherently defective. There's nothing wrong with being a woman.

I've met people of all genders who were good or bad. I haven't found one to be more inclined to god-awful than the other. If the world really is split 50-50 between women and men, then there's bound to be people on either side that you won't like. Their gender has nothing to do with how good or bad they treat other people. What determines that are things like choices, upbringing, environment, circumstances, and how they navigate life. Not all men are assholes, and no woman is a “bitch.” However, female dogs are technically called “bitches.” I'm not a fan of that term for our canine friends either, so we'll retire that word.

Sex...

This is a tricky one. I've often asked myself, “How do I desire women sexually, and yet still respect them?” The two aren't mutually exclusive. You can desire a woman, and still respect her! In fact you should respect her if you desire her. The desire isn't a bad thing. In fact the desire is a good thing. Women have a desire for men as well. We all desire each other. It's how the desire is expressed that makes a difference.

If a man complements a woman on her personality, her intellect, her beauty; those are all good things.

“She's really intelligent. I like her.”

“She's really a very sweet girl.”

“My God, she's beautiful.”

If you know her well enough, you may even be able to call her, 
“sexy.” Though that's a phrase I'm not entirely comfortable using, and have only used it on very rare occasions.

Contrast those with...

“Dude, look at the size of those melons!”

“God, I want to bang her!”

“If you didn't dress like a dude, you might be sexy one day.”

No woman wants to hear how big, or small, her boobs are. She is quite aware of them. Admiring her figure, and her features is okay. Commenting on them in a really creepy way isn't okay! Telling her, or anyone else, how much you want to have sex with her is what a loser would do. It will also result in one being (as a wise young lady put it) “penis broken.” That means being in lust with someone, but being denied entree into their pants. The best way to avoid being “penis broken” is to not be a jerk.

In other words: if you really desire women, treat them as desirable. Don't treat them like last week's disposable razor; with shaving cream residue and decaying bits of stubble jammed between the blades. Guys, you know what I mean. Women, you know what I mean too. For that matter, guys, let your female significant other use a man's razor! For God's sake, and the sake of her legs, give her a closer shave! Those pink-handled one's don't cut it!

Treat each women you care about as an individual, not some mass-produced product. This goes back to the whole thing about cars. For example, Jennifer Lawrence isn't a make and model of blonde. She's a human being. For that matter, famous women in general are human beings too. They may have more money than most of their fans, but that's just the way it is. They unfortunately don't make more than their male counterparts, and that needs to change.

So, the next time you call a famous woman a “Skank,” you're not hurting them; you're hurting yourself. You're using women you don't know as verbal punching bags. The reason for that is that they don't live how you would live. Well, they aren't you! You are not them! Allow them to be themselves. Stop trying to make them into pristine virgins, goddesses, or sex machines. A woman can be whatever she wants when she wants; sexually active, goddess-like, or virginal. She can even be things I didn't list here. There's a whole world of possibilities out there, let her choose.

Finally...

Guys, if you've had a bad experience with a woman...
Don't assume they are all the same! Each woman is different! I've had lots of bad experiences with women. I've also had lots of good experiences with women. It's all a matter of who you are dating. Some women are really sweet, and some are really sour; it all depends on their worldview, and how they treat you, and everyone else. Stop lumping people of any kind into categories!

Maybe I'm preaching to the choir on this one. Or, maybe I'm not. Back when I was a teenager I didn't have anyone to teach me how to treat women, or act around them. I didn't know how to talk to girls. I was super shy, and had no idea how to ask a girl out. All I knew was that I wanted to be in a relationship with one, but had no idea how to go about it. I'm still figuring it out.

I don't think anyone ever completely figures out relationships entirely. Relationships are about growth between two people. Hopefully the two people learn from each other. They learn how to cope with each other. They learn that each other is imperfect. They learn how to recognize their attributes, and not dwell on their faults. Above all, they need to learn to see each other as human, and flawed. Without that the world can't function.

Text copyright Riley Joyce 2016