He for She

I was wicked obsessed with Wonder Woman as a kid. Felt appropriate to make mention of that here.

So, I have some thoughts to share about the He for She campaign. (I’m kinda sick and sort of feverish, so I am not even going to try to write this well. Heads up on that. Just going to bluntly express some ideas.)

When Emma Watson spoke of her childhood, it resonated with me. Much like her, I wasn’t limited by my parents or school or culture. When I was in about the second grade, I told my dad I wanted to be a wide receiver in the NFL. God bless him, my dad didn’t squash that dream. I remember that occasion so vividly, and his, “Well, anything’s possible” sort of reaction. Even though, in that case, it clearly wasn’t. But the feeling that anything was possible was an important one, and infectious, so that when my dreams shifted to something more doable, but still difficult (film school and life as a professional writer) I carried that energy with me. Similarly, my mother embraced by tomboy nature. She never tried to force a more feminine way of being upon me. She accepted me for who I am, as I am. Just as importantly, my grandfather, who could tend toward mean, tough, and chauvinistic, would tell me that I could be the first female President of the United States. That’s a whole heck of a lot of empowerment I was gifted with, and I thankful for all of it.

It saddens and angers me to think of little girls whose natures are squashed because who they are doesn’t fit into their parents preconceived notions. Be they more feminine or more masculine than what is wanted – it’s important to note that sometimes familial pressure goes the other route, too.

It equally saddens and angers me to think of little boys who are similarly squashed – and similarly squashed in both directions. For all the little boys growing up in some redneck household who are told to not be a pansy, there are other little boys growing up in the suburbs being told it’s wrong to be dominant.

And herein lies part of my issue with what feminism has become.

As a kid, I heartily identified with the word feminist. And I still do with its base definition. But as Emma pointed out in her speech, it has become an unpopular word. Here’s the thing – the reason why it’s become unpopular isn’t simply because the world is filled with jerks who don’t understand feminism. It’s a mix of factors – from jerks who are threatened by true equality (and screw those guys and girls) to feminism being a word applied to behavior I find pretty appalling.

Here’s an example of such behavior.

Recently, I’ve had multiple male friends deal with charges of “threatening” a female co-worker. I am familiar with these cases, and in each instance, the woman was simply told her project wasn’t good enough. She was given tough criticism and she couldn’t take it. To be fair, I blame this behavior not just as a perverted form of feminist thought, but also on the belief that everybody is a precious snowflake these days.

I cannot really explain to you how angry this situation makes me. I love my people and I am protective over them. When I’ve watched dear friends spend decades building their careers, through conscientious effort, hard work and dedication, and then to watch some twenty-something twit wander in and – because of hurt feelings and never having been told “no” before – come close to wrecking everything my friend has built…the rage, you guys. All of the rage. These are good men. Men I know well. Men who self-identify correctly as feminists, in that they believe in equality between the sexes. Equal pay should be a reality. As well as an equal ability to handle the job at hand.

The first time this happened, I was surprised. I’m not surprised anymore. Now it’s something I expect. When a certain sort of twenty-something female doesn’t get what she wants at work she goes to HR and says she feels threatened. (Doesn’t matter if her boss is male or female, but if he’s male, that gets added to the complaint. It is a very mercenary sort of selfishness at play.) And here’s the thing – as angry as I am over the potential impact on my male friends, I am equally angry over what this does to women who are legitimately threatened. That is something I’ve lived through, and frankly, it goes down as one of the very worst times in my life – to feel threatened by a male boss and to work for a company who will not help you. No woman should ever have to deal with that. Because I’ve dealt with the real McCoy it adds to my anger to see these women issue complaints over honest critique of their work.

So here’s the other part of my complaint. Emma Watson makes a strong point about how men should be free to be themselves – sensitive and not controlling, unaggressive, etc. Which is 100% true. Men should absolutely feel free to be themselves. But what if who they are is aggressive and tough? Emma makes one mention of men and women both needing to be free to be strong. One mention. (Though to be fair,  I was heartened by many aspects of Watson’s speech, including the fact that her father’s role in child raising is not as valued as her mother’s.)

Right now in the first world, we are in this cultural whirl of female empowerment. Check out this Pantene commercial, which is definitely on the money, this viciously manipulative trap of a commercial by Always, which still succeeded in making me cry (screw you, Always!), and this ever present campaign to raise a horde of superwomen bent on taking over the universe. Each of these things individually are fine. Put them together and it’s all. so. freaking. much. It’s everywhere. It’s stifling. And it has absolutely nothing to say to the men of the world.

Where are The Mighty Boy campaigns? Where are the commercials empowering men to be men? Look at the movies we make today. You don’t see the Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch roles. Where are the Jimmy Stewarts as George Bailey? The true man – strong, authentic, imbued with both integrity and feeling – is an archetype we’ve lost. As a culture, we’ve split men into two camps – emasculated suburbanites and psycho aggressive NFL types. We’ve lost the middle way for our men. And Lord knows we’re going to need them, once all those Mighty Girls grow up and takeover the universe.

Here’s the thing, you guys – a strong woman must have an equally strong man beside her.  We are bent on creating a new breed of strong woman. Equal attention must be paid to raising a similarly strong generation of men. Right now, we don’t know what that means as a first world society. We have a clear vision of what the woman of the future should look like. No such image exists for boys. As Emma rightly points out, we won’t have true equality until men are free to be men. My contention is that we need to relearn just what, exactly, a man should be.

Even more to the point – I think we need to figure out what a good person is, period, and strive toward that as a society. Because that is an umbrella that covers us all – all genders, all races, all ages, all financial statuses – I feel that too often our emphasis on division does nothing but deepen our divisions.

A Home for Molly

I'm hoping somebody has a cat-shaped hole in their heart that Molly could fill.

I’m not sure where to start this story. Normally, that’s one of my writerly strong suits. So let me start by saying, I am hoping this blog post leads me to a new owner for Molly, an old white cat who lives across the street. It’s very important to me that I find a home for Molly. Here’s why.

When I moved into this house nine years ago, my neighbor across the street was a vibrant woman. She was single, I guessed she was about forty. She had a white cat, Molly, that she hung out with on her porch. She had a big truck she took to the barn every day, always coming home in her half-chaps and breeches. Perhaps three years later, her horse passed away. He was the equine love of her life, and she did not replace him. I could tell she was slowing down – slowing down in a way that didn’t seem quite right – but she still had Molly, her constant companion.

Then, a few years ago, an ambulance showed up at her house and took her to the hospital. A couple of days later, Evan and I were outside doing lawn work. It was blazingly hot, in the middle of summer. We smelled smoke, and even though it was the wrong season for it, I thought someone was burning leaves. Then I saw flames emerging from under the eaves of my neighbor’s house. The fire was so intense I couldn’t even get close to the house. Both her car and truck were there, but I thought it was likely she was still in the hospital. What I was worried most about was Molly. I called 911 and prayed Molly had the sense to flee out the back kitty door.

Luckily, Molly was indeed smart enough to save herself.

The fire was destructive. However, because firefighters got there so quickly, they were able to save the house. That said, saving the house took a very, very, very long time. My neighbor was a renter, and her landlord was in no hurry to get renovations underway. I presume my neighbor stayed with her mother during this time. I also presume Molly wasn’t welcome at her mother’s house.

I presume these things in part because every single day my neighbor came over to the burned out house, gave Molly food and and water, and then sat with her cat, keeping her company.

For hours. Every day. For months.

Somewhere in that stretch of time, I saw an animal control officer poking around my neighbor’s house with a live animal trap. I told the officer that she absolutely could not trap Molly and take her away. I told her about my neighbor’s ill health, the fact her house burned, but that every day she visited Molly, and that she needed that cat more than anybody has ever needed a cat. I also got the officer’s name and number for my neighbor.

The next day, when my neighbor arrived, I walked over to tell her about the appearance of the animal control officer. I’ll never forget the horror on her face. She said, “Oh no. That cat is my whole life.” And I said, “I know she is.”

My neighbor called animal control, got that sorted out, and eventually she was able to move back in. Molly and my neighbor were fully reunited.

But her health continued to decline. Ambulances came and went. Many months went by. The ambulances were replaced by hospice workers. Eventually, my neighbor was transferred out of her home.

Last Thursday afternoon, I suddenly realized she had passed. I don’t know how I knew, I just did. It was, in part, because nobody at all had been to the house for some time. At least two weeks. The lawn had grown long. Most importantly, I realized I hadn’t seen Molly. Not for a long time. I was filled with relief. I had anticipated, for many years, that when my neighbor passed away her family would fail to take care of Molly. I had anticipated that I would need to find her a home. This had always bothered me. That cat was my neighbor’s world. Why wouldn’t her family seek to do right by the creature she loved most and who loved her most?

That evening, I looked out across the street and saw, as I had so many times before, a white cat on my neighbor’s porch. It was Molly.

I ran over to her, bringing food and water. She’d lost weight and was hungry, but not starving. Her ears were chewed up, possibly by one of the ever present strays. In short, she’d declined, but not as much as you’d expect if she’d been completely abandoned. Still, seeing her looking rough and unloved was profoundly sad.

I was reminded of a scene in the movie 25th Hour where a man, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, adopts his friend’s dog, Doyle. (His friend is off to do several years of prison.) PSH is honored to adopt Doyle, because of his love and respect for his friend is transferred into love and respect for the dog. I know some people do not view animals the way I do, or the way my neighbor did, but even if you don’t, shouldn’t you adopt your loved ones view on the matter, just out of respect for the dead? I hope that, if I still have animals when I die, that there will be someone who wants them. Or someone who cares enough to find somebody who wants them.

I care enough to find somebody who wants Molly.

On Friday, I learned that another neighbor is putting food out for Molly on her porch. We agreed that the adjustment to being an outdoor cat has been hard on Molly. Although Molly hung out on the porch with her owner, she primarily lived inside. Molly is older, at least ten. Her vision and hearing aren’t as good as they once were. She is a sitting duck for the aggressive strays around here. The woman who is feeding her can’t have an indoor cat, but also believes that would be the best thing for Molly.

Her whole life, Molly has been an only cat. I would happily adopt her, but I don’t necessarily think that the chaotic zoo I have going on here would be an ideal situation for her. I’d really like to find the best thing for her. I am happy to drive – even a long distance – to deliver her to her new home. If that home is currently cat-less, I am happy to provide a full kit to go with her (carrier/litter box/food/etc.)

Normally, I don’t ask that people share my blog posts, but in this case, please do. I’m really hoping this story will help me find a home for Molly.

Something Good

As it so happens, orange Gatorade is my favorite Gatorade.

Just now, I was driving along in Seneca, South Carolina. I stopped for a red light, a UPS truck ahead of me. The sun was on its way down — the sunlight stuck halfway between summer and fall. My very favorite sort of sunlight, as it so happens.

A beautifully landscaped island was next to the road. Standing in the middle of it were two Hispanic men with lawn care equipment. It has been a hot day in the South and their clothes were soaked through with sweat. The light turned green, but the UPS driver didn’t go anywhere. For once, I was feeling patient and waited, content in the idea that at some point, the UPS truck would move along. In the meantime, I’d take in the sunset and the flowering crepe myrtle trees and green grass.

Then I noticed the Hispanic men were speaking with the UPS driver. My first thought was the driver was having a problem with his truck. Then the two men walked over to it, smiling. I watched as the driver handed them two giant orange Gatorades. The bottles were dripping water, giving the impression they were fresh and icy cold from the cooler.

I smiled.

The UPS driver made it through the light, but I didn’t. The men were so happy with both the gesture and with the Gatorade. I was so happy for them. They noticed me smiling and they raised their drinks to me in a sort of toast. I nodded in return, the light turned green, and I went on my way, better for having been a witness to that small moment of human connection.

It made me realize, too, that it has been awhile since I’ve been the UPS driver in that equation. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done nice things for people, I’ve given to charity, I’ve tried to be there for friends going through hard times. (Don’t know how great of a job I’ve done with any of that). But it takes something else to make moments like that happen. It is not something born of effort, but is rather a natural external expression of an internal reality. It takes a largeness of spirit to create spontaneous moments of human connection.  I don’t have that right now. I have in the past, but not right now. Which is, as The Dude would say, “A bummer, man.” But such is life. It ebbs and flows.

I’m grateful to have seen the gifting of the Gatorade, though. It was good to be reminded of what that looks like.

I Love My Mary

This is from the day before the party, but I've always liked this picture. Imagine lots of people and more decor and you'll get a sense of the Halloween Party at its apex.

I moved to South Carolina full time in 2003. That first year was rough in a lot of ways. After eight years in Los Angeles, Clemson was major culture shock. (Movie theaters were not cutting it, my friends.) Initially, all my friends were my husband’s friends, meaning all my friends were guy friends. There were a couple of notable exceptions, but generally speaking, I lived within a sort of gender isolation.

In 2005, I started working at the Cliffs. A few months after I started, Mary Tannery came to work as an event planner. I was like, “You seem like a very shiny object and I’d like to put you in my nest.” On the surface, Mary and I couldn’t be more different. I worked with horses and wore jeans and boots and filth and frequently no make-up. Mary wore heels and A-line skirts and her hair pulled back in a sleek bun. But if you scratched the surface, you’d quickly see that Mary and Carrie were two peas in a pod.

Mary and I have a lot in a common. We are fierce and fiercely loyal, intensely independent, tough, love to laugh, and live by the motto that if a little is good, a lot has got to be great. (See: hearts, Valentine’s Day 80’s Prom Party.)  Neither of us are keen to suffer fools and we like to get things done, always believing we can will our vision into existence. (See: forest inside a room, Halloween Party.)

When I first met Mary, I carried with me the scars of a lot of female friendships gone awry. I could make friends quickly and easily with men, but with women, I always had my guard up, waiting for the backstabbing to begin. It took time, but slowly I realized that not only was Mary dynamic and awesome and charismatic and fun, but she was also supremely reliable. Mary has always been there for me, whenever I needed her. Often driving to my place in

I mean, what. How much of a superstar is this girl?

Pendleton, even though she had more going on than I did. But it was as if she sensed when I needed a visit from a friend, and would take the time to materialize at my doorstep, just when I needed her to say, “How’re you doing?”. It’s not often that someone so sparkly is also so rock solid. She is a rare and wonderful creature.

The Cliffs was a rough place for me to work. Very rough. Every step of the way, Mary was there for me. I came to see it as my Vietnam, and Mary was my blood brother. Not that we didn’t have a lot of fun on the job, too. We put together AMAZING parties. Once, for Halloween, we constructed a mad scientist haunted house and Mary had ordered a lab coat. She’d thought it was a plain white lab coat, and happened to open the package at a meeting. It was one of those boring, stiff, corporate sort of meetings, and Mary was talking about the haunted house, opening the package, saying she was going to get a name tag for the coat, then said, “Oh! Look! It already has a name tag stitched in! It says Dr. Seymour Bush, OB/GYN.”

It hit everybody in the room a split second before it hit Mary. It was a magic moment, you guys.

Also magic, the Halloween prior, when Mary and I first bonded, cutting out hundreds of vinyl bats with my good ol’ boy boss. This was well into the night – we were working extra hours for party prep. Mary and I were chattering away like two 13 year old girls at a slumber party. I asked her what her birthday was, she told me, and I said, “Oooo! You’re an Aquarius! Like my horse!” My good ol’ boss briefly contemplated suicide in that moment. He didn’t say anything. I just saw it flicker across his eyes, like, “I could jump out that window right now and end all of this.”

Dramatic lighting is important. Also, fog machines.

Eventually, we both left the Cliffs, but we continued throwing parties together. Before I met Mary, I loved to throw a good party, but Mary gave me a new sense of scale. For Halloween slash my birthday, an entire forest was brought inside her empty retail space. It was glorious. For Valentine’s Day slash Mary’s birthday, we decided to do a Valentine’s Day 80’s Prom theme, which isn’t actually a thing, except we decided it was. We cut out paper hearts and attached them to the walls, we had 3D hearts we hung from the ceiling. I can’t remember the number of hearts we hung up, but it was, no joke, like thousands. It was midnight and we just kept saying, “I think it needs some more over here.”

Although our friendship has been marked by a whole heck of a lot fun, there’s been darkness, too. Mary, more than perhaps anybody, was my confidante as my marriage was falling apart. One day, I stood in her store, feeling absolutely bereft of hope, and Mary said to me, with steel in her eyes, “It is going to be okay.” And I explained to her no, I thought perhaps it wouldn’t be okay, perhaps it would end in divorce. The steel didn’t go away. Instead, she replied, “I know exactly what you’re saying. And I am telling you it’s going to be okay. You will be okay.” There was no compromise in her. I would be okay. She wasn’t giving me any other options. It took another several months before the thing actually broke apart, but during that time I thought back to Mary’s words. It took awhile, but they became a foundation upon which I built a new sort of strength.

Do you understand how many hearts happened here? Also, personalized birthday balloons.

Not too long after our last party, Mary became pregnant with her twin boys, Calhoun and Lachlan. It was time for us to hang up our party spurs for awhile, but even with twins (and later, pregnant with her third, Owen) Mary never stopped caring about my nonsense. When we’d hang out, she’d ask about comedy and my family and writing. I’d say, “Let’s talk about your boys!” And she’d say, “That’s all I ever do. I want to hear about you.”

As I anticipated, Mary is an awesome mom, the kind of mom I’d want to be if I ever was one. Her boys are a little wild, but they’re good as gold. They’re free to be kids and find their limits. They get both soft love and a little tough love if it’s needed. She strikes a balance between all of these things, which is so hard to do – especially with three boys under two!

Along the way, however, not everything went as planned. Mary, her husband Jason, and her family learned that Lachlan has JMML, a rare  form of leukemia. Although there had been questions and concerns for some time, the diagnosis only came in two weeks ago. Since then, it has been appointments and drives to Charleston and friends rallying and Team Tannery coming together to do everything we can to help Lachlan and those who love him.

During those two weeks, Mary hasn’t stopped asking me, “How’re you doing?”

One of the very first things I learned about Mary when we met was that she was in love with Matthew McConaughey. Like, for real, you guys. It’s a love affair. As with everything, Mary has been steadfast in her devotion. I don’t know how far back the thing goes, but I know it goes way, way back. She stuck with him through thick and thin, during the lean years when the roles weren’t so great, and into the new glory years of Oscar gold.

You can't tell here, but we're wearing matching outfits. Like, identical outfits. We had a costume change halfway through the party. We ALWAYS have a costume change halfway through a party.

Today, I sat with Mary and her baby Owen and little Lachlan, and learned that Lachlan’s limited toddler vocabulary includes the classic McConaughey fight song, “Alright, alright, alright.”

It was glorious.

The next few months are going to be hard. Lachlan is going to be at MUSC in Charleston, undergoing first chemotherapy and then a bone marrow transplant.  Team Tannery will be in effect throughout, doing whatever we can to support and help Mary and Jason as they support and help Lachlan. Early on in my friendship with Mary, I took to saying, “I love my Mary!” (Usually expressed at something close to a yell.) Mary would call back, “And I love my Carrie!” (Our names rhyme, you guys, it’s pretty cool.) And it’s true. I do love my Mary, and just as she once told me everything was going to be okay, to her I say, it’s gonna be alright, alright, alright.

P.S. I think it’s important to note Mary was in roller skates in the photo of her in the white tiger t-shirt. Unfortunately, the skates wound up outside the frame.

Why I’m Friends with My Ex

Spooky waits patiently for her daddy to return from his humanitarian trip to Africa. Pumpkin has given up hope.

Because he tolerates my love of comedy. To wit:

Evan: Hello?

Me: Hey.

Evan: What’s up?

Me: I was just hanging out with Pumpkin.

Evan: And how’s Pumpkin?

Me: Well, he asked me to call daddy.

Evan: Ah.

Me: I told him, he’s still on that long business trip we talked about.

Evan: Coming up on two years now.

Me: I told him you’re in Thailand.

Even more fun is when Evan comes over to the house for some reason, and I rally Pumpkin and Spooky by yelling, “Look, you guys! Daddy’s home, daddy’s home!” And then, in the voice of Spooky, “Are you going to stay this time, Daddy, or are you leaving again?”

I don’t know about you guys, but pretending cats are children in a non-existent psychodrama with your ex-husband is just about the funniest thing going, imo. I understand this is probably just a me thing, and less likely a you thing, but luckily for me, Evan thinks it’s a funny thing. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.