Writing Prompt: Office Party

It’s 9:30pm. The bar has been open since 6pm, and I mean open–free to order whatever we want without it costing us a dime. Sure, there were appetizers and salad and rolls and entrees and dessert, but they were spread out over the last three and a half hours, unlike the drinks that were downed in a few gulps and ordered again from the quick-handed bartender. Now the tables have been cleared and moved; the floor is bare. Dance music blares from the speaker in the corner. Who is brave enough to dance in front of their coworkers? Correction–who is drunk enough to dance in front of their coworkers?

The answer is soon clear. A man from sales with greasy hair wearing a fancy suit takes the floor; a skinny straw protrudes from the rim of the tumbler in his right hand. He shuffles his feet and scoots across the floor, giving a twirl here and there so the bottom of his blazer spins out from his hips. He doesn’t seem to notice the bystanders lining the perimeter of the room outright pointing in amusement and disbelief.

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Soon enough, there’s another middle-aged white guy on the dance floor with him. He dances with more arm movements, probably not trusting his feet to stay coordinated with his level of intoxication. His face is serious; he is clearly focusing on what he’s doing. At first, the two men dance in their own spaces, but once they stumble into each other’s bubbles, they take advantage of it. The first man puts his arm around the second man’s waist, and together they march in a circle.

I sit on a stool at the edge of the room and stare and laugh, but I also tap my toe and nod my head to the beat, jealous that these men have the inhibitions that allow them to enjoy the upbeat music and the wooden dance floor. Yes, that inhibition came in the form of, like, ten cocktails, but they have it all the same. Booze isn’t leaking from my pores, but I still have the desire to do exactly what they are doing–let loose, have fun, blow off some steam without caring what anyone else thinks about it.

*Did you attend an office holiday party this year? Did you let loose or follow social decorum? What does it take for you to allow yourself to have a little fun?*

Baby, It’s Stuffy Inside

One of my favorite holiday tunes has always been “Baby, it’s Cold Outside.” It’s catchy. It’s cheeky. It’s cozy. It’s coy. It’s all the happy “c” words.

But in recent years, it’s been rather tarnished for me, since people have assumed the common opinion that it’s a “rapey” song, in that the man in the song is trying to seduce an unwilling woman into having sex with him. And with sexual assault such a prevalent and important topic in today’s world, we absolutely shouldn’t dismiss this song as harmless if it’s not.

But I think it’s mostly harmless. Did you just hear a record needle scratch vinyl? Are you doing a double take? How could Jenny, Feministest of Feminists, possibly be offering a defense to such a misogynistic song? Because I like it a damn lot, folks, and I’d like to keep listening to it during the Christmas season and not feel like I have to turn in my Feminist card.

I recently read [a (summary of a) defense of the song](https://pizzabottle.com/61145-bb-cold-outside/), which suggests that, for the time period in which it was written, the song is actually about a woman “exerting her sexual agency.” It makes good sense here. What are her reasons for wanting to leave? They’re all socially based. She’s worried about what her parents are thinking, what the neighbors will say. But when she reflects on her time with the gentlemen, she admits that “this evening has been so very nice” and he’s “really been grand.” She seems to have enjoyed her time with him and perhaps doesn’t really want to leave, especially because she dawdles, accepting another drink and cigarette. She likely wants to stay with him in some capacity but is too afraid to give into her own desires because of the backlash it will cause with those close to her.

If we knew more about the nature of their relationship, the scene set up in this song might be an experience we’ve all had—the clock ticks later and later, and we know we should go home before our parents notice we’re gone or because we have to get up early the next day, but the allure of this interested individual or the warmth of their embrace or the temptation of their sculpted body really begs us to stay. She says she “ought to say no, no, no”—she knows she should be responsible, but really doesn’t want to be right now. She wishes she “knew how to break the spell,” in that she wishes she could get over the temptation to stay and just leave, but she’s too drawn to him to do the “logical” thing.

From her point of view, I think feminists everywhere would encourage her to buck the system, to blow off her nosy neighbors and judgey parents and do whatever she wants to do. If she wants to stay longer, stay longer! Don’t make up a stupid excuse to cover your tracks. Be proud of your sexuality and embrace it, sister! Don’t hide behind social expectations and gender stereotypes!

Yes, indeed, this song could actually be EMPOWERING for women everywhere if read from that point of view, instead of victimizing as people see it now.

And I think the reason people see it as victimizing now is because of the man’s point of view and what he says. Because, as is still true with most men today, this guy is totally unenlightened.

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First off, he calls her “Baby” throughout the song and implies that it’s his responsibility to look out for her. Apparently he believes she isn’t capable of making it home without freezing to death or getting pneumonia, so of course she must stay with him so she stays safe. Because a woman mature enough to be involved in a sexual relationship isn’t mature enough to actually be able to take care of herself. Pul-lease.

Second, when he’s not calling her “Baby,” he’s calling her “Beautiful,” which makes one wonder, does he even KNOW her name? He’s completely caught up in her looks alone, complimenting her hair, her eyes, and her lips; he never once entices her to stay so they can continue to have philosophical discussions about the meaning of life or so she can continue to tell him all her favorite jokes. He really doesn’t seem to care a lick about what kind of a person she is; he’s simply interested in the warm female body in front of him.

Third, the language he uses to toward her is totally gaslighting. His excuses of “what’s the sense of hurting my pride?” and “how can you do this thing to me?” implies that she is causing him harm by not staying, which places the blame on her for the fact that their relationship isn’t moving forward, causing her to feel guilty. Talk about getting pressured. He really turns up the heat when he demands “Baby, don’t hold out,” “hold out” being a common term for withholding sex, again implying that she’s the one at fault here, that she’s keeping something from him that he wants. How dare she not do every little thing the man wants? If she’s not careful, he’ll leave her for someone else. And all the rest of that kind of garbage.

But really, the trump card here is that the woman in the song, at one point, says, “The answer is no,” and no matter what her intentions, whether or not she’s playing hard to get, joking around, or is totally serious, that’s where the song should have ended. That’s where he should have said, “okay,” and walked her to the door. Because a clear address of “the answer is no” means her answer is no, no “ifs” “ands” or “buts” about it. No more excuses. No more blame. No more guilt. No more teasing. No more singing. The answer is no.

So yeah, even with a feminist reading, there’s still plenty that’s misguided in this song. But the issue I have most is people making snap judgments. Things aren’t so black and white. They’ve taken a two and a half minute song and labeled it with one word, when there’s so much at work here. I’m not saying that people who label it “rapey” are wrong; I’ve clearly given them plenty of evidence here. I just want people to discuss it a little more, be thoughtful about it, dig a little deeper into the meaning behind the lyrics, and tackle these important topics with reason and rationality, just like I want them to do with anything else they see and hear in the media. Because if it’s anything we could all use a little more of this holiday season, it’s reason and rationality.

Writing Prompt : Twinkle Lights

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Christmas twinkle lights set a mood. They hypnotize in the way that a glowing fire or rolling waves can. There is something that draws us in. Something that mesmerizes. Something that keeps us looking though the view doesn’t really change.

When I was younger, I strung them along my ceiling and I’d write furiously in my journal by the dim light, recalling the events of the day, the boy of the hour, the challenges of my young life. It was relaxing and nostalgic. It was like writing by candlelight without the smoke, the smell, the fear of soot and melted wax leeching onto my prized possessions. It made me feel cozy and warm and safe, my own little space dark to the rest of the world but illuminated enough only for me.

And there’s a romance to them, too. A romance of transforming an everyday space into something slightly more magical, slightly more exotic. In the dimness, rooms can change; furniture looks different, shadows hide the mess, the imperfections. Instead of the same old room in the same old house, I can imagine I’m in a cottage in the woods up north, not a soul for miles.

There’s a literal romance to them, too, when all the lights are off except for a string of glowing twinkle lights. Snug in the arms of my lover, wrapped in a warm blanket, snow lightly collecting on the window pane, it’s easy to forget that there is a world outside of that one moment, and we are both happy to stay as we are all night long.

I don’t know why, but it seems twinkle lights promote love, not only with lovers, but with our families. They create a mood that erases the past and the future; they freeze time so we can live in the present, happy where we are, happy who we’re with, as long as there are twinkle lights.

*Do you love twinkle lights? What is it you love about them? What is your favorite aspect of the holiday season? Get out your timer and write*

Instincts

When Amelia was about a month old and started to struggle with sleep, a well-meaning friend recommended I read a book called *Babywise* which outlined a strategy to get a baby on a schedule so they’ll know when to expect sleep and thus go to sleep. I devoured that book in a day, hopeful that the solution to my problem was in those pages and life would soon get easier. I implemented the steps the book outlined, but Amelia wasn’t cooperating with any of it. I was confused. The book said all I had to do was this, this, and this, and Amelia would be on a perfect schedule. I did this, this, and this, but nothing really changed. In fact, it got worse.

I racked my brain, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Certainly I must have missed something. I scoured the internet for forums about the book and read hundreds of comments in hopes to mend whatever errors I had made. What I found only confused me more; everyone seemed to have different opinions about what worked. People even had opinions on whether or not the method itself even worked. I felt so lost.

Some of the most useful advice I got around this time was to trust my instincts. However, I wasn’t able to find it useful when I received it. In fact, it made me feel more hopeless. “What instincts?” I thought to myself. “I have no instincts. I’ve never done this before. I have no clue how to be a parent.”

It took me almost the whole first year of Amelia’s life to finally understand that Amelia is not a formula. Books and websites try to tell parents that if you do this, this, and this, you’ll get the same definite result. But the only other useful piece of advice, true advice, I’ve ever received about parenting is that every baby is different. Babies are not formulas. They are humans. Some days they’ll be tired and they’ll nap easily and on time. Some days they won’t be tired and they won’t nap. Some days they’ll be tired but they still won’t nap. Humans have free will. They do what they want and feel how they feel and nothing anyone does can change that.

I felt such a relief when I finally came to that realization. I felt like I was finally at peace with not having control over Amelia. There wasn’t a logical reason for everything she did (and even if there was, it would be impossible for her to tell me), and that was surprisingly comforting.

Then I got cancer. And I read another book called *After Cancer Care* which outlined a strategy to keep cancer from coming back. I devoured that book in a day, hopeful that the solution to my problem was in those pages and life would soon get easier. Much like *Babywise,* there were steps outlined in the book which required me to revamp my entire diet and make time for meditation and exercise every day. What days I don’t spend 8 hours or more at the library, I’m a full-time mom of a 14-month-old who only takes one nap, so the extra time to buy, cook, and eat healthy food, exercise, and mediate is not something I have just laying around. At first, I tried to do it all anyhow, but after a month, I burned myself out, unable to keep up with the hard work of keeping cancer away.

I’ve gotten the same advice about cancer that I got about parenting—trust my instincts. Listen to my body. It’ll tell me what I need to do. But guess what? I didn’t hear anything. I have no instincts. I’ve never done this before. I have no clue how to keep cancer away.

I know in my head that it doesn’t matter what I do—that if cancer is going to come back, it’s going to come back; there’s no foolproof way to keep it at bay. I could follow that book’s instructions to a “t” and yet cancer may knock on my door yet again. I have to keep reminding myself that these books, like parenting books, are written after the fact, when everything turned out okay; they have the advantage to say “see, this works.” In my opinion, they got lucky that it worked *for them* (which doesn’t, by default, mean it’ll work for me). They don’t waste their pages talking about the doubt, the questioning, the hopelessness they faced as they conducted their experiments. If they did, they wouldn’t be credited as “experts” and they wouldn’t sell any books.

So I have to keep reminding myself to use my mantra for parenting Amelia on myself—I am a human, not a formula. I can do this, this, and this, but it will be no guarantee that life will turn out perfectly. I will have good and bad days, energetic and lazy days, healthy and toxic days. The best strategy is accept that I can’t do everything and, instead, do my best and hope for the best.

That’s my instinct, anyhow.

Writing Prompt: Lump

I felt a lump in my right breast one morning. My then-boyfriend, now-husband Chris was in the shower. The light blue of the early light shone through the white blinds of the large window overhead. I stretched and, without purpose, my finger poked my breast. It touched not soft, pliable skin but a hard, definite mass. I began to feel the area more earnestly, more vigorously, to confirm my suspicion and look for anything else that may be hiding.

The bathroom door opened, and my exploring fingers dropped to the mattress. Chris’s silhouette was dark against the harsh light that flowed out from behind him. He climbed back in bed, droplets of water still clinging to his chest, and kissed me softly on the mouth. I smiled and said, “My turn.” I swung my feet to the floor and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind me.

As I continued to press the lump with my finger throughout my shower, I considered my situation. Breast cancer was genetic—this I knew—especially when it was in your maternal bloodline. My mother had cysts in her breast before. She had biopsies before. Nothing was ever malignant. I heard that breast cancer could skip a generation. I was 23 years old, a year out of college and a year without health insurance. I had spent the last year working small jobs as a receptionist and a waitress. I just started a new desk job, but the insurance was expensive and I had to wait a while before I could sign up for it. I had been going to Planned Parenthood for checkups and birth control for the last year. I decided to wait and see what they said at my annual exam in six months.

That evening, in the quiet of our apartment, I told Chris that I had felt something in my breast. I took his hand and showed him where the lump was. He tapped it a few times with his finger, then said gently and genially, “It could be a lot of things. It’s probably nothing.”

“Yeah. I’m sure it’s nothing,” I replied.

I didn’t mention it to my family. I didn’t mention it to Chris again. But every morning and every night, when I lay in bed, I pushed my finger into my breast over and over again.

When my grandmother finally went to the doctor and she was diagnosed with cancer, they explained that they needed to cut off her breast to keep the cancer from spreading. “If it has to come off, then take it off,” she told the doctor. So they took it off. If she had any negative feelings about this prognosis, she didn’t let on. There was no use crying or throwing a fit. It had to be done, so she did it.

When I finally went to the doctor and got my lump looked at, and they told me I needed a mammogram, I scheduled a mammogram. And when they told me the mammogram was inconclusive and that I needed a biopsy, I scheduled a biopsy. I went to my appointments and I did what they told me to do.

And then I went home and cried, as I imagine my grandmother did.

Perhaps she cried sitting up in bed in the middle of the night when my grandfather was sleeping. Perhaps she cried over the kitchen sink washing dishes as he was outside tending his garden. Though she had a strong and loving marriage, I suspect she mourned privately. She wasn’t vain and she wasn’t weak, and I would never imagine that my grandfather would accuse her of such characteristics if she cried in front of him. But I suspect she didn’t. Because I, too, cried in the shower, in the car, anywhere I was alone.

After her surgery, my grandmother had a padded bra so it appeared that she still had both breasts, but I’m sure when she bathed or undressed, it would take her a second to face herself in the mirror. The scar on my breast left by my biopsy made me feel as though I was diseased or perhaps no longer a whole woman. My breast was imperfect, mutilated. And as I looked at it in the mirror, the fresh wound, I was face to face with my mortality and wondered if this was how my grandmother felt.

*When were you faced with a scary medical situation? Did you avoid it? How did you feel once you learned what it was? Get our your timer and write.*

Writing Prompt: Cancer Center

I pull up to the circle drive, and a nice young man opens my door and hands me a ticket. He whisks my car away, free of charge, and I am left at the entrance. The big rotating glass door has ample room as it slowly opens on a bright and open lobby. The serene sound of a bubbling exotic fish tank and peaceful music from a woman at a black baby grand piano makes this a luxurious experience. The front desk is large and marble, and I feel like I am at some posh hotel downtown. It smells faintly like some designer fragrance, clean and floral but simple and subtle, like something new and fresh and happy. This place is like a spa; I am calm and relaxed.

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Which is odd, because this is the cancer center. I suspect none of the visitors feel calm or relaxed. But I suppose that’s the point of the fish tank, the music, the fragrance–to ease the tension, to help people forget where they really are.

There is a coffee counter in every waiting room. I’m not sure what is comforting about having access to coffee in a waiting room, but it works. It reminds me of meeting my mother after baton practice; her Al-Anon meeting was at the same time in the same building. When I stuck my head in the door and the meeting was over, people were always corralled around the coffee counter, helping themselves to one last comforting cup before heading out and facing cold reality.

People coping with the same affliction, no matter how different their lives, their ages, their beliefs, gathering together anonymously to find some kind of healing for their trauma–this waiting room is another version of that.

Sitting on the lush leather couch, waiting for my name to be called, I often forget we’re all victims of cancer. People who look perfectly healthy get called before I do, and I wonder what their story is. And then I wonder what they think when they see me there, too.

*Have you ever visited a place where it looked completely different than you expected it to? Set your timer and write.*

Me, too

A couple years ago, I was out for a walk in my neighborhood. I was walking on the sidewalk of a busy street, and many cars drove by me. A favorite empowering song of mine came through my headphones and I started to walk to the beat of the song. Then I started to sway my hips as I walked. My chest puffed out, my head lifted. I felt powerful. I felt strong. I felt alive.

Then a large man on a motorcycle drove by and honked at me.

There is a possibility that he recognized this power in me and honked in uplifting “you go, girl!” encouragement.

But the real possibility is that he saw me swaying my hip, and that made him think of sex, and so he honked at me as a sign that he was sexually attracted to me and he wanted me to know it.

That didn’t make me feel powerful. It did the opposite. With his one honk, this stranger interfered in my personal moment to make what I was doing no longer about me but about him and what he wanted.

It may have been a “harmless” honk. After all, one second later, he was gone. I didn’t know who he was. He didn’t pull over and try to rape me. Why should I take his honk so personally?

Because women live in a world where they are viewed by men as sexual objects.

No, not every man views every woman as a sexual object. But overall, men view women as sexual objects.

And when men honk, or catcall, or make inappropriate jokes, or inappopriate contact, or force themselves on us in one way or another, they “remind” us of our “place” in this world. They take away our power and steal it for themselves.

**There is no woman alive in America today who has not at one time in her life been sexually harrassed or sexually assualted.**

This is fact. This is not opinion.

There may be a woman or two who says this has never happened to her. She is lying. Either she is too ashamed that it is happened or she is too brainwashed by society that she does not realize it has happened to her.

Sexual harassment can be as small as an uninvited honk, an unsolicited wolf whistle, an obvious glance at my breasts.

“What’s the big deal?” men (and women) will ask. Perhaps some women may say that makes that feel attractive, that they like the attention.

The big deal is that small interactions like this set the precedent for the bigger assaults, the violence that women face from men every day, the fear that has us looking over our shoulders as we walk to our cars at night.

And it starts when we’re children. We’re told that when princes come to rescue Snow White and Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, it’s romantic. But it’s not. It’s sexual assault. These princes are near strangers to these women, and they didn’t ask permission before they made a sexual advance. If it’s uninvited, it’s harassment or assault.

In elementary school, I faced sexual harassment from a drunk uncle who insisted on my giving him a kiss.

In middle school, a boy I liked exposed himself to me in his kitchen. I told him I didn’t want to see that and to put it away, but he refused.

In college, I was kissing a friend when he forced his hand down my pants; when I told him no, he continued his advances until I stormed out of his apartment.

After college, a friend forced me on the ground, got on top of me, and tried to make me kiss him.

These were men I knew, who knew me, who I was close to, and they still felt entitled to do these things. Imagine what a stranger feels entitled to do.

Men use sex to feel powerful over women, and it works, because they make us feel ashamed by what we’ve experienced and afraid that it (or something worse) will happen again. And it’s not a matter of “if” it happens again; it’s “when.”

One day I was walking to work and it was nice out and I was happy, so as I passed a man waiting for the bus, I impulsively decided to be Midwestern friendly, and I said hello. And he made a sexual comment in return. And I rolled my eyes. But I kept walking. It didn’t feel safe to stop and tell him how his actions were wrong.

A woman cannot even smile at a strange man without the man thinking she is sexually attracted to him.

Sometimes it doesn’t even take a smile. In fact, sometimes, a woman can be wearing the biggest “fuck off” sign on her head and still suffer sexual harassment.

I was in my car at a stoplight, and in my peripheral vision, I saw a car pull up next to me, window to window. I had a feeling it was trouble, so I stayed staring at the glowing red light. Yet I felt a burning gaze in my direction. So I turned my head just a touch so I could see, and there was a man hanging out of the window making kissy faces at me. I had not enticed him whatsoever. When I finally looked, he was already in the act of making kissing faces at me. He didn’t wait for my permission. He didn’t even wait for me to be involved. I was trying to shut him out completely and yet his sexual harassment still found its way into my life.

When I lived in the city, if I was walking by myself and I was approaching a man, I’d switch sides of the road. It wasn’t worth the risk to get that close to a strange man. Who knows what he may do.

I’m older now. My skin is more worn. My hair isn’t as shiny. I am usually carting around a baby. I had a brush with death, so now I am more positive and friendly. When I walk on the trails by my house, I smile and say hello to all the men I pass–old, young, fit, fat, well-off, or homeless-looking. And most of the time, I don’t look over my shoulder and make sure they’ve continued on their way. But I still think about doing that every time. Because experience has taught me it doesn’t matter what I look like or what he looks like or what I do. Sexual harassment is always a possibility.

I pray that by talking about it like this, by actively acknowledging it, by breaking our silence, women can change this.

I pray that my daughter can walk confidently down the street without worry.

Writing Prompt: Sirens

Whenever I hear sirens, I think of Sister Liska, the older-than-dirt nun from my childhood parish (may she rest in peace). She’d tell us, “Whenever you hear sirens, say a prayer for whoever is in trouble.” And for a long time, that’s exactly what I did. But then I moved to the city and the sirens were too frequent. So many emergencies, fires, heart attacks, homicides–too difficult to pray for them all. Besides, praying didn’t seem to accomplish anything. Sirens kept wailing day in and day out; people kept hurting, kept dying. My prayers were ineffective. So I stopped praying. Then I stopped believing.

We won’t baptize our child, a fact that hurts my mother’s heart, something I’m sure she’ll never forgive us for. But we can’t bring up a child teaching them to love God when we not only don’t love God but don’t believe there is a God to love.

Our child will know religion. As a graduate of literature, I recognize the important role religion plays in our culture, in our history, in our texts. Our child will know the stories. “But will they just be stories?” my mother asks. Yes. That is what they are. That is all that they are.

And yet I mourn. I have deep affection for my Catholic upbringing. I was shaped by my church experience. My child will not know the pride of first communion, the stress of the first (and every) confession, the enjoyment of Friday Lenten fish fries, the camaraderie of teen Bible study, the comfort of the guitar choir on Sunday mornings. But that is my past. My child will have a different past. Different isn’t always bad.

I mourn that I will no longer be a part of that community. Already it’s fading. The responses have changed; they say “and with your spirit” instead of “and also with you.” The music is different. They use piano now and sing songs with lyrics I don’t know by heart. What was wrong with the way it was? What is the Catholic Church if it doesn’t have its tradition? It’s that tradition I was always most in love with, the comfort of coming home, a place where the door was always unlocked, where everything was just as you left it, where you could feel like a small child again whenever you visited.

But like a child who grows up, moves out, and find a place of her own, she can never truly go home, as Thomas Wolfe would say, “back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time.” Nothing can stay the same, not even the Catholic Church, not even faith.

But sirens still sound.

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*What do you think of when you hear sirens? Get out your timer and start writing.*

Las Vegas

I sat on the dining room floor with my 13-month-old daughter. The slider door was open and fresh air wafted through the screen. She pressed the button on her musical toy and it played one of its regular melodies, but she looked out onto the backyard and our neighborhood. I handed her a piece of waffle, and she accepted it and put it in her mouth. I rested my head on the door and watched her chew thoughtfully.

This is so wonderful, I thought. Life is so good. I am so lucky.

I scooped her up, grabbed my coffee from the counter, and moved us into the living room. I opened the curtains and turned on the television. Instead of the normal cheeriness and upbeat music that often defines “The Today Show,” blood red graphics splattered the screen. They read “Mass Shooting in Las Vegas.” Matt Lauer reported more than 50 people were dead. Savannah Guthrie’s wide eyes and frowned lips spoke louder than her voice. Another tragedy. Another large group of innocent people were dead.

This on the heels of not one, not two, but three devastating hurricanes in the course of a month, leaving island nations leveled, people homeless, more innocent people dead.

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I admit, I felt instantly guilty about my happiness when I saw the news that morning. Here I was waking up to love, to comfort, to safety, to a day at home with my sweet and precious child, when so many were waking up to heartbreak, to injury, to trauma, to no more days at home with their sweet and precious children.

It’s a hard balance to find–how to be happy when so many sad things are happening around us. Even if we are able to find that happiness, it may lead to guilt. “Why do I get to be happy when so many others don’t get that chance?”

I’ve spent much of the past seven weeks since my cancer diagnosis focusing on myself, figuring out how I can move on to a healthier, happier life. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve even been capable of taking on the burden of the tragedies that have happened around me. Again, here I feel guilt, because I have the choice, where those involved in Las Vegas and those who were in the paths of the hurricanes had no choice, have no choice on whether or not they can take on the burden. They take on the burden every second of every day as they attempt to piece their lives back together.

Yet everyone’s loss and devastation is relative. I was talking with a friend yesterday whose mother lives in Puerto Rico. When I asked how her mother was doing, she said she was doing good, surprisingly. Her house weathered the storm–luckily, she lives where there’s some elevation, so she didn’t really have to worry about flooding. She doesn’t have running water, but my friend sent her a bunch of water filters before the storm hit, so she can use those. She doesn’t have power, but she has a generator, though it runs on propane and costs her $30 a day to run. But compared to many others on the island, she is not doing bad at all. Things could be much worse. Things are much worse for many of her fellow islanders.

I am not a religious person, so I have no God to blame. I don’t believe that a greater being is picking on Puerto Rico or has a vendetta against the 58 that were killed in Las Vegas. Last week I learned that someone I knew in high school also had cancer and died from it. My first initial thought was, “Why her and not me? Why am I special? Why did I get to live?” I’m sure that is a question everyone asks sometime or another. I’m sure that’s a question my friend’s mother asks. I’m sure that’s a question the thousands of people who got to live in Las Vegas ask.

But in my opinion, we are not special. We are just lucky. It could have been me instead of her. Of course it could have. Some random event in time or some random bodily function somehow made my cancer more detectable, more survivable than hers. Some random event in time, some random bodily function saved thousands of people in Las Vegas. Pure dumb luck.

Even if you are religious and you believe God has a plan that you couldn’t possibly know, there’s a certain lack of control involved. You can’t control luck. You can’t control God. This is what happens and you can’t do anything to change it.

And yet we feel sad for those who die for no reason. And we feel guilty for not only getting to live our lives, but to prosper at them.

So how do we make sense of this? How do we assuage our guilt? Are we allowed to be happy with so many horrifying things happening around us?

It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that we can’t control others. As still a newish parent, not being able to control my daughter is a lesson I feel like I have to learn every day. So I start with myself. I can control what I do. I can convince myself to be patient when she’s acting up, but I can’t stop her from acting up. I can give her all the tools she needs to fall asleep at night, but I can’t make her sleep. I can provide her with a safe home, but I can’t keep harm from ever coming to her.

The same can be said for the world. I can’t stop mentally unstable or racist people from opening fire on a crowd of innocent people, but I can be vocal about my desire to have stronger gun laws and more available mental health care. I can’t stop a hurricane from destroying an island, but I can be wise about my own carbon footprint, encourage others to be more conscious about their environmental practices, and make my state representatives know I want them to pay attention to climate change. I can’t keep cancer from coming back, but I can take better care of myself.

So I suppose my sadness for horrible things happening around the world could serve as a catalyst for change. I hope it does, anyhow. I hope people are watching the news footage and feeling sad, because that means they care about their fellow man. And if they care, maybe they’ll want to try to stop more bad things from happening, even if we can’t stop ALL bad things from happening.

I turned off the television and picked up my daughter, giving her a big kiss and a happy smile. Today we are safe and we are happy. My love for her fills my heart. But the sadness around the world stays on my mind.

Writing Prompt: In the Rain

Running clothes on, baby in arms. I’m ready to go. Just need to close the back door.

Wet deck. Rain falling. Crap.

What do I do now? Forgo my efforts at exercise? Resign to being trapped inside?

Rain traps us in our homes, in our cars, in our offices. It keeps us from living our lives.

Not today. It’s not raining that hard. What am I so scared of? We won’t melt.

Baby is wrapped in a blanket, snug in her stroller with her favorite toy. I click the start button on my watch and venture out into the rain.

The wetness quickly accumulates on my shirt and in my hair. Droplets stream down my face and settle into the creases of my eyelids. I feel as though I’ve just surfaced after diving into a swimming pool. One hand pushes the stroller, one hand wipes my eyes. Perspiration steams from my head while new moisture collects on my forehead.

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My daughter’s music box hums hollow tones of familiar classical melodies as my sneakers squeak on the wet pavement. Tiny raindrops tinkle on the plastic stroller cover as they shiver off of nearby tree limbs. I smell rotting leaves and wet grass and clean air as I push on.

An oncoming car drives by me. I wonder if they’re juding my parenting. What kind of mother brings her baby out in the rain? Their judgements stay trapped with them inside their car. I owe them no explanation. I smile faintly and wave politely. Could have been my middle finger. The message is the same. Meanwhile, my baby, warm and dry, looks at the passing world silently.

The sky starts to brighten, its dark blue turning more of a light gray. The rain is so slight, I can’t feel it hit my skin anymore. I am somewhat disappointed. The rain challenged me; it dared me to keep going as it soaked through my clothes and clouded my view, as it threatened to soak my innocent baby, as it embarrassed me to passing spectators. But I didn’t give in. And in turn, it rewarded me with a refreshing rinse, a reminder of life, a fresh fall kiss on my face.

*When was the last time you were caught in the rain? Was it on purpose or accident? Did it ruin your day or make it? Set your timer and write about it.*