Thursday, July 20, 2017

Trans Plans? Thinking about Transgender Lives

Heading home today via the station named after my German region of residence, I was startled to see, neatly affixed to the wall above the escalator, a new enamel plaque indicating a change of station name: elegant white letters on a deep blue background proclaimed: CHELSEA-MANNING-PLATZ, or Chelsea-Manning-Square. Really? Are Germans that cool, or was the sign just the work of a politically-inclined prankster?



Presumably the latter--my son couldn't believe how gullible I was ("They don't use that font on signs here, Mom!") and since I find no information about new names for stations in our local news, but I admire the taste and resourcefulness of the person who put the sign there.  In my defense, I've seen that font elsewhere. Quite nearby.
Looking quite professional and really hard to reach, the sign gleams with a certain cocky pride at the skinheads who can't pull it down. I bet someone made an effort to get that thing on the wall in such a way that it'd be hell to remove. I imagine that someone dangling, Mission-Impossible style, from the ceiling to place the sign. 
My students have been reading Jennifer Finney Boylan's entertaining exploration of her transgender experience, so the new name struck me as the universe's stamp of approval for acceptance and tolerance. A long time ago in a galaxy far away, there was a country, the United States of America, that had a real president. Not the thug with economic tentacles running so deep that even if they all got sliced, he'd pop out new ones faster than the many-headed hydra. Not the guy who could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still get elected.
But here, in a small city in Deutschland, we've got a Chelsea-Manning-Platz. When will be get an Edward-Snowden-Square? Listen, my clever ideologue, you who puts up signs: this time pick a place where everyone will see your sign. How about Hauptbahnhof?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Training the Narcissistic Mom: Five Tips

Well, you can't, really. But you can manage her, sometimes, if you decide to remain in touch at all. 

(1) Two massive handfuls of praise can result in a droplet or two of money. I dolloped out the "you-are-wonderfuls" as much as I could because my son needs a few expenses covered at university and my mother loves playing Lady Bountiful. We thanked her. Profusely. And we'll do so again.

(2) You have the right to remain silent. Tell her nothing. Rule of thumb: if you don't really care about something, you're safe discussing it at any length with her. What's dear to your heart should stay right there--nowhere near her.

(3) But she's asking! She wants to know? What do I do? You make something up, or you omit whatever would make you sad or nervous to talk about with her, and you send her something she wants. A photo of your kids to put on her wall and brag about. A box of stuff she likes to eat from Amazon Prime.

(4) Keep a journal. When she sends a letter or she keeps you on the phone and you read the letter or you listen to her and your head starts to spin, just write down everything that trots through your mind. And if you're at all like me, plenty of thoughts will stampede through your head after a five-minute conversation with Mom. I write on trains. I find recollecting what I wish I could say to her soothing. Writing these things down also helps prevent you from confiding in her. 

(5) Find out as much as you can about her. This helps more than you'd think. After digging through family letters and photos, listening to her, and delving into my own recollections, I really do have a good sense of how she became so awful. I can sympathize. I can see how she never had a chance, even as I ask myself, "My God--couldn't she have developed a tiny bit more sense than a newborn?"

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How To Write a Condolence Card When You Dislike the Bereaved: Six Tips

I was rather fond of a relative who just died. I don't like her kids with whom I've had almost no contact since 1995.

What to write on the condolence card? Hundreds of websites out there offer lines that sound really good. 

None advise on what to say when you'd prefer to avoid the bereaved. So I'm establishing  guidelines:

(1) Relax. You need not worry about buying the perfect card! My husband was on his way to the grocery story and said he'd pick one up. "Religious or non-religious?" he asked. "Non," I said, and I now have a crucifix-free card.

(2) Keep it simple. I once had a dreadful colleague whose brother committed suicide. It occurred to me that I might be fired for not sending a card, so I found one that had upbeat, comforting lines, wrote, "I am very sorry for your loss," signed the thing and sent it. 

(3) Resist the urge to explain. A no-brainer.

(4)  Although they're probably not looking for a card from you any more than you're looking to send one, they'll resent not getting one. Either way, they're not going to change, so just send the thing.

(5) Deaths are a time for reflection. Why was it you found your aunt more forgivable than her kids? Because they knew better--or I believed they did. That was my fault.

(6) Doesn't the person deserve a card even though you'd rather forget him or her? I suppose. Will a card from me be appropriate? The key issue remains whether you'll have less grief, so to speak, if you send the card. You're doing the socially correct thing. What's in your heart stays with you, if you wish to console.

True confession: I sent the thing, and now can throw away their address. I was surprised how exhausting it was to write four or five sentences. Almost more exhausting than producing that 68,000-word memoir I'm trying to market. Because I was restraining myself from dumping those words on my relatives. 

Who are, yes, in my book.



Thursday, July 6, 2017

Trump Marches Into Poland

He told conservative Poles exactly what they wanted to hear. Most of what he said could be construed as fairly true, or at least moderately true. According to Wikipedia, from which he took a chunk of his talk. A few stale facts with a dollop of very creamy flattery. Besides, "a man who can't talk morality twice a week to a large, popular, immoral audience is quite over as a serious politician," Oscar Wilde remarked, and the Poles, with their pro-Catholic, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-free-speech agenda, lapped it up. The Donald, pleased with himself, as always, sailed offstage, leaving Germany and France and the huge bill he's sending them for NATO in his wake.
On the train this morning, a British guy told a colleague he was really glad Trump had won. If only Marie Le Pen had won, too, the British guy said. The other guy--apparently an underling--said it was so great to be with someone who "talked normal!" Yeah, the Brit agreed, "Not many people do these days."
Except in Poland. There Trump stood, alternating the Wikipedia page on Poland with goo about patriots dying for their country--for freedom. Then he threw in a few God-Bless-Yous and fled.
 A  Polish joke. But this clown keeps on winning. Why?  

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Boundaryless Family and the Virtues of Estrangement

I called my ancient mother, who is determined to get on a train all alone, without her walker and without her cane to sit by the bedside of her sister, whom she has never liked, and who is now dying. I did try to suggest Mom might like a traveling companion, but of course this is none of my business. When are such things my business? She can barely remember the name of the relative with whom she's staying, and her assisted living residence nurse cringes every time she wanders off without the cane or the walker. . .  which she's always doing. Meanwhile, Mom insisted she was just fine, that "it's just a train ride," and that by the way, how had I known my aunt was dying?
Her daughter, Cousin X had told me, said I.
"That's nice. By the way, did Cousin X mention her son is having surgery to become a woman?"
"No, she hadn't," I said. "So now we have a transgender relative," I added, since Mom seemed to expect me to say something. I took a cheerful tone, as is always amenable to her, perhaps especially when her sister is dying. Why is Mom rushing to the bedside of an unconscious sister after a lifetime of undercutting her? I can imagine a cartoon balloon spelling out Mom's thoughts as she holds the dying woman's hand: "I won, because I'm older, but lived longer."
It would never occur to Mom that Cousin X might like to be the one to tell me about her son. Or not tell me about her son. The son, or daughter-to-be, might have his own wishes about what, when, and where to tell relatives about his transition. 
Cousin X had, however, a few months ago, sent me her sister's very thorough genetic tests revealing a particular illness. Had Cousin X asked her sister if it were okay to send me test results? I didn't ask. But I don't tell these folks anything at all about myself. Back in the days when Mom invited my ex-boyfriend out to let him know she would have married him, I thought I still had to let her know some things about my life, because She Is The Mother. 
But I don't. I send her just enough information--a cute photo here, a funny story there--to keep her from asking too many questions. 
Meanwhile, the relatives tell me to give Mom "plenty of TLC." Oh, I do. I call her and I ask how things are going and how she's feeling.
"Fine!" she says, adding, with unmistakable relish, that her sister "is breathing through her mouth now!"
P.S. She skipped the funeral. Her sister died, the excitement was over, my mother felt she'd gotten what she came for, and she went home on the train. All by herself.