Looking through the Rear Window at Ourselves

Writing is revealing one’s self and exposing one’s self for all the world.  The writer makes themself vulnerable, especially if what is written is intractable.

It is enough that I have exposed myself, laid bare my private life, through my blog.  If  I’ve written anything stupid, if  I’ve made any mistakes, they’re out there for all to see, unless I shut down my blog site, which is unfair, really, because writers never have the luxury of retracting their words once they’re out there.  Good writers have an editor.

Somehow, though, I feel less vulnerable when I expose myself through the written word.  I cannot say the same about images.  

Self-doubt is common.  Confidence comes in knowing that despite your fear, you push through anyway.  Self-doubt, lack of confidence, and the fear of humiliation are feelings most teenagers know all too well.

When I was a teenager, I was terrified of humiliating myself.  Once in Ms. Schmidt’s English class in the 10th grade, I yelled out “Hey, Tim!!” through an open window at a boy who was outside on the school lawn.  I didn’t even know him.  One of my friends did and she had been trying to get his attention.  I yelled out his name for her.  

Apparently, I didn’t know the power of my voice.  All the class turned to look at me.  Ms. Schmidt turned red with anger and kicked me out of the classroom.  As a shy adolescent already being self-conscious, this was a humiliation that stung me for the rest of my high school years.  It wasn’t until I was in college and had much more confidence, that I looked back and thought how silly I was for feeling so ashamed.  But the damage to my cellular tissues was already done.  

Odd that to this day, I remember his name, though I never met him.  Hey, Tim!!” is burned into my memory.  

When we expose ourselves, we risk humiliation.  I suppose last night I was still feeling a bit exposed because I had been interviewed by a local news reporter for a march I had attended.  As soon as he turned the camera off, my gut reaction was “Please don’t air that!”  I wasn’t ready for my sound bite, not the least bit ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.   I’ve never hesitated to speak publicly about things I believe in strongly, but the physical aspect of self-consciousness that lays buried in my body tissue re-surfaces.  

I suppose last night I was still feeling a bit exposed, feeling it in my body, when I decided to watch Brian De Palma’s 1972 film, “Sisters”.   It is an homage to Hitchcock, as many of De Palma’s films are.  There are elements of “Rear Window” and elements of “Psycho” (which I’ve yet to see simply because I want to watch it on the silver screen).  It’s funny that I chose “Sisters” because only last week I watched Michael Powell’s 1960 film “Peeping Tom”.  

The commonality of these films, as well as De Palma’s 1984 film “Body Double”,  is the aspect of voyeurism, and to some extent the aspect of exhibitionism.  It is the aspect of both voyeurism and exhibitionism that crept into my waking consciousness this morning.

Having been the victim of a peeping Tom on a few occasions, the idea of voyeurism to me is very creepy.  In those films, it is meant to be creepy.  And if the audience derives pleasure from their “voyeuristic intentions”, that fact makes the life-that art-is-imitating all the more disturbing.

Then the reality hit me hard.  Social media has turned us all into voyeurs and into the striking counterpart: exhibitionists.  Suddenly, the feeling of vulnerability from exposure surfaced from deep inside my body.

What the hell am I doing on social media?? I asked myself.  I have become both exhibitionist and voyeur.  And it makes me feel creepy.  I feel creeped out that someone is “watching” me via Instagram.  Even more creeped out that I am watching others as they expose themselves.  Although we are all doing this knowingly, it doesn’t make it any less disturbing.  I have always felt uneasy about using social media, and now I’m beginning to understand exactly why.

In my own defense, I will say that I have posted far fewer photos of myself than perhaps the average Instagram user.  Out of my 242 posts, 43 of them are of my face, mostly with other people.  Ten of these photos are of me alone.  Why would I feel the need to post photos of just myself?  I know what I look like.  My friends know what I look like.  Strangers?  Well, I think all of those photos are enough to get an idea of what I look like.

Nonetheless, even with those relatively few photos, I feel exposed.  Over-exposed, perhaps.  Worse yet, I check to see who’s liked my posts.  Insecurity?  The need for reassurance?  Isn’t the exhibitionist in constant need of reassurance?  Worst of all, is when I check someone else’s posts.  This puts me in the position of voyeur.  Acknowledging that I have become a voyeur through social media makes me feel uncomfortable.  Acknowledging that I have become an exhibitionist also makes me feel uncomfortable.  

Disturbing is the fact that most users of social media feel not the least bit of discomfort about the built-in exhibitionism and voyeurism of it.    When Hitchcock made “Rear Window” in 1954, while the audience reveled in the voyeurism, they were disturbed by it as well.  Audiences were so disturbed by the depravity of the killer in 1960’s “Peeping Tom”, that the film pretty much ended the career of the director, Michael Powell.  Brian De Palma, in the 1970’s and 80’s, parlayed his reverence for the voyeurism of both Hitchcock’s and Powell’s films into a successful cinematic career.  I doubt those films, though they are exceptional in their art form, would still have the same relevance today.  

Those films had the power to shock because of our natural fear of how vulnerable we become when we expose ourselves.  By the 1990’s this natural fear was starting to disappear when television turned its lens on “real people” in their private lives.  So-called “reality shows” became the norm.  The natural tendency towards modesty and privacy has been all but erased with Youtube and Instagram and Facebook.   We have become unashamed voyeurs.  We have become universally narcissistic.  Yet our exhibitionism reveals our lack of self-confidence.   

We can take a cue from Hitchcock, De Palma and Powell.  It doesn’t make us well people.  It makes us a little sick.

I need to close the window

.Rear Window

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Here Comes Trouble: Brett Kavanaugh, those before him, those after him

No Justice No Seat


Standing at the bus stop at 7:30 in the morning.  Waiting for our school bus.  He pulled up near us in his car.  

“Do you know where Woodlawn Avenue is?”  My sister and I walked towards the car to answer the man.  I was 11 and she was 13.

Approaching the car, we saw inside that he was masturbating.  Or, at least exposing himself.  He was flacid.

We stepped back, then roared with laughter as he drove away.  We were shocked, weirded out.  It was creepy, but struck us as comical.

Now when I think about it, I’m horrified.  I was 11 years old.


Weeks before my 16th birthday, in August, 1979, I got a job at Popeye’s Fried Chicken on Frontage Road in Jackson, Mississippi.  My two best friends also got jobs there.  It was great fun working with my two best friends.  We laughed and joked and teased each other at work as much as we did at school.

Our teasing was good-natured.  We were best friends.  We could dish it out, and we could take it.  We were peers.

Our managers often teased us as well.  Sometimes the teasing went into sexual territory, but we laughed it off.  Sonny was one of the managers who especially liked to tease me.  He’d often “jokingly” ask me out.  I was 16.  He was in his late 30’s/early 40’s.  He repulsed me with these uncalled-for “jokes”.

Then one day I realized he wasn’t joking at all.  He really was asking me out on a date.  

“When are you going to go out with me, Beth?”

“When hell freezes over, Sonny!”

I could see from the fire in his eyes, the joking was over.  A look came across his face that said “You’ll pay for this humiliation!”

From that moment on, he made my life a living hell.  He constantly berated me.  He screamed, yelled and cursed me … in front of customers.  He grabbed me by the arm and squeezed hard.

 I broke free and ran out into the restaurant.

“I’m taking my break!” I cried.

I broke down in tears and shook from the hurt and anger.  

“Don’t you let that son-of-a-bitch have the pleasure of your tears.”  It was our fry cook, who’d come to console me.  I dried my tears immediately.   

I never came back to work after that day.  My manager presumably kept his job.  I lost mine.  


I went shopping with my older sister in December of 1980 days before Christmas.  We walked to the mall.  My younger sister stayed home alone.  She was 13 years old.   

Someone knocked on the door.  She answered.  A man in a uniform stood on the porch, claiming to be from a utility company.  He needed to check our electrical panel.  She let him inside.

He asked who else was at home.  Sensing danger, she said “My mother.”  He looked around, and seeing no one, grabbed her.

He held her down with his hands around her throat.  With her air constricted, she lost consciousness.  He fled.  

Her testimony wasn’t needed to get a conviction against him.  He had other victims.  One woman in her 80’s.  Another, a blind woman.

Had she not lost consciousness, she would have fared much worse.  


My daughter, at the age of 10, awoke to see a man standing over her bed.  He immediately put his hand over her mouth.  Taking all of her forces, she pushed his hand aside and screamed”

MOM!!!

I jumped from my slumber and ran into her bedroom.  The window was still open.  He had gone out the way he had come in.

She described the young man in great detail to me, and later to the police.  Still, the police were never able to identify her attacker.

She suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for many years after.  I wonder if she doesn’t still.  


Why did they do this?

  1. They felt entitled because of their privilege.
  2. They were in an advantageous position: They were stronger.  They were older.  They could get away with it.  They were in a position of authority.

In other words, 100% cowards.

I am an average, ordinary American woman.  These are what average, ordinary American women experience every single day.  And much worse.   I shudder to think.

I shudder to think that the Senate, which is 78% controlled by men, will vote on whether or not to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice.  

I shudder because on a regular basis, I am approached, insulted, and harassed.  Because I am … waiting for a bus, crossing the street, jogging in my neighborhood … and because I am female.

I shudder because my daughter is approached, insulted, and harassed on a near-daily basis.  Because she is a server and wears shorts to work … because she is young … because she is female.

We’re not special or different.  We are ordinary, average American women.

I am not asking MEN TO PROTECT US!  

We’ve had their “protection” for the past two thousand years and counting.   They’ve proven themselves over and over and over again. 

They cannot and will not protect us.   We need protection FROM THEM, not by them.

They tell us it is OUR FAULT because of what we said, what we didn’t say, what we did, what we wore, how we looked, or what color lipstick we had on.

They tell us we cannot make our own decisions about reproductive health care.   This symbolic rape of the female body is what their privilege entitles them to.  

They will not protect us.  We have to protect ourselves.  We have to work together with our sisters.  We must put ourselves in positions to be able to protect ourselves.   

We have to VOTE.  

We have to RUN FOR OFFICE.  

We have to VOTE THEM OUT!!!

Tomorrow the Senate, which is 78% controlled by men, will vote to put Brett Kavanaugh on the bench.  Remember who votes how.   And VOTE THEM OUT!!!  

#StopKavanaugh

STOP MAN

Elizabeth is an ordinary, average American woman who lives and works in Hollywood, Florida.

A TINY PIECE OF GLASS

A TINY PIECE OF GLASS

broken glassIn the upper left corner of her forehead is a line of red in what looks like a  small cut that she got recently.  It is actually avery old wound from 40 years ago when she was just 18 years old.   In 1978 she had a Volkswagen Beetle  convertible.  Red with a black top.  It was her pride and joy.  Her three younger sisters admired that car, and she was the coolest because she drove it.  Then she wrecked it.  The car was totaled and she ended up in the hospital with a broken femur.   A metal rod was put into her leg and she mended quite well.  Shards of glass cut a few scars across her forehead, but not enough to mar her beauty.  The car was unsalvageable.

To this day, she has the metal rod in her leg.  It is a physical reminder of that accident, and of the damage that has lasted all these years.  I often think about the course of her life over the forty years since then and I always link that accident as the start of it all, although she was probably damaged long before that.  But for me, that accident was symbolic.  I may never know if she was under the influence when she crashed her VW, but the next time my sister had a car wreck, about 7 or 8 years later, I know for a fact she was wasted.  

It was on New Year’s Eve and we had both been at a party.  I saw her car (actually, her roommate’s BMW) wrapped around a telphone pole as I was headed home.  I pulled her out of that situation before the police arrived so that she wouldn’t spend the night in jail.    Bringing her home, I listened as she broke the news to her roommate that she had totaled her car.  Still inebriated (or was she just indignant?) she was unapologetic about wrecking the car, so her roommate, Kathy,  jumped on her.  My knee-jerk reaction was to save her ass once again.  I pulled the justifiably angry roommate off of her, too forcibly,  it would seem.  I tossed Kathy across a wooden chair and she fell to the floor.  I apologized to Kathy the next day.  Animal instinct to protect your sister”, she offered, accepting my apology.  

The way I figure it, I saved my sister’s ass twice that night.  Once from the police and once from an ass-whooping by her roommate.  I wonder if I did her a favor, or if she would have been better off facing the music.  Too many people have pulled her out of situations she’s gotten herself into, and have saved her from facing the music.

Her life has been a succession of wrecks.  Not only car wrecks.  Just wrecks in general.  Damage trailing her like a wake.  It was that way even before that first car accident.  Damage to physical property.  Accidents have a way of happening at her hands.  It drove our mother crazy.  Things were broken, burned, ruined, or just missing.  And it was always her fault.  At least, she was sure Mama always blamed her, but the truth was that she usually was the cause.  Rather than own up to it, she’d hide it.  It’s not that our mother would punish her.  It’s just that she couldn’t take the criticism.  She was a walking disaster going back to childhood, and it followed her throughout her life.

In one week staying with me in a brief moment of sobriety recently, she broke a new ceramic dish I had just bought.  I didn’t even get it home before it was broken.   She burned a dishcloth.  Melted it, actually.  And broke the switch on my table lamp.  But these are just material things and they are not important.  I cannot say anything about them because that is how she has been since early childhood.  A train wreck.  For me, the material possessions mean nothing.  For others whose prized possessions she has stolden, lost or broken, the hurt runs deeper.

More important to me is her own fragility and not the fragility of material things.  She is a delicate creature of greatness and beauty.   If her crime is selfishness, it is sometimes offset by her nature of sweet affection towards those she loves.  She loves and appreciates her family and friends with a depth that is sincere, until it is time to feed her own addictions.  Then her brain disconnects from her actions and the pain she inflicts on herself and on those who love her.  The addiction takes precedence over all.  

She is perhaps one of the most beautiful souls I have ever known.  At the same time, her selfishness knows no bounds.  This contradiction manifested itself in childhood.  As a child, I saw her as both adversary and protector at the same time.  She herself could unleash unholy hell upon her younger sisters, but she was also very protective of her siblings against the dangerous and abusive wrath of our father.  If she were not so damaged herself, you couldn’t imagine the loads of good she could unleash on the world.

BarbieThe damage – who knows when that first manifested?  When our parents split up?  Or long before that?  That damage is what she has played out on herself over these last four decades.  But after four long decades of inflicting an inordinate amount of pain on herself and on her family, there is a ray of hope.  The light is back in her eyes.  The beauty is creeping back onto a face that has aged beyond its years.  The tiny piece of glass that was lodged into her forehead forty years ago when she wrecked that VW convertible is slowly emerging.

They say that our bodies will reject a foreign object.  It may take years, but the body will push it out, forcing it ever closer and closer to the surface until the foreign object emerges.   That tiny piece of glass is coming out of her head.  It is a good sign.  As the glass works its way to the surface, every day her eyes are brighter, and her head a bit clearer.  Every day is one more day of sobriety.  I don’t know what happened this time to make her want to be sober.  But one day she woke up and realized her fragility and knew that if she continued, she’d end up dead.  So she saved her own life.  She came to her family, who want nothing  more from her than for her to be well.  

I could fill a dozen warehouses with broken, burned, ruined, lost and stolen items that are in the wake of her path.   I’d sacrifice a thousand warehouses more of stuff to save her life.  

The broken glass is coming out.  

 

black hair red lips
Elizabeth is a teacher, blogger, and activist living in South Florida.  A native-born Floridian, she counts herself lucky to have a family to write about.

“Grownups Can’t Protect Us”

WParkland blog Heathers playbillhen the cast of Florida REP’s Education Conservatory sang these words in their musical production of “Heathers,” I felt a shudder run through me.  I could just hear Emma González and her classmates echo this refrain.  I could see Cameron Kasky,  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, meet Senator Marco Rubio face-to-face on a stage mere weeks after the Parkland shooting, and beg Senator Rubio to offer some words of protection.  

Senator Rubio is certainly not the only grownup whose offerings are too little and too late.  One change from the class of 1989 (when Heathers, the musical and original movie take place) is that the class of 2018 has learned the hard way that they must take matters in their own hands and protect themselves.   But they do so knowing that they sacrifice their childhood.  As the chorus sings, “I could be 17…”, we adults are asking them to make this sacrifice.  They cannot be 17 because we cannot or will not protect them.  Who they will go to prom with is not one of their worries.  Making it to prom is.   

Parkland blog Fl Rep
Florida Repertory Theater, Fort Myers

Kudos to the cast and crew, and to the director, Kody Jones, for this production of “Heathers.”  Especially beguiling was Nayda Baez as Veronica.  I have to say I connected more to her Veronica than Winona Ryder’s.  Brice Kingsley, playing the Christian Slater character of J.D., authentically captures the lonely outsider from a broken home who is bullied to the breaking point.  Other outstanding performances include Athena Kelley as the queen bitch herself, Heather Chandler, while Jesse Massari as Martha (Dumptruck) Dunnstock nearly brings the house down with a heartfelt outpouring of teen lonliness in her suicide song.  Heathers Chloë Tsai and Cat Westley, and the two jocks: Robert Rosso and Scotty Wells all prove that their futures in the performing arts promise to be bright.  In fact, the entire cast and crew deserve praise for their professionalism.

This version of “Heathers” captures themes that certainly resonate with today’s high school traumas, touching upon bullying, suicide and gun violence that ring all too familar to current events.  Veronica suffers with pangs of guilt that she doesn’t feel that bad about Heather’s death.  The fact that she doesn’t feel bad makes her feel bad.  I get it.  The Parkland shooting hit me hard.  A little too close to home?  It happened at a high school in Broward County, where I live.  My daughter, 18 at the time of the shooting, had only finished high school the year before.  I came across a protest in front of South Broward High School two days after the shooting, where students were carrying signs that read: “It could have been us.”  I thought of my daughter and her high school friends.  I lost it.

Parkland blog SBHS
South Broward High School students protest on February 16, 2018

The production for the Florida REP version of “Heathers” began, coincidentally, soon after the Parkland shooting.  As they wrapped up their last show on Sunday, May 27, we are just days past the high school shooting in Sant Fe, Texas.  Why didn’t I lose it when I heard about Santa Fe?  Why didn’t I lose it over Sandy Hook?  I feel bad that I didn’t.  When insane tragedy becomes normalized, we all have something greater to fear: loss of compassion, and loss of a sense of outrage.

I don’t usually use someone else’s words on my own blog, but Florida REP’s director, Kody Jones’ introduction to the playbill expresses what I could never say regarding the poignancy of this production, which feels so much like it was led by high school students, rather than just portrayed by them.  Mr. Jones writes:

“ … I was shocked to see that the story of Heathers has gained even more relevance in 2018 … In March of 2017, I sat down with REPresent, our student advisory board and many other high school students and asked them one question: ‘ What shows speak to you as a young adult?  What show do you connect with so much as a high-school student that you are just bursting at the seams to perform it?’  The title that was requested more than others was Heathers

Making a decision to produce any production is not taken lightly, especially one that contains adult or challenging themes for our students and/or community.  We started with research and multiple conversations and meetings about the teen suicide, gun violence, and bullying.  We evolved from our normal artistic process to a journey that shed light on important subjects that all students have to deal with on their own…

The day of our first production meeting, we were all devastated by the news from Parkland.  Discussion began with the production team, as well as the cast, on how to proceed as we were dealing with similar atrocities in our own production.  Not long after, I was overwhelmed as members of the cast spoke up with maturity and grace, saying our story is one that needs to be told now more than ever.  The cast was not only ready to perform this type of material, but had learned throughout the process that theatre is more than entertainment; it is a platform to give a voice to the voiceless, a vehicle to present current realities and evoke thought and change within our society.”  – Kody C. Jones

Maybe today’s high school students cannot be 17, but they have learned to speak with “maturity and grace” as previous generations have not.  As my heart broke with sadness after the Parkland shooting, it also swelled with pride at how quickly,  succinctly, and eloquently our young people reacted and took to the streets, took to the internet, and overpowered our media outlets.  They could not, and would not be silenced!  (“Emma González Leads a Student Outcry on Guns: ‘This is the Way I Have to Grieve’ “

Parkland blog Speak to the press
SBHS student Ellie Branson speaks to the press on Feb. 16, 2018 (Ms. Branson is featured in the above New York Times article.

As a grownup, I felt ashamed.  “I’m proud of my generation,” my 18-year-old daughter offered as I shared photos of the South Broward High School protest on February 16th.  “Our generation has let you down,” I exclaimed to the group chat between my daughter and my  mother.  “Every generation has something to teach,” replied my mother, “and something to learn.”

After seeing Florida REP’s production of “Heathers”, I sent photos and my reaction to our family group chat.  “These young adults give us hope for the future !!!!!” my 84-year-old mother responded.   We grownups might not be able to protect them, but the generations can work together to do much better than we have done.  

Parkland blog wear orangeparkland blog wear orange event

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parkland blog Me and Camila
With my student, Camila at the SBHS protest on February 16, 2018

Elizabeth I. Bercaw is a teacher, blogger and community activist in Broward County, Florida. Currently, Elizabeth is residing in her birthplace of Fort Myers, Florida.  She is proud to see that Fort Myers is home to a vibrant, activated and compassionate community.

 

#floridarepeducation #floridarepertorytheatre #heathers #SouthBrowardHighSchool #WearOrange

 

Everyone Loves Someone Who Had an Abortion

 

 

by Elizabeth I. Bercaw

My mother is a true Southern lady.  She doesn’t curse.  She abhors hearing curse words, but admitted to me the other day “Well, I have used curse words.”  “Yeah, right, Mama.  In my lifetime I’ve only heard you use three: hell, damn, and on rare occasions – asshole.  Woo!”    

Mom and MeThis apple fell far from the tree.  As a “failed Southern lady”, I curse like a sailor.  I got this notion from the writer Florence King in her book “Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady.”   King’s grandmother, from a fine Virginia family, so wanted a Southern lady in the family that when Florence’s mother grew up smoking cigarettes and cursing like a sailor, her grandmother set her sights on Florence in the hopes she would turn out better.  King admits, as we can see from the title, that it didn’t quite work out the way her grandmother had wanted.  King was, at least, a partial success, and tells her readers that “No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street!

My mother, who – like Florence King – graduated from Ole Miss in the 1950’s, was a success as a Southern lady.  She didn’t smoke on the street and never cursed in public.  I’m sure Florence King’s grandmother would have been satisfied with that.   My mother is also a Christian woman, but not a Bible-thumping kind of Christian.  She is a quiet Christian.   A non judgmental, non-moralizing, live-and-let live kind of Christian.  She understands that Scripture can be interpreted all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons, so she avoids drawing a moral line in the sand and telling people that if they cross that line, they cannot call themselves Christians.

This fact makes my mother not the typical Southern Christian that I encountered throughout my lifetime living in Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  As my mother was a quiet Christian not into judging others’ spiritual beliefs, I never knew what her personal opinion of abortion was.  Not until the moment I became a reproductive rights activist in 1989.

Soon after I helped co-found the University of Southern Mississippi’s first pro-choice group in 1989 with a sociology professor, Von Bakanic, and a group of activated young women, I found myself in a position where I would discover where my mother stood on abortion rights.  The Supreme Court had just ruled in the Webster decision, which allowed states to be able to regulate when and how women got an abortion.  At the time I was married to a man who was as feminist as I was and who was at every pro-choice meeting and rally I went to.  Our group was readying to drive from Hattiesburg, where I was living, to Jackson, the capital of Mississippi where my mother was living.

I phoned my mother the day before our trip.  I had to tell her I was going to be in Jackson, because, of course, I would need to go see her.  I had a little trepidation about telling her why.  I told her “I’m going to be in Jackson for a pro-choice rally, Mama.”  She replied: “Oh yeah?  I’m going to go with a couple of friends of mine!  I’ll see you there!

I was elated.  Not only was my mother not disappointed in my pro-choice stance; she was herself an abortion rights supporter!  This is a memory that will stand out forever in my mind.  When I got to the rally and saw all these Mississippi women holding signs with coat hangers that said “Never Again!”, I caught a glimpse of a middle-aged woman, dressed plainly in jeans and a t-shirt carrying a sign that read: “Mothers for Choice.”  That was my mother!  To this day, it brings a tear to my eye.  I rushed up to her and hugged her.  

Mama, I didn’t know you supported abortion rights!” I exclaimed.  “Of course I do, honey!” she replied.  [Read this part with the best Southern drawl you can conjure in your mind’s ear…]   “I am the mother of four daughters.  Of course I’m pro-choice.  I am a registered nurse.  Of course I’m pro-choice.  As a young nurse working in ER in the 1950’s and I saw women wheeled in on gurneys bleeding to death from back-alley abortions.  Of course I’m pro-choice.”  I threw my arms around my mother again.  We stood side-by-side, mother and daughter at the rally. 

I did reproductive rights advocacy for years after that.  I’ve volunteered with Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and other pro-choice groups.  I’ve defended clinics against attacks by “right-to-lifers” who are hell-bent on preventing women from accessing safe and legal abortions.  (Illegal and unsafe abortions are okay for them.)  During many years of advocacy, for me this was a philosophical argument that it is a fundamental, human right to have control over your own body, your own life, and your own destiny.  It stopped being merely a philosophical argument for me when I found myself with an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 33 from a boyfriend I had known only a couple of months.

At the time, I was a full-time student at Georgia State University working on a second bachelor’s degree.  I also worked three jobs to support myself because I lived alone and did not share my expenses with a roommate.   Along with the four classes I was taking at the university, I was juggling a part-time job in the Law Library at GSU, another job at CNN as a web editor, and a side gig as a belly dancer at four different restaurants (Lebanese, Moroccan, Greek, and Syrian).   I was putting together an application for a Fulbright scholarship so that I could study abroad.  

When Carlos entered my life, I swooned at his deep, penetrating green eyes and his Spanish accent.  His eccentric and enigmatic character intrigued me.  His talent as a painter captivated my imagination and carried me away.  But I was NOT going to fall in love and I was NOT going to settle down because I had plans.  First and foremost was to get into a study abroad program, and then to finish my degree.  Starting a family at that moment was out of the question for both of us.  After some discussion as to what we could do, we both decided that we simply were not ready financially, emotionally, or in any way, shape or form to become parents.

Becoming a parent should be something people think about with a great deal of seriousness.  Once a baby is born, that child becomes your responsibility for the next 18 years or more.  It is a decision that should never be taken lightly.  I decided to terminate that pregnancy because neither Carlos nor I were ready to take on such an awesome responsibility.  I wrote a little note. To God?  To the Universe?  To the soul of an unborn child?  I do not know.  Maybe I just wrote it to myself.  “Keep this soul ready until a time when I am ready to be a mother.”  Then I made an appointment and went to a clinic to terminate my pregnancy. 

Less than a year later, I got pregnant again.  Carlos and I had been together for about a year by then.  He had just started college himself, but I was in my last year at Georgia State.   I did some math.  The baby would be born in May.  I would be finished with my degree in May.  I was 35 years old.  Maybe this was the only chance I’d have at motherhood.  I considered how it would be to raise a child with the uncertainty of our financial circumstances, considering that Carlos still had a few more years in college.  I figured that with me working part-time and with him working part-time, together it was enough to support a child.  I felt certain that since I would not have the rigors of juggling work and school, I could juggle the rigors of work and a baby.  I was as ready as a person can be to become a mother.  I welcomed my daughter into this world on May 8, 1999. 

GreenGirlsMy mother was ecstatic at becoming a grandmother.  Bella, my daughter, is her only grandchild. I hadn’t told my mother about the abortion, even though I knew she was pro-choice.  I always felt my decision to have an abortion was a private decision that was between me and Carlos, but which was ultimately my decision and mine alone to make.

Because I had decided to have an abortion when I did, I was able to be the best mother I could be to my daughter.   I would not have gotten pregnant with her because the pregnancies were too close together.  She would not have existed.  Because I had her by choice, rather than because I had no other option, I was able to dedicate myself to raising her in the best way I knew how.  My meager financial resources could be allocated to her.  My attention could be focused on her.  My daughter and I share the closest relationship imaginable.  For that, I am grateful.

As my daughter got older, the subject of abortion came up.  Sex and reproduction was never a taboo subject for me and my daughter.  I wondered if and when to tell her about my own abortion.  One day, when she was about 12 or 13, I decided it was hypocritical not to say something to her.  She didn’t bat an eyelash.  She had already formed strong opinions about a woman’s right to control her own body.  I wonder where she got that from?  Maybe it’s because at the age of five she accompanied me on a Planned Parenthood “Pub Crawl and Condom Outreach” excursion in Little Five Points in Atlanta, where we passed out condoms and reminded people to “Raise a Glass to Roe!

In 2017, I shared my abortion story via video with Advocates for Youth’s 1 in 3 Campaign.  This year, I told my story live in Washington, DC for the 1:3 Speakout.  I met many strong and courageous people who told their own abortion stories.  I am proud to be a part of this group.

Supporting me and encouraging me during every step, were my own daughter and my mother.  “I’m so proud of you, honey!” my mother told me.    I still remember her placard from nearly 30 years ago that read: Mothers for Choice.  “I’m so proud of you, Mom!” my daughter told me.  

Maybe next year you can come with me to DC and be beside me when I tell my abortion story,” I offered to her.  “I would love that!  I owe my life to that abortion.  Had you not had that abortion, you wouldn’t have had me,” she added.  She is right. 

The best t-shirt I have seen regarding abortion rights reads: “Everyone loves someone who had an abortion.”  Whether it is 1 in 3 women who have had an abortion, or 1 in 4, that statement is absolutely true.  Everyone knows someone who has had an abortion and everyone loves someone who had an abortion.

My mother is a fine, Southern lady.  She stopped smoking decades ago and has never cursed in public.  She is a good, Christian woman who does not pass judgement on others.   My daughter is a strong young woman with a keen moral compass, the deepest compassion, and a commitment to be a force for good in this world.   Both of them love someone who had an abortion: Me.   There is no better way for me to celebrate Mother’s Day than to thank my mother and my daughter for being so supportive of me.  I might be a bit of a failed Southern lady, but I am as blessed as a woman can be to have my mother and my daughter by my side. 

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Elizabeth is a teacher, blogger, reproductive rights advocate and political activist in South Florida.  

Food Choices Matter Most

sunsetIf you attended any kind of Earth Day event this year, I applaud you.  These  events serve to remind that our own habits matter enormously if we want to combat the rise of CO2’s in the atmosphere.   I talk about CO2’s rather than to say “global climate change” or “global warming” because those terms have become so poltically-charged.  Never mind that there is, obviously, a direct link between the rise in CO2 levels and the rising global temperature.  Never mind that human activity is assuredly the cause of the rise of CO2 levels, and thus, the changing climate.   This is well-established in the scientific literature and generally accepted by the scientific community.  But never mind that.  Let’s just stick to one thing that can be easily and irrefutably measured, and that is CO2 emissions.

Let’s get back to talking about what does matter: lowering our carbon footprint and moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle.   It is no coincidence that individual choices which lower our own personal carbon footprint also go a long way to achieving greater health and vitality for ourselves.  We can’t view ourselves and our planet as separate entitites.  The health of our planet suffers in direct correlation to the suffering of our collective and indivual health.

When I attended last year’s Earth Day event, March for Science: Heal the Planet (April 22, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale) I blogged about the lack of focus on diet.  Of all the many speakers who were featured at the event in Fort Lauderdale, no one mentioned food or diet as an important component in reducing greenhouse gases.  (See Climate Change Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand!).   Yet I would venture to say that diet just might be the single most important thing any individual can do to lower carbon emissions.

So I was pleased to see that this year’s Heal the Planet Day on April 22  wasn’t so much focused on the science behind climate change, but more on the importance of individual choices.  I was thrilled at the number of vendors and speakers who were focusing on food.   For Earth Day 2018, Heal the Planet’s Mission was:

“… to educated, empower and inspire the next generation of children and adults about the power of their daily choices and the huge impact these actions have on their own health and the health, well-being and sustainabilithy of the planet and all its inhabitatants.  (www.healtheplanet.com)

Among the sponsors of Heal the Planet Earth Day 2018 were SoFlo Vegans (soflovegans.com), Edible South Florida Magazine (ediblesouthflorida.com), and Whole Foods Market.  Newly-opened Vegan Fine Foods market and cafe opened its doors to samplings and demos.  There was even a vegan chef competition.  Everywhere I turned, the focus was on food!  Yes!!

Why, you might ask, is food and diet central lowering our carbon footprint?  In his book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, author Paul Hawken gives us a blueprint for how we can achieve not just a slow-down of the release of greenhouse gases, but a reversal of this trend.  Using carbon data culled from peer-reviewed scientific journals and economic data from the World Bank and others, the book lists solutions ranked in order of importance.  Quite notable is that solutions 3 and 4 are food-related: reduced food waste and plant-rich diet, respectively.  (“Paul Hawken Shares a Plan to Reverse Global Warming”, by Linda Sechrist, Natural Awakenings, April 2018, p. 29.)

A study by University of Minnesota Professor of Ecology G. David Tilman and graduate student Michael Clark looked at diet trends and their relation to greenhouse gas emissions and habitat degradation.  Their study was published in the November 12, 2014 online edition of Nature and concluded that:

“…if the world were to adopt variations on three common diets, health would be greatly increased at the same time global greenhouse gas emissions were [sic] reduced by an amount equal to the current greenhouse gas emissions of all cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships.  In addition, this dietary shift would prevent the destruction of an area of tropical forests and savannahs as large as half of the United States.” (OurWorldUNU.edu)

Wait a minute!  We can reduce the CO2’s equal to that produced by all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined just by changing our diet???  We can save tropical forests and other valuable habitats the size of half of this country just by changing our diet???   Why then, isn’t diet at the center of EVERY discussion about greenhouse gases and global warming?  It absolutely boggles the mind!  Perhaps it’s because so many, including environmentalists, are loathe to admit that the connection between personal dietary choices, global food production, and global climate change ultimately means they will have to make some changes in thier own lifestyle.  They will have to reduce consumption of or give up foods that they have eaten their entire lives and are addicted to.  They might even have to admit that individual choices sometimes make a much bigger impact than trying to affect policy changes on the governmental level.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: The truly “Inconvenient Truth” is that we can’t be serious at all about combating CO2 emissions and the resulting change in our climate without putting diet front and center of this discussion.  The common diet that Professor Tilman refers to in his study that does the most to reduce greenhouse gases is a whole foods, plant-based diet, preferably organic. (#wholefoodsplantbased).  In my forthcoming book, I use the simple term “nutrient-dense” diet, as coined by Dr. Joel Furhman.

How much does diet matter?  According to Jane Richards, a climate activist with GreenEatz, Livestock farming produces from 20 to 50 percent of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. (“Changing Our Diet to Cool the Climate: Good Food Choices Enable Global Health,” by Judith Fertig in Natural Awakenings Magazine, April, 2018, p. 32-33.)  She goes on to say that Meat, cheese and eggs have the highest carbon footprint; fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts, much lower.  The carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half that of a meat-lover’s diet.

Which meat is the worst producer of C02’s?  You guessed it:  red meat!  Red meat creates five times more emissions per calorie than chicken, pork, dairy or eggs, according to research published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science”.  Red meat also produces 11 times more emissions than the production of potatoes, wheat or rice.  (“Healthy Climate, Healthy People: Why a Warming Planet is Harming Our Health” by Lisa Marshall, Natural Awakenings Magazine, April, 2018. p. 26)

A little more scrutiny shows us which plants have the lowest carbon footprint.  Root vegetables have a lower carbon footprint than crops grown above ground.  That puts beets, carrots, radishes and potatoes above typical above-ground crops like lettuce, broccoli, and bell peppers.  Seasonal and regional fruit and vegetables have an even lighter carbon footprint because they have less distance to travel from farm to table.  Locally-grown and locally-consumed is best.

One plant food that has a high carbon footprint is rice.  According to researchers at Project Drawdown, rice cultivation accounts for about 10 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 19 percent of global methane emissions. (“Healthy Climate, Healthy People: Why a Warming Planet is Harming Our Health” by Lisa Marshall, Natural Awakenings Magazine, April, 2018. p. 26).  This fact has made me reconsider rice as a staple.  Quinoa and buckwheat are excellent replacements for rice.

Notice that with the exception of rice (especially rice that is not grown organically), a plant-based diet is much more sustainable and has a lower carbon footprint than a diet which includes a considerable amount of meat and dairy.  We also notice that a diet which is plant-based is much healthier and more likely to prevent disease than a diet which includes a considerable amount of meat and dairy.  It stands to reason then, that the more we individually shift away from a diet that revolves around and includes a considerable amount of meat and dairy, and towards a diet that is based on and revolves around whole plant foods, the more we can individually and collectively reduce CO2 emissions whilst simultaneously improving our health.

More and more, we are seeing evidence of the need to systematically move towards a plant-based diet as individuals, and as a society.  It is now irrefutable that a diet built around animal products and highly-refined foods is unsustainable and raises CO levels.   So how do we get to where we need to go in changing our diets?   We can intellectualize that the more plant-based diet we have, the more sustainable, but sometimes intellect fails to be an adequate motivator.  How about changing our diet to improve our health and prevent disease?  Again, we often harbor very bad habits that have averse affects on our health.  We know we shouldn’t smoke, but we do.  We know we shouldn’t drink so much caffeine, consume so much sugar, etc.

How about tapping into our emotions?  Compassion is an innate human  quality and I think all would agree that our world today is severly lacking in compassion.  How can we foster a deeper connection to our innate compassion?  Ask Susan Hargreaves, with Animal Hero Kids (animalherokids.org).   SoFLo Vegans invited Susan to speak aSusan Hargreavesbout the connection to compassion, animals, and how this connection could impact how we choose to eat.  Susan brought copies of her book “Animal Hero Kids” and explained how the book can be  included in K-12 curriculum in Florida schools.  Fostering a sense of compassion towards animals beginning at a young age might not make vegetarians of us all, but it could create an awareness around our food choices beyond just what’s good for us, or what is pleasurable for us.  The more we connect with the importance of our daily food choices – to ourselves, our health, the animals, and the planet, the closer we can come to lowering our individual carbon footprint, and living more sustainably.book.jpg

To find out exactly what an impact diet makes in lowering your carbon footprint, go to The Vegan Calculator ( http://thevegancalculator.com/#calculator)

 

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Elizabeth I Bercaw is a Health Coach and founder of  The Sexy Healthy Lifestyle in Hollywood, Florida.  Elizabeth is a blogger, community activist, feminist, butterfly gardener, and habitat eco activist.

First Anniversary of the Women’s March: Power to the Polls

PowerWednesday, November 9, 2016 was a tragic day for me.  I woke up, though I had barely slept, to shock and disbelief.  Had the election results from the night before been just a bad dream?  Or was, in fact, the groper from hell elected as our next president?  I was so wrought with sadness that I could scarcely make myself go into work.

The idea of leaving the U.S had entered my mind even as I was watching the election results.  It was not outside the realm of possibility.  As an ESL teacher,I can easily get a job pretty much anywhere in the world.  Brazil was calling to me.  Rather than try to stomach seeing that orange-haired pussy-grabber take the helm of this country, I would distance myself from the debacle and wait out the next four years on the beaches of Brazil with a caipirinha.  Brazilian beaches (and Brazilian beach boys) might be able to lessen the intense depression and sadness I felt.  My country had let me down.

The new year arrived.  Every fiber of my being cringed as I thought of him being sworn in as president.  I wanted more than anything to escape before Inauguration Day, but it just wasn’t feasible.   As that day approached, I felt more and more despondent.  Maybe the last two months had been a long nightmare and I would wake up to see a woman sworn into office for the first time.

Life went on, but it was far from normal.  My Inbox was more full than usual, and I waded through far too many emails that expressed the same kind of sadness and outrage I felt.  One such email which announced the Women’s March the day after the inauguration, got filed away in the back of my mind.  Funny thing, the back of the mind.  It is a storage place for some pretty important things if we find our way back to them.

Then one night in January of 2017, I had a dream.  In my dream I was in a beautiful oak-tree-lined neighborhood which looked somewhat like Key West.  I went inside a bar that was in a historic old house.  It could have been Sloppy Joe’s by the look of the wooden floors, antique mahogany bar and the taxidermied marlins on the wall.  The bar was full of an older clientele, probably locals.  One white-haired old man approached me and asked if I wanted to join him for a beer.  My instincts were to decline, but he did somewhat resemble Papa Hemingway himself, so I figured why not?

I sat across from this old guy knowing full well we probably had little in common other than the fact we were both white and over the age of 50, but then almost everyone else in the bar fit that description.  Just as we were about to engage in meaningless small talk, I heard a commotion outside the bar.  It was the sound of numerous voices chanting in unison.  I walked to the window to look outside.

Marching down the street was a large throng of women. There were dozens and dozens of them.  Some were dressed in bright pink, while others wore white.  Some wore purple.  They marched in groups according to their color, so that the pinks were together and the whites were together and the purples were together.  This made the colors all the more noticeable.  The significance of the colors were not lost on me.  Pink has  been adopted by various women’s causes.  White was the color the suffragettes wore.  And purple has also long been associated with women’s rights activists.  The different-colored groups of women made this look like a parade with a purpose.

I was overwhelmed by the energy of these marching women.  Suddenly, I knew I had a purpose.  “These are my people!” I thought to myself.  “I belong with them!”  And I joined their ranks and marched along with them towards the town square and government buildings where the march ended in a rally.  Women of all ages and colors milled about and gave attention to the speakers.  I was in my place!

After the rally ended, I realized I had left the bar without saying anything to the old guy with whom I had been sharing a beer.  I went back to the bar to find him to apologize, but was told by the waitress (also a white woman over 50) that he had left.  I offered to pay my tab, but she said he had taken care of it.  I felt bad that I had ditched him.  Then I woke up.

The next morning I wondered about my dream.  Why had I dreamt that?  What did it mean?  Then I remembered what I had filed away in the back of my mind.  There really was a Women’s March!  When was it?  Had I missed it?  I checked my email to find that the march was the very next day!  My dream was my subconscious telling me not to miss the march.  I texted my friend Elia.  “Let’s go together to the Women’s March!

Elia PatriarchyI attended the 2017 Women’s March in Miami with my friends Elia and Paulino.  It was unlike any march I have ever attended.  It was as if all the bad energy that resulted after the election was turned around and channeled into the most amazing and powerful energy.   We weren’t just pissed off.  We were pissed off and DOING something about it.  We were not going to stand around being massively  insulted by the groper-in-chief and his horrendous cabinet.  We were not going to tolerate the kind of bigotry and misogyny that brought him to his position.  We were standing up and fighting back!

I would not have gone to the Women’s March Miami had it not been for my dream.  My dream told me that my place was with those women (and men).  My dream told me that my purpose was to fight alongside my sisters and brothers for a more just, inclusive, egalitarian and peaceful world.  My dream told me that as I had been an activist for decades, now was not the time to abandon my country and find solace on foreign shores, but to stay and fight for what is right. WomensMarch2017

Interpreting that part of my dream was easy.  Perhaps the old white guy and the old white clientele in the bar were also symbolic.  Could they have represented the typical Trump voter? Rather than seeing them as the enemy, perhaps my dream was telling me that they are people worthy of compassion themselves.  They should not be abandoned as we fight for a better world.

The Women’s March inspired me and empowered me.  It is not a one-time event for myself or for thousands and thousands of others who participated around the country and around the world.  I have been re-activated, while others are just now finding their activism.  I am now actively volunteering with Planned Parenthood (#floridaplannedparenthood)  and the New Florida Majority (#newfloridamajority), not just to combat Trump policies, but because it is the right thing to do.

LuzNFMThis is how I met my new friend, Luz Buitrago (@luzbuitrago).  We have both volunteered with the New Florida Majority on the Say Yes to Second Chances Campaign to restore voting rights to felons who have served their prison sentences.

Luz also had a dream about the Women’s March before she went to Washington to attend.  “I wonder how many other women had a dream about the Women’s March?” She commented to me.  Thus, she had the idea to share our stories and put that question out to others.

My dream led me to the Women’s March, and the Women’s March has given me a renewed energy and drive.  It has connected me already to dozens of other energized and fired-up folks.  I am psyched about attending the upcoming First Anniversary – Women’s March Power to the Polls in Miami, January 21, 2018.

Brazil will have to wait.  I have a lot of work to do!

If you also had a dream about the Women’s March as Luz and I did, please share it with us via Facebook.  

 

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