Goodbye, Facebook

I first signed up for Facebook in 2008 shortly after returning home from my 20-year high school reunion. At the time, I was emotionally transitioning out of my job in the U.S. Senate. Facebook represented a fun and easy way to remain in touch both with old friends from high school I didn’t call or email regularly and colleagues whose daily presence I wanted to keep in my life.

Then my family got on Facebook. After a brief period of not putting my kids’ cute faces on the internet, I embraced the convenience of posting their photos and the funny things they say so my siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins can keep up with their lives. All without my having to write a single letter or schedule a time to talk on the phone.

Like most users, my roster of “friends” ebbs and flows. Occasionally, I unfriend (thanks, Mark Zuckerberg, for adding this vocabulary word to the English lexicon) people who I don’t think would recognize me if we collided with hot coffee. But then I meet a new person, enjoy our brief conversation and five hours later, Facebook deems us official friends. The world feels brighter. Smaller. More accessible.

Facebook has been great for distributing my writing. (Shameless plug: you can sign up to get blog posts delivered to your inbox.) Facebook connected me to Latvian cousins living in Canada. Facebook makes it possible to ‘chat’ with friends abroad. But Facebook is no longer just a quick sharing of our current condition. I miss the days of status updates in the third person. Remember? Chelsea Henderson is listening to Hamilton. The Facebook of today is perfectly filtered and cropped photos of kids, meals, pets, projects, outfits, and sunsets. Facebook knows when we’re celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, changing jobs, drinking wine, entering or leaving relationships, having babies. Facebook is who we tell when we’re on vacation. With our humble brags, we invite a constant invasion of our privacy.

Facebook gave me a false sense of closeness while enabling me to drift farther apart from my core.

And over the last month, we’ve used the site to engage in new level of political debate, which is healthy. I don’t think it’s good to shroud yourself around only those who think exactly like you. So I sucked it up when people I don’t know wrote hate-filled comments on my public posts. (By the way, I’m what’s wrong with America.) I resisted the urge to write my own frothy responses because hate begets hate. But then news of the pervasiveness of fake news shared and re-shared on the site sent me over the edge.

I need a break.

Goodbye, Facebook. I’m taking a hiatus from now until the end of the year, at which time I will reassess. In the meantime, I vow to call friends and family more. I might write a letter. I look forward to filling up time usually sucked away by Facebook with reading, sleeping, writing, and preparing wonderful foods that I’m sorry you won’t see pictures of unless you come over to share a bite.

I look forward to this journey and encourage you: post less, connect more.

 

 

What next?

Dear President-elect Trump:

You will be our nation’s next president. With your victory, you baffled pollsters, emboldened supporters and left half the nation in shock. I promised my kids that if you won, I’d model the good sportsmanship I instilled in them. So I will not claim the election was rigged. I won’t demand recounts. I won’t suggest the Russians hacked voting machines and delivered this election to their horse.

But I will work with every breath I have to fight  the divisive and hateful policies that underscored your campaign. I will work with every ounce of energy I can to continue to fight for the causes I believe in, especially those you mock. This victory is not a mandate. It reveals huge cracks in our society; it’s now in your purview to oversee the mending. You won. Now you have to lead.

I know you think you can do it all on your own, but let me offer a few suggestions.

Stop the hateful rhetoric. You’ve insulted blacks, hispanics, muslims, gays, the disabled, and women. (Note: sorry if I left anyone out.) You won this election on the backs of white uneducated men, fanning racist and xenophobic flames in the process. Stop. You weren’t elected president of old white men. You represent us all now. Act presidential. Set the tone and the example.

Stop investigating Secretary Clinton. Over the last 25 years, Congress has already wasted an estimated $500 million taxpayers dollars investigating her. Don’t be a sore winner. Do not follow through on your campaign promise to “lock her up.” Treat her with dignity. Call Congress off her tail. Treat her with dignity.

Retire the word tremendously from your lexicon. You claim to be a man of many, many words. Use them. Amaze us with your eloquence. Inspire us. I challenge you.

Take a crash course in civics. It’s just off putting to have a president who doesn’t know how many articles are in the Constitution and who might not even be sure how bills are passed. Americans clearly said they want an outsider, but it’s actually kind of useful to have a basic understanding of how things work around here. You don’t get to rewrite the rule book. Not without help. Three branches, checks and balances and all. (Thank you founding fathers.)

Yes, I’m tired. I’m sad. And I am fearful of what kind of president you will be. As you measure drapes and plan your inaugural speech, I hope you learn to accept criticism, learn that a president doesn’t have to appeal to all the people, and you don’t have to lash insults at those who don’t embrace you. What’s great about America is we don’t have to like our leaders. We can speak out against them and advocate for alternatives to their policies.

I wish you luck. Our futures depend upon your success.

 

what locker room banter enables

Labor Day weekend, I got off an airplane and followed signs to the train. I had a bounce to my step; a glass of wine and reunion with a dear friend awaited me at my final destination.

“Excuse me,” a stranger stopped me short. “Do you know which way to the train?”

“No, but I can read.” I pointed to a bank of signs.

“Oh, are you going that way too?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said.

“Maybe we can walk together.”

“Sure,” I responded curtly. I don’t like to talk to strangers, but I figured I should be nice. He introduced himself. A little voice in my head said “give a fake name” but I stumbled over what alias to use and ended up offering the real deal. He told me he’d just landed from LA and expressed frustration that time on the tarmac exceeded time in the air.

“Where you coming from?” he asked.  When I said DC, he exclaimed over the length of the flight.

“Actually, I like having five consecutive hours when no one can bother me,” I said.

“Oh, am I bothering you?” he asked.

Yes, I thought. “No,” I said.

“Well, I imagine a beautiful woman like you is used to being bothered.”

Inward cringe. Outward smile.

Train in sight, I walked a little faster. He picked up his pace too. We boarded, and I grabbed a spot on a bench next to other riders, ignoring his effort to steer me toward abutting seats.

“So, I have a hotel at the airport,” he said nonchalantly. “You should stay with me tonight.”

A thousand voices screamed in my head while the people around me remained silent, lost under the influence of headphones or desire remain uninvolved.

“Oh, that’s okay. I’m staying with my friend I haven’t seen in a long time,” I said, eyes glued to the transit map, willing my stop to come faster, but also scared he’d exit the train with me.

“I’m just saying, it’s a nice hotel and you’re welcome to join me,” he offered a few more times. He insisted I take his number in case I changed my mind. Three minutes felt like a lifetime. Mercifully, my stop arrived. He didn’t follow me but called out, “I’m in town ’til Monday” as I bolted off the train. While the car carrying him pulled away, I deleted his number and moved on with my weekend. But a nagging dread plagues me still. Why was I polite to a sexual predator? Why didn’t I scream? Cry for help?

As women, we are sadly accustomed to unwanted sexual advances and too often resign ourselves to abuse rather than fight off the abusers. We mostly endure the agony of our experiences alone, but this past weekend, social media witnessed an explosion of women sharing stories of their first sexual assault. Emphasis on first, because most of us have sustained multiple. These accounts were heartbreaking to read, but oddly refreshing to write. For too long I swallowed back pain, asked what I did wrong, hid incidents from loved ones, and let shame silence me.

My silence ends now.

These assaults were embarrassing, like when I was nine and my babysitter’s boyfriend’s uncle tried to put his hand up my skirt. These assaults confused me, like my freshman year of college when my dorm crush sweet-talked me into my first sexual experience, then refused to see me again, rendering my first time a one-night stand. These assaults were incomprehensible, like sophomore year when I was raped by a man who found me passed out in bed and senior year when I was raped by a guy who laughed at no. Verbal assaults, so-called “lewd” comments by “boys being boys,” number too many to recount. Trust me; “banter” is not harmless.

My experiences aren’t unique. They contribute to the sad “locker room” narrative of a society that enables assault and often blames the victim while asking her to smile, act nice and hug on demand. We must rewrite the script, and we can start by not putting a sexual predator in the White House.

 

 

15 years later

I almost forgot the date. But then I stepped outside into a bright sunny day and in a flash, my mind rewound to another blue-skied morning. Why do we universally remember the remarkable sky on that dark day?

I took a moment to reflect and went on with my to do list. Helped shuttle kids for my older son’s 15th birthday outing. Watched Wallace and Gromit with my younger. Edited my latest manuscript. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Plans to show (for the first time)  9-11 footage to the boy born four days after tragedy struck were postponed due to his homework load. “Hmmm. I’m not going to cry today,” I thought.

But it only takes one story of loss to unleash the tears. And now they flow unimpeded. And I’m reminded—

I was scared out of my mind on September 11, 2001. Scared for my safety. Scared for the unborn Jack. Scared for my city, my family, my friends, and my country. But I was also grateful. For a secure place with loved ones and strangers alike to watch horror and sadness unfold. For those who provided comfort, not just to me but all around. And mostly, for the heroes of the day, some whose courageous acts we didn’t yet comprehend.

As a heavy layer of dust settled over us literally and figuratively, I wondered how the world my child grew up in would differ from the world I experienced in my youth. And suddenly the answer is clear. Today, the threats may be different, but our humanity remains intact.

rebuilding trust

The day I can walk is circled in red on my mental calendar. No one is more excited for the ditching of the wheelchair than I am, except perhaps my chore-burdened kids and those dear friends who cook/shop for me and cart me around. But even with this anticipation in mind, I was not prepared for such bold instruction from my PT on Tuesday.

“Stand up.”

I promptly responded by bursting into tears. “No,” I sobbed. “I can’t.”

My amazingly patient PT assured me I could. He made me try again. And again. And again, until I actually put weight on the right side to press up to a standing position.

“Mountain pose,” I whispered, rolling my shoulders back but still pouring more weight into the left side of my body.

The thrill was short-lived.

Under orders to practice this new party trick at home, even after initial (supervised) success, I still cried with subsequent attempts. I don’t know where these tears come from. It’s not like I want to be confined to a wheelchair or my first floor forever, though this cocooned life has kept me safe for these past three months, a feat I wasn’t able to achieve the last time I walked on two feet.

I trust the doctor’s prognosis. I trust the PT’s assessment that I’m ready. But I don’t trust myself. All it takes to screw up is a slip, a twist, a misstep. My reputation for klutzy behavior taunts me, and not even the deep breaths that normally move me off the ledge help.

I have another PT session in a few hours, and since he gave me a preview of what to expect, I know today’s visit will include taking baby steps. I can’t think about it without succumbing to tears and dread, the first time I’ve not looked forward to PT, which basically substitutes for a social life these days.

I’ll be ready to go when my ride arrives, but how can I trust my body do as commanded when the order is given?

 

 

 

 

the new normal

Two months ago, I stepped out of the car and onto an icy path of change, humility and, to be honest, pain. In one sense, the days between walking and not passed quickly. But when I consider it’s been two months since I saw the upstairs of my house or took a shower or stood in the kitchen to prepare a meal, time feels like a slowly torturing enemy with no real firm date in sight of when life will return to normal.

Normal? What is normal these days? Persistent shoulder pain when I sleep? Jagged ankle scars that for the most part look uglier than they feel until they burn like a force of evil is pressing a branding iron to them? Having to ask, constantly ask, for favors from my lovely, patient, giving friends? (Drive me to PT? Empty my potty? Pick up groceries? Throw a load of dirty laundry in the washing machine? Wheel me outside for some fresh air?)

But normal is also friends offering to visit, make meals, take the kids. Normal is friends bringing/sending me books (reading is my new cardio) and flowers. Normal is friends sharing tips from their own injuries. This part of normal feels like being wrapped in a warm blanket, even when I want to shed the blanket, stand up and manage my life independently.

I have a long path ahead before I reach independence. The shoulder surgeon says in six weeks he’d like me to be able to lift my arm over my head and make jazz hands. (Okay, he didn’t specify the latter half of that milestone; jazz hands is my own flourish.) I see the ankle surgeon next week and hope he approves weight-bearing exercises. My PT constantly reminds me that being weight-bearing doesn’t mean I hop, skip and jump my way from examination room to car to normal life. Recovery takes patience. I have to regain physical strength and flexibility, even if I honed those qualities mentally during this time.

As two months spill into three to four to a lifetime of lessons, I continue to redefine normal. And in many ways, that practice is more painful than any physical injury.

good reads

I read, therefore I make book recommendations.

According to Goodreads, the social media platform for books, I read 54 books in 2015, surpassing my annual reading challenge goal of 50. Borrowing ambition from fellow reader and dear friend Emily, I tacked one book onto the previous year’s accomplishment and set a 2016 goal of 55.

To date, I’ve already read 17.

I haven’t made a recommended books list in ages, so here are a few recently read favorites that have ushered me through various stages of convalescence.

A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara: A top five lifetime favorite, no book has gutted me quite the same as A LITTLE LIFE. I finished over a month ago and still miss the main characters, four male friends whose lives entwine seamlessly but emotionally over several decades. Have the tissues handy; I ugly cried for the last 200 pages.

SMALL MERCIES by Eddie Joyce: I’m a sucker for anything 9/11 related, and this touching tale did not disappoint, weaving together varying perspectives of a family dealing a decade later with the tragic loss of one of their own. I’ve never been to Staten Island but reading this book, I felt immersed in its sights, smells, sounds, pizza, people and anguish.

THE ONE/HIDDEN BODIES by Caroline Kepnes: Sequels often disappoint me, but not the one-two punch socked by these contemporary psychological thrillers. So smart, a little sexy, devious and fast paced, I found myself cheering  (goddammit!) for the dark side throughout both books.

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal: I love food. I love to cook it. I love to eat it. This book, which centers around the professional (yet emotional) journey of a young chef, will leave you craving the magic its main character evokes with her culinary skills. Wine figures prominently in the plot, too.

Other reads worth a trip to the library or bookstore: THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson, and THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erika Swyler.

Happy reading!

an open letter to my ankle

Dear Ankle:

First, let me start off my expressing my sincerest apologies for years and years (decades, if I’m being frank) of completely taking you for granted. “My feet hurt,” I may have complained now and then, but did I give you the respect you deserve? No. I cursed nicks in the shower over your difficult-to-shave bony protuberances that seemed to bleed forever. But did I ever consider what you, conduit to my feet, endured physically and emotionally?

Hindsight is 20/20. Now I see how cruelly I abused you with each pair of sky high heels, each precarious walk on an uneven sidewalk, each high intensity exercise I engaged in. And all without the smallest of thanks.

(Sorry and thank you for heavy ankle weights, four-inch heels, jumping jacks, marathons, boots that blistered, dull razors, careless bumps, and all other infractions.)

Like much in life, we don’t know how good we have something until we don’t have it anymore. It may seem shitty of me to find appreciation for you now that I can’t use you, but I offer my gratitude regardless. I love you, who will forever bear the screws and scars of my slip. I love you, even as you throb and swell and press against the tight boundaries of my cast. (I hope that means you’re healing.) And I promise to take better care of you when you are freed from plaster confinement.

A token of my affection: I’ve already given away two pairs of boots that must have felt like torture chambers to you.

As we move forward together, I want to conclude by letting you know how much I love standing on two feet and appreciate the role you play in my bipedalism.

Affectionately yours,

Chelsea

on sisterly love

For three weeks minus a weekend, my sister has cared for my every need, often without my asking.

She refills my coffee cup, water bottle and wine glass. She now expertly wheels me in and out of the house and knows just how to help me get in and out of the car. When I wake up feeling achy, she massages my shoulder and helps me stretch my glutes. Without complaint, she dumps the icky contents of my flushable port-a-potty, an improvement upon the bedside commode but still a piece of equipment that needs maintenance beyond my abilities.

For three weeks minus a weekend, she put on pause her own life in order to help me with mine. She took leave from work without pay. Left her girlfriend, dogs and routine to be my personal caretaker, home health aid, nurse, massage therapist, healer, shrink, chef, chauffeur, housekeeper, hairdresser, cheerleader, and more.

Living my life, she wakes the boys up and gets them off to school. Reminds them to brush their teeth. Washes their laundry even though they are fully capable of managing the chore. Feeds them. Ribs them. Loves them.

For three weeks minus a weekend, she has had coffee ready when I got out of bed. A master with eggs and whatever contents of the refrigerator need to be eaten, she prepares my breakfast. She composts and recycles without my having to ask. She washes and styles my hair, even giving me beachy waves one night, prompting Jack to give me the only hair compliment I’ve ever received from him.

For three weeks minus a weekend, we have laughed and cried together over insurance company ridiculousness, heart wrenching books, ugly sutures, crazy cat antics.

For three weeks minus a weekend, she has been my near constant companion. But for a lifetime, we have loved each other deeply, and I know she has not done a single thing for me during this time that I wouldn’t do for her.

My sister leaves me tomorrow, but I know in our hearts, despite the mileage, we won’t be far apart. Part of her lives in me and me in her.

 

the strong but silent type

I don’t remember your cries at birth. I think I was too tired from being in labor for longer than I wanted, which sounds absurd because no woman wants to be in labor for any period of time. But when your brother was born, the nurses told me his birth was so easy my second baby would pop out with a sneeze. Fast forward two and a half years, those three bouts of preterm labor led me to believe you were eager to make your arrival. But oh no, once the real labor finally started, you weren’t quite comfortable with the idea of a whole new world. Until you were comfortable, that is, when you loosened your grip and took us from two centimeters to birth in 20 minutes.

This zero-to-sixty pattern continues to define you. You’re taciturn until suddenly you’re ready to entertain with a story. You resist change, but then on a dime advocate for it fiercely. Some days you barely eat, until without warning I can’t get enough food in your body.

I worried about your reaction to my recent accident. Sensitive at the core, but either unwilling or unable to always show it, I suspected seeing me in a hospital bed would bother you. And I was right. You didn’t cry or ask what happened. In fact, you sat ramrod straight in the chair. You could barely look me in the eye. You asked about safe topics like whether I had any snacks. You hugged me cautiously. But I could read the worry in your eyes.

I feel compelled to constantly reassure you I’m fine.

Until I broke my ankle, I still tucked you and your brother in at night, every night, without fail. It pains my heart that in my current condition I can’t get upstairs for our bedtime ritual. The other night, the thought that you wouldn’t want or need it anymore tugged mercilessly at my heart. As if you heard my anguish, after the lights were out, you came downstairs to tuck me in.

Inside that skinny preteen body a strong, sensitive man is brewing. I love watching your new layers and complexities emerge.

Happy birthday to my baby.