Monday, November 23, 2015

Who were the Thanksgiving Indians?

Though very few people have ever heard of the Wampanoag Tribe, they are the Native people who were living near Plymouth rock and  welcomed the Pilgrims and fed them a nice meal some four hundred years ago.  Those are my people. So, my great-grandmother told me when I was five and sat in her kitchen with my hands folded on her neat white and red checkered table cloth.  When I had problems pronouncing the name (I had a lisp), she simply said, "We are the Thanksgiving Indians." She also told me we were the people of the Sun, of the East.  She went on to say that many of our people died after the coming of the Europeans.  Actually, fifty-thousand died of plague.  What disease did not finish off, King Philip's War did.  That was the point when the People of the Wampanoag Confederacy had enough of the encroaching foreigners and decided to fight back.  They were slaughtered to the man.

If you think I want you to spit out the turkey you have so happily ingested on this Holiday in the name of my fallen ancestors,  that's okay, you don't have to.  It is true for many years, even as a little one, I harbored deep rage at the idea that my relatives fed and nurtured their would-be murderers and that their kindness came back to bite them.  I thought that if they had just let them starve to death, then they might have gone away.  Maybe my people would still have their land and be at peace. Perhaps all the Africans that were needed to make this land great and habitable would not have been dragged from home and family and brought here to be worked to death, but I am not a little girl anymore.  I know now that even if the Wamponoag  who had walked out of those woods with food in arm, had turned on the Pilgrims on that day instead of feeding them, the Europeans would have sent another group and another group.  Europe had a lot of people to get rid of and eventually one group would have made a foothold. It is interesting though that a group of people fleeing persecution in Europe would turn around and persecute others in the same vicious manner and for the same reason of difference. It seems as if they only wanted tolerance for themselves and not everyone, which is selfish, ignorant and brutal. It makes you think they deserved to suffer and should have suffered more until they learned kindness and generosity.

My Ancestors

One could be angry at such people, but being angry does nothing but make the angry person miserable. It does not hurt the offender in any way especially since the Pilgrims died long ago. Being angry would only make my life worse. So, instead of being angry, now I think about the humanity of my ancestors. I know the way European-Americans describe Native people as being savage, but so are most European-Americans when faced with an intruder in their home. That is why we have guns and "a stand your ground rule." Natives have also been described as foolish, easily tricked and manipulated, but I have found that most good people are easily tricked when they have no deceit in them.  I am glad that when my ancestors were faced with the sight of people starving to death in the snow, they bravely put aside their prejudices and offered these other human beings sustenance.  They looked beyond the difference in skin color, in culture, and saw simply other hungry human beings.  I would not for the world that they had done differently. Yes, even though they died by the thousands because of their kindness. I was taught to believe in reincarnation. The soul does not die. My people either went on to another plane of existence because of their goodness (or they were reborn elsewhere We need more good people in this country.)

 I would rather be related to such kind, openhearted people than butchers who could not see the humanity in another person because of the color of their skin and felt justified in treating them inhumanly.  I would have nothing to be proud of if the Wamponoag had sat in fear of the future and allowed other people to starve. Their actions were not foolish but showed a profound goodness that I can only aspire to.  It is true that I wish the racist Pilgrims had been worthy or capable of understanding this superior gift and that they had acted in kind.  I wish as a nation we were all capable of truly living up to the sacrifice of the moment and seeing beyond the skin to the soul within.  Thanksgiving  commemorates the moment when two peoples met and one rose above their fears of difference to help others in need.

On this Thanksgiving, I hope that each of us remembers the Wamponoag who were described by the Pilgrims  as an especially tall and handsome people, intelligent and kind.  Without their goodness, we all would not be here today.  I hope one day, this great nation can follow their example instead of the one of fear and hatred the Pilgrims brought with them from across the sea.  I hope one day we will be as brave, as kind, as  good and openhearted as the Wampanoag were. My ancestors would have adjured me to try and change the world with my goodness, yet not allow the darkness in the world to change me. On this day, as a Wampanoag descendant, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving as I know my ancestors would have wanted me to.

If you agree, then please share and like this message of forgiveness and peace and bring the Wampanoag and their kindness and bravery back into the story of Thanksgiving.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Race, Class and the Watermelon Men of Brooklyn.

When I was a girl living in East New York, I remember summer time by the arrival of the Watermelon men. In my mind, they remind me of Christina Rossetti’s poem "The Goblin Market." They were magical men with fruit in their hands ready to sell. They came from far away in a semi-truck. They were dark-skinned, almost burned black, even when it was not that hot in Brooklyn. They seemed to come from some far off secret place that grew watermelons like I had never seen.

Where we lived there was only the A&P or Key Food stores. In our neighborhood, the fruit was not that good. The white owners trucked in the worst of the worst produce. It stank or was pale and wilted. My mother never shopped there. She always went to the Jewish neighborhood or a whiter one. There they had better everything, even nicer watermelons. Though white people say it is a black thing, watermelons disappear in their stores just as fast if not faster than in black neighborhoods. When I was young, I always knew everything was better in white neighborhoods except for those watermelons.

They were big, as long as my arm and green with big dirty yellow spots. The men would come and park on a Brooklyn street near a bus stop. My mother and I would get off and there they would be. They looked tall to me standing in the back of their truck. They had a little table to show their wares. Sometimes if we were lucky, they would cut a watermelon right in front of us. The man was thin, sinewy, not handsome but kind of in the way that dirt is beautiful and good. His eyes were bright and sharp from working hard. He wore a tight t-shirt sometimes striped. He would raise a dark hand with that big old machete in it and go thunk, and the watermelon would fall open, split open all red. Then came the smell. The smell you could follow all the way back to Africa. It was that good, that deep, that sweet. You could smell the hands and the pockets that had carried watermelon seeds from their home all the way here past a great ocean, past great cruelty and chains.  The little back seeds filled with hope, the past, and taste.

My mother would yell, "Which one is good?"
The man yelled back, "They’re all good, mam!"
Then came the call, the magic call.

"Watermellllllllllons! Watermelllllllonen!" he yelled, leaning out from the back of the truck hand to his mouth, hanging by one arm.  It boomed across city traffic and sidewalks, and crowds and made them all go away. People would look up from whatever they were doing, whatever hardships and terrors and sadness and come get them some sweet, sweet watermelon.

My mother sometimes had a wagon, sometimes not. If not, we took turns carrying that huge thing like it was a baby cradled in our arm as we walked back home. When we entered the house. we told anyone who was there what we had. The word ‘watermelon’ would fill the house like some ghost, and my grandmother would smile her toothless smile.

Then we would cut it, not because we wanted to ruin its beautiful green skin or hurry summer along, but because it demanded to be cut. It would fall open on the table like a woman spreading her thighs. Then the smell would fill the house. It would cling in the refrigerator for weeks. Whenever you opened it, you knew it was watermelon time.

We would eat the crisp soft flesh, and it was like honey on the tongue. You could eat it down to the rind. It was that sweet, that good.  It brought laughter with it. It brought out tables and napkins. It made us sit in the backyard together and talk. It made my grandma say "Umh-umh-umh that's good." It was a magic fruit filled with good times. There would be only one of those in the summer. The watermelon man's truck always emptied quickly.  It was always gone too soon.

But when he came, I didn't live in some crime-ridden neighborhood, disadvantaged, beleaguered, and trodden down by racism, favoritism and sadness. No. I was someplace special, someplace where I got something good for being who I was, for living where I did.         

Monday, July 13, 2015

Is the Devil really God in disguise?

I have been recently thinking about the  devil. Actually, I was laughing about him. My husband and I were talking about how, according to the devil myth, all the interesting people would probably go to hell and some of the more adventurous might even enjoy the torture. Then it hit me. Why is the devil torturing "bad" people? He is evil himself. Wouldn't he be recruiting them?  He is the fallen angel rebel. Why is he punishing people who are sinning?  Hell is his kingdom. He can do as he pleases down there, so why is he doing God's job? I mean, isn't that good?

 According to many  religions, people who sin should be punished by God. So, why is the evil devil doing that? Isn't he against God? He also seems to test people's moral strength like in the Book of Job and other stories. Shouldn't he be embracing you when you do evil? Shouldn't he be putting an arm around you and welcoming you to the land of your most evil dreams? Shouldn't he be recruiting bad people to fill the ranks of his evil army with which he will eventually rise up and fight God?  But instead,  he is meting out biblical punishment to people who did exactly as he did?  Hmm. That does not make any sense to me unless the devil is just another face of God.

Jesus is supposedly the compassionate face of God. We also have God, the father. He is all judgement and law. Is the devil just a mask for the punishing face of God, the enforcer and executioner? I know people have a big problem understanding a God that is not perfectly good according to our tiny brains. So, maybe this is an attempt to explain the multifaceted and inexplicable nature of the complex universe. Religions make up the devil to do what God says he wants done with sinners but is too good himself to do. That way people don't have to deal with that part of  God and can just tuck it away in the Big Scary Dark Side and ignore it. In this way, they also don't have to deal with the dualistic nature of the universe. They can keep it nice and simple.

Religions demand that bad people be punished for disobeying their laws. So, unless the Devil (or his many  counterparts in religion) is either working for God or is God, he is being a very good boy and that is weird.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What is Enlightenment and how do you get it?

Enlightenment, from what I have understood from reading and experience, is what lies at the end of this journey. It is the far off light that beckons through the dark forest of our past. It is the thing we want to reach more than anything, but which lies just beyond the things we fear the most. The forest we must cross is the forest of lies, deception, death, illusion, fear, judgement, curses, envy, attachment, debt and delusion. We will all turn back in fear and horror many times from the straight path because it is so hard to face the things we fear. We all get lost that way by giving more meaning to what happens to our bodies than we are meant to.

Recently, I remembered being murdered as a two and a half year old child. It is hard to recall being killed. It is even worse when the one who murdered you was your mother. I wept. I gasped, I felt pain in my throat until I forced myself to realize that I have another body now whose throat has not been cut. I am living another life. I was not murdered. I am still alive. Society demands vengeance for such an act. It demands retribution. The bible says, "A life for a life."

 People think that karma is what others owe us, but even if you believe another owes you something, you will remain trapped on the endless wheel and cycle of owing and debt.  Being attached to that idea only brings you back to those same negative people, that same negative situation. Trying to get revenge or compensation binds you to that person. . An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. A life for a life kills us all. If I kill the woman who was my mother then she may want revenge for her life. She then kills me and owes me a life and so on, forever. We will be stuck trying to get what we believe is owed us by the other life after life again and again, and I can only consider that hell.

So, I have let go of my attachment to my death, to my idea of reparation. I have walked away. I am owned nothing. I owe nothing. In that way, I  begin to detach myself from the illusion of life and death of debt to others and their debt to me. We are all immortal. We are souls on a an endless journey. Our only suffering is when we become too attached to our bodies or our lives and believe we are flesh not soul. That would mean I would still be a helpless two-and -half year old child and one who wants to be that forever. I want to more. I want freedom and choice.

That brings me to the idea of how people raise their children as if they are keeping slaves. They believe these people belong to them instead of the idea that these are beings who have chosen and given their parents the honor of helping them when they are helpless. The Native American culture I was taught allowed children to make mistakes, to be free to decide what they must do with their lives. They taught independence and strength. I am glad that I was introduced to that idea so early by my father. It has allowed me to release my feelings of responsibility and the idea that I can save anyone.

I can only save myself and in that way show others that they can be saved. One must let go of the attachment to the egoistic idea that we are the only ones who can save someone or that others are powerless to save themselves. Others must grow in strength too. They have their own paths to follow and mistakes to make. Each of us is responsible to ourselves only. Each of us must find the strength to go through the forest and find the light. We each must desire to be enlightened. That is the first step  while letting go is one of the last. When we emerge from the forest of our fears and hubris and find that there was someone beside us the whole time striving like us, then we are doubly blessed by the sacred knowledge that none of us is alone.

May your suffering soon bring you Enlightenment,

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A Love Story  

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

A tongue-in-cheek look at today's selfish and sex-obsessed  world.

New sweet and gentle Classic Fairy Tales

Monday, June 29, 2015

Enlightenment: Women need not apply

"Just add a bra. He'd be a girl"
We all have heard of enlightenment. In most cultures, it is the highest achievement of the soul ... I mean a male soul. Of course, that is a ridiculous statement. Souls don't have gender, but like everything else the most talked about stories of reaching enlightenment or being enlightened belong to men. We have all heard of Buddha and Christ. We have heard of Siddhartha or Gautama Buddha leaving his wife and child and going on a path to liberate every other person . . . I mean guy. His precepts are primarily directed to men, and we are more likely to have heard of Buddhist monks than nuns. I am quite sure many women have reached enlightenment. Why their stories are not as popular, I have no idea. Why the face of temptation is a woman's for Christ (Mary Magdalene), Siddhartha (Mara) and others, I am not sure. Perhaps women are seen by men as the last attachment. Oddly the attachment is not at the heart but at the groin. These women always offer sexual temptation. Perhaps that speaks to the relationship these enlightened men have had with the women in their lives. It is one of lust and not love. This is not a very enlightened perspective.

It seems that on the way to rejecting all bodily desire, men run away, seeking isolation. They don't bring their wives or lovers.  They have what I like to call singular or single-sex enlightenment. Which is odd because many belief systems speak of duality, mostly letting the guys have all the good stuff and the girls get all the yucky, sticky, slow and bad attributes. That does not really seem enlightened, yet that is how the story goes. Alone, men seek the high ground and return to give the good news to men that the way to a good life is rejecting women and the world. These men do not see women as beings seeking enlightenment too. They see women as a bump in the road to enlightenment, an afterthought.

This leads me to question whether enlightenment is all that enlightened. I mean, sure, one should reach for the good and pure, but when it causes you to ignore more than half of the population in your quest, I start to wonder how good your enlightenment ears were listening. I cannot believe these men got the whole message. I think they heard what they wanted to hear or at the very least what was passed down to us is a skewed and incomplete message. As we know, truth does not do well on this plane of existence. It can hardly survive. So, I think the message is incomplete at best.

I have read many stories about enlightenment... I mean men's journeys to enlightenment from Augustine to The Alchemist.  According to Joseph Campbell, and other men, woman are temptresses in the Hero Cycle. Once again, woman is being viewed by the male penis eye and not as a human being with needs. Woman in men's psyches becomes the embodiment of the physical world which he must leave to ascend. How sick and sexist is that?

The Hero doesn't turn to the woman and say," I'm sick of this shit. How about you?" then takes her hand as they go off to seek spiritual peace together.

No. In literature women like to grovel in despair and evil, and we never learn. Women seem to always say, "No. Life is hell, but I like it this way. You go and get that thing called 'In light in mint' I'll stay here suffering. Go. Have fun."

So, the man goes and leaves the woman  and sometimes a child and reaches what I like to call "Callous enlightenment." This may be why these guys keep coming back or promising to return. I think they have something to learn about the true nature of everyone's soul. It is the same. Gender does not matter. All souls share the same desire for freedom. Yes, I know, no one can help another on the path of enlightenment. Sure. That's why men have so many helpers just waiting to aid and support him. He has signs and magical occurrences to keep him on the right path, but he can't give a sister a hint or hand up?  And when a man does get to that glowy stage, he returns at the journey's end to give sage advice to other men never a woman. We have to raise a hand or jump up and down to get his notice. Unfortunately our breasts bob up and down, and he gets tempted and walks away.

In a lot of literature, women seem to be the road upon which men seeking spirituality must tread. How come I never read a story where the woman says, "You know, I've been waiting and trying to figure a way out of this terrible life myself. You know this enlightenment crap sounds good. I think I'd like to try it. It's got to be better than what I have now. I'll just leave my kids and husband and find it." Oh yeah, I know why: because then everyone(man and woman) would hate her and say she was a despicable person who abandoned her responsibilities. Well, you've got to break a few rules to reach enlightenment. This is, of course, socially easier for guys than girls.

And even if a woman did try and go off with a man to find enlightenment, he would turn to her and say, "Sorry sister, this is a one man show, plus I am horny for you and enlightenment states you must give up the body, and I don't want to when I look at you."

Then she says, "That's okay I was faking it all the time. I'm ready for enlightenment."

"But I want sex and you remind me of it."

"I thought enlightenment meant you transcended all that. So, transcend."

"I can't with you looking like that," he says and goes away.

"Then you are not ready, Grasshopper," the woman yells,  then she goes into forest, listens to birds and trees and river, hears OM and transcends. Alone without writing a whole book about it, pounding her chest and saying how great she is and making people worship her.

There is, though, another side of the coin, one on which women are stamped as so good even our farts are enlightened.  In a few religions, it has been posited that women can stay home and stare at walls because we are perfect.  The Alchemist  also slings this type of hooey.  Basically,  just strap us in a chair as infants and then open the closet door twenty years later, and we will be perfectly normal and fully formed, no experience necessary.  We will be wise and helpful to a man in trouble and will hurl advice at him from the tent door as he goes on to have fun and find out what life is about while we sit at home waiting for him to come back and be a better man or forget to come back and be a better man.

So, women are either nasty god-forsaken sex tempters or angelic wise women? Nope, we are just like every other person, flawed, wise, stupid, silly, brave, cowardly, and enlightened.  You want to know what a woman is? Go look in the mirror and because then you'll see a person and that is what a woman is. We need to go out, fall down, get scars, pick ourselves up, change our minds, and most importantly we need to have our own heroic experiences, so we can grow just like anybody else!

We will all  know when men and the world have finally truly become enlightened when there are just as many popular stories about women reaching enlightenment or even couples transcending together. It may shock many people but couples who are truly in love, love beyond the physical body and have a love that is transcendent and beyond life, death or the changes of the material world. That is real enlightenment.

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A Love Story  

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

Monday, June 22, 2015

I am a Cultural Chimera

This is a poem about being mixed-race in America.

I am a cultural chimera.

A bit monstrous to the plain folks with their similar parts all in a row.
I have a leg from Spain, 
an eye from Italy,
a tongue from India,
a hip from Greece, 
a heart that is Native American,
a laugh from Africa. 
My tail is quite Asian. 
My wings have a European flap. 
My neck is long like an African Giraffe. 
I speak like a sphinx.
She was my mentor before Oedipus’ twisted fate undid her. 
I can still see the confusion and fear on his face
before he took her life.
It is the same look one-way folk study me and my parts 
that flash, yet are dull, 
wet and yet dry, cultured and yet wild, 
deep and yet foolish in their eyes. 
They cannot make head or tail of me.
I am a mythic creature.
I really don’t exist.
I can’t.
Quite illogical. 
Why does she not fit into our definitions,
our boxes, 
our squares
with such pretty names like
white and black and red
or European, African and Asian?
Everything else goes but her. 

"You really must forgive me. I have tried, when I was smaller, to put my paw, excuse me, foot into your boxes, but oddly, it would not stay but leapt out and away quivering like it had padded, I mean, walked into acid. Your boxes are for you, and thank you so much for trying to share them with me, but you see, I just don’t fit."

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A Love Story  

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is Imitation the Sincerest Form of Flattery? The Rachel Dolezal question

In the aftermath of Rachel Dolezal's controversial self-identification as black, the question has arisen of who can and should be called "black." I have been asking this for a long time now because of its relevance to me. I am a real mixed-race person like Ms.Dolezal had claimed to be, but unlike her, I have never been so sure of my racial designation. I am genetically and with documentation (yes, one does have to say that these days) part Native American, (Wampanoag, Cheyenne and more), African, European (French, Spanish, Irish, Scottish, English, German, and a few more) and Jewish. I consider myself tri-racial. In America, I am often considered black by both European and African-Americans without any thought to the rich complexity of American and world history that had to come about to create someone like me.

African, European and Native women who make up me.

Unlike Dolezal, who is, in her mind, black without even a nod to her "fictitious" mixed genetic inheritance (Native American and European), I have not been able to reject the other branches of my family tree so entirely. Maybe it is because she hates her parents and rejects them out of hand, or because she is white and has never known what it is like to be mixed-race or more importantly mixed-cultured, that she feels she can jump on the one-race bus with both feet. Maybe it is because she has never stood in a mirror like I have and wondered where she got those almond eyes or high cheekbones, or wondered who she laughs like or why her hair comes out of her head in s-shaped curls.

Dolezal, as a European American, knows her family history. She probably heard from her parents about her relatives that were Czech and German and why she has that funny nose and freckles.  I had to dig through silence, slavery, shame and to find out why I looked the way I did. I had to take DNA tests to discover what part of Africa my family came from. I had to look through census after census until I found those that proved I had Wamponoag ancestors because supposedly no Native Americans and Africans ever got married and had kids together. I had to go through spitting in vials to find out I was Jewish on both sides of my family. I had to look through historical documents to find out I was part Scottish and German. I had to fight for years and pierce through a tragic family history, lies of my mother, secrets of her mother, and stories of my father's grandmother to find out who I was. So, I am not settling for just black like Ms. Dolezal can because she never had to struggle with identity and racism. She knew she was white and hated it or her parents. I don't have family stories to throw away or a family bible to burn that tells me who I am related to or where I came from. I didn't have the privilege of  turning my back on my past since it was a shut and locked door I had to take a crow-bar to just to open it and peek inside.

Musty old book that holds my rich  history.

Ms. Dolezal has her own psychological problems. She decided to solve them by changing race, becoming the fairest of them all, and ruling in the NAACP. She has said everything the NAACP hierarchy wanted to hear: "Though I am fair, I only identify as black. I don't care about that other parts of me," and she was rewarded with a high position. She told a lie that I as a real mixed-race person will not tell. She told a fairy-tale about race, color, and culture and made a simple and very neat choice. For me, a real person who is mixed-race (and my family has been for hundreds of years), it is not so simple. I do not go one way or another when it comes to race. I can't because all of that is who I am, and I feel lucky to know it. Neither I nor my family members have been rewarded for our differences. My uncle shaved off his straight hair and kept it short all his life so not to get his ass kicked for looking too white.  My father had to fight white and black boys who wanted to beat him up because he looked too much and too little like each race.  I have been called the "N" word by whites. I have experienced reverse racism from black people because they think since I am lighter-skinned,  I get more privileges, and they want to make sure I suffer like them (for all you who think that way, be contented, I have suffered, but thanks, it's made me stronger.)

The choice to accept all our colors and refuse to deny the truth about ourselves and history has led to us being ostracized, called liars, laughed at and ridiculed for not stating "I am black " but stating  "I am a person of many colors and cultures."  To be multi-racial is for me to be an outsider, always trying to find where I fit. In my life, I find at times I fit everywhere and nowhere. I am a cultural chimera.

My Chimera-self. Scared yet?

I would not be anything else. In fact, I refuse to be less than what I am to make anyone happy or make my life easier and more successful like Ms. Dolezal. If she wants to be mixed-race,  wants to be Native, African and European like me and wants to imitate me, then I will tell her what my history has taught me, grow a pair, and accept who she is really and be proud of that. I know I am.

Me and my German Valkyrie ancestresses!

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A Love Story  

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

Monday, June 8, 2015

My Messy Purse: Or How I avoided being robbed by Gypsies even when one got her hand in my purse.

I'm on vacation on Spain, specifically in Madrid and Seville. In both places, I was accosted by Gypsies. Both times they were "selling" tiny sprigs of some kind of evergreen, which was not worth shit. Seriously, they looked like they were plucked from the bushes nearby. Now, I am a very charitable person, and I don't mind giving money to the poor or not so poor who crowd the doors of churches and huddle with their dogs on sidewalks. I don't even mind if they take my money and go home to a nice house. I'm a realist. While in Italy, I was told by our guide that the old mama selling prayer papers in front of the church got picked up by her son at the end of the day in a Maserati. So, I don't care. I will give away my hard-earned money to those I deem in need.

What I do not like is being robbed of my wallet or taken advantage of. That is why I take many precautions, which have saved me from being robbed. I am from New York,  so I am quite cautious and aware of my surroundings.

1. I keep the zipper of my purse turned so it is in front of  me. Thieves cannot easily open it from behind. I even rest my hand on it.
2. I keep my bag under my arm.
3. I do not carry anything that is recognizable to the hand as a wallet.

Number three has saved me from being robbed even when I forgot to turn my bag forward.
Gypsies love to rob my  Francesco-Biasia Bag
On my birthday, my husband and I were looking over a lovely lake in Madrid's Parque del Retiro, when a gypsy came up and landed on me. I mean this literally. Her body was pressed up to mine on my right as she waved a sprig of green in  my face to the left to distract me from the fact that she had her hand in my purse. I carry a lot of crap in my bag. I do this on purpose. A neat bag has never done anything but helped a mugger out. I have tissues, plastic bags, combs, brushes  and all kinds of stuff in my purse. You would need a map to find anything in there. It's like a labyrinth.

(I have done this since I was a girl. I had a cold  once and loaded by purse with individual tissues. I was on a bus and felt a bump. I turned around and saw a pickpocket with my blue tissue in his hand smiling sheepishly at me, but I still had my wallet). So, the gypsy  kept waving the sprig in our faces to get time to investigate my bag.  Finally, we walked away. I found my bag open but nothing missing. I had hidden my credit cards in a zip pocket. She had not found my wallet because I had none to find.

I only need one or two credit cards during a day.  It put them with my room key in the zip pocket. Gypsies are not looking for loose cards. As for cash, I  toss it loose in my bag or put in in my tissue pack.  Muggers are looking for a specific wallet feel in my bag, not a plastic tissue wrapper  with tissues and cash. Sometimes I clip my wallet to the key-ring if I have one attached inside the bag. I also put my change on the bottom. It's messy, but I was not pickpocketed.

My husband and I were accosted two more times by Gypsies so far on this trip. The second time, one shoved a flower into my husband's bag. My husband, who is a gentleman, tried to return it. The woman laughed and kept moving away. He  relented and took out some change (later, we discussed it, and I told him to just toss the flower on the ground even though we do not like being rude). He was going to give her a euro. She said "no," that she wanted foreign money. My husband had none. While this was going on, I noticed the second woman who had been selling flowers coming closer and closer to me and my purse.  I took the flower shoved it back in the other woman's  pocket and walked away.

The third time, I was walking down the street and a sprig seller bumped into me, waving the plant in my face. I felt her hand moving up and down my side as she looked for my handbag. I was not carrying it, so she felt nothing and just walked away.

I have never been accosted so many times, but neither have I carried a nice bag while travelling before either. I usually carry one of those ugly blue mugger-resistant bags. I will probably go back to wearing that since I can't take being humped by gypsies every two seconds.

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A Metaphysical Love Story  

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance


Friday, May 29, 2015

Why you can still tell your little girls fairy tales without feeling guilty even if you are a Feminist.

I have for most of my adult life considered myself a feminist. I believe women are equal to men in capacity for good and evil and should be given equal opportunities to achieve their will.  Recently though, I have been frustrated by what I call Noisy Feminists, women who are shouting the movement into places most women don't want to go. I do not hate men. I am married to one. I do not idolize men or demonize them.

But because of this new definition Feminism by Noisy Feminists, many women and girls have begun to shy away from being called Feminists at all. I sympathize. I have begun to consider calling myself an Equalist or Equalitarian.  This has been prompted by may things, but the last straw was the attack of Noisy Feminists on my beloved fairy tales. The accusation that fairy tales make women stay in abusive relationships is an unproven misrepresentation and a bit sensationalist.

Let us look at one of  stories Noisy Feminists consider an offender, one of my favorites, "Beauty and the Beast."  According to Noisy Feminists, love in this story is what keeps  women in abusive relationships.  "Where?" I ask.  Beauty leaves the Beast to die. She goes back to her family. She goes back loaded with jewels and clothes and money. So, how is this story telling women to stay with abusive men who would deny them the basic rights of being a human being much less gold and jewelry?

Was the Beast abusive?   Okay, he may have forced Beauty's father to give her up to save his own skin, but who is the bad guy here? The Beast or the father? What kind of father gives his daughter to a beast? You may then say, Beauty sacrificed herself for her dad when her sisters refused. So, she went of her own free will. She made a bargain and had to stick with it to save her father. That's terrible that she had to make that kind of choice, and guess what? That's life.  When we grow up, we have to make sacrifices we do not like. Life is not fair. That is a fact.  In this world where kids grow up believing life should revolve around them, a dose of reality is a good thing.

Besides, the idea that life is not fair to women is not a new one. It was even more of a fact when this fairy tale was made up. Women had to marry according to the wishes of their fathers or male relatives. They had no choice. They were given away without their consent. Young girls, rich or poor, did not choose whom they married, a male relative did (father, brother, uncle), and his decision was based on friendship, money, status or all the above. When a girl married in the past, she was taken from her parents' home and put into to a strange place, hopefully a better one but not always. This could happen if she was poor or rich, pretty or not.

Pretty young girls were wed often times to "beastly" old men who could afford to pay her father off, This fairy tale  could be a comforting story for a girl who found herself in that situation. So, this fairy tale may have some ugly truths in it. Some girls were actually considered lucky if this happened to them. It was better than dying in poverty. A girl might even become a merry widow (like in Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale) and get some kind of freedom when her old husband died. This was a fact for a lot of human history. Scary huh? So, when we tell our little girls these stories, we should also remind them how lucky they are to have a choice of whom to marry. They should be told how women fought for that right and how it must be safeguarded and not taken for granted. Now that's a positive feminist message.

Was the Beast really a Beast?  The Beast  does not verbally abuse Beauty in any of the stories I have read. He does not beat her or humiliate or shame her. Abusers do these things. The Beast never got drunk, never slapped Beauty around. This fairy tale does not show a woman being hurt.. In fact, when Beauty asks to go home, she is allowed to do so. Yes, the fact that the Beast had to give her permission is disturbing, but remember this is an old story and men controlled women in those time. This is a good place to point this out to young girls that freedom of choice is an important right women have not always had.

One can also teach a girl about what abuse looks like. Unlike the Beast, an abuser would not let their victims go free. Abusers want to control their victims and do not want them leaving their sphere of influence. I know. My mother was abusive and did not want me ever leaving the house or having friends. Reading Beauty and the Beast helped me see that love can be kind and generous. The Beast learns to love Beauty and lets her go even though it will cause him pain, and he may die. Love lets you go. Love opens it arms and has faith you will return. Abusers are too afraid to trust anyone to do that.

If a woman finds herself in an abusive situation, she might tell herself that even though her husband/boyfriend/ girlfriend/ lover, is a monster, she should stay in the situation because her love will change the person, but she did not get that idea from a fairy tale. Most likely it was from the abuser who is begging her to stay. Abusers are like black holes that swallow all the light around them. If the victim leaves they have nothing to feed off. Staying for love is a sad excuse made up by someone who has been made too afraid to leave their terrible situation. For a grown woman to blame a fairy tale for her abuse is even sadder.  Love can inspire some people, but it cannot change them. People change because they want to, not for anyone else or because of love. They find the strength within themselves to choose another path. If they do not, they will not have the strength to maintain the change. We can love people all we want, but they have to find love for themselves before they can change.

How deep is the Beast's ugliness? The beast is ugly on the outside but beautiful and kind on the inside. He isn't ugly or frightened on the inside, which is the case with abusers. Beauty's challenge isn't in forgiving a cruel man but seeing the beauty inside the Beast despite his outward appearance. In our shallow, sex-driven, youth-and-appearance-obsessed society, I think this is a very important lesson. Finding a good person, regardless of appearance, who is kind to you is a very significant message for young girls. The inside and heart are more important than appearances that will change. You may marry a handsome guy but after fifty or so years, you both are going to look like frogs, so looking  for a good heart and a good person is the best option.

Does the Beast really change? Beauty is blinded by her desire for physical perfection. Let's face it: she is shallow. She is called Beauty after all, not Smarty or Brilliant.  In many renditions, she is also a bit slow to figure out that the Beast is cursed and needs her help. She just wants a handsome prince like most girls. To show my point, Cocteau and Disney added a handsome yet cruel counterpart to the Beast to show the contrast between a cruel and handsome guy and a kind and not-so-handsome one.   Beauty finally changes and realizes the Beast has given her a good life, so she returns his affection and returns to him. It is her loving heart that sees the beauty inside the Beast, that lets him appear handsome to her . This coincides with the saying "Handsome is as handsome does."

What to do with old fairy tales? Beauty has evolved and gotten a
little smarter, a little feistier over the years, and I am sure she will change even more as time goes by.That is the great thing about stories, they can evolve. Today when women can choose who they wish to marry, and they are not chattel to be given by their fathers, Beauty and Beast can take on another meaning. The idea that none of us marries a prince, that not every guy is going to be drop-dead gorgeous and physically perfect especially as we age, should be understood. It is silly and unrealistic and shallow to expect a spouse to live up to our physical dreams of perfection.  To realize that no one is perfect on the outside or the inside and to accept that imperfection (i.e., spouse isn't Brad Pitt, leaves dishes dirty, gets sick, gets tired, gets annoyed, gets sad, has a bad day... is human) as a part of the person and their beauty is still a lesson that is valuable and that we can take away from this story to help empower young girls to make good decisions when dating and choosing a boyfriend or husband one day. I think that is as Feminist as one can get.

The road not traveled.  Of course there are other stories one can read to a girl that shows a prince loving her for her inner beauty. Puddocky is a fairy tale where a girl frog, hideous though she is, wins the love of a prince. Or any of the Allerleirauh or Donkey-skin stories by Grimm or Lang that tell of a
girl covered in a hideous fur coat who wins a prince in the end. Sure, it's wrong that the guy has to be handsome and rich for a girl to want him but no story is perfect right?  Also, one could argue that girls should not be limited to finding a husband as a goal in life, but since most girls have read fairy tales and have grown up into women who manage to finish college, find jobs, get work, become CEOs, run businesses and find husbands and much more these days, I think its okay to read Beauty and the Beast. I did.

With that said, why are we taking Fairy Tales so seriously anyway. They are fairy tales, exaggerations and fantasies.  By the time I was a teenager, I had forgotten all about them and wanted to marry Legolas from The Lord of the Rings or conquer Dune and all the other male-centered worlds in Fantasy and Sci-Fi.  ; )

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A  Love Story 

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How believing in "Happy Endings" saved my life

Recently, an imaginary friend of mine asked me, "Why would anyone write a book with a happy ending? It's so cliche, unrealistic, and boring." So, I slapped her across the face. As she held her cheek, and her eyes welled with tears, but before she could burst out with the cliched cry of "What the hell did you do that for?"  I said, "Didn't you wish we had ended this conversation with a sappy 'happy ending' instead of a slappy, realistic one?"

All joking and exempla aside, I like to write happy endings. I do. Not because I don't know how much life sucks, but because I know intimately how much it can.  There have been times in my life where I have fallen to the floor crying just wishing god, any god, would cut to the chase and kill me instead of sadistically toying with me. I have nearly blacked out from hearing news that was so bad. I grew up in one of the worst projects in America. People died in the elevators and were raped in the stairwells.

I have been terrified and crushed under the weight of life. I have lain down pretending I was beaten, so, hopefully Life would get tired of kicking me and go on to someone else. But oddly, She never did. She just kept hauling back her foot until I got up and punched her in the face and said, " I am sick of this. I am not going to ever quit, and you are never going to stop testing my resolve never to quit. So, bring it!"

"Wow!" says my friend, still holding her swelling cheek. "Why don't you write about that? Why don't you write gritty stories about your tear-stained life? That's what I would love to read." Yes, well, that would be great if writing about that crap did not take me back into the abyss of the past. It has taken all my strength to crawl away, and I don't relish the idea of skipping back down the bloody and broken-glass-filled path of memory lane.  Besides, I believe in energy. If you seek the light the light will come. If you chase the darkness that too will come. I prefer to put the darkness behind me as much as possible.

With that said, I will tell you, that without the hope of a happy ending, without the dream that something can conquer hate, selfishness, madness, pain--something like Love--I would not have survived my childhood or most of my adult life. It was that belief that helped me get up when I was down, helped me find the light when I was surrounded by darkness. Believing in happy endings is not sappy or trivial or unrealistic. It is the battle-cry of the unvanquished, the song of the unconquered heart,  the light that will not fade. It is the belief that the true self, the bright soul will overcome all obstacles in time.

So, when my imaginary friend says her glass is half-empty and that life sucks,  I will agree with her some of the time. Then I will remind her, gently at first, and then with the zen-slap she deserves, that life glows, shouts, sings, and makes you fall to your knees in awe sometimes too. And maybe she will say, she hasn't gotten her happy ending and that is why she does not believe in them. I'll remind her that the phrase "happily ever after" like everything else in fairy tales is an exaggeration (there are no handsome princes inside frogs or big furry monsters). There really is no such thing as just one final happy ending. There are many happy moments and many sad ones because life is a cycle that goes on and on,  So, when the bad times come, I hold on because I know the good ones will return too like spring and flowers after winter. So, yes, bring me those happy endings, tell me that good conquers evil, that the pure of heart no matter what darkness she faces will overcome because I know she will again and again. I am living proof. I bet you are too.

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A Love Story  

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Of Mice and Women: How I got rid of a mouse with peppermint

"Would you kill a mouse with a Teddy Bear?
This winter was cold, and some mice found their way into our house. My husband and I put down a live trap with cheese and peanut butter. We caught six. One time there were two together in the trap. They were so adorable, we considered keeping them as pets all winter, but we thought they might like being free, so we let them go. My husband drove them far away and dropped them off in the woods with a bit of seed near the drop spot. Unfortunately, one mouse seemed far too smart for the trap. He left poop on my counter top and in my sink. That is when we started talking about killing him. He was too smart to live.

"I would never poop in your house."

Still, I do not like killing things because they are hungry and can't find food except in my kitchen. It makes me feel like the giant from "Jack and the Beanstalk. "Fee. Fie. Foe. Fum. I smell the blood of a.. uh.. mousy-one?" So, I started googling mice. Of course, I came up with all kinds of pictures of people's pets and rats with teddy bears. I read that mice and rats were very smart. I told my husband, and then suggested we have funeral for the mouse once we had dispatched him. My husband suggested we donate our mouse's body to the raccoons, coyotes, and others scavengers outside our house. Then I saw an article that said that mice were allergic to peppermint. One very fastidious person suggested that I should pour peppermint on cotton balls and leave them in places mice frequent. Some people said this worked for them. Others said it did not. As I have stated, mice are smart.  I could easily see them over leaping my cotton balls, playing soccer with them or tossing them into the faces of the mice they hated most.
"We love everybody."

I had read somewhere that mice navigate through smell, and that they have a favorite path around your house delineated by their urine. I had mopped the house and cleaned the surfaces to discourage the mouse, but it kept coming back. It must also have a great memory. Soon my husband purchased a bottle of peppermint essence meant for candy-making or cakes. He had seen the mouse running along the baseboard in our kitchen before it disappeared. So, I sprinkled some peppermint on the floor and rubbed it along the path or anywhere I had found poop. Then I put a few drops on my sponge and wiped the counters.

Probably not peppermint tea

Ms. or Mr. mouse has not returned. I do not know if peppermint would have worked if we had a hoard of starving mice rampaging through our house to stave off death, but it worked with our mouse who was looking for a little snack or was just curious (its poop was very healthy looking. I was sure it was not starving.) I have since purchased pure peppermint oil and have applied a drop to trouble areas with a wet paper towel. I am also going to seal all the cracks in the kitchen to stop all access. Another plus with this situation is that the kitchen smells really good in the morning. I will be including a drop of peppermint oil in my homemade kitchen cleaner and mop bucket from now on.

Photo by Jill Robidoux

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A  Love Story 

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance