More Intimidating Than A Plastic Sled

Togiak whined excitedly as we fishtailed into the parking lot. The snow was falling heavier than before. As she anxiously offered her best “malamute howl,” we trudged through the perfectly light Rocky Mountain powder, arriving at the snowmobile that would (we hoped) carry us the remainder of the journey home: two miles up a snowed-in road that wouldn’t be passable again until the mountain flowers were in bloom, sometime in July.

Fortunately, the snowmobile started right up. Unfortunately, the trail had become nearly impossible to see. Sighing with uncertainty, I was distracted by Togiak, who happily stuck her head in the snow, smelling for, looking at … who knows.

I called for her and gunned the heavy Polaris sled forward. She sprinted behind me as usual.

Fifty feet later I stopped, grabbed my goggles out of my backpack, placed them in the more useful location over my previously blinded eyes, and started the sled forward again.

Fifty feet later, I stopped again. The snowmobile, having no regular headlight setting, was always set on high beams. The combination of bright lights and the now-heavy snow made the trail virtually impossible to distinguish from the ravine that led so suddenly, and so definitively, down to the frozen stream below.

Still warm from the heat of the car, the pulls of the snowmobile cord, and the eagerness to get home, I wondered for a moment what to do. I tried to imagine the trail in my mind’s eye. How many turns were there? How many steep inclines up a hill? Togiak caught up to the stationary sled, leaning in to sniff my leg, making sure everything was all right. Was everything all right? A cold wind slapped at my face. Time to get going.

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: The Lemonheads

“I can’t go away with you on a rock climbing weekend / What if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again?”

– The Lemonheads, Outdoor Type, Car Button Cloth

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Spectacular Mountain Country Club

There are two strikingly stylish people behind the desk. One man. One woman. Both are helping the V.I.L.P. (Very-Important-Looking-Person) in front of me. I wait. Patiently. Looking for information brochures. Not wanting to be here any longer than absolutely necessary.

Suddenly, I begin to worry about all the things to which I rarely pay any mind. Should I take off my ski hat now that I’m inside? How many white dog hairs are visible on my maroon wool sweater? Insecurities peak their heads out where they rarely do. For how many days in a row have I worn these Carhartts? Maybe I should have shaved? Such odd, unusual thoughts and feelings.

I glance around at the spotless décor. The cathedral ceiling. The imitation rustic lodge feel. The shiny black Range Rover from Connecticut parked just outside the two large, imposing wooden doors. The whiny, middle-aged (but not admitting it to herself) white woman in the impeccable one-piece ski outfit with matching make-up, struggling to control/talk to/be with her two pre-teen children. They, struggling to grow up and remain children at the same time, already having more than enough to contend with without the added pressures of this first-class second-home asylum.

My thoughts are interrupted by a phone ringing. The stylish woman behind the desk answers it after a couple of rings. Fashionably late, I guess. “Good afternoon. Spectacular Mountain Country Club.” Her voice sings to the caller on the other end. In my mind, I picture a secretary calling for an executive on Wall Street. He too busy wearing his three-piece suit to be bothered. Or a young trophy wife in Fairfield County, telling the Latino nanny to keep her kids quiet. Rolling her eyes in dismay, at her nanny, at her kids, at her life/style. “Well, we are currently putting names on a waiting list. You could be #82.”

I wonder how long it will take for someone to address me. To at least ask me what I’m doing here. I wonder how long I would wait, unnoticed, before finally giving up and leaving. The seconds tick by like hours.

This is an exhausting environment.

I think about my pick-up, parked outside in a spot that threatens the penalty of towing if it is not removed after fifteen minutes. I try not to worry.

I take a quick but deep and reassuring breath.

I try to look like I belong. I do, in a way. I’m no stranger to the growing annoyances of the New England ski mountain experience. The generically groomed trails of blue ice. The over-crowded lodge bursting at the seams with some of the most-entitled people you’d never want to meet. The impending unreality of its gated-community feel. The weekend warriors trying too hard to make it all seem worth it. When it’s not.

Something has gone wrong. Terribly wrong. This place is out of control. It needs to be reined in.

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: Sarah Smarsh

“In matters of truth, much has been said of the memoirist’s responsibility in wielding accuracy; much less has been said of the reader’s responsibility in wielding belief. Belief is a form of reverence; disbelief, a form of rejection. Both can be destructive when unexamined: blind faith might give power where it’s not due while blind doubt might strip away power where it’s needed most. Whether we stick out our tongues to deny or savor another person’s claims, the revelation is about ourselves …

“Belief and doubt are inevitably selfish things. But beyond our dubious ability to judge a story is something transcendent: our ability to receive it. Memoirists aren’t making an argument. They’re making an offering.”

— Sarah Smarsh, “Believe It,” Creative Nonfiction #55

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: Georgia O’keefe

“Nothing is less real than realism … It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”

Georgia O’Keefe

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Quote of the Intermittent Time Period: Edward Abbey

“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”

– Edward Abbey, Prelude, Beyond The Wall

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Invisible Chains: Amherst Psychologist’s New Book Sheds Light on Emotional Abuse

In her recently published book, Amherst psychologist Lisa Aronson Fontes writes of a couple, Mandy and Tom, who were married after a whirlwind courtship featuring gifts of flowers and cards. But following their wedding Tom began complaining about Mandy talking with her sister and mother on the telephone, and obsessing about how she spent her time away from him. Later, he grew angry when she cut her hair without consulting him. Loving moments were replaced by anxiety. Mandy felt trapped.

The story of this couple, whose names have been changed by Fontes, is among several stories the author presents in “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.” The testimonials are meant to shine a light on emotional control, which, Fontes says, occurs in personal relationships more commonly than people realize.

“Coercive control is a problem that is hard to define,” Fontes said. “But the anguish women feel because of their lack of freedom is very real.”

Though more difficult to see than physical violence, it ruins lives, too.

“Coercive control strips away victims’ independence, sense of self and basic rights,” Fontes writes in her book. It robs victims of the ability to make decisions about their own time, friends and appearance through combinations of degradation, isolation, micromanagment, manipulation, physical violence, sexual coercion, threats or punishment on the part of the controller.

“Victims feel anxious, dependent and afraid.”

Fontes is a counseling psychologist who has worked in the areas of violence against women and child abuse for 25 years. She now teaches at the University of Massachusetts’ University Without Walls in Amherst. She also has been a victim of some of what she writes about.

Fontes drew on that as well as her work as a researcher, activist and psychotherapist in writing “Invisible Chains.” In the book she explores the questions: What is coercive control? Why does it happen? How can victims overcome it?

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Dork Is the New Cool: A Review of William “Upski” Wimsatt’s Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs

Like you, I was unbelievably excited to hear that Billy Wimsatt was coming out with a new book.

Like you, reading his other books were life-changing experiences. No More Prisons and Bomb the Suburbs helped define and encase my self-education and overall thinking throughout my twenties. Their topics, their tone, their vision, their possibility, their informality.

And like you, I balked when I heard the new book’s title: Please Don’t Bomb The Suburbs. The air out of my excited, inflated balloon. Please don’t bomb the suburbs? What the? Please. don’t. bomb. the. suburbs. Each word seemed to stand on its own, a monument of disappointment to my expectations. Please? Who says please in a book title?! And then continues to put a big Don’t in front of the title of his original book, which was an outright underground classic? It even looks that way on the book cover. His breakthrough graffiti-style Bomb The Suburbs stamped out with a huge PLEASE DON’T. Like he’s reforming himself. The middle-aging bureaucrat censoring the youth activist he once was. Who is this guy? This joker? This poser? What a dork. Sell-out! The usual affronts to my overly sensitive sensibility rattled themselves off in my brain. Sometimes, most of the time, it’s all too easy to be critical, judgmental, self-important, delusional.

I journeyed to my local bookstore armed with a very comfortable amount of skepticism and picked up Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs, ready to be disappointed, let down. Another cult hero turns mainstream. Another shining example of intentionality negated by reality’s circumstance.

But upon reading Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs, I couldn’t help but be impressed by its voice, its content, and its vision, just as much as I had hoped I would be (though I still disdain the book’s title). If Bomb the Suburbs and No More Prisons were books about youth activism, and fighting the power to achieve a revolutionary new society, then Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs is a book for middle-aging youth activists who are still passionate about fighting for a revolutionary new society, but recognize the importance of a visionary long-term, sustained movement in achieving change.

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Revolt at the Waldorf! Rich Activists Push for Higher Taxes on Themselves

A few weeks ago, outside Midtown Manhattan’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, protesters gathered to rally against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cut funding for public services, while also cutting taxes for the wealthy. Organized by New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, the marchers represented several organizations joining together to “Demand That Millionaires Pay Their Fair Share.”

But amidst the chants of “Not another nickel, not another dime! Bailing out millionaires is a crime!” on March 31 were two protesters holding a very unusual rally sign: “Another trust fund baby for taxing the rich! Let’s pay our fair share!”

It certainly wasn’t the first time trust-funders have made their way up Park Avenue to the prestigious Waldorf Astoria. But it was probably the first time inheritors of wealth have publicly rallied in front of the esteemed hotel for an increase in taxes on themselves.

Who would do such a thing? Why would anyone actively advocate against their own self-interest? “Our current tax system perpetuates inequality,” states Elspeth Gilmore. “Wealthy people can really change that narrative.”

Gilmore is the co-director of Resource Generation, a national nonprofit organization that supports and challenges young, progressive people with wealth to leverage their privilege and resources for social change.

But within the nonprofit and social justice communities, being wealthy is not the easiest label to identify with. “You hold up the sign first,” Gilmore tried to persuade her co-conspirator Jessie Spector, Resource Generation’s National Organizer, as the two of them joined the rally at the Waldorf, wondering if they “were really about to publicly declare themselves Trust Fund Babies.”

Ultimately, they felt they had to. “As a block,” Gilmore states, “the issue of unfair taxes is a key place where wealthy people can really speak out.”

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Valley Advocate Cover Photo June 2013


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March 3, 2017 · 10:35 pm