Tennessee Roamers, Mother-Daughter Style

The sun rose behind me on the first day as I drove west with Maggie, my 24-year-old daughter, snoozing in the back seat.

First hour of trip. ZZZZzzz

The sun rose ahead of me on the penultimate day of our trip as we drove east again, out of Memphis.

Penultimate sunrise, Memphis, TN

Then on the last day, heading north from our overnight stop in Virginia, I drove first shift as the sun slanted in through the opposite side of the car and fell upon Maggie’s head as she slept the sleep of the innocent and the young.

Final sunrise, somewhere in VA

Those are the sunrises I can measure our trip by. There are other benchmarks. Museums. BBQ joints. Friends. Local music. Local coffee. Local beer.

Seriously local Nashville Brew

Not my first road trip (by a long shot) nor the first I’ve written about in this blog, the recent mother-daughter journey to the heart of Tennessee was one of my most adventurous. Mostly because of the number of miles traversed—2,418, from one Friday to Saturday of the following week.

Road trips need no reason. They need no justification or excuse. They are, a priori, of value.

But why Tennessee?

  1. Never been
  2. It’s drivable
  3. Music and food mecca
  4. Two dear friends have, independently of one another, moved there over the last two years making it OBVIOUS that the universe required us to visit

100% worth it.

High points:

  • The usual road trip with Maggie perks. Epic rounds of “naughty Madlibs” that would no doubt horrify most people but that have us crying gallons of laughter tears. Fabulously twisted 20 questions games. Listening to the same CDs over and over because she is obsessed (currently with The National)– oh wait, that’s not a perk, but I’m willing to put up with it most of the time.
  • We read a whole book as we drove. Or rather, I read. When I drove, she slept. When she drove, I read.
  • Stopover in Cincinnati to see my sister and her family.

    Laughing with my sister

    That visit included long card games, great cooking, a mani-pedi, a fantastic contemporary art center with some great current exhibits around gender, feminism, and race in America etc.

    Feminist cousins at Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center

  • An afternoon at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, KY. Neither of us is a fan of the racing industry for a variety of reasons mostly to do with the horses. But we are both horse lovers and the museum was all about the ponies.

    Derby hats

  • Wandering around Nashville with friend Betty. This involved non-stop talk-as-we-walked.
  • The Johnny Cash Museum. Seriously excellent museum with interactive musical exhibits, lots of info on the soulful, challenging, often uplifting life and times of the Man in Black.

    Maggie channels Johnny

  • Sitting in a famous Nashville bar (Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge) in the afternoon listening to live music and drinking local beer.

    Tootsies in the afternoon

  • The exact replica of the Parthenon that exists in Nashville (who knew?) with a wonderful American art exhibit and a seriously huge replica of the Athena statue too. Very fun stop-off on what became a torrentially rainy day. We left there and ran barefoot back to our car, headed to dry off and have dinner in the Gulch section of Nashville where we listened to more music, of course.

    Talk talk talk walk walk walk (me+ Betty+ the Parthenon)

    Athena!

    BLAT… having too much fun

  • Memphis! It is a seriously cool city. First night there our awesome friend Charles introduced us to one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever experienced. The Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Ave was everything it should be, including the ice-cold beer. Their “dry BBQ”—basically with a dry rub to die for—was flawless.

    Dry ribs at Bar-B-Q Shop

  • Graceland—Elvis portrayed through the lens of worshipful love. The home is not huge, but it is flamboyant in its way, with a surprisingly modest kitchen! I was lucky enough to see him perform shortly before his death. I was 17, a senior in high school, and despite not being a particular fan, grabbed the chance because somehow I knew this iconic man was not long for the world. It was an amazing experience and I’ve had a soft spot for Elvis ever since. I’m glad I got to pay homage at the museum of Elvis-homage. 

    Surprisingly modest Graceland kitchen

    Elvis and his mirrored ceilings, amiright?

  • The Civil Rights Museum. Probably the high point of the entire trip. It is at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered and is worth going to Memphis for—the BBQ and music are nice bonuses. I wish every high school student in the country could experience this museum. We were cramming too much into one day and did not have a chance to see it all, so I will be going back. Someday. Warning: you will feel lots of things, and you will, in the end, cry.

    Balcony where he died

  • Four Way Soul Food Restaurant. Soul food, the real deal, straight to the face (and waistline).

    Fried green tomatoes at the Four Way … heaven

  • Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars playing on Beale Street on a Wednesday night—at Rum Boogie Café (hint: it’s not a café). Some seriously hot and dirty blues.

    Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars

    Beale St. Memphis

  • Taking home a cooler full of BBQ from another Memphis standard: Central BBQ, right behind the Civil Rights Museum. Their dry BBQ gave Bar-B-Q Shop a run for its money but I could never choose. Not in a million.

We drove back in two days that should have dragged but flew by, thanks to our tried-and-true road trip protocol. Re-entry was a little tough as it had been a long time since I’d been that footloose and it felt really good.

Maggie and I would both recommend a trip to TN. There’s much more to it than we managed to see in what amounted to 5 days actually in that state, but we were there long enough to realize there’s plenty of soul, beauty, flavor, history, and music.

 

 

 

 

Holding onto My Soul

possible

Hope.

  • Listening to Van Morrison singing “Wild Night” It lifts my feet and pushes up through my floating ribs. It reminds me, outside of consciousness, how I am still that same kid, back when hope was just part of my circulation, even when I had to learn the hard lessons.
  • Even if love is withheld, used as a weapon, or indistinguishable from loss, a cool breeze lifts my hair and brings hope.
  • Remembering to raise up my voice along with my eyes. I will be heard, and I will see you.
  • Road trips.

Love.

  • It is my superpower.
  • It lives in my body and can’t be banished or defeated.
  • Love built my babies, pushed them out, and grew them strong.
  • Love hurt me, and healed me, and taught me how to be strong and soft all at the same time. You too, maybe.
  • There is lots of it in the world. Do you think it’s hiding, or even gone forever? It isn’t. Look inside yourself and you’ll know I’m right.
  • I love the me that loves the you.

Desire.

  • Buddha said it is the root of suffering. Probably. But it fires me up. The wanting and the longing and the excitement. It’s kinda like being on a tall tower, knowing you can fly, and that as soon as you drift off to sleep… you will.
  • I want to hold hands. Whisper into the ear of a lover. Lie on the floor to look up at the Sistine Chapel. Swing my hips. Breathe.
  • Rare air—icy on the mountaintop, salty and soft from the bayou, or warm from the lips of someone who just kissed me for a long time.
  • And then there’s desire for justice, equity, valor, and passion.

Righteousness.

  • Because: it exists.
  • It rolls like water. A mighty stream.

Joy.

  • Hearing music. Let’s start here: STEVIE. Have you listened to “Do I Do” lately? It will make your synapses tingle with happiness. “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan. The lyrics really are sketchy but it just feels so good inside my body. What else feels good is “Love (Never Felt So Good)”—that thing Justin made with Michael after Michael was dead. (Must dance.) The Proclaimers proclaiming they’d walk 1000 miles to fall down at my door. (YES, thank you.) “Coyote” by Joni – especially the version from The Last Waltz. (The driving rhythms of this song and the voice—it is a truly flawless thing.) And so very very many more. As George Eliot said, “Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.”
  • Sexual abandon. Rare and exquisite. The certainty that every moment is, was, and will be delicious and full of tangles.
  • The middle of the afternoon. Nowhere to be. A city street, the smell of food, rain, or a woman’s perfume: a faint whiff. Boots made for walking and maybe later I’ll meet up with a friend, a loved and precious friend.
  • The unplanned for.
  • Laughing till I pee my pants. Red faced and bleary teary I am at my best in these moments of helplessness.
  • Road trips (reprise).

Activism.

  • As much as backing into the cave of soft darkness and yellow firelight is a temptation of monumental proportions, being cold and wind-smacked outside the White House somehow feels better, in the end.
  • Speaking my truth.
  • Risking love on the rock-strewn mountainslope of truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solidarity, Empowerment, Sisterhood, and Love

 

Me with my daughter on 42nd Street amidst the throng.

Me with my daughter on 42nd Street amidst the throng.

Standing in line to get some food at Grand Central at the end of the day, my daughter, a friend, and I stood chatting. A man in a Metro North conductor’s uniform stood near us. He turned a few times to look at us, and finally spoke. “I don’t mean to be forward, but I wanted to say something to you.” We were listening, unsure what would come next. “I haven’t been doing so well since the election. And today, seeing all the people pouring onto my train to come here to join the march, is the first time since that day that I have felt calm. I want to thank you.”

The estimates vary a bit but it looks like at least 500,000 men and women marched in New York City on Saturday, January 21, 2017 in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump. The purpose was simple enough: to let the new administration know we are here, we will be heard, and that human rights are not to be abrogated, dismissed, or flicked away because they interfere with one man’s fascist agenda. Well, one man plus a lot of other men who see Trump’s ascendancy as their chance to solidify their privilege once and for all. Fat chance.

A group of friends who either went together or found one another.

A group of friends who either went together or found one another.

If you have a pulse and are awake at least an hour or two out of every 24, you probably know that over 600 marches worldwide pulled in upwards of three million participants. All of them were peaceful. What I tuned into while I walked (and often stood still in pause-mode, pressed up against the patient thousands in my immediate vicinity) were: love, empowerment, solidarity, optimism, some fear and anger at what is transpiring in this country at the expense of the majority, but most of all a spirit of activism that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even the protests against Vietnam, the Civil Rights marches, the Million Man March (1995), and other major peaceful protests have not approached the numbers that turned out this time (around the planet).

As far as the eye can see.

As far as the eye can see.

Thousands of men marched alongside their sisters, wives, daughters, mothers. There were people of every color and all ages. From toddlers on shoulders to teens, the kids who participated were learning the lesson of peaceful activism from their parents—such a valuable lesson to learn by doing. White-haired grandparents, men and women in wheelchairs, straights, gays, transgender, first time marchers, veteran marchers, breastfeeding moms, dads wearing pink pussy hats—so many human beings with common purpose.

I marched with my alma mater.

I marched with my alma mater.

People are realizing that every voice does matter. People who voted for Hillary, and people who did not vote at all, and even some who voted for Trump, are coming together to take a stand against the rich and entitled skewering the rest of us. Take a stand for affordable healthcare for all. For public education. For the environment and the future of our planet. For the rights of women. For the rights of immigrants. For #BlackLivesMatter. For the future of this entire country, not simply the privileged.

Pussy hats prevailed.

Pussy hats prevailed.

There is a phrase in the song “America the Beautiful” that goes like this: “crown thy good with brotherhood.” (Sometimes when I sing it, the word “motherhood” slips out instead.) But what I want to say is this: for centuries, the concept of brotherhood has been accepted as a catch-all to refer to solidarity among people of all genders. The male pronouns and nouns have reigned. Yesterday, a spirit of sisterhood infused the marches worldwide. The men who participated did so joyfully in that spirit of sisterhood. Josh Bauman, a young cousin of mine, wrote this on his Facebook wall: “As today has proven in overwhelming numbers, we are stronger together and we will stand against those trying to tear us apart. And, appropriately, it is WOMEN leading the way.”

Some friends and colleagues of mine in D.C. with their posse.

Some friends and colleagues of mine in D.C. with their posse.

Women are indeed the future of this planet, simply because to continue to marginalize them and the issues they embrace is to alienate 51% of the humans on Earth. The needs, wishes, and agendas of only men will not serve the future. Pretending that a pussy-grabbing, climate-change-denying, racist one-percenter in the pocket of Vladimir Putin is a legitimate and worthy person to lead us into the future is pointless, a distraction, and a very dangerous thing to do. The Trump Zone of “alternative facts” is a parallel universe of lies and hatred that more than 3 million people rejected on Saturday.

Love, assertiveness, and empowerment are far from being mutually exclusive. They strengthen each other and those who embrace them. #whywemarch #womensmarch #resisttrump #pussygrabsback #dissentispatriotic

 

 

Scarred for Life—Christmas Shit I Reject

This is something I love. New York at Christmas.

This is something I love. New York at Christmas.

Growing up, I had a strange relationship with Christmas because I spent all my childhood from age 3 to emancipation (at age 17) leaving my mother (in NYC) to go be with my dad (in Pennsylvania). I knew I was abandoning my mother to whatever fate befalls women whose children leave on Christmas. (For all I know she was having an annual torrid two-week affair with the doorman or bar hopping with elves, but I imagined her drinking coffee and reading endless Agatha Christie novels.)

All that is ancient history at this point. As a grown woman, one of my favorite treats as a mother has been doing the whole Christmas thing.

I do not accept that the holiday is fundamentally bad because #commercialism #greed #crappytoys. There is love to be shared, and family to loll around with in PJs, and great food that has no calories because it is a holiday, and even when you find yourself alone (as I am for several hours this Christmas late afternoon), the lessons to be learned are the kind that heal and make us grow. This I believe.

But I will not under any circumstances sanction the following….

  1. Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. christmas-up-before-thanksgivingI know I share this pet peeve with many others who also bemoan the jingling of bells that nowadays occurs in SEPTEMBER in some stores. And I would add, the premature yard/house decorating that also takes place. There are rules. Santa comes waltzing down from the North Pole ON THANKSGIVING during a certain parade that happens in New York, courtesy of Macy’s. Yes, yes I know. Commercialism. But not really. The parade is a gift from Macy’s to the city of New York as well as every town and borough and country lane where it is televised. They go to all the trouble of getting Santa to make an appearance at the beginning of the holiday season. (There are a few other parades that day, like one in Detroit, but the real Santa is in NYC, obviously.) After that, you can put up your lights, your tree, and start piping in the music.
  2. The island of misfit toys. misfit-toysThis is very personal for me. I grew up watching Rudolph and was scarred for life (over and over again) by the unutterable sadness of rejected toys living out their lives, banished on some cartoon equivalent of the gulag archipelago. When I was raising my kids, we NEVER watched that movie. If my children saw it, believe me it was without my knowledge.
  3. Shitty desserts. Fruit cake. Plum pudding. Panettone (okay that one might not be a dessert, I’m not sure). Springerle cookies. Mincemeat pie. WHY?
  4. Christmas songs that are just not right. To name a few…. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is about a ubiquitous stalker who threatens all children with barely veiled horrid outcomes. I mean, he sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you are awake. Does he have a nannycam in every house? Creeper! Every sexist holiday song ever written. Here are two. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is gender stereotyping boys as killers and girls as baby-machines. But worst of all: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” = date rape. The whole song is about how he talks over her. And then: no consent. Then: roofie. It sucks.
  5. Fake trees. purple-fake-treeAs a toddler, when I first saw a live tree brought inexplicably into the house, I questioned my parents’ sanity (apparently this did happen). But that experience never scarred me for life. The first time I saw a fake tree—now that was just wrong. I now know that fake trees are terrible for the environment, so I can be a little self-righteous about this. But regardless—artificial greenery of any kind is a holiday NO. And when the “greenery” is pink, blue, purple, or silver, with glitter? There is evil afoot.
  6. Blue Christmas lights. blue-lightsWhile we are talking about crimes against the holiday, let’s put it out there. A tree all lit with blue lights is a very very very sad tree. A house with blue candles in the window, or blue strings draping the arbor vitae is a house I do not want to visit. Sorry if you are that blue-light person. I am not.
  7. People who celebrate Christmas but don’t understand it. I am not a Christian, but I am all about Christmas. I recognize the many pagan roots of the holiday and I also honor the Christ-like spirit that imbues Christmas with its modern-day meaning. So when people shove you aside to get to the on-sale stocking stuffer aisle at CVS or mutter ugly comments under their breath at a harassed café worker or the holier than thou characters who live their entire lives waging war against the underserved in our society and then make up a non-existent “war on Christmas” because some people don’t happen to celebrate that particular holiday… all I can say is, “Hypocrisy much?” is-there-a-war-on-christmas1

2016 was one of the worst years in recent memory if you have a fondness for Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Patty Duke, George Michael, the environment, human rights, the first amendment, or the US Constitution in general. So at this holiday season, I really have focused on love. And food, I admit, but only because I love food. All the love in the world can cure, or at least mitigate the effects of, shitty desserts, blue tree lights, elections interfered with by foreign powers, dangerous songs, and lots of other things, that matter a little, not at all, or lots and lots. So, love love love to you and thanks for reading.

drummer

After the Fear, Fall in Love with the World

love-the-frog-kiss

It’s been almost 3 weeks since the 2016 election. Or rather—the day when the people went to the polls to cast their votes. It is, of course, not over until the electors do their voodoo next month. And the aftermath… well the entire length of Donald Trump’s presidency will be known as the “aftermath” I suppose. Like the aftermath of a tsunami, or tragic explosion, or an inexplicable death.

This is not a political blog. It is my personal blog. I’m one woman, trying to figure shit out. Sometimes I poke fun at myself or maybe you, sometimes I rant about the things I feel passionately about, sometimes I submit pure fluff (well researched or at least backed by meaningful opinions… namely, mine).

So don’t look for any deep wisdom here. In fact, at this point (paragraph three) I have no damned clue what I’m going to write next.

What has it been like for this privileged white woman? Let’s see. First, grief. I don’t know how it was for others, but my grief was partly because I had misjudged so badly. Had failed to see what was right there around me, under the surface… no doubt my whole life. The deep anger. The bigotry, or at least the willingness to let bigotry do its worst. Oh so easily. I thought about minds closed tight. Mainlining Fox news. I grieved that people were so badly informed.

But what did I do? I immediately mainlined my own version of intellectual/philosophical comfort food. Gloria Steinem in The Guardian. Toni Morrison in the New Yorker. Tess Rafferty’s video. Among many others.

Of course, by comfort food, I do not necessarily mean words that lower the adrenaline and cortisol in my blood stream. These people’s brilliant, thoughtful, and inspirational words are the kind that remind me that I’m not alone. That other people feel pissed and scared too. But more importantly, that there is more to be done. That we are not giving up. That’s good comfort, even if it isn’t the easy pablum of “it’s all gonna be okay.” (Cuz it won’t.)

So then I realized I was badly informed too. I can’t bemoan the way people only read what they want to know if I have been doing that as well.

So many of us chose not to believe a Trump victory was possible. Easy for us to be horrified by what was in front of us: the white supremacists at Trump rallies, and the pussy-grabbing, and the ignorant, hateful, reactionary tweets. But did we really believe the danger was real? I’m thinking maybe not. Until it was.

And then, along the way, I realized that, white supremacists aside, there are Trump voters out there who feel scared too. Or they did, and somehow a vote for the Orange One made their fear abate. Still, I don’t really get what they’re thinking. I mean, how scared and angry do you have to be to vote for someone as terrifyingly narcissistic, reactive, ignorant of government in all forms as Trump? How desperate must you be to overlook the racism and blatant misogyny? Because from where I sit, if you overlook it, you are it. Bystander guilt is real. But there was a lot I did not know, and that these folks are scared too, I had to finally admit, with help, starting with Bernie Sanders’ statement the day after the election.

I tend to see the good in people. That’s who I am—no credit can be taken because I guess I just came out that way. But you can see how this tendency is creating a kind of cognitive dissonance in me right about now.

Unable to continue a consistent train of thought in this particular blog, I’ll end with this question: Have you done any of these things?

  • Shared every horrific fact about what Trump is doing, post-election, on Facebook?
  • Wallowed in the “whatthefuck” as, eyes pinned wide, you watch videos of white supremacists heiling Trump at political speeches until you are sure your as-yet-unborn grandchildren will live in a literal and figurative desert?
  • Listened while people you know tell you about how they were ordered to the back of the line (black woman at the post office), told to go home to their “third world country” (American with Pakistani heritage), lunged at by a group of young men saying, “It’s legal to grab you by the pussy now” (girl walking down the street)?
  • Cried real tears for HRC. #imstillwithher
  • Decided to only spread love on Facebook, which lasts about a day? But then you keep deciding that, which is good. (Keep trying.)
  • Decided to leave social media altogether but then you don’t and then you see something truly inspirational?
  • Decided to do something tangible, even if you can’t pour money into Planned Parenthood or the Southern Poverty Law Center (if only you could)? I applied for iMentor, whereby I can actually help kids from under-served schools in NYC apply to and get into colleges.
  • Spent entire dinners with friends NOT talking about the election? Except when you can’t help it for like ten minutes but then someone says, “Let’s not talk about this right now.”
  • Spent entire afternoons doing nothing but talk about all of it with anyone who will engage with you?
  • Sent postcards to Trump? #postcardavalanche #stopbannon
  • Tweeted even though you literally never Tweet.
  • Wondered if you should wear a safety pin or if it’s patronizing and all white-clueless-privilege to do so? The paralysis of NOT wanting to be judged as insensitive sometimes makes us insensitive. (I think I’ll get my safety pin on.)
  • Reminded yourself that #blacklivesmatter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is a superpower?

I’m just one person floundering around trying to do something good. I almost said “my best,” but I wonder if we ever do the best best best we are capable of and if trying hard to be real is almost as good anyway.

I realized the day after the election that I had (heretofore) managed to banish fear from my life almost 100%. The journey to that state was long and sometimes it was hard work and genuinely concentrated effort and other times it just meant being me, your basic happy, loving person who sometimes gets scared when the internal monologue needle gets stuck in the groove. The reason I realized I had almost entirely banished fear is that on November 9, I felt it. The fear was back.

My goals as I see them right now, November 27, 2016.

#1 Keep fear at bay.

#2 Know that light banishes dark, love banishes hate, and activism works.

#3 Remember that people are good, and those who are not good right now have goodness in them. It’s just hiding behind fear.

#4 I want to talk to people who disagree with me about anything and everything…. The ones who can do that without agenda or anger. And I’ll leave all agendas and my own anger at the door too. I just really need to know a lot more.

#5 Try harder.

#6 Here is one more goal I can think of right now: Fall in love with the world all over again every day from scratch and then again and then again. Pass it on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Mother’s Battle Against White Male Privilege

woman-in-mans-world-3

I’m sure I don’t know the half of it.

Back then, if it was named at all, it might have been called chauvinism. I doubt she even heard the word “sexism” until she was out of the corporate world and battling a different set of demons that dominated the latter part of her life.

She grew up in poverty during the Depression, was the first person in her family going back to forever who went to college, and the first of her immediate family to leave Ohio. She was also the first woman in her family to pursue a career outside of domestic service. She was, I believe, the first to imagine a different life. She had aspirations.

She learned how to “pass” in the world she longed to enter by taking lessons from a kindly aristocrat who lived on the other side of town. As a girl, my mother would visit Mrs. Myers to learn how to speak properly, set a table, pour tea, walk gracefully, descend the stairs with a book balanced upon her curly head. She had aspirations, sure enough.

Her fascinating career path, post-college, included stage acting, a brief hiatus as a travel agent (it got her to Europe), and even her own 15-minute TV show called “At Home with Lee”—a kind of proto-Martha Stewart thing where she (as I understand it) advised about home décor and fashion. That was all out in California. Then, in 1962, when I was two, she ended up leaving my dad behind in Pennsylvania where they lived, to pursue acting in NYC, only to change gears again in the pursuit of enough money so she could feed me and pay rent. A clever writer, she got a job with L’Oreal (then known as L’Oreal of Paris) creating names for lipsticks and nail color and was soon promoted to copywriter. Within five years she was a rising star in the New York advertising world.

I literally had to watch Mad Men to realize how thrilling, and truly horrific, that must have been for a young woman.

She was a strange product of two worlds—the one she was born to and the one she pushed her way into (brooking no argument). She did not think in terms of “feminism” but the constant inequities she faced were, to her, shockingly, soul-burningly unjust.

But she shared little of this with me. Interesting, considering she did not hesitate to include me in way too much information about other things in her life. Perhaps she felt that it was somehow her fault that she could not convince her employers that she was worth more than 50 cents on every dollar her male counterparts earned. Her solution was simply to work five times as hard as they did, achieve 10 times their success… and maybe if she was lucky inch up to 55 cents.

One story she liked to tell—probably because it showed my father in such a good light—was this: My father had recently taken a job as a professor at a small Pennsylvania college. At this point, their separation and her move to New York was still a couple years in the future. Though she’d always worked before they moved back east from California, she was now expecting a child (moi), and didn’t have a job. My father was asked to give a speech, but felt overwhelmed with his new duties, so he asked his wife if she’d help him out by writing the speech for him. The way I understand it, they talked. He told her the gist of what he wanted to say, and she made it happen. It’s called ghost writing (I do it for clients all the time). It was apparently a very good speech. He delivered it, with few, if any, tweaks.

When the chair of his department came up to my parents after the speech and praised my father for it, my dad (bless him) said, “Well thank you! My wife wrote it, actually.”

The professor looked down at my mother with (I imagine) a painfully patronizing faux smirk of uber-unctuous paternalism and said, “You mean she typed it?”

A good story in that the guy was set straight, but very few of my mother’s encounters with entrenched sexism had happy endings. As a single working mother over 30 she was constantly judged as either doing a crappy job of parenting or, inevitably, doing a poor job of everything else.

Still, she earned lots of respect from many people in her field. She always managed to be promoted, or head-hunted for an even better job, and broke through several intermediate glass ceilings on the way. But she had to prove herself again and again in ways that the men in her field did not. She and her team won numerous Chloe awards and, every time, had to correct assumptions that the team was led by the only man on it, 15 years her junior and with less than half her experience or savvy.

Before she left the corporate world, she was making more than anyone in her family ever had, despite the income disparity between her and every guy within ten thousand hectares.

That was the 60s and 70s. One woman: my mom. Multiply that story by a zillion cubed and we might have an idea of how women have had to fight for every ladder rung. Beat off the guys who tried to grab them by the arms and throw them off that ladder with dismissive claims that they belong in the secretarial pool, if not the kitchen. I imagine my mother sitting in meetings with a bunch of men and trying to report on her department while being called “honey” and asked to make coffee. How many times was her ass pinched in the elevator? How many men tried to sleep with her? How many men threatened her job if she did not sleep with them? I mean, I don’t know for a fact. So maybe it never happened.

But it happened.

Here we are in the 21st fucking century. Women have been elected to the highest offices in several countries. Women populate the colleges and universities in the US by over 50%. We’ve crept up to 74 cents on the dollar (average between the 79 cents of white women and the 68 cents black women earn). Do we celebrate those gains or beat our heads on our desks because it’s so insanely not enough? But we keep inching painfully forward. Justin Trudeau makes headlines by having a totally integrated cabinet. I love him, but why does that make headlines? It should be a non-starter, as it would be to splash the front page with two inch letters saying Boys and Girls Being Born Every Day in Local Hospitals.

Still, what I’m saying is that we’ve continued to (mostly) make progress since my mother’s story.

The coming election will mean everything to this continued narrative of women’s rights. Will the tone set by Trump and his followers become the tone of the story of this nation in the future? Will the ugliness of bare-knuckle misogyny be the new starting point with our children, sons and daughters alike—the next generations who will either continue to be incrementally moved toward gender/race enlightenment or have the scaffolding knocked out from under them?

Women still get their butts pinched in the work place, but at least now it’s against the law. Women still have to cope with intrusive, objectifying, sexual, patronizing behavior from men every single day, but they are less and less afraid to come out in public to say, “This happened and it’s not okay.”

Is all that going to change?

“Momma, I’m sorry to say that all the work you did will come to nothing in the end” is not something I want to say to the urn sitting on my bookcase. I want to say, “The asshole got his comeuppance and the first woman president has been sworn in. And she’s badass, Momma. You’d love her.”

The Case Against Kvetching OR Don’t Be a Miserable Cow

amazing things

Saw the above meme today. A friend posted it on her Facebook page. It’s a reminder—perfectly humorous and perfectly true.

I’m trying to break the kvetching habit. The bitching, moaning, oh-my-god-can-you-believe-what-happened thing. It’s so easy to do and when it’s happening, for a minute or two, it seems like it feels really good. Especially if the person you are kvetching to is as outraged as you are. Or is sympathetic to the Utter Horror of the situation you are describing.

Did you ever notice that most complaining is about other people? I guess that makes sense since very few “situations” are immaculately conceived. I mean, people conceive and birth most all situations in life.

Maybe because of the fact that it’s about other people, at some point in the middle of a big kvetch-fest, it starts to feel not-so-fun. Plus you end up feeling like a total victim and that sucks.

At first, we are fascinated by the very fact that someone could be stupid or clueless or selfish or mean or insecure or bitchy enough to do whatever the Unacceptable Thing was. Or not do whatever thing we thought should have been done. We become personally insulted by this person’s actions. We are offended, shocked, hurt. We must tell someone. Now that person has to share in our fascination/hurt. If things go as planned, now both people, kvetcher and kvetchee, are caught up in the negative energy of the kvetch-fest. It builds on itself.

Even after it stops feeling good and actively feels pretty crappy, the bemoaning continues. (Have you ever eaten the last quarter of a bag of chips, even though you feel overwhelmed with salt and grease and your stomach is objecting? And you say, “They’re almost gone. It won’t be long now.” Like it’s a chore you must get through. It’s like that with complaining. “I’ll just get this off my chest and I’ll feel better,” while really you are wasting valuable time you could use to write a poem or take a walk or build with Legos.)

And p.s. you don’t feel better. Not even a little bit. Don’t kid yourself. You have just RELIVED The Horror. Whatever it was. The Unforgiveable Thing that happened/was done to you. You’ve relived it in words, which are like tiny nails that hammer that Unforgiveable Thing even more firmly into your brain and body. You now feel the hurt/insult/offense all over again.

It’s a weird thing that happens inside the human body when we wallow. And believe me, everyone has wallowed at least once. It’s like marinating a piece of meat in a balsamic and red wine mixture with lots of garlic, black pepper, and cumin. Pretty soon the meat is so infused with all those flavors that it can’t be un-infused. We are now “one” with the bad shit that happened. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I once thought we humans were naturally inclined toward kvetching, but I’m not so sure. I know people who never do it. I know people who taught themselves not to do it. I’m wanting to unlearn the habit and I feel like I’m actually making progress. So I don’t think it’s innate. I think it’s learned. We grow up surrounded by people on the subway, in line at the deli, in our own living rooms, and we hear, “You’ll never guess what insanely offensive thing HE DID NEXT!” or “Wait till I tell you this truly horrible thing that HAPPENED TO ME.”  As if we can’t wait to smear our misery all over our nearest and dearest.

So here is the super-simplified list of what complaining does to us. I got this info from this very comprehensive article full of links for further study, and I recommend you read it because it’s awesome.

  • Repeatedly thinking negative thoughts makes it easier to think negative thoughts in the future which is all brain science and has to do with synapses and stuff. It means bumming out makes it super likely that being bummed will be your default. You can rewire your brain to be dark… or light.
  • Being with negative people can rewire you too. Our brains seem to be so empathetic that other people’s emotions go into us like they are our own. Who you surround yourself with really can change your life. The good news is that happy people can rewire your brain in the direction of love, love, and some of that love.
  • Angry and negative thoughts weaken the immune system, raise blood pressure, and increase your risk for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Because stress. Which is a killa.

How do we navigate life while communicating and being open but avoiding the truly damaging effect of complaining? I do not have an answer to that. It has been proven that the “ya just gotta vent” theory is dead wrong, but on the other hand, you might want to casually mention to your mom/friend/husband/cat that your boss is Darth Vader in disguise…. So I’m thinking that if we

  1. Don’t take shit personally (remember Don Miguel Ruiz and the Four Agreements?) which means we…
  2. Understand that when people do crappy things it’s all about them, not us, which means…
  3. It can’t “marinate” us and we can…
  4. Do what my friend Teri suggests and say, “Isn’t that interesting?” and then let it go….

A nice buffer against the negative stuff, the kvetch-fest, the marinating in damaging emotions= gratitude. When you see how amazing and helpful and hardworking and kind most people are today, it helps you notice it tomorrow again too.  Another probiotic for life is love. (The Beatles got that.) Look at a picture of your kid… or look at your kid. Or put your face against the purring furry side of your dozing cat. Or watch a blue jay flit from branch to branch outside your window (as I am doing now). Or make a call to someone who loves you as much as you love her or him. Or remember peanut butter. (Better yet, go eat a giant spoon of it.)

I’m really working on this. I’m lucky that my default mode is one of optimism. I get excited about things and I have hope for the future. I can take no credit for the way I was born. The fact that my mother was a mentally ill narcissist could well have fucked me up but good. It didn’t. Not in any ways that really matter. Plus, she was pretty badass too, and that’s the stuff I like to remember. And my brain chooses to remember the good stuff almost all the time. But we can all do better. I’m trying to figure out how to extricate myself from other people’s need to come into my space and vent. A kind and polite extrication. (Any advice? I’d be grateful.)

Baby steps. For now, I’m grateful to have a Sunday morning to write this blog and make friends with the blue jay outside.