Rauschenberg at MoMA: Inspiration, Collaboration, and the Turned-on Mind

Winter Pool, 1959

I’ve been thrilled by visual art most of my life. A combination of blessings, like where I grew up  and one particularly inspiring teacher when I was still very young, created me, a person who is literally vibrationally activated when I’m in the presence of exciting, great art. And there is a lot of great art in this world.

So on August 12, 2017, as my beloved Charlottesville was under attack by domestic terrorists, I was having a very good day. This hurts a little, in that place inside me (a vestigial mental construct left from my odd, if art-infused, childhood), but the bigger, better place inside me knows that it was okay for me to spend the day at MoMA with a friend, renewing myself by visiting the Rauschenberg exhibit called: Robert Rauchenberg: Among Friends.

You can read about it. You can (aka should) go see it if you are within a few hundred miles of New York City. There are great pictures and video clips on the MoMA site (linked above). I’m not going to describe the exhibit for you, or review it, or narrate what was in each room, elucidate each chapter in his artistic journey.

Rauschenberg’s work as stage set for dance.

Just want to say a few things. Like this: the exhibit is a window into a great and thrilling mind. Rauschenberg’s openness and his seemingly endless flow of ideas and “I’m going to try this now” moments, his humor, his relationships, his appreciation of fellow artists from composers like John Cage to choreographers like Merce Cunningham, and visual artists from Jasper Johns to Sue Weil to Cy Twombly. All of these things added to his inspiration. An angsty life of isolation, darkness, competitiveness, bitterness was not for him. He was an effluence of joyful creative pollination.

Rebus, 1955

His life and how he chose to live it, devoted to his art, to his ideas, to the ideas and art of others, inspired by the ideas and art of others—that was as much a thrill as seeing the art itself—both the majestically large pieces and the small pieces, all of it both conceptual and very real and glorious.

I mean he tried things. Nothing was “not worth” his exploration. He’d have an idea and bam. I have no idea how his “Erased De Kooning Drawing” was received critically. Who cares? He went to visit the great De Kooning himself and said, hey, I want to try this thing. I want to make a piece of art that is an erased drawing. How about one of yours? De Kooning was like, okay cool. Here is a piece I actually like a lot so have at it. Rauschenberg gave it a shot. He doesn’t seem to have started an entire phase of his art based on erasing drawings, but it was a thing he did. Jasper Johns came over and said, cool. Let’s frame it.

Canto II, the Descent (from Dante series 1958-60)

The drawings of all 33 cantos of Dante’s Inferno. I could have spent the entire day just on those. My God.

Charlene, 1954

His florid, red pieces—gorgeous assaults. I want to fill a house with them and then never leave it.

Automobile Tire Print, 1953

The tire tracks—John Cage’s Model A, one tire dipped in black paint, Rauschenberg’s 20 pieces of typewriter paper stapled together.

Hiccups (not as it was displayed at MoMA), 1978

Hiccups, the 97 zippered-together pieces of handmade paper, each an explosion of color and each a unique assemblage of transferred items run through a lithograph press.

Grapheion, 1988

His lithographs and silk screens. I mean those ALONE….

Gold Standard, 1964

His use of all media from toothpaste to old clothes to rusty nails to glue to film to silk to tossed out shipping boxes to canvas and paint and about a thousand other things.

His 9 Evenings combining an incredible mix of artists and audience-participation and lights and performance.

Monogram, late 1950s

His humor. The stuffed goat in the tire. Majestically itself. Having gone through several versions. I mean, how can you just have one version of a stuffed goat in a tire?

Bed, 1955

His incredible fabulous combines, (most of the pieces shown in this blog) a term he made up to make people stop asking him “WHAT IS THIS?”

Some of his pieces are statements, some of them just… something excellent to look at. Well, no, I take that back. They are all statements, aren’t they? Statements of an aesthetic and a consciousness and a will to create.

I love how being in the presence of a lifetime of art—his or any artist’s—Van Gogh, Renoir, Pollack, O’Keeffe, Kahlo, Rothko, Nevelson, whoever it is—invites you into the soul of that artist. I guess it’s like that with reading someone’s writing, seeing someone’s dance, hearing someone’s music. But the difference is that you can be inside a room with ten visual creations at once, in an exhibition with 500 pieces, maybe. You can’t simultaneously watch 500 ballets or read 500 poems or listen to 500 sonatas.

So this experience of visual art is like an immersion, a flood. You open yourself to it and you are filled with it. If you let yourself, you almost become that person for a moment. Or maybe for a lifetime, because you have so fully experienced that outflowing of another human, one so willing to commit her or his ideas to the plane of perceived reality (I’m being very careful here). For some that is a risk and for others, maybe for Rauschenberg, simply an imperative, like reproducing, or an instinct, like breathing.

As haters come out of the darkness, I will not let myself forget the light that is in us. Spend a day with art—every city has a place you can go, a gallery or museum with a room you can sit in and feel the flood of ideas and— beauty or not beauty—artistic spirit. Some say that is the very thing (not brutality, not hate, not rage or selfishness or the lust for power) that defines humanity.

Bathtub, 1973

PNW Part III

My kids being awesome

After a final day of experiencing the coolness of Nevada City, CA and Grass Valley, CA (where Win did find the most amazing fanny-pack for outdoorsmen and the Salvation Army and I bought some geological artifacts (aka crystals such as witch’s broom) at a local shop called The Cult of Gemini), Maggie and I said a temporary goodbye to her brother and we headed north again.

Fanny pack for fisherman

En route to Etna, CA (which seemed to be mostly a crossroads with a few houses and a school) for a halfway point/overnight, we drove towards Lake Shasta, Mount Shasta, the Shasta Dam, and our vision was filled with the huge snowcapped 14,179 foot high semi-dormant volcano. We got rather excited by the human story of the building of Shasta Dam during the Depression. Not to mention the beauty of the dam itself, a testament to some badass engineering and a lot of really hard work. The lake, created by said dam, looked pretty delicious on a 99° day. It seems many of the lakes in California are created by humans, not ancient glaciers or springs or meteors—not even god-like creatures with big feet and magic jazz-hands.

Shasta

Below Shasta Dam

Biggest (not tallest) dam in the country

Yet another amazing Mexican meal here at Joe’s Giant Orange Cafe in Shasta Lake

We also went to the headwaters of the Sacramento River—where the water percolates, freezing cold, from a spring. The spot felt very sacred to both of us. We lingered for quite a while, breathing in the ozone-infused air and dipping our feet into the water until numbness hit—in less than ten seconds. We set some intentions, let some things go. And moved on.

the headwaters

The further we got from our time with Win and Heather, the more we looked forward to seeing them again soon, as goodbyes are not as much fun as being together. Nevertheless, we pushed on towards Portland.

The last few days of our trip—Saturday to Monday in Portland and Monday to Tuesday back in Seattle, were glazed ever-so-slightly with melancholy as the sun and crisp air outlined every sweet or inconsequential moment and beautiful thing with dazzle.

Mostly these last days were about people, not places. Examples:

  • On our first night in Portland, two dear friends (connected to me through a board on which I serve), took us out to dinner on the Wilamette River (not pronounced Wilamĕtte but WilAHmette) and talked long past the setting of the sun… which happens very late out there on the first day of July, on the western edge of the furthest west time zone in the country.

    Breakfast at Lianne’s … comfort and love!

  • We visited the largest new and used book store in the country: Powell’s. A full city block, several stories high, and requiring a map to navigate. Um… some advice: go to Portland, OR immediately if you have not been to this store.

    One floor of 6, one room of a million

    Powell’s Books Forever

  • The next day, Win arrived, sans Heather, having driven a total of 9 hours just to spend 24 more with his mama and sister. We spent some time just chatting as we wandered around heading into stores like Patagonia and Icebreaker.

    #FlyFishingGeek

  • Another happy former teacher-former student reunion took place while we were in Portland. My children, Win and Maggie, plus Alison, her husband Tom, and John, all gathered one afternoon at the Rogue Distillery and Public House (a good place to geek out over Oregon beer). John was the oldest (class of ’91), then Alison (’98), then Win (’04) and Maggie (’07). I was almost giddy with the excitement of such a gathering. Nothing would make me happier than having a chance to sit and have a drink or a meal with every student I ever taught. That afternoon, we talked about academia, real estate, the school, music, their children (John), upcoming birth (Alison and Tom), jobs, plans, and whatever came to mind. It was perfect.

    Teacher Love

    14 years apart and so much in common (John on the left, Win on right)

  • Breakfast with friends (at Gigi’s—another delish breakfast spot), dinner with friends, and a chance to wander the city by car but no chance to park it and take a walk through the Japanese Gardens or the Holocaust Memorial because it was July 4 weekend and tourists just like us got up earlier and were far more organized. So my kids and I just tooled around. Found a coffee place. Found a lunch place (honestly it was pretty amazing—called Fat City Café and basically you need to go there). There is never a shortage of talk when we are together, in a car, on a trail, or sitting at the counter at any given restaurant or coffee hot spot anywhere, any time.

    Fat City fun

Eventually, we had to say goodbye to Win. He drove off towards Bend and a meet-up with Heather, and Maggie and I drove back to Seattle where we spent the 4th with our friends, Anna and Louise. This fun included an afternoon in the sunshine on Lake Washington, and a long, joyful, speed-boat ride around one end of the massive lake.

Last night with Anna and Louise!

Lake Washington and me, chillin’

Louise is a badass boat driver!

Ranier was supposed to be behind me but I failed at this pic.

As the sun headed towards the horizon, we were at the airport again, waiting for our redeye. As we flew, we felt sleep deprived and a bit sad. Also a bit happy. Maggie was going home to her girlfriend, her cat, and a new job. I was going back to summertime-as-I-know it. Some work, some play, more work, a little more travel, if I’m lucky, and maybe a few good dates with a few good men.

Final photo…of my kids being together, with me, which is the best part of all.

 

 

 

 

PNW Part II

The first installment of my PNW travel blog left us off in Olympia, ready to head southward towards California, where we were to meet up with Win, my son (and Maggie’s big brother), and his girlfriend, Heather. We road-tripped down Rt. 5 making several stops along the way. And no, not all of them were for espresso drinks.

  • Key gustatory stops included:
    • Fabulous and unexpected Mexican lunch in Eugene, OR. Mama Mayra has 5 stars on Yelp, all of them deserved. Definition of hole-in-the-wall, suffused with fragrant cooking aromas, smiling diners chowing down at worn linoleum tables.

      Lunch in Eugene.

    • More coffee. (So not all our stops were for coffee but, I mean, we made stops for coffee.)
    • Bricktowne Brewing Co. in Medford, OR. Don’t hold the “e” at the end of “Bricktowne” against them. The beer was good, and Maggie loved their dry pear cider.
        

      Maggie’s list of high points (cough) would include: “it’s legal!”

    • The best breakfast place ever in the history of history— Morning Glory Café in Ashland, OR. This place had a menu so delicious and creative, a décor so campy and cozy, servers so sassy and efficient, that we are seriously considering a move to Ashland for the duration of life.

      The glories of Morning Glory cafe.

We arrived in Placerville, CA by evening of our second day of driving, after stopping for groceries. Our arrival, and the much-anticipated bear hugs from the bear-of-a-son (I was prepared for his bear-like-appearance), took place in 109° heat.

But the heat was incidental. What mattered was the warmth of being with both my children at the same time for a whole week. Slipping back into the on-site mother-groove and letting the flow of talk and laughter fill me up. The Maggie and Win show is always fun to tune into….

I felt blessed to be able to see through a small window into the life shared by my son and the woman he loves (beautiful, vibrant Heather). For three of the days I was able to stay with them and see firsthand the easy, intimate rhythm of two people who love and support each other. The fact that one of them is my grown child made it especially meaningful for me.

  • Here are some of the superfun things we did together:
    • Visit Lake Tahoe. I’ve been collecting possible words that I can use to convey the impact of Tahoe on my brain/psyche/soul. I came up with this one: WOW. The three of us (Heather was working) had a little picnic, took a short hike around (part of) the lake’s perimeter in the 100° heat (with lots of looking-at-the-view stops), then went somewhere to drink a cold beer.
       

      This was the “cold beer” part of the day.

    • Wine tasting. Heather was not having a good day that day. It got notably better when we started puttering around to a few nearby wineries and tasting their honorable wares. Turns out that Napa is not the only county in CA with a zillion superb wineries. Within 5 miles of where we were staying there were 20+ we could visit. We checked out about 5. Our favorite was Jodar. Of all that we visited, the people were the most real, the wine the most delicious, and the atmosphere the most jovial. Plus, geeks that we are, we learned the most and liked that. Side note: as Heather, Maggie, and I sipped wines and nibbled cheese, Win hung out either outside or in a nearby arm chair, depending on where we were, reading fly fishing articles on his phone.
    • The Haircut. When we first arrived in CA, we saw firsthand what no scissor and no razor looks like on my son for 7 months. Remember Jeremiah Johnson? Or maybe Forrest Gump on his cross-country trek? Like that. And in temps pushing 110°. Win: “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get a cut.” ENTER MOTHER (wearing imaginary cape, hovering five inches off the ground with hands on hips): “To the rescue!” So, the day we visited Nevada City, CA, we stopped off at a barber shop on the outskirts of town. When the four of us (all rather tall humans) poured into the little shop (we left the dog outside), the barber was unfazed. She proceeded to cut an elegant swath through my son’s hair collection, moving it from his head and face to the floor at her feet.

      Pre-cut, in car with the gang of us including Stella the bestest dog ever.

      Mid-cut with the unflappable barber.

    • A woods-walk on the Deer Creek Tribute Trail near Nevada City. Beautifully maintained by locals and with gorgeous retaining walls, artistically designed, including niches where people have created community altars to nature.

      One of two altars with additions by us.

      Suspension bridge on Deer Creek Tribute Trail.

    • Geeking out about gold rush history. The “kids” and I headed to Coloma, CA, location of Sutter’s Mill, the site of the first gold nugget discovery by James Marshall (1848). The South Fork of the American River flows gloriously by the spot where a saw mill was created. Soon the non-existent town, and the area of CA that was home to around 150,000 Native Americans, was flooded with white men fixated on quick wealth (a tale as old as time), and about 120,000 of the rightful residents were utterly wiped out. The blip in the road that is now a few historic buildings and a little museum was, for about 8 years, a thriving metropolis.

      Highly knowledgeable and skilled blacksmith at Coloma.

      Super cute lunch place in the heart of this “birth of the gold rush” area.

      Surveying the North Fork.

      Recreation of Sutter’s actual mill.

    • Having a beer with a former student of mine at The Club Car in Auburn, CA (forever memorialized for me now). He and his wife are ranchers dedicated to sustainable animal husbandry. We sat at the bar, sipping local beer and talking about ranching, the environment, the school with which we all share a history, Gareth’s kids (small, lively, and brilliant and whom I’ve not met), my kids, who were in 3rd grade and kindergarten when Gareth graduated. It was joyful. An hour and a half passed and we parted with hugs all around.

      Maggie, Me, Gareth, Love.

The best part of any trip can happen between the “things we do.” This mother-daughter trip was across the country but we also logged over 1700 miles getting from Seattle to our meet-up with my son, plus about 2-300 additional miles exploring together once we got there.

The hours in the car included some of the most beautiful views imaginable.

Casual driving view….

Pull-over view American River.

Plus lots of fun scoping out coffee shops on Yelp and going out of our way to hit them. And then we read one and a half books (I read to Maggie while she drove –neither of us ever outgrew read-aloud). When we were tooling around with her brother, and Heather too sometimes—plus don’t forget Stella the dog—it was like a magical car-based opportunity to … well, talk. Then there was the talk-while-walking-around-random-towns, the talk-while-exploring-nature, the talk-while-eating, talk-while-cooking, talk-while-shopping, talk-while-sitting-around-and-forgetting-what-we-were-supposed-to-be-doing, and so forth.

Walk and talk. (This took place later, in Portland, but you get the idea.)

Not at all sure that wasn’t the best part of the whole trip.

But eventually daughter and mother headed back north, with plans to meet up with Win (and maybe Heather) again in Portland just before July 4th and our flight back. The last chapter of my PNW blog will be posted very soon….

 

 

PNW Part I

Skyline snapped en route from airport.

The pull of the Pacific Northwest grew gradually but inexorably over the years. When my son moved out there six months ago, there no longer existed a single excuse not to just… GO.

Seattle to (almost) Sacramento and back again in 2.5 weeks. Another epic journey undertaken with my 24 year old daughter, Maggie.

In this overview (Part I) — Washington State. If you told me tomorrow that I was moving there, had a job, a place to live, and sorry but it just had to be, I’d kiss you. Seattle stole my heart and the whole state captured my spirit.

High points included….

  • Seeing a dear friend from my school days in NYC and her wife, and getting the quickie overview of Seattle from a wise and pragmatic person who instinctively knew what we’d love.

    The wonderful Anna and Louise.

  • What we saw (and loved):
    • Lake Washington (where my friends Anna and Louise live) and the view of snow-covered Mt. Ranier at one end. For an easterner this hit my eyeballs as “A Mountain” putting Mt. Alander or Brace Mountain of my nearby Taconic range into stark perspective as “mountains”—note my use of capitalization. (Ranier is 14,410 feet high and topped by a glacier. By way of comparison, I learned to ski at Catamount, in the Berkshires, with an elevation of 1000 feet and topped by mostly trees.)

      Lake Washington and Mt. Ranier.

    • The troll under the bridge. Yes! A glorious art installation and he even holds a real live VW bug in his trollish grip.
    • Lenin-in-mid-stride. Someone thought it was a great idea to buy an old statue of the leader of the Communist Revolution from the Russians and install it in front of a café. He makes an impression in any city.

      Lenin striding.

    • The Olympic Sculpture Park (part of the Seattle Art Museum). Set on the water, artists like Alexander Calder (in all his majesty), Richard Serra (whose amazing work is at Dia Beacon in my neck of the woods), my old fave, Louise Nevelson, and many more, are on fabulous display. One artist new to me, Jaume Plensa, knocked my eyes out with his monumental Echo….

      Echo

      We walked together in the sun and the breeze, wearing light sweaters in late June. Bliss.

    • Pho.

      The Pho was delicious.

    • The salmon ladders. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, you’re in good company. It was new to me, too. Ladder is a misnomer, really, as the engineering is more about stair-steps that head upstream through gateways, so the salmon can access their spawning grounds despite the existence of a lock system that controls water flow into and out of the giant Lake Washington. There is a viewing spot below ground-level where we could watch the valiant wild salmon swim against the current, find the gateway to the next level, and use their muscular little bodies to push through it. They were beautiful and Maggie and I were thoroughly transfixed for a good hour. And yeah, we took about 9 million photos and at least 8 thousand video clips. We were inspired.

      The salmon in the ladders.

    • The first five or so of a plethora of small coffee spots we stopped at during our trip. My friend, Anna, understood that we needed to see multiple “temples of coffee” as she called them.
    • Amazing Copper River salmon.
  • Visiting friends, Tom and Nina, in Olympia, WA and experiencing their love and wonderful tour-guiding.
  • What we did with them:
    • Walked through part of the Olympic National Park. Since the park is about 1400 square miles, we were on just a microscopic fraction of it, but what we saw filled our eyes and souls with great beauty. A temperate rainforest covers most of the park, and we walked what is called the “staircase” trail, which starts about an hour and a half from Olympia. Majestic cedar trees, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and hemlocks towered overhead. Sunlight filtered through the canopy, but we were cool and comfortable as we walked. We stopped frequently to inspect a fern, some moss, a section of rapids, or a fallen cedar (one was especially enormous; the root system, lying on its side, towered over us).

      Tom, Nina, and me posing beside the huge fallen cedar.

      One of our hiking companions, Tom, is 81 years old. He impressed all of us! 

      Beautiful couple and a beautiful view.

      Tom and Maggie walk ahead.

      Trees grow on other “nurse” trees.

      The Skokomish River from up hgih.

      The Skokomish River.

      Taking a rest as we walked the Olympic State Park Staircase trail.

    • Toured the Capitol building in Olympia, WA. To be honest, many capitols in this country were constructed with ugly in mind. Or maybe it was just economy. But this building and all the ones around it are modeled on the neoclassical style of the nation’s capitol. The capitol itself was not only quite gorgeous, but contained more marble than I’ve seen in one place outside maybe the Metropolitan Museum. Fun fact: the supreme court of Washington is comprised of five women and four men. Seems about right.

      Washington State Capitol.

      A VW bug would fit in that chandelier.

      WA House.

    • Drank more great coffee.
    • Ate more delectable salmon. Plus some crazy-good chicken Perloo made by Tom, a Florida Cracker born and bred.

Washington State secured itself in me as a destination of my heart. I constantly imagined myself living there and began fantasizing possible move-to-Seattle outcomes for myself. It’s probably a good idea for me to visit in the winter and really experience the daily rain I don’t think I’m going to mind, but won’t really know till I see it firsthand.

Olympia is a port city.

Next installment: heading south through Oregon to meet up with firstborn, Win, in CA.

 

 

The Wonder of Wonder Woman

When the movie ended, tears welled up. My throat closed. I was overwhelmed with emotion.

Not a tear jerker movie, so why?

I always enjoy superhero movies. We all do—or lots of us, anyway. The possibility of good prevailing. The presumption that there is good. That there are people devoted to doing the right thing, fighting injustice and evil, for the sake of all the world. These heroes have grit and brains, sometimes brawn, and often super powers to boot. What’s not to love?

As I sat with my adult daughter in the theater watching the opening scenes—powerful, dauntless women exhibiting their prowess with weapons and their badass skills, swiftness, and strength—I was thrilled to my core. That feeling never stopped until the final scene. Diana’s evolution into Wonder Woman is superb—the way she always speaks her truth, calls a spade a spade, kicks ass, calls the patriarchy on its shit, does what’s right and not only what is expedient, is not willing to settle for “good enough,” and does not care one sliver of an iota what anyone thinks of her. She even loses the man she loves and… well, she survives.

While I relished every moment, at the same time I was thinking about all the little girls in theaters across the country watching the movie this summer. Not just being inspired by a real-live woman hero, but one for whom there are no excuses made for why she is what she is and why the men defer to her, admire her, and put their faith in her. The little girls sitting with wide shiny eyes in dark theaters across the US are seeing what little boys have absorbed their entire lives. (And by little boys I mean white little boys because little boys of any other color are always dealing with a different paradigm too.)

Our sons, not to mention our sons’ fathers and grandfathers—grew up in a world where this paradigm was their everyday reality. Not just in movie theaters where they saw men and boys ruling, being the coolest, fighting, winning, dominating, saving the women, saving the world, bossing and managing and commanding others—but in every history book, on every street, in their homes, in their schools, at their jobs, on billboards and in TV ads, in the halls of power, on the news. The very fabric of their reality was that they could, would, and do have the “right stuff.” That they can do whatever they want. They’ll be admired and rewarded for it. They will probably even be given a pass on a lot of bad stuff they also apparently “can do.”

For me, my sisters, the women I went to school with, my friends, our daughters—and every girl child born on this planet, pretty much since history was a thing—has NEVER had that. EVER. That thing the boys just get automatically. A system infused with an acknowledgment, endorsement, and affirmation of their power, goodness, potential, and significance in every sphere of life. Every sphere of life, you get me? They grow up just KNOWING they can and do rule. As in—the world.

When Cleopatra reigned over Egypt, Queen Elizabeth I was queen of the most powerful empire in the world, and Catherine the Great was empress of Russia, every advisor, every colonial governor, every other person in power in their countries and every other country at that time, in the time before, and the time after—were men. And the sacrifices they made to do what they did were not any that male leaders have ever been expected or obliged to make. So don’t throw these fabulous outliers at this situation as proof that what I’m saying isn’t true, because you know it is. The unbelievably rare exceptions call the rule into stark, horrific relief.

In spite of the beat-us-down reality with which we are flooded every moment of our lives by not just the media but life-as-we-know-it, women have made truly significant inroads. Painfully, inch by inch, up against odds no man can imagine. Not the odds created by being inferior and having to make it against their natural superiors, since that is a myth of mythic proportions that no civilized human says out loud any more. No. The odds created by the status quo and how comfortable everyone seems to be with it. The sexist objections and roadblocks coming from all quarters.

And still, we persist.

But imagine. Imagine a world in which every CHILD was infused and flooded with a different truth: that all humans have equal powers of wonderfulness. Every child can be fast, strong, cool, smart. Anyone can do any job, with the right skills and aptitude. (Let’s be honest, you don’t want me doing your taxes.) Anyone can invent, heal, design, create, govern. Anyone can learn how to save the world through science, theology, philosophy, technology, scholarship, political or economic reform, education, and love….

In that world, neither gender and no race could or would ever be able to get away with dominating another because all of us would have grown up with these beliefs instilled in us. No man would proposition or deride a woman on the streets. No man would get away with a slap on the wrist for raping anyone. No woman would have to accept less money for the same job, let alone accept that she is “less than.” Women in equal numbers would be senators, governors, CEOs, engineers, brain surgeons, heavy machinery operators, and airline pilots.

The pressure would be off men to carry all that responsibility. Who asked them to, anyway, poor guys?

I know and love the fact that more and more girls are wielding “swords” in the playgrounds of America this year thanks to Wonder Woman. They feel a glimmer of that feeling—that empowered feeling that they deserve.

So why did I cry when the movie ended? Why was I so choked with helpless emotion? Because even the most empowered of my gender, raising our daughters to know and to feel their own worth, their own stunning strength and brilliance, will never really know that feeling—to be ENTITLED to your power. Because there is a different and tragic law of the land, accepted by most without even thinking about it—a law that governs everything from the color of our Legos to the length of our shorts. From the dreams we have about our future to things we do on a Saturday afternoon. From the best possible scenario we can envision for ourselves to the darkest fears we harbor in our hearts.

 

 

“I Don’t Want to Be a Bother” OR Bullshit Excuses for Stupid Choices

View out my hospital room through the circle of orchid sent by a dear friend to heal me.

A few weeks ago, I “felt off” one evening. My daughter and I were watching a hilarious feel-good movie on Netflix. An hour of not very feel-good discomfort later, the movie was over, and I said, “Worst gas pains ever. Can you clean up the dinner dishes?” Twenty minutes after that, I was having a hard time coping with the pain in my abdomen. I was breathing (sort of) through it, only the pains did not come in waves, like labor. It was just one looong wave… of horrid. Then the vomiting began. The backdrop to this was my daughter being “on it” and texting with one of my best friends, Ann, who happens to be a nurse practitioner and our “go to” for the Western medicine perspective. The two of them were pretty much trying to find a “when to go to the ER” solution I’d abide by.

Why was this a struggle? I was sure it was “nothing.” Looking back, even if it hadn’t been appendicitis – which, yup, it was—it was something damned awful. When the uncontrollable shakes and shivers began, I even had a way of explaining that from a medical felony down to a mere misdemeanor.

My thoughts included:

  • “I just want to sleep.” (Who was I kidding? I could barely breathe!)
  • “I’m overreacting.” (No, actually, I was seriously underreacting.)
  • “What if I go in and it’s just gas and everybody went to all that trouble.” (Forgetting that’s their paid job. Like a car mechanic being pissed because I brought my clanking car in to be checked and it turned out to be nothing much. Not likely, because it COULD have been something big.)
  • “Fucking high deductible insurance….” (…)
  • “Maggie shouldn’t have to deal with this in the middle of the night.” (Even though she was already dealing with it, as in a. BEGGING to take me, b. had already made a 30 minute run to an all-night pharmacy seeking over-the-counter solutions, and c. was fetching buckets, hot chamomile tea, blankets, and engaging in lengthy medical texts with Ann.)

My blurry and haphazard thoughts also included growing anxiety because I was not “coping” all that well and part of me just did not want to have to make this seemingly overwhelming decision. Had our positions been reversed, I, the mother, would simply have put my foot down. But even a fully functioning adult daughter who is used to her mom making all her own decisions did not feel quite comfortable bossing me around.

How is it that I could not make this—as it turns out very important—decision when it was MY wellbeing at stake? So much for my glorious affirmations of my value and worth, taking care of myself, being assertive. All this is easy enough when no one is going to be “put out” to “take care of me.”

I’ll ask for a raise. I’ll stake my claim in a debate about politics, ethics, parenting, climate change, organic food, you name it. I’ll speak up to strangers behaving like bullies in public. I’ll insist (of myself) that I go to the gym, eat right, and get regular check-ups.

Had Maggie not been there, I don’t know if I would ever have made the decision to call 911. But she was there. But what if she hadn’t been? But she was, okay, but … what if she hadn’t been?

Lesson learned. Having been schooled (kindly but sternly) by the ER docs and nurses and (very charmingly) by my surgeon, my own misguided idiocy has been made crystal clear to me. All went well. I meekly obeyed all post-surgical commandments and have healed flawlessly. Life goes on in all its beauty and I have felt no resentment, annoyance, or even a whiff of huffiness in response to my encounter with the vestigial enemy within. Only gratitude.

SUPER flattering photo taken by my daughter a few hours after my surgery with her little caption. She was impressed by my hanging fluids, apparently. I guess considering I’d just had surgery I don’t look TOO bad….

 

Three Bad First Dates

He asked the bartender for a taste of a particular wine to see if he liked it. Common enough; no biggie. He wanted a sweetish white. Well, he did not like it, so he tried another one. Nope. The bartender tried to chat with him about the wines, explaining that the Reisling they pour is quite dry, that they don’t have too many truly sweet whites, that such-and-such was the most “fruit forward.” My date was pretty determined to know more about wine than the bartender, so he waved his words away and asked for a taste of yet another bottle. Still no luck (as was anticipated by everyone within five feet). After the third reject, he ordered the same red wine I was drinking, but only after asking for a taste—he refused to taste mine, though I offered.

So this was the start. Then he needed to interview the chef about the menu. She obligingly came out to the bar to talk about this and that. I sipped my wine, nodding. I know a bit about food too, but saw that the wisdom in this moment was to just smile and seem impressed. I was impressed—with the chef—but my date did not need to know that he wasn’t the one earning my approbation.

I’ve been very lucky with my forays into the world of dating, thanks to the following: I am very selective, and do my homework. I don’t have a ton of unscheduled time to drive around the Hudson Valley and meet people so when I do I want them to be—at least—interesting. I have met about a score of men since last fall, most of them truly lovely—various versions of smart, kind, interesting, interested, thoughtful, sexy, funny. But this guy was a mistake from the get-go. To make it even more interesting, two friends of mine happened to be sitting at the other end of the bar no doubt giggling into their martinis.

After he had his wine, and was eating his calamari or whatever it was, he began to tell me the story of his lovely wife and how she died. I actually was relieved when he started down this road as it gave me a chance to simply see him as a man who has gone through a tough time. But somehow, his narrative was full of sex. The sex he used to have with her, and that they didn’t have while she was dying (yeah, and that is important to his story why?), and then the tangent about his mother and how she was such a fan of his stories of sexual exploits now that he’s single. She must be very proud. Actually, I think the word he used was “sexual prowess.” Oy. (This same mother, I also learned, got pregnant with her husband at the age of 17 back in the old country, without knowing how that worked—like, what made a woman pregnant exactly? I could write a book about this guy, his mother, and dead wife….)

The story of the wife was quite moving, actually. I think part of my reaction was on her behalf, wondering if she was now spinning in her grave as her widower tried to use his grief over her loss to get into other women’s pants. But she sounded pretty great, and unless he was lying completely, he may have been a good husband to her. I am willing to assume: yes. It helps me to believe that.

I had talked very little at this point (a definite theme in the three bad dates), but I said something sympathetic and he said, “Now don’t start crying.” I said, “Not planning to…” wondering if perhaps that was and continues to be his end-game with first dates, to get them to cry over his dead wife.

His next rant was about the dating site on which we met and how they “obviously put filters on the photos.” Excuse me? Pretty sure they don’t do that, and I said as much. He whipped out his phone and called up my profile. There were my carefully selected unfiltered photos on his phone, his big thumb flipping through them. Yup, regular old pictures, my most flattering of course, but as I am not a baby any more, they show the reality of wrinkles and the like.

Somehow the poor guy felt like he’d been sold a bill of goods, and did not mind telling me. I laughed right (at him) and asked, “Am I not looking my very best tonight?” (I looked really hot, BTW.)

But then, he flipped to a full-length photo of me and said, avoiding the question, “Oh, this is my favorite.”

I commented, “Oh look, I’m wearing those same pants now.” (It was something to say.)

He said, “I know,” and proceeded to jam his entire hand between the thighs of my crossed legs. I batted him away and inched closer to the woman sitting to my right.

Why didn’t I leave then?

Meanwhile, the bartender, Jim, was giving me sympathetic looks every time he came down to that end of the bar. I felt free to make eye contact with Jim because literally any time he was not actively talking, my date was looking over my shoulder at the TV set above the bar.

When my date launched into a story about how he gets hit on by ministers on all the dating sites, and his weird fantasy of the awkwardness of taking off a minister’s clerical collar to get at her boobs, while demonstrating on me, including a “turn the knob hard to the right” gesture mere inches from my own breasts, I turned to the bartender and said, “Could we have the check please?”

My date threw down his card the minute the check arrived. I thanked him and said I had to get going, as we’d met a distance from me. He walked me to my car and said, during the very unwelcome full body hug he pressed upon me, “If you want to see me again, it’ll be on you,” I had to wonder about that mama of his, and what she taught him, exactly, as a child.

The other two “bad dates” were similarly themed. One guy was the epitome of the mansplainer. He pursued me very hard on the dating site and I had a few pre-date phone conversations with him. So I have only myself to blame as the writing was on the wall. But, I was lured by the words, “You interest me,” though they were belied by his actions. (It is rare that a man will admit to being interested in me, as opposed to how sexy I look or the fact that I might be interested in him.)

So I met this guy in my town. He drove the 40 minutes (normal procedure is to meet halfway) which was a nice touch. He wanted to greet me with a kiss. To clarify: he wanted to meet for the first time with a kiss on the mouth. I demurred.

So this is the summation: he talked, he held forth, and he knew more about everything than anyone, especially me, could ever know. One topic covered: cooking and food—I managed to slip in that I had once cooked professionally. He blew past that to launch into All the Knowledge about All Cooking as well as All the Kitchen Exploits—his. Not interested in my input. I did try to start a few sentences. This is how many times he interrupted me: all of the times.

He brought up independent education because he went to a private school in 8th grade. I slipped in (by talking very fast) that I had attended private schools too, and have worked in independent education for 30 years. He gave me a level look that seemed to say, “Oh you poor ignorant woman,” and proceeded to mansplain the hell out of education, private education, including teaching, fundraising, finances, child development, private vs. public, and on and on. He got a lot of things wrong. I started a few sentences along the way. This is how many times he interrupted me: all of the times.

At one point during this ghastly hour I figured, what the hell. I’m going to have fun and try an experiment. Next time I try to talk and he (invariably) interrupts me, I will—instead of stopping talking to let his interruption go unchallenged—continue with my sentence until it is over. Or even my paragraph. Let’s see what happens.

Maybe you’ve guessed? Yup. I continued to talk after the next interruption and he kept talking so that we had two adult humans facing each other both saying different sentences. If this were a traffic situation, it would look like this: I had the right of way, he pulled into my lane and then refused to stop, instead literally driving over my car and probably my dead body.

I was truly amused by the fact that he was 100% oblivious. I went to the bathroom and texted my daughter: “CALL ME IN TEN MINUTES WITH AN EMERGENCY.”

She did it, bless her. As soon as the call came through and I explained the “emergency” to my date (who clearly knew what was happening as it probably happened on all his first dates), I hustled to find the waiter for the check. The waiter and his colleague were in a little alcove out of my date’s line of sight. I asked for the check. Both men gave me looks of such unutterable sympathy that I almost cried and laughed. Instead, I rolled my eyes and grinned. The check came fast. I threw down cash and bolted. My date did not object.

The most recent bad date was probably the least bad, really. Nothing aggressive or menacing, no rude assumptions or veiled insults. Just another well-meaning, obliviously privileged white male who thinks a first date is a chance to dazzle, monopolize, hold forth, audition, dominate, prove-something….

This is what I learned about him in one hour: how many times he was married, what kind of alcohol he likes, how he came to be introduced to port, and sherry, and his recent trip to the Middle East, and that his sister paid for it, and that they stayed at great places, and what airline they used, and what airlines he prefers typically, and that he used to drink one beer a day, and that he doesn’t now but he drinks wine (and port and sherry) and that he goes to the gym daily, loves Zumba…. I learned how he found out about Zumba, in detail, and how he got involved, and how he got good at it because he’s not a natural dancer, and how it reminds him of some great free form dance events he used to go to, and how his girlfriends never went with him, and exactly what those events were like, and how he organized a Zumba flashmob at his gym, but that he did not know what one was till he heard it mentioned, and that the flashmob he organized made him a hero at the gym and how everyone loves him. And he has a bad knee, and I know about the medical interventions he has sought, oh and I know what kinds of shoes he wears for each kind of activity he does at the gym. I heard about the errands he did on his way to meet me, and about his career, and about a conference he is about to go to in Oregon, and I learned so much more that has leaked out of my brain. Realize that each of these single items was part of a detailed narrative with tangents, side-notes, and usually accompanied by the words, “I’ll keep this short.”

This is what he learned about me: my son lives in Oregon, I had knee surgery once. (Slipped those suckers right in there!)

The funny thing is, all three of these men understood instinctively that there would be no second date. So they all pulled the plug on their own, making excuses or shutting the door, managing the situation so I did not get to reject them. Understandable. Their privilege comes with a certain undercurrent of uncertainty perhaps, or vulnerability when faced with a very clearly unimpressed female with a mind of her own, long legs, and a loving heart—none of which they’ll ever get to touch.