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.

 

 

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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.

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