Monthly Archives: January 2017

I Need a Story

Post march last week, I smacked into a wall. The fast and furious issuing of Executive Orders set my head spinning like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. And while that was pretty bad, with enough meditation, denial, and wine, I can manage to block out most of it and hone in on the essential things I am able to take action on. The harder thing was having my infusion of hope from the march get diluted when a gentle, respectful comment from a dear friend reminded me I could be doing more to connect with and support women of color right now. It was that realization that smacked me into the wall — the Cheeto Satan nonsense had moved the wall pretty close to my head, but that I had let down a dear friend finished the job. I tried to write about it for this week’s blog, but that is going to take some time for me to process, so stay tuned.

So I kind of just mentally wandered around this week, staring into the distance. The emails pouring into my inbox to sign this and make these calls and announcing every minute detail of the Cheeto immobilized me, like a rabbit in the face of an oncoming car. Not even my ciggie-smoking, whiskey-shot-downing alter-ego Blanche could rouse me, though goodness knows she tried. By chance I had picked up a copy of Watership Down from the library. My sister and I both read it in high school and loved it. We even have nicknames for each other from the book. We were reminiscing about it at Christmas. If you haven’t read it, it’s a story about a small band of rabbits who leave their safe warren because one of them has a vision that something terrible is about to happen. They escape only to encounter many other difficult and dangerous situations, from crossing a river to encountering unfriendly rabbits, snarling cats, and wire traps. They manage to survive by using all the skills, cleverness, and strengths of the group. Not a bad reminder right about now.

I was curious to see if the book still holds up some 30 years later, and it totally does. In addition to giving me some respite from political and social onslaught, it also reminded me of the power of storytelling. Not just me reading the book, but in the story, there are a number of times when the rabbits, who are naturally nervous creatures, need help winding down from some dangerous situation or gathering their courage to face a difficulty. The leader rabbit calls for a story to settle the troops.

And so, to help ease myself away from the glaring, paralyzing headlights, I’m going to tell a story. It’s a funny story that doesn’t really have a moral, but it did take place in that hallowed time of the early 1980s, when we were slam dancing in clubs, trying to look like Madonna, and fighting for abortion rights thanks to Ronald Reagan. It reminds me that difficult things, good things, and funny things are always happening.

It was 1985, and by some miracle, my group of college friends in Boston found out there was going to be a 10th anniversary Halloween showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in New York. By miracle I mean this was pre-internet days, and so we probably learned about it in some crazy way like in a flyer, newspaper, or a magazine. Or maybe even a stone tablet. It was on a weeknight, and with the energy only a group of college kids can muster to find inventive ways to entertain themselves, we decided to go. We persuaded the only friend we knew who had a car to drive us. Andrea was from Columbia and asked for our help to buy a car, but all we’d really done was watch her with our mouths open while she paid cash for a brand new car, with nary a haggle. As I recall it was a red sporty thing that clearly needed a trip to NYC. So 6 of us piled into the car: Sonia, the cool black girl from the West Side; Michele, the super girly-girl Spanish chick from Brooklyn; Rosemary, the fashion punk from Buffalo; and Gloria and I who came from CT. Gloria was holding down the preppy fort, while I was a punk wannabe. In fact for this trip I dressed up like Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the show — black lace camisole, leather mini skirt, fishnet stockings, high heels, and lots of black eyeliner and dark lipstick.

We left in the late afternoon and headed south. At one point on the highway, a guy started honking at us and making rude gestures. We rolled our eyes and sucked our teeth at him, until one of us realized he was pointing down as if to have us look at something. When we finally did, we realized that Rosemary’s leather bag was half in the car and half out. A quick open and shut door while speeding along the highway retrieved her bag. It had a big hole worn through on the corner and a fair amount of the contents had spilled out. We resolved to not diss honking guys anymore. The next 4 hours passed mostly in the way you would expect from 6 college women, including that at one point several had to pee. We were trying to make it to the city in time for the show, so we hadn’t really planned on stopping. But Rosemary, Gloria, and Michelle couldn’t hold it anymore. The problem was we were kind of lost. GPS not even being a twinkle in anyone’s eye at that point, we could have used a map. But what losers bring a map on a fun road trip? We were off the highway on a deserted road that felt safe enough to pull off for peeing au natural. The rest of us waited what seemed like a short time when suddenly, Rosemary, Gloria, and Michelle tore open the door, jumped in an yelled, “Go, go, go!”

At this, poor Andrea was confused and started asking questions, and then worse, started trying to obey the red traffic light, even though there was no one on the road. We’d neglected to explain to her that when someone is chasing you, you hit the gas and worry about traffic rules later. When she finally understood what she was supposed to do and we were safely away, we found out that our friends had been rushed by a mean, barking dog, followed by a guy yelling to get out and carrying a gun. If that’s what you get for peeing, I don’t want to know what you’d get if you were actually going to steal something.

But being clueless and 20 years old has its benefits, including staying focused on the very important goal of getting to The  Rocky Horror Picture Show in NYC by midnight. Once we knew he was safely in our rear view mirror, we laughed at the crazy gun man and fretted over the traffic. We were cutting it close. We drove around NYC, got lost, yelled at the natives in the car for getting us lost, until finally, we found a place to park. We ran the multiple blocks to the show — we were only a little late. Panting and sweating, we arrived to discover…the showing was the following night. After a short discussion about blowing off school and staying until the next night, we did the next best 80s thing. Desperately Seeking Susan had recently come out, and we were obsessed with getting into the groove. One of the scenes was shot at a NYC club called Danceteria, so off we went. Because it was Halloween, the streets were filled with people in costume, and I fit right in. We had a blast at Danceteria, despite the fact that my friends wouldn’t let me make out with a guy who was dressed like a priest — I was a rebelling Catholic, what can I say? I finally took a break from dancing to go to the bathroom, and while I was in line, I looked down and noticed one of my boobs had fallen out of my camisole — this was waaaaay before any “wardrobe malfunction.” I’d like to credit New Yorkers with having seen everything and that was why no one batted an eye. That sounds much better than what may have been the real truth — my boobs were really too small to be noticeable in or out of a camisole.

So we danced until dawn and found a breakfast place to inhale the time-honored food of people who stay up all night–bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. Tireless Andrea drove us home and we got back to Boston in time for my 8 am class; the only thing was that in the unforgiving, harsh light of early morning, with bleary eyes and smeared makeup, I looked like a vampire call girl. No way was I going to class like that. So like a good vampire, I hid from the light, splashed water on my face, peeled off my clothes, and passed out in my bed. I’d do the Time Warp again some other day.

And so that’s my story. I’m still a little twitchy like a nervous rabbit, but I also made myself laugh and smile over the flash of boobs past and road trip shenanigans. I can hop cautiously out of my hole, sniff the air, and move forward.

 

 

It’s Significant

So it’s finally here: the tweeting president. I was going to start calling him Tweety, but that is disrespectful to a beloved cartoon character, and could be confusing since the president is cartoon-like caricature. Besides there are a lot of good nicknames out there, my current favorites being Cheeto Satan and Dumpster Fire. Going into Friday, I was feeling quite overwhelmed. On the one hand there are a ton of things that Cheeto, the Dementors, and Congress haven’t done yet, but may very well do that scare the junk food out of me. On the other hand, there are a lot of scary things that Cheeto and the Dementors are doing right now. It’s confusing to say the least, to figure out if you need to participate, fight back, or jump off a bridge and take as many “alt-humans” as possible with you. There is a lot of information out there, a lot of fact-checking to be done, and now, thanks to Cheeto’s minion, Kelly Conway, there are “alternative facts” to keep track of. I’ve never been a spreadsheet kind of person, but clearly I’m going to have to learn. In the meantime, I’ve been relying more on friends to help talk it through and determine what to do.

But a funny thing happened on the way to solidarity. I found myself having more debates and disagreements with my previously like-minded friends. It was disorienting until Mike pointed out that it may just be an indication of how bad this is. This was not just your usual loss to the Republican party. Our world has been turned upside down, and we were all grieving in our own, sometimes very different, ways. I know that I’ve struggled to admit that my Democratic party has lost its way, and I can no longer take refuge in checking off that liberal box anymore.

I have to interject here and shout out to my dad, a left-of-Communism humanist. He’s been criticizing the Democratic party for a long time about losing sight of its mission to protect disenfranchised people. It was a hard message for me to listen to, since we were making such great progress for LGBTQIA folks, had gained health care for so many more people, and, well, Obama and Michelle were just so wicked cool. But the jig is up (do people even say that anymore?) and, Pops, you were right. So keep writing letters and posting on Facebook. Many of us have finally caught up with you and are doing the same.

So yes, it’s scary and overwhelming, and Friday depressed the hell out of me, but I decided to untwist my panties about the implosion of the Dems and my friends’ conflicting reactions, and my alter-ego Blanche had a couple of whiskey shots and a ciggie. I gathered with friends and we moved on to…

Saturday.

You all have seen the numbers of people who gathered across the world, nevermind in any particular American city. Here is the sea of Bostonians I was hanging out with on the Boston Commons and some iconic Boston buildings in the distance.

womnesmarch3

I was lifted up and grateful. Even better for me was the Boston flavor of the event. Like in many cities, the turnout was greater than the organizers expected. Marching involved squeezing all 175,000 + of us out of the Common through gates that probably haven’t changed much in size since the Colonial times and on to streets designed in the 1700s. This was taking some time. But we’re Bostonians, and we’re nothing if not people who are respectful of personal space in public areas. At one point a speaker came on to thank us for our patience and then encouraged us to talk to the people next to us. I laughed at that, because only in Boston would you need to tell people that. The thought hadn’t occurred to me at all. Nor had it to most people. But once we were reminded that we weren’t complete strangers, we started briefly chatting up a few neighbors.

The other fun part was the Boston nerd factor. I love the Boston science nerd thing, but the fact that we are actually having to march to protect science is kind of fucked up. Just sayin’. Go get your Galileo on! Anyway, this was one of my favorite signs, and I confess I only understood it because I work at a hospital that does a lot of research.

womensmarch1

What I’ve learned at my job is that statistical significance matters in science. You and I may think that a world without cheese, chocolate, or wine would make it a significantly less pleasant place, and we would be right. But unless the data supports that view, the lack of pleasantness is not statistically significant. Luckily for us we don’t have to worry about it either way. I will cut the person that tries to away my cheese, chocolate, or wine. But it does matter when you’re trying , say, to decide if that new medicine is going to help a lot of people or just a few or no one. Part of the way researchers figure out the difference between what works and how well is using a statistics tool, “p”, and it’s value, hence the p < 0.001 in the sign. It’s significant.

So that’s a long explanation for one sign, but trust me, a fair number of people understood that thing. Even better was the video my friend sent me of people chanting, “Let’s go science (clap, clap, clapclapclap). Let’s go science…” On the one hand, Bostonians are the people who have a statue dedicated to ether, so no big surprise. On the other hand, WE HAVE TO FIGHT FOR SCIENCE NOW. WTF? I’m OK, now. Really.

The important thing is that we were all together–women and men who care about science, health care, jobs, fundamental rights for all humans, in all their glorious magnificence and messiness. So Saturday was a pretty awesome day. Let’s keep our panties untwisted and go make some significant changes.

 

Happy Anniversary

Because I’m not acknowledging Friday until it happens, and I will acknowledge it on Saturday in Boston at one of 370 the sister marches across the country supporting the Women’s March on Washington, I am instead today writing about looking back.

This January marks the 6th anniversary of when I decided to stop a year of couples therapy and “take a break.” At the time, the 3 people in our family were seeing 4 therapists. I think the ratio for me and my ex was 3:1. We were getting individual therapy, couples therapy, and spending spend time with the kid’s therapist. The kid was getting off easy with just having to see one. Suffice to say, we were outnumbered, and on many days I felt outgunned. We were extraordinarily lucky that our insurance was paying for it all, and while I generally don’t have great things to say about health insurance companies, we were most certainly eating into their profit margins that year, and I did not get one nasty letter from them.

If you’ve ever been to therapy, you know it’s very time-consuming. The time spent in the office is just the beginning. It’s the hours of traveling to and from the appointment, the time spent processing all the damn therapy and doing whatever home work they assign you — hey, that 5 minutes sitting in the waiting room remembering what is was you were supposed to do for this session adds up over time. And don’t forget the hours when you sit on your bed and stare out the window, wrestling with the guilt that your kid is in therapy because of you, when you know for a fact that no other kids are in therapy because of their parents. It’s a wonder I had time for my job.

My then-husband and I had been in couples therapy once before when our son was around 2. Things improved for a while after that, but it didn’t stick. I should’ve known this second time wasn’t going to work either. We went back to the same therapist and while she remembered us, after a few sessions she confessed she couldn’t find the records from our previous time with her. And it wasn’t that she had purged her records. Oh, no, she had records from before us and after us, and where there should have our records, there was a big empty slot. I can’t think of a clearer signal from the universe, except maybe for that cartoon of the giant anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote.

I would even venture that the therapist was less than enthusiastic to see us, and many days she seemed kind of tired of us. Who could blame her? We were tired of us, too. We were also probably the most boring kind of couple for a therapist: no juicy infidelity, in-person or online, no meddling in-laws, no addiction issues to Pokemon Go or Netflix binging. Just plain old drifting apart and ineffective communication skills. We were actually highly skilled at being ineffective communicators, having honed it to a razor-sharp edge over 20 years. Yes, 20 years, so I find it amusing when divorce is described as a”failed marriage.” We were pretty good for about 8 years and had a great kid. Then things were rocky, and we decided to go to therapy round 1. That took about 3 years. Things got better for about 4 years and then they started the inevitable slide to the disconnection destination for 5 years. By my count that sounds a lot like life: some wins, some losses, and some what the hell are we doing here?

How many people even have friends for 20 years? Or a job? Or even piece of furniture? Do people call their couch that they are dragging out to the curb a “failed sit-upon”? Do people call a friendship that ends a failure? No, they probably say something like it “ran its course.” Hmmm. O, language, you tricky mistress. For the record, I have close friends who I’ve known for 20, 30, and even 40 years. So clearly  I am a successful friend maker; it’s the marriage thing that mystified me.

So there I was armpit deep in personal therapy, couples therapy, and secondhand therapy from my son’s therapist. When it took my ex about 8 months before he could articulate what he was angry about, a vision of being in therapy for the rest of my life flashed before my eyes. That’s when I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. Of course I had to talk about it with my therapist first. When he suggested we take a break from couples therapy, my relief was so visceral, I nearly slid out of my chair. I was just so happy to have an open slot every other week, I forgot that “taking a break” pretty much means the same thing whether you’ve been dating for 5 months or married for 20 years. No one is fooled that it means something super good is coming after the “break.” Except me, but I was so overwhelmed with all the therapy, I didn’t think past that freed-up hour. My ex understood better than I did, and of course asked the inevitable question, “For how long?” In my head I said, “Forever. Is forever good for you?” Then I knew I was truly done with everything.

Six years later, and despite the election, I am currently therapy free (we’ll see how long that lasts), I have a great life, a great kid, my ex and I work pretty well together on his behalf,  and we respect the separated lives we’ve created.

So go ahead and call it a failed marriage if you need to. I’ll say it ran its course, and maybe we can agree that I had a very successful divorce.

 

Periodically, Review Your Beliefs

I know, it seems like the world is coming to an end, but take heart, four new elements have been added to the periodic table in December. I know, I know. My own first reaction was, “Oh those poor kids have to learn four more elements.” But then I recalled that they have one less planet to remember, (Pluto, we love you!) so suck it up buttercups.

My next reaction was, “I don’t believe in the periodic table.” And I said as much to my coworker, who rolled his eyes and gave me a look like, what the hell is wrong with you. I went on to explain that in college, as a closeted word person trapped in a science major, I was constantly buffeted and tormented by the required memorization of all those, ugh, facts. Tests were pure misery as I faced the list of confusing multiple choice answers: A; A&C; A,D&F, & C if it’s a Tuesday; and the only answer I was sure of was A. How I longed to instead write an essay about the random bits of information I had actually absorbed.

I made my stand with the periodic table because I was expected to memorize more than 100 of those bugger elements and their bothersome electrons. I was able to remember that hydrogen has one electron, and then it was downhill from there. As my English major brain was want to do, I started thinking about how ridiculous the whole table was, and that it started with the randomly assigned one electron. So I declared the periodic table a random man-made thing, and in protest I refused to study it.

Like any newly evangelized convert, I became a complete boor and a bore in social settings, going on about how the periodic table was completely arbitrary and therefore invalid. We could decide hydrogen has 10 electrons and then all the other elements’ electrons shift. I was adamant, I was confident, and I was excessively pleased with my own sophomoric cleverness.

I was also completely wrong, but who wants to hear that?

If I had spent even 10 minutes studying the damn chart, I would have realized it was a legitimate tool of science. Instead, I created a whole construct to legitimize my dislike of memorizing facts and hide the fact that the periodic table pushed my word brain out of its comfort zone, poked at my low science self-esteem, and made me face my less than stellar memory.

How dumbass is that?

Some 30 years later, I’m here to say, I was wrong. Yes, the periodic table still makes my brain hurt. It actually hurts even more now, because when I looked it up on chem4kids.com website, you know as one does for serious science inquiry, I still didn’t really understand it, and now there are even more things to memorize, like different orbits and valence shells. Although I did like this sentence: “The noble gases and helium are all ‘happy,’ because their valence shell is full.” I like happy, noble gases. Maybe I can be one some day.

And, yes, the periodic table is man-made; it’s remarkably similar to other useful man-made things like math, grammar, and democracy.

So, I welcome you nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og). I may not understand you, I will never memorize you, but I do believe in your right to join the table.

 

Top 10 Posts from 2016

Intellectually I know 2016 wasn’t the worst year ever, but it was pretty bad; so let me have my grief before I move on. On my better days and a couple of glasses of wine, I try to see 2016 as a wake-up call. We’ve drifted from some essential human ingredients–some of which we know and others that gobsmacked us seemingly out of nowhere. So it’s time to face that, and I tell myself to suck it up, buttercup. Of course, we still need to laugh and wisecrack on the way to saving the world. Princess Leia and Hans Solo taught us that.

And in that spirit, I present to you the top 10 posts for the year, selected by your interest; you guys have good taste. It’s a balanced mix of serious, funny, and frivolous.

Thank you for allowing me to butt into your life with my random musings. Thank you for telling me you liked a post that I was unsure about or that I enjoyed writing. Most of all, thank you for just being here with me. It means a lot.

10. This one is a good reminder to keep checking my own biases and little (or big) judgy ways. Please forgive my unfettered Anglophile-ness. It’s a Blonde Line Between Love and Hate

9. Ah, Collegepalooza 2016. The applications should be done by now–surely I can trust my teen, right? Right? Well, we’ll always have rubber bands. Snap to It

8. Oh, perimenopause! You blogging gift from the gods. Although I fear that your weird pains will be eclipsed by the PITA prez (pain in the ass). The Mother of All Aches and Pains

7. And when all else fails, look at the cute hamster to make you smile, take a deep breath, and get beck in the ring. Cute Hamsters Is All I Got

6. Some days it’s all I can do to be verbal, so “kind” seems like a stretch. Looking at hamsters is probably a good start. Nice, My Ass

5. Sometimes you stand and fight, and other times, you flee. Alpha Flee

4. Dancing is good. Dancing with a cast can be even better. It’s not a bad reminder that barriers mostly exist in our minds. You Should Be Dancing Part II

3. Here’s the much-needed frivolous post, strategically placed before the impossible politics. For Fart’s Sake

2. Darth Vader is out there. Grab your light saber and your blaster, we’re making a run for the Millennium Falcon. Time to Get Busy

  1. I love that two dancing posts made it in the top 10, but I wish I hadn’t had to  write this one. Dancing Should Not Be an Act of Courage

In 2017, I promise to keep writing, laughing, fighting, and being Sandy.