Category Archives: Musings

Nod to Elton John: This Blog Has No Title

I’ve been sitting here trying to find a pithy title to this blog. And then Elton John’s song popped in my head:  This Song Has No Title.   When I say popped, I mean up from the recesses of my adolescent brain. I haven’t thought about this song in years, but the album it’s on, Yellow Brick Road, is part of the soundtrack of my youth — it was etched into me before I understood music could do that. It was my sister’s album, and she listened to it a lot. And I loved the double album artwork, so I as I gazed at it and read the lyrics, I listened to it when she wasn’t there. As I listened to the song just now, after at least 40 years, I air pianoed in all the right places. It seems relevant still:

“And each day I learn just a little bit more
I don’t know why but I do know what for
If we’re all going somewhere let’s get there soon
Oh this song’s got no title just words and a tune”

I’m stalling. I’ve been taking a class called “White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action,” and just so there is no misunderstanding, we’re against racism and are looking at our white privilege. The way it’s worded and in today’s Cheeto flea world, I want to confirm that it doesn’t mean we are challenging the legitimacy of racism. So all you MAGA people, move up or move on back. Preferably get a clue, but that’s probably not gonna happen. And Black folks, we’re trying to work out our white junk so we can be better allies to you and make sure our baggage fits in the overhead compartment.

And I want to talk about it, but it’s messing with my head, making me look for words, which for a writer is like being a carpenter without wood. I’m angry, sad, puzzled, tired, exposed, struggling. Where the hell is the wood?

I’m a good white person. I need you to know that, and that’s part of the problem, see? This isn’t about good white person = non-racist. I can be a good person and still have racist ideas and thoughts and assumptions. And I’m squirming and struggling against the idea like one of Pepe Le Pew’s victims. I had the great fortune of having a best friend in college who let me into her Black world. I am an empathetic person by nature. I got it, I believed it when she told me how life was for her being Black. We analyzed when she was a new lawyer at a big Boston firm. Was the interaction because she Black? a woman? Low lawyer on the ladder?

I grew up working class, from immigrants. First generation on one side, 2nd on the other. College was a goal, not a given. I worked all during college, two of those years about 30 hours a week. I graduated with tons of loans, worked in nonprofits — a professional who was not out to make money, but a difference. I did not own property until I was 37. It was in an affordable, but less desirable Boston-area town. My then husband and I didn’t have parents who could give us a down payment, so we took the money out from our 403Bs.

I know white privilege exists on a systemic level. I can’t have listened to a Black person’s experience and doubted it. Ah, so comfy, from my “less privileged” place. I didn’t have money or social standing. I’m good, I’m cool, right? I’m not like those clueless rich white people. Am I?

I defer to my alter ego Blanche, because she likes to laugh at me when I’m being stupid. She sits at the bar drinking gin and taking long contemplative drags on her ciggies.

Blanchesmoking

Poor, Blanche. She just fell off her stool, she’s laughing so hard. Luckily, she’s a tough bird. She’ll be OK. Plus, she likes laughing at me, so she wants nothing better than to get on that stool and in position for my next misstep.

Blanche says, “You’re white, girlie. Hide behind your ‘working class, immigrant’ shield all you want. The fact is, no one has followed your sorry ass in a store, even when you had no money to spend. No one ever thought at work that you were only there because of affirmative action. Once they meet you, your coffee slurping may annoy them, but that’s just being a bad office mate. You uncomfortable? That’s sounds about right.”

Blanch takes a long drag on her ciggie and looks me in the eye as she stubs it out, “You ain’t perfect, babe, let it ride. I’ll stop laughing when you talk sense.” She downs her shot and slams it on the bar. “Or not,” her smokey, throaty laugh echoes in stale air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Exposure: Same as It Ever Was

I was a big fan of Northern Exposure (1990-1995). My all-time favorite episode centers on main character half-Native Alaskan Ed and his insecurity — which is embodied in a little green man representing Low Self-Esteem, who lives with different types of other personal demons in a makeshift camp. He shows up unexpectedly to sabotage Ed when he tries to ask a girl out or help a patient in his apprentice shaman practice. In another episode, Ed goes back to the camp to fight his patient’s demon, External Validation. Of course, that demon lives in a fancy trailer, has an expensive car, and is dressed like a GQ model. I always the loved the idea of reducing your insecurities, which sometimes seem like big intractable monsters, to an annoying person you can laugh at and who lives with a lot of other dysfunctional, annoying people in a camp. You wouldn’t let that person have power over you, would you?

When I realized the show aired nearly 30 years ago, (WTF?), I thought I should try to rewatch the episode to make sure I remembered it correctly. I mean that could never happen, right?

If you are a fan, I’m sorry to say no one is streaming it right now. From what I could find out, it’s a music rights thing, which seems to hold back a lot of good shows. Don’t get me started. A few years back I wanted to rewatch the Ken Burns documentary, “Eyes on the Prize,” on the Civil Rights movement, but it wasn’t available … because of the music rights. Even now, it’s not widely available. Dear music industry, they paid you to use the music before, it’s not like they stole it. Just figure it out!

Back to the annoyance at hand — Northern Exposure. A revival is being discussed, but I don’t need to see them 30 years later. Although maybe that will get the ball rolling on streaming the original. I did find my favorite episode online on a somewhat sketchily named website called “The Internet Archive.” I started getting a lot of weird spam afterward, but I’m sure that’s a coincidence or just the Russians poking around. The really important thing was that not only was the episode as I remembered, it was even better — great writing, interesting and quirky characters, and tackling themes that are still relevant, which is kinda cool and kinda depressing. This shit is still not fixed, people.

The premise is that a new doctor Joel Fleischman from NYC needs to work for 3 years in a rural area to forgive his medical school loans. He gets assigned to the tiny Alaskan town of Cicely. But this show became so much more than its “fish out of water” premise. As soon as I discovered the episodes online, they were taken down. However, this is one of those rare times being old school is useful. I still own a DVD player and have a library card. Three cheers for libraries! I borrowed 5 seasons from them, and since they were missing season 6, I bought it, and donated it after I watched it. It was the least I could do.

I had too much fun watching to take a lot of notes on all the great moments, so here are a few highlights that reminded me fiction can be an excellent place to work out some of these tough topics.

Chris and Bernard Stevens

chris and bernanrd

The episodes featuring white philosopher-DJ Chris and his Black half-brother Bernard (pictured above) are really good. They meet by accident and are so alike in so many ways, which mystifies them because they grew up in two different families, in two separate states. They share a birthday and only saw their dad every other year on their birthday. Turns out their dad was a traveling salesman who had 2 different families. In a stereotype buster, Chris’s family is completely dysfunctional and he spent time in jail for theft, while Bernard’s family was functional middle class, and he is an accountant.

The Bernard and Chris episodes tackle a number of aspects of racism, but my favorite was when Chris lost his voice, sort of a career killer for a DJ. Maurice owns the station, is the town’s founder, local blowhard, bigot, and is always scheming how to get his town on the map. Before he even knows if Chris’s voice will return, he asks Bernard if he would consider replacing his brother — they have a similar speaking style and philosophical musings. Bernard calmly tells Maurice he is a racist and a bigot, and enumerates many examples of Maurice’s dismissive and insulting behavior. He also calls Maurice out for not even waiting to see if Chris will get better. Bernard pauses and lets Maurice sweat a bit and shift uncomfortably.  Then Bernard says, “But yeah, I’ll consider your offer.” Chris gets better.

Maggie O’Connell and Jane Harris

4-15-jane-tomahawk3

In another episode, Maggie the bush pilot has an argument with the new teacher, Jane (pictured above), a former military aerial tanker pilot, who says women shouldn’t fly in combat. Maggie, an unapologetic feminist is incensed that another woman — especially a fellow pilot — could say women don’t have the emotional fortitude to fly combat. They have several rounds of very heated discussions, with neither giving an inch. Finally, Maggie realizes that just because they are both women doesn’t mean they will agree on everything. She decides to apologize, and they agree to disagree. What a concept. Could we have more of that please? You know, anytime one of the 51% of white women who voted for Trump want to apologize, I’ll do my best to accept it.

Adam, Town Hermit

adam

Adam (pictured above), a recurring character, is a barefoot paranoid curmudgeon hermit, who is also a classically trained chef, and may or may not be a pathological liar. Because his character is so on the social fringe, he gets to make a lot of social commentary. A stand out episode that caught my attentions talks about entitlement. He points out that the constitution does not say we’re entitled to be happy; we’re only guaranteed the pursuit of happiness. Which, of course, in our country most often applies to the white people, who are also often the most confused about this, thinking they are actually entitled to happiness. Go unpack that, and I’ll meet you back here in a couple of months.

Maurice Minnifield

maurice

And then there was this scene, which sucker-punched me. Chris is afraid of needles, but Maurice (pictured above) ignores it and forces him to give blood during the annual drive because he bet $1,000 that Cicely would collect more blood than the rival, neighboring town. He’d lost the bet the previous year and was humiliated at the annual Tundra Sons Lunch (Think Alaskan male version of the Daughters of the American Revolution). Maurice, a driven ex-astronaut, is the pinnacle of a successful businessman, and he sputters with all of the outrage of a privileged white man obsessed with winning, “If they [the rival town] pledge 500 pints, we’ll do 501. Then we’ll see who’s smiling at the Tundra’s Son Lunch!”

To which Chris responds, deadpan: “And we wonder what makes America so great, huh?”

Yeah. That.

 

 

Traditions Have to Start Somewhere

I used to playfully envy my ex — his people hailed from the next batch of ships after the pilgrim’s landed, and they had a fancy family tree to prove it. I on the other hand had 2nd generation immigrants on my mom’s side and 1st on my dad’s. I would marvel at my mother-in-law’s stories about how her great-uncle was a photographer (hello, invention of the camera) and brother to Thomas Moran the painter. I had a French Canadian great-grandfather who was a poor farmer in Quebec. A little better was my Dutch great grandfather who was the captain of a passenger ferry. I was never a person who envied other peoples’ wealth, but I did envy their pedigree.

Luckily, all that envy has dissolved — with my divorce, my maturity, and just witnessing firsthand that pedigree isn’t necessarily better. I’ve learned that the more important thing is, do people around you love you, and will they give you wine and cheese willingly if you ask for it?

I mistook pedigree for traditions that matter, and traditions, such as the continuation of wine, cheese, and food with lots of butter are worth holding on to as long as you can. But families age and change; your beloved only child has absolutely no interest in the spritz cookies that defined your childhood Christmas experience and that you painstakingly make each year; so now just you and your sister eat them. He prefers the Nestle Toll-House dough you buy at the store. But truly, I’m not bitter. And parents get older and eat like birds, which is good because most of the traditional menu would make their primary care doctor put us on an “abusing elders by high salt and fat holiday food diet” watch list.

This year my family reached that point of hey, traditions are cool until they no longer serve, so what should we do this year?

I paraphrase “The Graduate” and the career advice the middle-aged neighbor gives Ben: “One word: plastics.”

Our new tradition should be one word: corn.

Like our epic tale of Beocat, this tale starts with an impossible task. To celebrate a Christmas when there is a new venue, the attendants all need to be picked up, and the holiday falls on a Tuesday in the middle of a work week. Oh, and there was a medical emergency just days before the holiday. (Everyone is OK!)

On Christmas day, my sister realized she had no vegetables to accompany the short ribs she was making in the crock pot. Or did she? Resourceful as ever, she dug around in her pantry until she found a can of creamed corn and a can of corn. Score! A quick trip around the internet revealed several viable recipes, some with cream cheese and bacon, also things my sister had on hand. Turns out folks in the South love creamed corn casseroles, cheese and corn, bacon and corn, corn and corn — it’s some kind of tradition down there. So my brother-in-law hunted down more cans of corn from the only store open on Christmas day, the CVS, and we were in business. Perhaps we have even started started a new tradition. Seems like there are plenty out to choose from, and it doesn’t take a pedigree to try them. It just takes a small panic and a stocked pantry.

Even if we don’t make it a new tradition, my sister said she always wanted to be the kind of cook who could look into her pantry and make a meal out of it. Congrats, sis, you can cross that off your bucket list.

Corn photo credit: State Street Farmers Market in Tennesse

 

 

 

 

It’s Quite Vivid

I’m all about making things fun and easy, but I amaze even myself sometimes. If you are a regular reader, you may know I’m struggling with how to wrap my arms around getting more involved in social justice and learning more about racism and white privilege. You know just small, little things like that to help beat back the Cheeto flea and his turd minions.

Part of the problem is that I think I may have used up most of my intellectual curiosity and prowess in my 20s and 30s, what with my subscriptions to Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s (no, not Harper’s Bazaar, the smarty pants Harper’s). Then family duties called. Lapsed subscriptions were replaced with other reading. While I firmly believe that reading to your children gives them an excellent foundation for being a functioning adult with critical thinking skills, there is also a small part of me that also believes reading the Berenstain Bears 100 times over the course of several years causes permanent damage to a functioning adult’s critical thinking skills. You do your best to pick only the books you can stand to read that many times, but inevitably, the Berenstain Bears book and its kin come into your life, and like the dog who goes right for the person who dislikes dogs, your kid will pick the crap book every time.

So where was I? Right, fun and easy. So the related other part of the problem is that when I try to decide, should I read a depressing book about how messed up institutional racism is? Or the book for my book group, which is non-fiction and usually not quite as depressing as racism, but still serious and requires concentration? Or that trashy historical romance novel I just downloaded for free on Hoopla?

Guess who wins? I know. I’m the worst. Blame the Berenstain Bears.

But I’m nothing, if not wily and persistent. I had read the last historical novel by the white writer I liked and when I tried several new ones, based on Hoopla suggestions, I couldn’t get through them. I may read historical romance novels, but I do have some standards. The heaving bosoms need to belong to a strong female character and need to be part of an interesting historical plot that is based on truth. I went through many lists of writers, and one of the suggestions included a Black historical romance writer, Beverly Jenkins.

Well, hey now. Could I get a two-fer out of this? I need to learn more Black history anyway, and the book I’m currently reading Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, is quite educational, and I’ve been stuck on page 36 for a while now. I know, I know, I’m the absolute worst. But I have a mission to fulfill, so I downloaded a book called Vivid. Vivid is a female physician of color who travels from California to a Black community in Grayson Cove, Michigan; they need a doctor and no one else will hire her in 1876. They also only hire her because they think she’s a man–she uses the “no first names” trick.

(As a side note, I just saw “On the Basis of Sex,” the movie about the early career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who nearly 100 years later after Vivid, made it into Harvard Law School and was top of her class, only to also not get hired. So, you know, there’s that. But the movie is good, so go see it, my fellow snowflakes!)

Vivid is well-written, entertaining, and not only chock full of historical details of Black people in the 1876,  Beverly also lists pages of resource material at the end of the book. Paydirt! There really were Black women doctors in the 1800s, and there were all-Black communities being established in the U.S. Sadly for my gay friends, they are no gay characters in these books, but if I find any good gay historical romances, I’ll let you know. Most of Beverly’s books I’ve read take place in all-Black communities, or in cities like Philadelphia because, as she notes in the end of one of the books, it played an important role in the Black race’s history. I’ve read about the 1800s and the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal church, middle class households, ranching out west, poets and writers, and more. In other words, I’ve read about human beings being human and their specific struggles because of their color.

One of my favorites, Midnight, is set in Boston on the verge of the Revolutionary War. In it the main free male character talks about being captured by the British navy and being forced into naval service–it’s called impressment and was legal in Britain at the time. And you know those Brits–they like to carry their rules around with them to other countries, whether the other countries agree or not. Not long after reading about it, I was able to tear myself away from fascinating Beverly to my read book group book, Heirs of the Founders, by H.W. Brands, about the second generation of American politicians. An early chapter describes how in 1812 two elder statesman, Henry Clay and John Calhoun, were trying to persuade their congressional colleagues and President Madison to wage war against Britain in response to many transgressions against American sovereignty, including, you guessed it, impressment.

So, I rest my case. And I know I can’t be satisfied with just Beverly and her meticulously research novels and heaving bosoms, sigh. I’ve got more reading to do, and I also signed up for class in January called, “White People Challenging Racism.” But for the moment, I need to find out what is going to happen in the next installment of the Grayson Cove, Michigan town. Seems were going to learn more about Dr. Vivid’s brother-in-law, Eli.

And, thank you Beverly, for your wonderful books. Here is a brief bio from Wikipedia: “Beverly Jenkins (born 1951, Detroit) is an American author of historical and contemporary romance novels with a particular focus on 19th century African-American life.[1] Jenkins was a 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee and, in 1999, was voted one of the Top 50 Favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by the African American Literature Book Club.[2] Jenkins’s historical romances are set during a period of African-American history that she believes is often overlooked. This made it difficult to break into publishing because publishers weren’t sure what to do with stories that involved African-Americans but not slavery.[3]

150430_blog-photo_bev-jenkins

 

Merry Christmas

There, I said it. It’s a holiday, so I hope you are spending it the way you would like. I’m with my family, so you’ll have to look for my witty banner next week. Wait–that wasn’t a side eye to my family. I swear.

I will give you my friend’s holiday-related post which I thoroughly enjoyed. Bumble vs Winter Warlock  anyone?

Anywho, here’s a picture of my tree–that’s all you’re getting this week. Kisses and lots of eggnog and cheer for you!

I Am the Slurper

Koo koo kitchoo. Although calling myself cool is too much of a stretch unless there is a round of drinks going around that I am paying for, I like to think I have my moments. At the very least, I would say I’m a considerate, self-aware person, especially at the office. If I’m feeling perimenopausal and you’re a stranger crossing my path, well, good luck to you. But my coworkers I have to live with every day. I know the value of being a considerate office mate. Not like that guy who sucks the last drops of his iced coffee with a straw. What a jerk! And then there is a woman who someone said she makes the most noise doing absolutely nothing. Crinkling papers, paper clip jingling, moving stuff around on her desk. So annoying!

That’s not me. I try to be helpful, and if I can’t say yes to a request immediately, I let you know when I can. I try to entertain and not bore people with my stories. I empathize, I validate. Overall, I would rate myself a pretty decent coworker.

That was until the office holiday party. Did I drink too much? Interestingly I did have an office party with another group that involved alcohol, and since I haven’t been summoned by HR, I managed to navigate that party well, and I’m guessing I was “fun,” and not “fun?@!#$%^^&???”

Oh, no, this other party was just a bunch of us having a nice catered lunch, and my coworker who sits on one side of me said something about me slurping my coffee. But he teases everyone about the most ridiculous things, so I said laughing, “I do not slurp my coffee!” To which my coworker who sits on the other side of me said, “Oh yes you do!”

I had that Matrix moment, where time slows down and my morning routine flashed before my eyes: getting coffee from the kitchen, walking back to my desk, lifting the cup to my lips, and…

OH MY GOD! I’m a SLURPER!

How could I not know this? Me, self-aware, super helpful Sandy!? Of course then they also started complaining about the crunching noise of my daily celery and carrot snack. To that one I say deal with it. I try to close my mouth. That’s the nature of the food and not much I can do about it.

But slurping? Ugh, the absolute worst.

Actually you know what was worse? I sat down this morning and forgot all about it. I’m pretty sure I did it again today. I can’t even hear it! WTF? All those years of giving the side eye to people who make noise at work. I’d think to myself, surely you can hear that, you’re just being a jerk. But apparently being a jerk and hearing yourself slurp is not mutually exclusive.

Wow, so….sorry? I’m going to try to remember tomorrow, and I can only guess that my other good qualities have prevented my coworkers from poking me in the eye with a Sharpie. Or, I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. So that’s what that Beatles song was about.

 

 

 

What Do You Want an Afghan for?

When I was in high school, a bunch of friends and I were sitting around and one quietly asked, a little embarrassed, “Does anyone have a napkin?” and we’re not talking about something to wipe food from your mouth. Mishearing the request, another friend answered loudly, “What do you want an afghan for?”

As is the rule with all quality longitudinal friendships, we still joke about that moment. It’s a girl thing, getting surprised by your period, which has unceremoniously snuck up on you. Some of us can studiously count the days all we want and mark our calendars, and our periods laugh at us, sitting at the bar, eyeing us on the overhead TV. And the minute it would be most inconvenient, say, while you’re at a fancy restaurant with white fabric chairs, or giving a presentation at work to mostly men, or in the car on a long trip and miles away from the next exit and any supplies, she laughs evilly while sliding off her stool to come for you. She never comes at home when you are within easy reach of your supplies, or at your friend’s house who would also have supplies, and maybe wine. Oh, no. What fun would that be?

Bitch.

So at some point in your life, as a menstruating woman, you will find yourself asking a friend, coworker, or mere acquaintance if you’re desperate enough, “Do you have a napkin/tampon/pad?”

I can’t remember if I read this on a blog or as part of a novel, but I love this story. The woman is in her late 30s, maybe early 40s and has kids. She carries around tampons in her purse, and at one point they spill out in front of a younger, female coworker, whose eyes get big at the sight of the “super” tampons. You know, because kids, later in life flow. The little girly “light days” ain’t gonna cut it. It’s been so long, that the woman has forgotten there are other types of tampons, and only realizes it though the younger woman’s big eyes.

I can relate. At 53, yes, I still need tampons. Don’t get me started, and yes, I know when — if — this damn thing ever stops, I have other troubles ahead. Maybe whatever those troubles are they don’t cost a small fortune and require a shelf of space. I suppose I can be considered “lucky.” My period no longer plays hide and seek with me; however, she prefers to slide off her bar stool every 24 days like clockwork, which she never seemed to have the time for before.

Bitch.

I’m 53, this is supposed to be getting slower, maybe even skip a month here and there. Ha, ha, ha, she says. What is inconsistent is what happens at day 24, however. Any or all of these things can happen, and it rotates randomly. Leg cramps, backache, migraines; fast, heavy, slow flows, sometimes in the same day; it’s all part of the fun. As a result, both at work and home I have a drawer full/shelf full of 3 kinds of tampons and 2 kinds of pads, and more ibuprofen than a CVS. This has been my life for years now, and like the poor hapless lady in the story, I’ve completely forgotten that periods can present in any other way. That once upon a time, before electricity, I had light, irregular flows, and even skipped a period now and then. I maybe went through a box of one size tampons every 3-4 months.

Until my younger coworker asked apologetically if I had a tampon. Like she might take my last one. “Sure!” I answered enthusiastically as I opened my bottom desk drawer, which as you can see from the picture is chock full. “Oh wow!” she said, eyes big.

tampondrawer

And I saw it through her eyes — like that women in the story. Crap. I already know it’s ridiculous to have my period at my age, but you don’t have to put a fine point on it or remind me nobody has a drawer full of tampons at their desk.

Then she got overwhelmed by the different sizes, “I don’t even know what these all are,” she said, slightly panicked. I thought how could you not know? In the tampon isle there are boxes with all sizes, marketed to us by color and names like “regular,” “super,” “super plus,” and that one grand day they were test marketing “ultra.” I was so happy and excited I bought a box and I never found them again after that. I have a bone to pick with the ever-changing, yet declining helpfulness of the color packaging, but that truly is another blog.

Maybe if your period has a little more civility, you get to have just your one box of one size, tucked away discretely among your note pads and pens and sticky notes.

She grabbed one, I believe is was a super, and ran off. And I was left staring at my drawer. Resupplying it can sometimes feel like musical chairs. Every time I restock, I think maybe it will stop, and then what will I do with all this? (Answer: donate to a woman’s shelter). But she’s sitting on the bar stool laughing at me. She’s not going to pull that trick on me for a long time — Miss every 24 days.

Oh, no, not me. I got my full drawer at work and my full shelf at home. My coworker did come again a few month later, asking for a tampon. She seemed less shocked this time, so that was good.

If my period ever does stop I was thinking I could fill the space with yarn. I make a mean afghan.

Dedicated to my dear friend Ruthy. You know why.