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Writing Excavation

Before I get into my blog proper, I need to detour one second for this brilliant tweet from @DrAndrewThaler: “Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans: While packing and decluttering before I moved, I went through my filing box of writing. Oh what a treasure trove of the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible, masquerading as mastery. Here are some of the more interesting (humor me) highlights:

This one I like — I’m not a natural-born poet, brevity being rather foreign to me. However, I do have my moments. I used to take a bus to the train to get to a 7 am meeting in Boston. One thing writers are good at is turning an unpleasant obligation into art, or at least something more palatable.

Early spring bus ride, 6:20 am
The light is so nice
It’s the planet and the sun
We’re doing the tilt.

I found a lot of random notes about possible essays from when Lucas was little. Which either shows my unbridled optimism or delusional tendencies — I had no time or energy to write an essay, but as they say in yoga, intention counts. This one made me smile:

When Lucas was about 8, he played soccer. His coach Giuseppe was from Italy and had a pretty heavy accent. We used to laugh that his son who was also on the team and a great player was the ringer — the kid probably had been kicking a ball around before he could walk. The rest of Lucas’s team was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of rag-tag, half-hearted 8-year-olds. The better teams always thought they had the game in the bag until Giuseppe’s son started weaving his way around them as if they were standing still. I also loved the way Guiseppe told the kids that “practeeks” would help them win. Short of having a wine flask to help take the edge off sitting through 8 am practices in 35-degree fall weather, the Italian imported ringer and the practeeks got me through.

In an unmarked manila folder I found a thin, plastic see-through record, a 45 size, but a 33 rpm. If you are younger than 35, this sentence may make no sense to you. Kind of like this one makes no sense to me (randomly found on a celebrity gossip site): Javi and Briana rub their romance in Kailyn’s face. Who are these people?

Back to my see-through record. It does play on my record player. (Yes, I have one, read all about it here: Put the Needle on the Record). The record is called “Star Track: Stephen Saban’s Greatest Hits,” and has excerpts from interviews by the “hottest” 80s stars, with a slant toward comedians: Judy Tenuta, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Lily Tomlin. I listened to it, and it’s pretty incomprehensible — there is no theme or organization, just famous people saying random things. It says “Details” at the top, which I think means it was from the hip, happening 80s magazine of the same name, which I did not subscribe to. So the mystery remains: why was this (presumably) in a magazine, who the hell is Stephen Saban, how did I get this weird thing, and for the love, why did I keep it? Was it one of those, “Oh, this will be worth a lot on eBay in the future!” moments? We may never know as I threw it away, but was fun to find.

There were many painful attempts at fiction and interview notes from when I spent a few months as a stringer for a weekly local newspaper. Neither genre is my forte, so that’s part of the pain. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded that being a young writer is what it is — bombastic, obvious, overly earnest, and just plain bad. But I had to write all that stuff to get where I am now: bombastic, obvious, underly earnest, and less bad.

And I’ll leave you with a deliciously bad piece of writing. Here is the winner of the 2017 Best Unoriginal Sentence: Hers was a beauty that was best seen through drunken eyes.

Thank you very much.

Leave the Curtain Rods

Well, I did it. I’m moved, and the unpacking is down to a dull roar. My new place is fantastic. You know what else I did? I left the curtain rods, which I’ve done for pretty much every place I’ve moved. And you know what? There are never any curtain rods where I’ve moved to. For the record, my current place gets a pass because it has fancy wood blinds. But why? Why do people take their rods? What exactly do you think you can use them for? This is Boston/New England and most windows are 50 to 100 years old, and no two windows are the same. If you’re lucky, you may get to use one or two of your current rods, but you will still need to buy new ones. Trust me. And if you are moving to one of those fancy, new deluxe apartments in the sky that have been popping up all over Boston, you ain’t need any curtains up that high, sweetheart.

As I was taking down the curtains in my old place, and leaving the rods, thankyouverymuch, I remembered how I bought them for the whole place, and all of the windows were nonstandard. There was an absurdly long front picture window, a wide kitchen window, and the teeniest, tiniest bedroom window that couldn’t even accommodate a window fan. There were more normal double French doors, but I had to position the rod carefully because of the way the doors opened to make sure I didn’t get trapped by the curtain.

And anyway, those badly fitting rods you take with you won’t help you after a long day of moving, as night starts to fall and the clear, uncovered windows mock your false sense of privacy.

Have mercy and leave me something I can put my old curtains on or at least a towel or old blanket for a night or two.

And I don’t care if the rods are cheap. I will swap them later if I care that much (I won’t). If fancy window “treatments” get negotiated and left behind as part of a house sale, you can leave your stinking rods behind in a rental apartment.

Now perhaps some people leave them like I do, and the landlords throw them away, if they feel moved to paint. But I say unto you, landlord: leave the curtain rods on the floor, for the love. Plus, who are we kidding, but most landlords don’t paint (except mine, she’s awesome).

So, how about this crazy idea. If we all left our rods behind, there would be rods when we arrive at the new place. How about that? No? Fine. Then you can go stick your precious rods. I don’t care, I’ve got fancy wood blinds.

Photo credit:


We Have a Winner

Collegepalooza came down to two contenders — state schools, one in Massachusetts and one in New York. We drove to each one on consecutive weekends for accepted student day for a final look. We were nearly a 1/2 hour early for UMass — who knew driving on a Sunday morning cuts 30 minutes off the travel time? And we were about 1/2 hour late for SUNY. You can read about all those shenanigans here. Both had students cheering us on while we drove along the winding roads to the parking lot. I think they made us park far away from the main road to the school just for this purpose. Both had super geeky professors in their physics/astronomy departments, which seems about right.

After much hand-wringing and deer-in-the headlights looks from my teen, he finally picked one — class of 2021 at SUNY New Paltz. I was hoping 2021 would be one of those iconic Space Odyssey years, but alas, it’s not. He’s stuck with an odd graduation year like I was, although in retrospect 1987 had a lot of great 80s music. Maybe he’ll get good 20s music.

He’ll be a Bostonian in a school of nearly all New Yorkers, a fair number of those from NYC. And while I like to make fun of New Yorkers — it’s kind of a favorite Boston past time — I also have to admit I met a number of them when I went to college at BU, and they taught me a lot about confidence. That NYC attitude annoyed and impressed me, which is a great way to get interesting conversations started. And the ones not from NYC have attitude about explaining where they do come from in that state. That’s takes a certain amount of resilience. In the end, even if they are faking it ’til they make it, they generally have confidence to spare, and that is never a bad thing to learn.

And he’ll get to know a non-New England point of view that’s probably as different as if he’d gone to school farther way. New York is a state of mind after all. And that’s pretty much the main point of college, if you ask me. Well that and a bunch of other stuff that I certainly never did, nor did my siblings, for that matter. Right guys? Will I lose him to NY? It’s a 50/50 split in my family. One sister left our home state of Connecticut after high school to live around the Albany area and has been there ever since. The other sister went to Syracuse University in New York, and came back to Connecticut with her native New York state husband-to-be in tow.

Either way, just getting there is a pretty big deal in itself. Congrats to my kid and to all the kids who are finding their way, whether it be college, trade school, working, starting a business in a basement, tripping around Europe, or following the Grateful Dead around, if that’s even still a thing. Go find your thing.


Photo credit: Envisioning the American Dream



Racism: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

I’ve been thinking a lot about racism lately, and that’s my unfair advantage as a white woman: I get to think about it in an abstract way when I have time, interest, and energy. I don’t have to step out the door every day and deal with it myself or worry about a male child or a man in my life being followed, threatened, or shot for simply existing.

I’m a bleeding heart liberal from a genetic pool of people who are pre-disposed to giving others breathing room–the Dutch, so that shit’s genetic and deep. And right now pretty much everyone and every group is under fire, so how’s a lefty girl to choose? There is a macabre buffet of social, political, and environmental issues to choose to fight for. It’s an embarrassment of riches: immigrants, women’s reproduction, the environment, the political collapse of the Democratic Party that lost its focus on helping people without a voice. And then there’s the stuff to fight against, like white supremacists, people who shout using all caps in electronic communications, and Kellyanne Conway–call me conservative, but I don’t believe cyborgs should have full human rights until they can be better calibrated for balance, oh, and have a functioning brain.

So in this Cheeto flea world I’ve been darting around like a dog chasing rabid squirrels and collapsing in a corner panting until I catch my breath. Then another Cheeto flea tweet crosses my Facebook feed and I’m off and running again.

And I don’t even like exercising.

So what can I do? Where should I put my energy, because at 51, I can’t be giving it away for free like I did when I was 25. Except if you’re a hot man, then please step up to the front of the line.

Where was I? Ah, right, stop and focus. Recently a few conversations with my friend Sonia have helped clarify for me that race underpins so much of this–this fear that some white people have of losing ground they only got by 1) existing and 2) pushing down everyone else. This fear made Cheeto flea number 45. This fear continues to openly hate Obama, which is the most fucked up kind of ignorance and blatant racism. I can fight for gays, women, immigrants, and religions, but if Blacks are still considered subhuman, then everything else I do is just a Band-Aid. I should know. I went for marriage counseling around year 10, and that Band-Aid prevented us from getting to the root cause. 10 years after that, we got divorced. I’ve learned I can’t wish this crap away or think it’s one and done. That’s just for romantic comedies, and that is some of the fakest news ever.

Meeting Sonia in college and having some illuminating discussions about everything from rock ‘n’ roll to race inspired me to later read a lot of Black history that I was never taught in school, like the Civil Rights Movement. In 1986, smack in the middle of my conversations with Sonia, Spike Lee came on to the scene with “She’s Gotta Have It.” That was also life-changing–a whole movie about black people just doing regular things like trying to find love from a Black perspective. That shit was radical. Still is.

Eventually Sonia moved away, and I didn’t meet another Black person. Well that’s not true. I bonded with a nice, funny guy at a bad job. We had a lot of fun at work, and I still make this great potato salad recipe he gave me. I proposed that he and his wife hang out with my and my then husband a few times, but he politely declined. I thought at the time of something Sonia had told me about Black people having trouble trusting white people–some of us are pretty sketchy, after all. But now that I’m thinking about it, the same thing happened a few years later with a white couple, so maybe we were just a boring white couple no one wanted to hang around, Black or white.

You see how confusing this race thing can be?

After Sonia left, the gay people decided they did want to hang around with me. That worked because I don’t really think like a straight, white person. I never was big on getting married, although I did try it–it didn’t take. I’m not into working for big companies, climbing ladders, or having a big house. My one kid is great, but if he were not possible, I would have been OK not having a kid. My Moroccan friend once told me, “You’re a weird American.” And she was a weird Moroccan, so she would know. I got to know the struggles of gay people trying to define themselves outside of society’s norms–I was trying to do that too. If you’ve ever heard someone’s coming out story, which usually involves the terror of revealing your true self to those closest to you, knowing you may be rejected out of hand, then, straight, white people like me should be grateful for what we have. I just wanted to work in a nonprofit and be a writer, which meant squatting on the outer edges of American prosperity–most families don’t kick you out for that.

And so I have been to the Gay Pride parade in Boston every year, and was at Cambridge City Hall when they handed out the first gay marriage licenses, and benefited from lots of gay men giving me their cast off furniture. And then we got a Black president, so what could be better? Gay marriage! Black president! This lefty girl was snug as a bug in a rug.

Until, um, now. Cue “Home Alone” screaming kid–note that he’s white.

I’m getting back to where I started all those years ago freshman year talking into the night with Sonia about the difference between black and white hair and ashy skin. She was brave enough to let in this crazy white girl into her life and that changed me forever for the better. It’s time for me to speak up and talk about race, rock ‘n’ roll, and hair–I learned from the gay rights movement that’s what being an ally is. I have the socially acceptable attributes like being white and straight, so I need to use my ninja skills to help others and look at my own biases along the way. Yes, even the Spike Lee-loving liberal has biases. Nobody needs a clueless ally, and white, straight cluelessness can be the worst.

So what are you being called to do? We will most likely intersect and join up at some point in a big-ass massive rally that could maybe fill Rhode Island. We’re going to need all our passion and commitment to make these long-term changes. And while you’re doing your thing, try to also to hear out whatever it is others are saying, even if it makes you uncomfortable. When I hear about the environment, sometimes I want to yell, “I stopped using aerosols, I recycle, I cut up the damn plastic rings around a six-pack of soda! What more do you want from me!?” And when I put my big girl pants on, I can say, yeah, I know there’s more to it than that. Fight, and listen, and if all else fails, laugh at yourself, and keep moving.

Photo: Sonia and I getting our U2 groove on 2 summers ago.

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 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.


Time to Get Busy

I went to bed last Tuesday night having a déjà vu from a  similar election night in 1988, George Bush (H.W., senior) vs Michael Dukakis. I was a young and naïve liberal terrified by a Bush win, which would continue the horror I’d felt as a teenager with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. I only survived that because my history teacher, who I respected because of his deadpan sense of humor, assured me in all seriousness that politics are a pendulum that swings back-and-forth. I was also somewhat inoculated by that teenage elixir of disdain for all who came before me and the hubris that nothing truly horrible would ever happen to me.

Eight years later in 1988, I was desperate to have the pendulum swing back to the left. Things weren’t looking too good when I went to bed that night. In the morning, I made a deliberate effort to wake up before the alarm, turn it off, and spend a few blissful moments with time and information suspended. And in that moment I tried to draw strength from the silence and the idea that all things were still possible.

And then I turned on the radio and was immediately devastated.

My naïveté then was thinking the world as I knew it was over with Bush as president. Little did I know how much worse it would get with George W. Bush (the son), and then how much better it would get — from my perspective — with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

So last Tuesday night I went to bed laughing at my 20-something self; how cute is it that I thought two Bush presidents were the worst we could get. When you are a liberal pining for the Republicans to look more like Bush senior, you are pretty well fucked, my friend. Wednesday morning I repeated the ritual: woke up before the alarm and tuned into the exquisite place of not knowing. I couldn’t quite get to a place where all things were possible. I’ve been kicked around the block a few too many times to be able to muster that kind of protective naïveté.

I got up, I picked up my phone, and my stomach lurched at the alerts proclaiming Trump had won. After dry heaving, I went through a rapid fire set of emotions — fear, doubt, disgust, and then landed squarely on resolution, fueled by anger. And it was then that I appreciated my 51 years on this planet. I know things for sure that my teen and 20-something self did not. I have way more confidence, tools, and resources than they had. And I also have a special kind of anger, thanks to perimenopause, and it’s not something you want to screw around with. It comes from a deep, hormone-fueled place, the same hormonal place that pushes a 9-pound baby out of a hole the size of a lemon. We’re talking lifeforce here, and I’ve got a mainline to it.

I’m smart enough to be afraid for all us who Trump has maligned, and as the days pass, I’m even more fearful of the pack of Dementers he’s allowing to be assembled as his transition team. It’s like Dick Cheney times 5. But as someone who went to rallies for the abortion rights in the ’80s, I take it as a sign of progress that there will be also rallies for people of color, sexual orientation, and religion to fight for the rights that have been gained since Bush senior. To quote my favorite movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, “I’m older than you and I have more insurance.” I’m lucky enough to live in liberal Massachusetts, and I will do what I need to do to fight this. I don’t have small children or a partner to consider. I’ve been kicked around by life some, and I’m stronger for it. I’m in the perfect place to hold the line

Here are the things I’ve done so far. If you are so inclined, do what you can with what you have. In this fight, everyone’s contributions count, big or small, words, money, actions.

  1. Don’t forget self-care. This is a marathon not a sprint, and we’ve got to outlast them.
  2.  I’m lucky to be able to rearrange my budget to give to Black Lives Matter, Human Rights Campaign, ACLU of Massachusetts, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
  3. I saw a great illustrated guide of 4 simple step to help victims of harassment. The creator, a Paris-based artist, focused on Islamophobia because that is what she has experienced in Paris, but it works for any situation when a person is being harassed. You engage that person with small talk, and don’t acknowledge or engage the attacker. Check out the whole explanation.
  4. I’m planning on going to a women’s march on January 21 in Washington, DC, a day after the inauguration. I’ll go wherever else I can.
  5. Be as kind as you can to yourself and others.
  6. I’ve gained strength and hope from the many people who are engaging, helping, listening, and fighting for all of our rights.

So, Trump my message to you is this: if you or those around you are interested in dismantling human rights of any kind, than I dare you to go ahead and grab my pussy, but I warn you–it’s got teeth.