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Teri's Public Library

2016: It was a gold year!

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photo credit: Time Magazine

In 2016, there was a gold man who lived in a gold house, and he would Make America Great Again! A man who said, “the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” A man who vowed to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. A man who mocked a handicapped man for the cameras and spun-up his crowds with screams to “Lock her up!”

A man who refused to release his tax returns while saying not paying taxes “makes me smart.” A man who insists he’s never read a book and doesn’t need intelligence briefings because he has “a very good brain.”

A man who crowed, “How stupid are the people of Iowa?!” in Iowa.

In 2016, there was a gold man who lived in a gold house, and he would Make America Great Again! A man who owned a university until court records revealed a “fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.” A man who said he could command his TV show, his companies, and the country at the same time and not waste his weekends in the Oval Office.

A man who compared the sacrifices of running his gold-plated business to those of a Gold Star family whose son got blown to pieces being a hero in Iraq. A man who said, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” and “our military is a disaster.”

A man who spent seven long years goading our first black President to show his birth certificate, demanding his papers like he was a runaway slave.*

In 2016, there was a gold man who lived in a gold house, and he would Make America Great Again! A man who did not understand the First Amendment and said about the free press, “With me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people” and threatened to sue if they wrote unflattering stories about him.

A man who wrapped himself in the glory of the Second Amendment, suggesting his opponent might get shot, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”

A man who wanted to do away with the Fourth Amendment, tweeting “stop-and-frisk works!”

A man who scoffed at the Eighth Amendment, “Look, I think we have to change our law on the waterboarding thing.”

A man who mocked our Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship for those born here, “Mexico and almost every other country anywhere in the world doesn’t have that. We’re the only ones dumb enough, stupid enough to have it.”

In 2016, there was a gold man who lived in a gold house, and he would Make America Great Again! A man who bragged about grabbing women’s pussies, because “when you’re a star you can do anything.” A man who threatened to sue and ruin any woman who dared accuse him of assault. A man who snickered, ”I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there, and she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything.”

And there was a Hollywood TV host who lost his job for this “locker room talk” while the gold man who did most of the talking got the biggest job in the land.

In 2016, there was a gold man who lived in a gold house, and he would Make America Great Again! A man who said in a 1991 interview, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” A man who said, in an interview the following year, while ogling a ten year old girl as she rode the escalator. ”I’m going to be dating her in ten years. Can you believe it?”

A man who said to a woman on his TV show, “Must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees.”

In 2016, there was a gold man who lived in a gold house, and he would Make America Great Again! A man who so unrelentingly heckled a young female reporter, his enraged audience turned on her and Secret Service had to escort her to her car. A man who warned an accomplished journalist, “I almost released my beautiful Twitter account against you, and I still might.”

A man who stood on stages and called his opponents Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary, Low Energy Jeb, Crazy Bernie, Goofy Elizabeth Warren, Pocahontas. A man so thin-skinned he lashed out at those who made jokes about him on a TV show, because he’s a man who can dish it out but can’t take it.

In 2016, there was a gold man who lived in a gold house, and he would Make America Great Again!

A man who said, “Believe me,” “I have the most loyal people, where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay.”

And in that one sentence the people heard everything they wanted to hear about their God (believe!) and their guns (shoot somebody!) and prosperity (5th Avenue!) and winning (wouldn’t lose!).

And the people were loyal.

And they put the gold man in the White House.

* credit to Colson Whitehead.

Redefining truth in Trump’s America

OpEd — Sunday, Dec 11, 2016

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Pamela Kim, 2004

A few months after my son got his driver’s license, he rolled our truck down a tree bank on a remote, backroad. The truck landed softly on its hood, and he was able to crawl out the window, uninjured. “Stay put,” I said when he called. “I’ll be there as soon as I call a tow truck.”

By the time I arrived, there were two cop cars, lights flashing, and my son was giving a police report. I panicked, sure something else must have gone terribly wrong, so I pulled my son aside and asked why the police were there. “I called 911,” he said, matter-of-fact. “You always told me if I had an accident to tell the police exactly what happened, to just tell the truth.”

We’ve been told we are in post-truth America, where what we believe, where our emotional reaction, takes precedent over proof and fact. This year the Oxford Dictionary declared “post-truth” the international word of 2016, citing a 2,000% increase in use over 2015.

We try to teach our kids the value of telling the truth. In fact, we tell them they will be in more trouble for lying about something they did wrong, than for the wrong itself. We casually quote cliches like, “The truth shall set you free.” But what we say about the truth isn’t even the truth anymore.

What value, then, is truth? How do we teach our children the value of the truth in a post-truth America, where we not only lie, but we lie about lying? America, where the worst offender is the president elect and his staff.

The election is over. Mr. Trump clearly won. Yet he insists, with zero evidence, that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” And to further muddy the waters, our vice president elect, when asked if it is Mr. Trump’s right to make false statements, replies with a shrug, “Well, it’s his right to express his opinion.”

Note: in post-truth America, an opinion with zero evidence to back it up is the truth.

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump insisted the President of Taiwan—an unrecognized leader of an unrecognized country—called him simply to congratulate him on winning the presidency. And yet we’ve now learned the call was pre-arranged by Mr. Trump’s team. We’ve learned his designated chief of staff traveled to Taiwan last fall as part of a delegation. We’ve learned an agent of the Trump Organization took a September business trip to Taiwan to, reportedly, discuss a potential real estate project.

Note: in post-truth America, irrefutable facts (calendars, travel documents, phone records) are irrelevant if you double-down, if you lie about the original lie.

Mr. Trump’s national security advisor floats a conspiracy theory—a conspiracy theory being a lie—that Comet Ping Pong, a family pizza place in Washington D.C., is nothing but a front for “money laundering,” “child exploitation,” and “sex crimes with minors.” All of these charges have been debunked, and yet because of the continued allegations the owners are dealing with death threats and harassment. This weekend a gunman, acting on these lies, entered the restaurant as innocent parents dined with their innocent children.

Note: in post-truth America, the national security advisor to the president can propagate, without consequence, lies that endanger Americans.

At 8:52 this morning, the president elect tweeted, “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”

The Boeing contract is only three weeks old, and only $165M has been paid. There is no $4 billion cost overrun, and the CEO of Boeing, who certainly had better things to do today, spent his morning getting out a statement to correct the president elect’s false claims.

Note: the president elect’s false claims, also known as lies.

But do we even care, in post-truth America? Isn’t this all just … exhausting?

At the scene of my son’s accident, after the police had gone and the tow truck disappeared down the road, I tried to explain the nuances of truth-telling to my teenaged son, that sometimes it’s not as clear as it should be.

“You don’t have to call the police for a minor, one-car accident with no injuries,” I started. “But now the police are required to file their report with the state, resulting in points on your license and an increase in our car insurance.”

My son stared out the window, silent. Maybe he was still shaken by the rollover. Or maybe he was, as we are now, wrestling with the new supposed definitions of truth. Because what is the truth, anyway, if we can’t be bothered to call out the most blatant and destructive of lies?

In the Bible, the ninth commandment clearly states, “Do not testify false witness.” But if it’s okay for the president elect and his staff, how do we explain the difference to our kids?

Post-truth is the word of 2016. And if the grownups need the Oxford Dictionary to redefine lies, and lying about lying, and what the truth means, we are nothing. We are lost.

Lost, in post-truth America.

The Bully now has a Presidential Pulpit

OpEd – Nov 21, 2016

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Art by Max Shearburn

In the last scene I witness firsthand, my mother is leaning back in her rocker about to take a breathing treatment. Her husband stomps past me on his way through the kitchen and hurls a carton of Marlboro 100’s into my mother’s gut. Go ahead, he screams, do it. Smoke them all. You know you want to!

My mother will be dead of emphysema in four months. We know to go quiet, to let her husband rant on because, after 20 years of this, we’ve learned our lesson. After a good hour of abuse we are at the kitchen table spooning up casserole, pretending nothing happened as he tap-tap-taps my mother playfully with his elbow. Aw boober, he says, using the nickname she hates, I know you’re sorry, you can say it.

This is what it’s like to live with a bully.

Which is why this scene came to mind as I watched the President Elect’s tweet-storm unfold over Hamilton and Saturday Night Live this weekend. It was textbook. The unreasonable rant. The hyper-focus. The inability to let it go. A powerful man going off the rail over nothing and then demanding apologies from the very people he’s insulted and demeaned.

So much for feeling the weight of the oval office. So much for becoming presidential.

Instead of wasting his time tweeting and bullying theatre and TV stars, maybe the President Elect could talk to us. Remember us, the 300+ million people counting on you to be our leader?

What is your plan to bring jobs back, cut our taxes, retool healthcare? Could you grab a camera and disavow the KKK? Call for an end to the violent targeting of minorities that’s gone mainstream since your election? When might you explain how you’ll avoid ethics conflicts—like the ones you pilloried Hillary Clinton with—between your businesses and the presidency? And hey, what happened to “Build that wall!” and “Lock her up!”?

But the President Elect is so busy lashing out on Twitter, I’m starting to wonder if he’s forgotten his many promises, forgotten us. We, the people.

This weekend a friend asked why I’m so concerned, terrified, about our new President Elect. Is it his inexperience in governing, his possible incompetence?

It is not. What scares me is his dangerously thin skin. How easily distracted he becomes with a perceived personal slight. His tendency to bully from the pulpit. The way his inner circle explains him away.

He’s not really like that, they assure us. That’s not who he is. He’s a good guy, believe me.

The same assurances my mother gave. For 20 years.

There’s the saying, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them,” and yet it’s been stupefying to watch the President Elect’s surrogates, no matter how horrifying his rhetoric, rally around. They told us to ignore his mocking of a handicapped journalist. They said he didn’t mean anything in shaming a Gold Star family. They laughed about the childish name-calling of his political opponents. They brushed off his attacks on news organizations who dared report an unflattering story.

Last month, the New York Times updated their still-growing list of “The 282 people, places and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter,” since declaring his candidacy for president.

Let me repeat that. For president.

If you’ve lived with a bully, you see the signs right off. I recall my mother’s husband who, after church every Sunday, would take the helm of our breakfast table to rant and rage about how all politicians and niggers and spics should be lined up and shot down with machine guns; how the fancy women on TV were nothing but dressed-up whores; how those fags with AIDS got what they deserved. Put them on an island somewhere, he liked to say, and set it on fire.

Imagine what he could have done with a Twitter account.

Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly reported last week that, just prior to a debate, Mr. Trump heard she would be asking him a tough question and threatened to unleash his “beautiful Twitter account” against her. And unleash he did. For weeks. Which seemed to open a floodgate for others to do the same, and Ms. Kelly’s mailbox filled with obscenities and death threats, with Mr. Trump’s own lawyer retweeting a message saying “we can gut her.”

The bullying continued until a Fox news executive called Mr. Trump’s lawyer to explain that Megyn Kelly ending up dead would not help his client.

All because she asked him a tough question.

The world is watching. The bully has his pulpit. And like my mother’s husband what scares me most, what should scare all of us, is his dangerously thin skin.

But that’s not who he is. He’s a really good guy, believe me.

How To Build a Fire Pit

OpEd – Nov 16, 2016

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The fire pit arrived on election day, but not in the 3 or 4 pieces I expected. There was one box the size of a sofa. The box weighed 132 lbs. The box contained 26 pieces and what looked like a hundred nuts and bolts.

I backed my car out of the garage so the driver could dolly the box to a dry, safe place and went back inside. As long as I’d been waiting for the back-ordered fire pit, my excitement was elsewhere. I had my favorite liberal TV pundits to croon over, news to refresh, Twitter to follow, Facebook to scroll, righteousness to feel.

I had the idea, the ideal, of the first woman president. The fire pit could wait.

I live in rural Kentucky, a tiny blue dot in a proud red state. It is safe to say, as much as I am known to be outgoing and outspoken—even nicknamed “the social director” by some neighbors—I’ve spent the endless months of this presidential campaign keeping my mouth shut. Being respectful, polite.

On Tuesday, I stayed up long enough to see Kentucky, as expected, go for Trump. I texted my son a photo of the freshly-opened box and the overwhelming book of instructions in the garage. “This will take a lot longer than I thought.” But he insisted it would be no big deal. We would build the fire pit tomorrow night. He would be out after work. And I fell naively asleep, imagining both having Hillary Clinton as our next president and making a list of the friends I would invite over (maybe this weekend!) to roast marshmallows and celebrate around the fire.

Then I woke up to see that a man infamous for the phrase “grab them by the pussy” was now my president.

I’ve lived in 8 states. I am a democrat. I do not go to church. I am pro-choice. A feminist. As much as I truly love living here, and adore my neighbors, driving these many months through the gauntlet of Trump / Pence and Hillary for Prison signs has kept me perpetually on alert. My son asked why I didn’t have a Clinton / Kaine sticker on my car and I told him the truth: Because I would be afraid.

No matter if it’s family, friends or neighbors, we’ve lost the art of vigorous debate. There are so many topics to avoid: politics, abortion, guns, sexual assault, religious faith or lack thereof. The things we were taught to never discuss in polite company.

But what is polite about lying, even if the lie is in our silence or omission?

While I waited for my son to get off work, I went out to the garage and started slicing through industrial-grade cardboard. I’d spent the day alternately sobbing and catatonic, listening to the pundits try, just try, to explain it all. I deactivated my Facebook account, unable to take the despair or the gloating.

As I organized the nuts and bolts and the 26 parts of the fire pit into sensible sections, I absentmindedly tried to escape the task by picking up my phone and refreshing my Facebook page. The screen came up blank. How strong, that pull to connect. I got back to work, recalling an old friend from Catholic school, one of my very best friends, who recently posted about her pro-life stance. Being the pro-choice liberal I am, I knew better than to weigh in, but I also felt left out as I watched the number of “likes” tick up, as I read the dozens of “I’m pro-life too!” comments that flooded in. What I did not see, what I knew I would not see, was anyone in disagreement.

Facebook, like Twitter and Instagram and many of our communities, is not a welcoming venue for complex views.

Like the time I don’t have to read the instructions and assemble the 26 pieces of this fire pit, we don’t have the time for difficult conversations. Our impulse is for instant soothing, instant gratification, and social media is where we feed that beast, where we gather with “friends” who think like us. Where the “like” button, with every click, reinforces our rightness.

If you’re wondering how a reality TV star with millions of Twitter followers feverishly insulted his way to the most powerful position in the world, look no further than the weapon, the phone, in your own hand.

Not guilty? Think about how many times a day, an hour, you refresh your Twitter feed or scroll through Facebook, pretending to look for photos but really looking for your people. Your mirror to confirm the way you see the world.

I know I’m guilty. Guilty of not discussing, in any meaningful way, this election with a Trump supporter. And not a single conservative friend has asked for my views, either.

Who has the time, the energy, when you already know you’re right?

And that’s how, in this devastating week post-election, I found myself sitting alone at my new fire pit, a pinprick blue dot in a big red state. Nobody like me. No Facebook for comfort. No Twitter to scroll. I’m not upset about losing. I’m not even sad about not having a woman president. I’m too busy being terrified for such luxuries.

It was Joan Didion who wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking, “I find myself stressing the fire because fires were important to us…. Fires said we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe through the night.”

I do not feel safe. But maybe if I sit here long enough, jonesing for a Facebook fix, but resisting, a neighbor will drop by and we will take the time to sort the pieces, to disagree, to learn about each other. To build something.

The Tic Tac Man

OpEd – Oct 13, 2016

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J.B. kept boxes of Tic Tacs in the top, left-hand, drawer of his desk. Whenever he felt like he’d offended me, he offered me some. “Hold out your hand,” he would say, opening the drawer, and I would hold out my hand and he would hold my fingers down while he sprinkled the white candies into my palm.

“There you go,” he would say, “A few of these babies will get rid of that bad taste in your mouth.”

And then he would tip his head back like a baby bird, tap in a few Tic Tacs, drop the box back in the drawer, and ease the drawer closed. Then we would both sit there until the candy, and the tension, dissolved.

This scene with J.B.—whom I’d nicknamed the Tic Tac Man — is the first thing I thought of when I heard the Donald Trump / Billy Bush tape. J.B. was a big money oil magnate, one of my biggest customers. My job was to keep his business, keep him happy, and this is what it looked like to negotiate with him.

When I hear Donald Trump talk about making American great again, when I hear his mostly white male supporters scream for a return to the good old days, I do not feel hope. I feel the churn of fear. What good old days are those, exactly?

There were the days when the big shot at the company dinner insisted that I (not the 4 other men at the table) drive him back to his hotel and we had to laugh and joke while strategizing in secret about how to get me away from him without pissing him off and risking his business.

The days when I had to beg desk clerks to let me change hotel rooms to hide from the men I was traveling with, men who would would spend their drunken nights tracking me like it was a game, like I was an animal. And then having to smile at them over breakfast and pretend like it was no big deal.

That time when I was the new and only woman in a conference room full of male department heads, and the Chief Operating Officer announced, “I guess this means we ain’t having our monthly meetings at the strip club anymore, boys. All those good girls are going to lose money because of you, sweetheart.” His colleagues laughed. To me he said, “Oh shit, lighten up. I don’t mean nothin’.”

That customer I had to tolerate through lunch while he downed his scotch and water and told me how pretty I was, how much he liked my hair, my dangly earrings, my calves (seriously, my calves?), my shiny pink lipstick on my soft sweet lips. “Oh, I’m harmless as a big old teddy bear,” he would say. “But hot damn, girl!”

The time when me and my female colleagues knew better than to report this kind of behavior because we knew our careers would be over, and because the boldest predator in our office was the Senior Vice President of Human Resources.

Those good old days?

Yeah. I think I’ll pass.

And if you feel the need to tell me stories about Bill Clinton, I’ll take a pass on that, too. Bill Clinton is not running for President of the United States, and it’s not the 1990’s anymore.

When I listen to the Donald Trump / Billy Bush tape, as horrific as the whole thing is, I get stuck at the part with the Tic Tacs.

The Tic Tac Man used to ask me what I thought of his ties, and would insist I touch them, “How does that feel?” he would ask.

The Tic Tac Man found every way possible to be alone with me, and would balk if I set up meetings with my boss or other department heads.

The Tic Tac Man made sure I knew he was doing me a favor by inviting me into his circle, the rare air of men and money and success. Did I know how lucky I was, the young business woman, to be treated to such access?

The Tic Tac Man often moved our meetings to his private conference room, the one with windows he could darken with the push of a button and where he could sit in the chair next to mine and rub his leg and arm against me while we “went over the numbers.”

And here’s the thing about the Tic Tac Man. Because he was rich and successful in business and oh so charming, everything he said and did was normal, expected, tolerated, excused, laughed about, dismissed (boys being boys!), encouraged, and even admired.

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“You can do anything,” this new Tic Tac Man says, “Whatever you want.”

And he’s right. He can do anything, whatever he wants, to your daughters and mine. And still maintain the fevered, cult-like support of his followers. The Tic Tac Man is running for President of the United States.

 

It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World

Pablo Picasso Sleeping man and sitting woman
– drawing by Pablo Picasso

Friends, I’ve been un-friended.

It happened on a Friday night. I posted the video of Mr. and Mrs. Kahn—the Gold Star Muslim parents of a soldier killed in Iraq—with the caption, “America is already great.” These four words were apparently fighting words because, within minutes, a man I knew mostly back in school before we were of voting age commented he would be un-friending me until after the election. “Nothing personal,” he wrote. He was sure I understood why he had to do this, that he had to un-friend me in order to remain friends. He was just, to quote, “SO itching to launch truth missiles” my way.

I’m not sure what a truth missile is, but it sounds like war. War, over showing public support for a Gold Star family and stating that America is great? The low bar, it seems, can still sink lower.

It’s no secret I’m liberal in my politics, but at least half of my friends are conservatives and, while I admit I have no respect for the bullying rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and don’t know where to find the Fox News channel on my TV, I read just about everything by prominent and respected conservatives like David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, and my latest Podcast Addiction Award goes to the brilliant and hilarious Mike Murphy, longtime Republican political operative and consultant to Jeb Bush. Murphy’s two-part interview with Mitt Romney was worth every minute. All this to say I do not need to receive truth missiles from a man enthusiastic about, I’m guessing here, the current Republican presidential nominee.

Which brings me to the most puzzling aspect of this year’s Republican candidate: he does not appear to be a Republican, or even a conservative. Mike Murphy and Mitt Romney claim they will vote, but write in some other name.

More than two dozen women friends, liberals and conservatives alike, have told me they can’t bring themselves to vote for either candidate. They will be sitting this one out.

Since women have had the right to vote for less than a century, this is both disturbing and disheartening. While it’s certainly not news that both candidates have high water marks for being unlikable, the reasons women give for not voting are notable.

Who can vote for a man who makes fun of the handicapped, who calls people Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted and Crooked Hillary and Pocahontas like a grade school bully? Who can vote for a man who insults and then refuses to apologize to a grieving Gold Star mother, who insists he knows “more than the generals” when it comes to ISIS, and who doubles-down on asinine assertions that the current President of the United States was not born here and founded ISIS?

Who can vote for a man who spends his opening remarks in a national presidential debate defending the size of his penis?

On the democratic side there’s Email Gate—the private server, the thousands of emails—and that the candidate comes across cold. But most always it comes down to this: disgust that she stayed married to a serial cheater, to a man whom she must have known was having sex with other women, who then embarrassed her publicly by trying to lie his way out of it.

I’m reminded of one of my dad’s Facebook posts, a photo of Monica Lewinsky with the caption, Nobody would know who I am if Hillary was the right woman for the job.

Her husband’s affairs had to be as much her fault as his. She asked for it, or was in on it. Who can vote for a woman who chooses to stay in a sham and call it marriage? How can you trust a woman like that to run the country?

As to my own Facebook un-friending, I did not comment nor reply. Eventually I deleted the post altogether. What else was there to say? I’m not normally much of a crier, so it’s humiliating to admit I spent that Friday night in tears. Not over the un-friending—we are all grownups here and can choose to be “friends” with whomever we like—but because I felt like I’d been slapped in public. Knocked down a peg. Taught a lesson. Surely I understood why he could not remain “friends.” Surely I understood not to take it personally. Surely I understood that I had, somehow, asked for it.

Would he, I can’t help but wonder, be this bent on launching truth missiles at a man?

This November, I will cast my vote. I will not vote for the woman because she is a woman. I will vote for her in spite of it.

I will vote for her because I don’t need to understand her marriage or like or love or be friends with her. I will vote for her because she represents the causes I believe in (a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, women’s rights, sensible gun legislation), but mostly I will vote for her because she is the most qualified candidate—raised working-class in Illinois, smart enough for Yale Law, First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, Senator from New York, Secretary of State—who just so happens to be a woman.

I will vote for her because it’s a man’s world and men have been running this country for over 200 years. Isn’t it time to see if we can do a better job?

And admittedly, there is one very small bonus: I am fairly certain I will never have to watch her defend the size of her penis on a national stage.

The Choice

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My Mother, age 18, 1963

Until her early death at age 56, my mother carried a massive weight of regret and shame. Regret for mistakes made. Shame within her large, devout, Catholic family, with one aunt who answered her phone, “Hello, Praise the Lord.” Shame within her small Missouri town. And shame within her family’s Sprigg Street church where her father had paraded himself for years as a pillar of purity and faith and righteousness, even has he threw his wife—mother to his 8 children— into the backyard some midnights while sitting inside the door with a rifle, drunk and laughing and daring the whore that she was to try, just try, and come inside.

My grandmother was poor and uneducated and not allowed by her husband to drive a car or to work outside the home or to write a check without his signature, and with so many children to care for, she did not have the choice to leave. She had no rights.

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You can find me over at The Manifest-Station today.  An essay about our right to make choices about our bodies and about our lives, and what happens when we have no choice.

A Stepson’s Summer Visit

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My stepson is smart. He knows his mom and dad make the decisions. He knows his mom and I never (why would we?) speak.

He knows I have less authority than a teenaged babysitter. “What are you going to do?” he says sarcastically over a giant bowl of Cheerios. “Call my mom?”

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IH12Q1k7_400x400Mothers and stepmothers are supposed to hate each other — but who made up this rule?

I’m over at Motherwell Magazine with a story about what can happen when mothers and stepmothers work together. If you are a stepparent or stepchild, I would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments section!

And as always, thanks for reading.

The Serena In Us

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Serena Williams is arguably—though I can’t conjure any reasonable argument—the greatest female tennis player of all time, both fiercely respected and roundly feared on the court. And yet with the start of each tournament, especially the majors, the unrelenting commentary on Serena begins.

At this summer’s Wimbledon, the comments are about her dress. More specifically, the comments are about her breasts. More specifically than that, the comments are about her nipples.

Serena is number 1 in the world, about to turn 35, and playing in the championship match at the most respected professional tournament in the world, going for her 22nd major title. But the mention of her name brings this before all else: you can see her nipples through the white dress and can’t she for god’s sake do something about that, find a way to hide them, cover them up, strap those things down?

I am a fan. Of tennis in general and of Serena in particular. I’ve almost passed out in the searing heat at the U.S. Open. I’ve snagged lucky on-line tickets to Wimbledon. I’ve spent the entire first week at the Australian Open from the opening of the gates until closing. And for the last 2 decades, I’ve watched Serena become a champion as the barrage of criticism, rarely if ever about her tennis, has only gotten louder.

Look at that ass, someone jokes. Those thighs. You’d think she’d try to cover that up, but there she is on the practice court, in leggings. In white leggings! In shorts!

Her face looks odd doesn’t it, her nose is smaller? Come on, she’s had surgery, you can tell. And what’s with the eyebrows, the long painted nails, who can play tennis with nails like that? The big dangling earrings, showing off the diamonds, a belly button ring for god’s sake. Is that permanent eyeliner?

And what the hell is she wearing, can’t she afford a dress that doesn’t fly up?

On the first changeover in every set she plays, Serena Williams does not stroll to her chair. She does not pause for a drink of water. She does not grab one last thing out of her bag or waste time refolding a towel. She does not make her opponent wait. Excepting sister Venus, Serena is the only player who, holding herself accountable to this most basic (though never enforced) rule of the game, walks around the far post and stands ready, always ready, to resume play.

Arms like a linebacker, a friend laughs, maybe she’s part man. Those biceps, those shoulders!

Sore loser. Never gives her opponents the benefit of saying they played well. Surly in post-match press conferences after a defeat, arrogant, nasty, angry, dismissive, egomaniac.

Oh man, has she gained weight? Again?

Compiling this list—the laser-like focus on Serena’s body, her clothes, her jewelry, her makeup, her temperament—I feel exhausted. A familiar pattern emerges. The unrelenting attention we pay to pounds gained. The clothes in our closet that may never again fit. The need to hide, or at least make some grand effort to disguise, the size of our breasts, our asses, our offensive, ungainly thighs. Too much makeup or not enough. The pressure to follow such a long list of fake rules while tamping down our anger, our competitiveness, our desires and aspirations, all to be more lady-like. To be more tolerable to everyone else.

Today, Serena Williams was crowned Wimbledon Champion for the 7th time, tying Steffi Graf’s record of 22 major titles in the Open Era. She held her trophy high overhead, and as she smiled and twirled for the cameras in her white Nike dress I wondered how much of Serena is somewhere, buried, in all of us.

What champions might we become if we stopped worrying so much about the extra pounds and the fake rules and what we need to hide, and simply walked around the post, ready to resume play.

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