Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Power of the Bite

My parents taught me to be kind. If I complained that a kid in my classroom smelled bad, my mother would explain that she probably didn't have as many clothes as I had; and she probably didn't have a supportive environment at home that encouraged nightly baths, like I had. I should make friends with her, she said.  And I did, until I discovered that she also cheated in hopscotch (which she probably did because she wasn't allowed to win any games at home).

If a kid was mean to me, my father would tell me that she was probably jealous because I had advantages that she didn't; maybe her parents beat her or fought all the time or forgot to feed her.

My parents always reframed my persecutors to be the victim of my story. My parents rarely (if ever) took my side.

Of course, they were right. The girl who was mean to me did not feel loved at home, and probably sensed that I was loved to a degree that rankled.

My father taught me something else, too. He often talked about restraint. Physically, he was powerfully built--much stronger than the average dad.  He was very conscious of choosing not to use physical force on another person if he could possibly help it.  My dad had a temper, and a forceful personality. But he also had a gentle heart, and a strong sense of fairness. He chose always to exercise  restraint.

As though I were a son who would inherit his physiognomy, my father conveyed to me the importance of exercising restraint.

Of course, I was a girl, and the value of this lesson was not entirely clear, as I grew into a woman. On the face of it, my father's code of restraint was meant for the big brother that I never had. It is a lesson for boys growing into men--how they should relate to other men, and to women, and to all vulnerable creatures.

But the lesson was given to me, so naturally I assumed that I possessed some kind of power within myself so far beyond average as to pose a potential threat. I assumed that my power must be mental (since it obviously wasn't physical).

I imagined the damage I would do if I used my mental powers to lash out.  If I combined the force of my intellect with the force of my Barmackian temperament, I might do serious damage--beyond what I could possibly repair.

Rightly or wrongly, that was how I interpreted my father's lesson. As a result, while I certainly can't say that I've never hurt anyone, I can say that I have consistently exercised restraint.  I may not have had the intellectual resources or power that I imagined, but there were times when I saw myself as a wily coyote among house pets, and I never preyed on them. (I am irresistibly drawn to roadrunner types. Despite my mental acuity, I never catch them.)

To recap, my parents taught me to reframe my persecutor as the victim in the greater scheme of things. And my father taught me Restraint the way we teach puppies to have bite inhibition.

At summer camp, I was cast in the role of "Piggy" (reference Lord of the Flies) and picked on mercilessly.  I wasn't clever enough to talk my way out of it, and the torment didn't end until I finally delivered a badly aimed punch to my antagonizer. (I could feel my fist recoil from its task in mid-flight.) She wasn't hurt; in fact, she laughed. But, for some reason that will never be clear to me, that one feeble act of aggression was enough to redeem me in her eyes. I was reinstated in the Queen's court, as it were, and all was well for me for that one last week of summer camp. I would beg my parents to send me back for another three weeks of unremitting torture the following year.

My father's message of restraint was such a deep part of my inculcation that I never questioned its objective value until my twenties, when someone whom I respected and admired questioned their value.

We were in our late twenties. My friend (we'll call her Diana, not her real name) had a tall, physically powerful boyfriend (we'll call him Zeus) and an equally yang-soaked dog, an Akita named Bang (not really).

I was at their apartment with my friend Peace, who had a bite inhibition as strong as mine, when Diana calmly explained to us that Zeus had to beat the dog (deliberately) in order to assert his superiority in the hierarchy.

Peace and I were shocked into silence (shamefully, perhaps) as Zeus exercised physical force against the dog, intentionally hurting it, as Diana explained that if he didn't, the dog would become a danger and a menace.

It was the law of tooth and claw, in that New York apartment.

In a way, I've never stopped thinking about that night. Everything that happened upended what I thought I knew about everyone in that apartment.

In a subsequent conversation, Diana observed out loud that Zeus was not a particularly kind person--nor was kindness of particular importance to him, as a value.  If I remember correctly, Diana was conflicted about this. She didn't feel quite safe with him. She didn't quite trust him. But she also considered his moral indifference an asset.  Diana was an ambitious young woman (at the time, she had her sights on the White House). Before my eyes, she was shaping up to be a modern-day Lady Macbeth.  Zeus would be her avatar; she would guide him through his political career....

Some of it didn't add up. I knew Zeus from before he met Diana. I hadn't known him long or well, but I knew this: He wasn't especially ambitious.  And he wasn't entirely unkind.

And I knew this about Diana:  She was ambitious and manipulative, but she was also empathetic and sensitive. You couldn't untangle these qualities. Empathy made her brilliantly manipulative; and a desire to do good had been the true impetus of her ambition.

In the years that followed, she chose to steer her own course through a career in which she became very powerful, did great good things, and very little (if any) damage.

The incident with the dog (Bang) was, if not isolated, anomalous. The dog lived to a ripe old age, was loved, and survived my friends' disturbing early practices of behavior modification.

Diana and Zeus married. I haven't seen them in years. I lost custody of them in my own divorce (at 29).  I ran into Zeus in the city, back in the day, when, naively, I had not yet realized how far I had fallen in that social circle.  But he stopped, and he gave me a hug--a good, sincere hug...a good-bye hug...a sorry-this-is-the-way-it-has-to-be hug....

It was kind of him. And in the years that followed, as I came to appreciate the full tally of the damage I had done without ever wanting to hurt anyone, I appreciated this gesture of kindness even more.

I never saw Zeus again.

I did see Diana a few times--our friendship predated my doomed marriage. But it was tough to be my friend in the year or two following my divorce--with my life in ruins and my hopes and dreams in splintery disarray.

I wrote her a letter that I shouldn't have sent. I said things in it that I shouldn't have said. The damage  caused Diana to formally end our friendship over the phone. (My ex probably took satisfaction from that.)

But several years later, she called me at work--sobbing. The dog had died. She tried to make it seem like it was her duty to call and tell me this--as though I were family to the dog, and pro-forma needed to be told that he had died.

But I suspected she needed to speak with someone who would drop whatever she was doing in the middle of her day to cry over a dog. (I'm your man, as Leonard Cohen would say.)

We cried.  It was bittersweet. A dog's life is a measure of its people's era--and this dog's life had encompassed better days--dancing at weddings, falling in love, and the dreams and hopes of our modestly gilded youth; as well as, (speaking for myself) stumbling from grace into decline.

She was still mad about the letter, but the reason why she still needed to steer clear of me was that she was having a problem with fire. It was something to do with astrology--she either had too much fire or none at all; I can't remember, but the result was things burst into flames. If she was mad at you, and you were sitting next to a ficus, the ficus was toast.

She cited several examples of unintended karmic arson. Maybe it was a latent power only now made manifest--but she didn't have a handle on it yet.  Ergo, she was choosing to stay away from me because she didn't want to burn down my house. [You would be wrong to think that she actually went about setting fire to things.]

I know. It's heavy. Even I couldn't suspend my disbelief. Sometimes she would come out with things like that, and I would think, This must be the slightly crazy part of genius--the pith and pulp of genius. I took it with a grain of salt.

But then I looked out my window, to the right of my desk, overlooking Mass Ave in Cambridge and the little side streets wending off toward the Charles River. I saw an attractive double-decker engulfed in flames.  You couldn't hear the sirens yet--it had just happened.

"Funny you should say that, Diana, because I'm watching a building consumed in flames as we speak."

I did not tell her that. I kept it to myself. She did not need to know this.

When I heard the sirens at a distance, I covered the receiver.

Restraint, and the ability to exercise it, is important.

But why do we have these powers if we're never meant to use them?

At about the same time in my life, I met my future husband and we moved to a town south of Boston.  We got a dog. I found a park where I would walk the dog every morning, where I met people (mostly women) who warned me about a big mean guy who yelled at people for not having their dogs on a leash. He particularly liked to yell at women who were walking alone.

So, as I walked my dog, a friendly black Lab, I thought about how I would respond to the mean guy when I invariably met him.

Weeks went by, but I never walked my dog once without giving this matter a great deal of thought. It got to the point where I really wanted to meet him--to get it over with, to see what I was up against, and so I could stop preparing for it and thinking about it constantly.

Finally, it happened. I was just about to leave the park, and there he was--a large, white, oaf--straight out of Central Casting.

I did not consider that he might have grown up on a farm on this land that had recently become a town park. I did not consider that he must have had a rough childhood, a mediocre (at best) education, and a dozen reasons for becoming a malevolent oaf.

He walked toward me. "Why isn't your dog on a leash? You're dog's supposed to be on a leash!"

I stood my ground. "Who are you to go around yelling at women in the park?  Are you the police? Is it your job to enforce the leash law?"

He yelled back, repeating himself and calling me a bitch.

I yelled too, even louder, shot through with adrenalin, spraying him with a stream of expletives as I walked toward him.

He stopped walking in my direction.

I kept walking toward him, screaming.

He walked backwards, saying nasty things.  I kept walking and screaming at him until he had made a full retreat.

Thank God, he didn't have a gun. Don't try this at home.

But he never bothered any of us dog-walkers again.

I saw him once more, from across a dry ravine, in the spring, probably, when the weeds were down. I flipped him off. He called me a bitch.  He stayed on his side; I stayed on mine.

A dog doesn't know how big it is until it sees another dog.

It's not right to yell at lone women in the park.

I'll take that thought with me into 2017, as I prepare to greet the new administration.








Friday, December 16, 2016

Tweet@ChristmasCarol#Humbug

Tweet@Scrooge: Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough.

Tweet@Scrooge: If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.

Tweet@Scrooge: Let me hear another sound from you and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation!

Tweet@Ghost.Marley: I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it...

Tweet@Gost.Marley: The weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!

Tweet@Ghost.Marley: Mark me!--in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!

Tweet@Scrooge: But you were always a good man of business...

Tweet@Ghost.Marley: Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water

Tweet@Ghost.Marley:  in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

Tweet@Scrooge:  #Humbug!

Tweet@Christmas_Past: The school is not quite deserted...A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.

Tweet@Christmas_Past: Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.

Tweet@Scrooge: What idol has displaced you?

Tweet@Christmas_Past: A golden one.

Tweet@Scrooge: This is the even-handed dealing of the world! There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!

Tweet@Christmas_Past: You fear the world too much. All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you.

Tweet@Scrooge: No more! No more. I don't wish to see it. Show me no more! Spirit, remove me from this place.

Tweet@Christmas_Past: I told you these were shadows of the things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!

Tweet@Christmas_Present: I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! Touch my robe!

Tweet@Christmas_Present: Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child.

Tweet@Scrooge: I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?

Tweet@Christmas_Present: Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!

Tweet@Scrooge: I tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

Tweet@Christmas_Present: They are Man's, and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree,

Tweet@Christmas_Present: but most of all fear this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.

Tweet@Scrooge: Have they no refuge or resource?

Tweet@Christmas_Present: Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

Tweet@Scrooge: I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come...Ghost of the Future! I fear you more than any specter I have seen.

Tweet@Scrooge: But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.

Tweet@Scrooge: Spirit! I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends that way, now.

Tweet@Scrooge: If there is any person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man's death, show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you!

Tweet@Scrooge: Let me see some tenderness connected with a death, or that dark chamber, Spirit, which we left just now, will be for ever present to me.

Tweet@Scrooge: Spectre, something informs me that our parting moment is at hand. I know it, but I know not how. Tell me what man that was whom we saw lying dead?

Tweet@Scrooge: Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point, answer me one question.

Tweet@Scrooge: Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?

Tweet@Scrooge: Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!

Tweet@Scrooge: Spirit!hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!"

Tweet@Scrooge: Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!

Tweet@Scrooge: I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.

Tweet@Scrooge: Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!






Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Black-Out News

In a remarkable reversal, tensions between Jews and Moslems around the world appear to have dissipated as both find common ground in their condemnation of President Trump, mirroring a groundswell of resistance to the Trump administration.

Three years after the shocking and unexpected election results--and amid ongoing litigation between Trump and Putin's Great Axis and The International Coalition of Human Decency to determine the legitimacy of the 2016 election results, which has progressed from the Supreme Court to the Hague (not expected to conclude before 2020), all divisions have boiled down to one question: Are you with us or against us?

In other words, Trump?

For 80 percent of us, it is a clear choice.  We stand together to defend our Constitution against the militant and punitive Federal government, graft-fed corporate avarice, a dismantled electoral process, Internet black-outs and the world-wide spy net.

If you are reading this, you are among millions of us living underground, silently rebelling under the camouflage of "Unified Patriotism," in hiding, in prison, off the grid...or watching your country via drone coverage from Safe Haven territories.

Wherever you are, this is a message of hope. We may be dispersed, but we are legion. Your sacrifices have not been in vain. We are now ALL united in resistance--at last-- and we will, together, prevail!

Please transcribe this message in the next two minutes and pass it on at all costs. /:78all4hope12.6.19

Anonymous




Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Defense of Wisconsin

In light of all the anger being directed toward the Midwest--and Wisconsin, in particular--I rush to our defense. (Not that we care what you think, but being from the East Coast, I do.)

When I arrived in this suburb of Madison in 2006, I didn't know the geography. What is the Upper Peninsula? What is the difference between Iowa and Idaho? How can Lake Michigan border Chicago and Milwaukee and Michigan? Where is the Mississippi River?

That was my coastal perspective, shamelessly ignorant of somewhere that just didn't count.

On the other hand, I understand how stressed out you all are back East. I left because--honestly--I could not figure out how to make my life work.

Boston is fine, if you can live in an apartment with a roommate in the city and take a train or a bus to work.  (I did that for several years, and it was great.)

Our first house was 35 miles south of Boston, at the very end of the Commuter Rail line. I drove two miles to the Commuter Rail, rode the train for an hour, took the subway across to Cambridge, and voila! there I was, more or less, at my office.

I didn't mind. I read books on the train.

But when I had a baby, I didn't want to be away from him for eleven hours a day, five days a week. (Three hours commuting, eight hours at work.) But we couldn't afford to live any closer, the prices just kept going up.

This is what people did in our town: They took the 4:30 am train to get home by four pm. Or, one parent took the early train, while the other parent got the kids off to school, took the 7:30 train into Boston, and returned home late.

Everyone worked, husband and wife, because life was expensive out there.  I tried freelancing from home, and I got a lot of hours, but it still wasn't enough. Our boat sprung a leak. We were bailing as fast as we could.

So, we came to Wisconsin, where my husband got a job that paid better than another offer for similar work in Boston. (And yet, it's cheaper here. How do they expect people to live out there?)

Instead of a three-hour commute, he drives half an hour (no traffic) to the office.

I continued to work freelance from home. I can afford to reduce my hours, if needed.

We bought a hundred-year-old Arts and Crafts home eight miles south of Madison, a jewel of a city.

In Massachusetts, our choices of local restaurants were "La Garlic" or "Lorenzo's." Otherwise, there was New Bedford and Fall River--interesting old cities perennially clawing their way back into relevance (and failing) while maintaining a stalwart charm.

You can't tell me that New Bedford or Fall River--God bless them--are so much more sophisticated than Madison (no way!) or even...Milwaukee. (I'd put them on a par with La Crosse and Waukesha.)

The public schools in the entire Madison area and beyond--way, way beyond--are consistently good, and consistently better, school for school, than the public school offerings in the entire Boston area (and beyond), where the quality correlates (almost without exception) directly to the affluence of the community.  (The one exception is Reading, Massachusetts--a squarely middle-class town, last I knew, with a respectable public school system.)

Wisconsin is currently under the boot of Gov. Walker. But you can't look at our recent political history (which includes Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold) and conclude that we're entirely Republican.

You may recall headlines from when we rose in force against Walker, occupied the capitol, and tried to recall him ourselves.

(Trump is from New York.)

But you paint us with broad strokes, and the brushes are bigger than ever.

You know what I like about Wisconsin?

It's beautiful. There's lots of green and open space.

It's ranked number three in the country for bicycling.

We have lakes, rolling hills, and plunging valleys to break your heart.

It's working land, well organized, a patchwork quilt.  It may look flat in the harsh light of day, but in morning and evening light it transforms, undeniably lovely.

It's an unassuming place that doesn't dress up for lunch.

And nor do the people dress to impress. You don't have to think twice before walking out the door. No need to check makeup, or rethink your shoes (unless they're particularly impractical).

You don't have to be witty or clever or rich. You don't have to go to the right schools.  It helps, in some corners, to have deep rotting roots-- no different from the entrenched flavors and accents of old Boston neighborhoods.

This is a good place to raise your kids. The schools are good. You can be home for supper. You can afford to live within striking distance of some kind of civilization.

You got Chicago to the south (a couple of hours).

You got Lake Michigan that looks like an ocean (over there).

You don't feel like you have to prove yourself all the time. It's a place that nurtures process. You don't have to race to finish.

You can find a quiet place to think--there are parks all around.

A lot of good people come from the Midwest. Georgia O'Keefe was born to Irish homesteaders in Sun Prairie--fifteen minutes east of Madison. Laura Ingalls and Marguerite Henry were both from Wisconsin...Willem Dafoe, Gene Wilder, Spencer Tracy, Gena Rowlands, Orson Welles, Frank Lloyd Wright...

If you're going to blame Wisconsin, you may as well blame me--I didn't canvas or cold-call anyone. I bought and delivered a bunch of signs for friends. I wrote posts and posted on FB. I voted for Clinton. I could have done more.

So you could blame me, or you could blame Republican gerrymandering. You could blame Putin or Wikileaks or Comey. You could blame Facebook for fake news or those who believed it. You could blame people who are sexist and those who hate grannies.

There's something rotten in Denmark, of that much I'm sure. It may be in Wisconsin, but it is metastatic--the cancer is from New York--a mutation, a malignancy, a pock on our houses.

I say we fight together, and not amongst ourselves.













Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Pearl Necklace



These pearls were given to me by a woman named Mary. She would be about 81 now. She was 43 when we met. I was 12, and staying at my grandfather's for two weeks. My grandfather, Jeb, was dating Mary then. He was 63.

When I asked Mary if she was going to marry my grandfather, she explained that she would not, because Jeb was so much older. From my perspective, being 12, the flaw in her logic was that they both looked old.

This was 1978. I know that for sure because that was the year that the Holocaust television series aired, and I watched it with my Jewish grandfather. I could never forget that. It was just the two of us, my extremely uptight grandfather and me, watching the Holocaust in his bedroom opposite the small colored TV.

I loved my grandfather, but he was uptight. His house was always clean and tidy. His garage and basement workshop were perfectly organized and very well lit. He made his orange juice from real oranges every morning. The first thing he taught me when I came to stay for two weeks was how to rinse out my dishes and place them in the dishwasher properly.

He could be a little intimidating, not unlike a dormant volcano that hasn't blown its top in 500 years, but isn't making any promises. It's the little signs you watch for: steam issuing through the cracks, the soles of your sneakers melting.

Watching the Holocaust, I saw actual tears stream down his cheeks.

It was a shocking program--with real footage of the horrors they found in the camps. No one had ever seen anything like that on television before.

It was a strange coincidence, because during that visit I also learned that Mary was a Jewish Hungarian Holocaust survivor.

The Nazis did not occupy Hungary until 1944, but then they immediately started rounding up the Jews and the Roma, and sent them off to Auschwitz.

It is estimated that the Nazis killed between 450,000 - 606,000 Hungarian Jews.

In 1944 Mary would have been about nine years old. She survived by fleeing to the woods, where she spent the duration of the war. I don't know if she was accompanied by an adult, but I assume she must have found others in the woods who helped her survive.

Everyone else in her family went to Auschwitz.

Mary had at least one photograph in her apartment that I remember seeing from Hungary. Her family: mother, father, brothers, and sisters.  A large and prosperous family.

It struck me, being 12, that Mary was alone in the world and that she really ought to marry my grandfather, who, after all, was still very handsome. (I could not have known then that he would only live another five or six years.)

If she had had anyone else--a daughter or a niece--she would have given the pearls to them. But she gave them to me.

Mary owned a white Arabian horse named Woodstock. We went to the barn where she boarded him, and I heard people talking--the way people say things around a kid because they think kids are made of dough and confectioner's sugar. I heard every mean word, as Mary struggled with her horse.

Mary was a slight woman--chopsticks in britches, elegant in clothes--at 92 pounds. (At one point, she suggested that if I didn't lose a bit of weight I would have to wear umbrella dresses for the rest of my life. She meant it kindly. No one was fat in 1978--it was grounds for being institutionalized.  My grandfather loved me, but found my extra ten pounds absolutely mortifying. I could tell that he did, because he had put Mary up to talking to me about it...I had ears.)

Mary struggled for control of her horse--and I remember wondering the whole time whether she could pull it off--this whole trail-ride thing. They gave me a horse to ride. He was minding his manners. Mary finally got herself in the saddle. The horse wheeled round and round, while other people watched and whispered.

The trail wound over hills among some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen or ridden. It was just the two of us and our horses.  Woodstock, her Arabian, settled right in and we had the most marvelous ride that included an encounter with deer. We didn't see another human the whole time, and we must have ridden for a couple of hours. It was sheer heaven--a perfect day, blue skies. We returned triumphant.

Not only did Mary have the Arabian horse, she also had a German Shepherd named Janousch. He liked me quite well, but he ate other dogs. It was always tense on the elevator in her building and occasionally really bad.

My grandfather got in trouble with his mailman when Janousch came to stay.

Eventually, Mary had to give him up.  I think I am referring to Janousch , but it's possible that my grandfather left first. Eventually she lost them both.

Life was hard for Mary, though she frequently prevailed--as she did with Woodstock on that perfect day. She survived the Holocaust, but lost her family. She came to the states (somehow--I don't know that story), and ultimately went to school and became a professor.

I was driving with her, just the two of us, when she stopped, parked the car, and asked me to wait. She went into a bank, to her safety deposit box, and brought out the pearl necklace in a Chinese silk purse. She told me she wanted me to have them.

We both loved horses, and we both loved dogs. I was an only child, and in a different way, she was an only child.  My parents were divorced, so in one sense, I had lost my family, too--but in a very different sense indeed.

I am updating this post, changing the ending, because the original ending--that Mary gave me the pearls out of love and a keen awareness of the brevity of our friendship--felt off. There was more to it than that.

I knew Mary longer than that two weeks. I remember seeing her on several visits, perhaps over a period as long as 2-3 years.

I remember, too, that I was aware that Mary felt sorry for me. Though I was serious and melancholy, I felt she pitied me too much. I dare say, to some extent, it was projection. She saw in me just enough seriousness, melancholy, loneliness, and loss to recognize something of her own girlhood.

Mary and I were on opposite ends of the spectrum of childhood deprivation and misery; by comparison, mine was relatively insignificant--by today's standards, hardly out of the ordinary.

I think that pity and projection figured largely into her gift of the pearls.

I don't know if Mary bought the pearls in America, or if they had been secreted away in the lining of her clothes when she was a girl in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

I do know that pearls, poetically enough, symbolize innocence, and that this pearl necklace belonged to a woman whose innocence had been stolen from her.  I believe she gave them to me because I was a serious, melancholy, and somewhat weighty child who had also grown up too soon.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Not His Supreme Court Justice

I am thinking about Derrick Bell, whom I had the privilege to know as the editor on his groundbreaking casebook, Race, Racism, and American Law.

I hasten to add, I was not the editor who signed the book, or the editor who developed the book, or the editor who copy-edited the book. I was the editor meant to persuade Bell to put more cases in the Fourth Edition of his book.

As the word implies, casebooks generally include some lightly edited cases.

A little background: Bell was the first black tenured professor at Harvard Law School, a position that he left in protest of the school's failure to give tenure to black women (prior to Lani Guinier's appointment).  Bell was also a prominent civil rights activist, scholar, and author.

For the same reason that Trump is not my president, Bell maintained that the Supreme Court was a racist institution and therefore not a true court of justice.

Heavy on exposition and scholarship, Bell's book was a tour de force of legal analysis, period. So he didn't have to put cases in if he didn't want to.

But it was my job to persuade him, after several editions, to change his mind.

I was warned that Bell would probably not warm to the idea, and might even come across as testy.

In fact, rather than reacting defensively, he took quite a bit of time to patiently explain to me why he had left the cases out of the book in the first place.

A perusal of his 1000-page tome was enough to give me a healthy respect for the intellectual giant on the other end of my phone. I wasn't going to argue with him--nor did I disagree with anything he said.

I did point out, however, that I had spoken with a number of his esteemed colleagues--people who absolutely revered him--and they, as teachers, were hoping for some lightly edited cases--even though they well understood his objections.

I think it was my idea, (if I'm not taking too much credit; I might have trotted over to someone else's office with my problem and returned with the solution) to suggest that the lightly-edited cases could be tucked discretely away in the Appendix.

Bell was actually open to this idea. In the Appendix, the cases would not get in the way of his book. They would be off to the side, like end notes. So that's what we did.

When the new edition was published, he sent me a copy in which he inscribed a note to my mother (his idea) saying very flattering things about me. I dutifully gave that copy to my mother, until Bell passed away, when I stole it back from her because that's the kind of daughter I really am.

I continued to be Bell's editor for the next edition. We spoke occasionally over the phone, and he was always warm and personable. He talked to me about the state of society and its progress, or lack thereof.

My office was in Cambridge, so I went to see Bell give a lecture at Harvard Law School in 2002. It was the first time that he had returned to Harvard after leaving in protest and becoming a Visiting Professor at New York University School of Law.

Bell spoke at a large in a full auditorium. More than half of the audience (mostly law students, presumably) were people of color. They seemed jubilant.  They were aware of Bell's history with the school, and I think they were eager, as Harvard law students, to have their own school redeemed by Bell's tacit (or explicit) benediction.

Bell had just published a new book that year, called Ethical Ambition (Bloomsbury Copyright 2002).

Bell and I had never met face to face. I stood in line to ask him to sign my copy of his book. When I got to the front, I introduced myself.

He looked surprised, as though I was not at all what he expected.

"I took you to be in your fifties," he said.

No wonder he was so concerned about my mother--she would have been really old.

I was 37 at that time, and felt greatly complimented.

He inscribed the book, "...great editor and friend."

The last time we spoke on the phone would have been a year at most from that day at Harvard.

Harvard finally hired Lani Guinier.  Law school faculties and student bodies across the country were becoming significantly more integrated.  Yet Bell was feeling very discouraged about the state of our society and its institutions.

Incredibly, (now that I think about it) Derrick Bell himself explained to me the term "institutional racism."  He described how the criminal justice system, the education system, the political system, the housing system, the economic system, etc., etc., were structurally and systemically racist.

I knew he was sick. I knew his life was drawing to a close. (It was not a secret.)

I felt very sad that his life, which I and so many others viewed as brilliant and ennobling, should end in a kind of despair.

His unhappiness troubled me more than what he was actually telling me.  Because, on some level, I failed to grasp it until years later, when I read Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, which  documents the travesties of injustice for black men on death row in the South and for juveniles in prisons throughout the country. That was the book that made me understand how institutional racism works.

I read Stevenson's book, and I was reminded of my last conversation with Bell, and I wished that I hadn't been so ignorant of what he was talking about.

Bell gave me too much credit. I knew that he had justice on his side, but I did not always know what he was talking about. I was not always sure that he had a perfectly clear view of things.

I thought society was making progress.

I saw a black women getting tenure at Harvard.

I saw women and minorities become half of the faculty at most of law schools--whereas, when I started out in legal publishing in 1996, the law faculties were overwhelmingly white men.

It looked like progress to me.

I thought Bell was a little bit wrong.

He wasn't. It was my ignorance.

So now, of course, following this travesty of an election, I'm screaming my head off, raging all over the place, processing like a maniac. It's very undignified.

Radical feminist. Raging lunatic. Social menace. Late to the party.

Because it's happening to me now, in a roundabout way. Of course, it's happening to other people too, but now I get it. I get what institutional prejudice looks and feels like. I understand how profoundly discouraging it is...the more so because I thought we were making such progress.



Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Price of the Ticket

Were we joking when we said we'd expatriate if Trump won? it seemed impossible that he would, and therefore safe--even fun--to imagine pulling up stakes. Phil wanted to go to Costa Rica; I thought Ontario was more within reach. it was a Plan B that made the prospect--however slight--of such a catastrophe more palatable. It helped me sleep at night.

But then the worst thing happened. And very quickly the question of whether to stay or go was answered by the progressive consensus: Stay.  Stay and help to defend against the evil in our midst.

But on a very deep and personal level, I feel so shockingly betrayed and disempowered--robbed is not too strong a word--that I cannot take the first step in what I'm told is a prescribed process for getting through this, which is to "accept that Trump won."

No, I can't accept how he won or that he won or that such an altogether irredeemable reprobate is going to be the President.

The more I learn about his staff picks, the shit he says, and his nefarious lies, the further I get from being able to even imagine getting past Step One.

So, personally and profoundly, he will never be my President. He will only ever be a sex offender and a wildly irresponsible human being who is about to hold more power than anyone else on the planet.

And if that weren't enough to make me want to get the hell out of Dodge, then the fact that I am living in a state in which one out of two people voted for Trump is enough to make me feel deeply suspicious, apprehensive, appalled, and bitterly disappointed in half the population where I live and breathe.

Already, I see a kid walking home from school wearing a big American flag on the front of his shirt. I see big American flags popping up on front lawns. And the sight is as disturbing as the Confederate flag--just slightly less unnerving than a swastika.

Why must I stay?

Shall I wear a safety pin to show that I am not a threat to those for whom the American government and public has become so shamelessly menacing?

It’s a stretch to imagine myself so powerful-- in a country that strips women of clothes, dignity, voice, and power--that I should feel obliged to stay and fight the good fight; as opposed to leaving and thereby save myself from being further beaten down.

It strikes me that perhaps those self-proclaimed progressives who are willing to accept Trump as president-elect, who are optimistic that he might do something good for working people, who are willing to give him a chance to lead, and who are able to overlook the damage he has already done and the evil that continues to hurt people in his name...perhaps THOSE people should stay and play the game.

I can't do any of those things. So perhaps it's time to leave.


Monday, November 14, 2016

The Damage Done

I can't accept that HRC was vilified and sabotaged for having a personal email server (I have one of those, btw) and PET could, according to him, "shoot someone in plain sight on Fifth Avenue" and not take a hit in the polls. He has been described as bulletproof--he could say any outrageous thing and did--and MORE--and STILL got elected President.

I'm not buying this "mandate for change" crap that even our prominent liberals are coming around to espouse. That's entirely beside the point.

The point is that Hillary was treated like absolute shit in front of all of us. Her campaign was clearly sabotaged by the FBI director and Wikileaks (gratis to a man fleeing rape charges in Sweden).

I haven't forgotten "Lock her up!"

I heard all of the lewd, demeaning, disgusting, disrespectful, HORRIBLE things that were said.

And he won.  He got away with all of it.

It makes me sick. It breaks my heart. It makes me so angry I can hardly think straight.

Fuck you, Trump.

Fuck you, Wikileaks. You're no better than the worst that you find.

Fuck you twice, Comey. Sonofabitch.

A mandate for change is no excuse for the extensive damage done.The disempowerment of all women. The humiliation of all women.

I stood with Hillary as a woman. I am traumatized.

Women are fucking traumatized. Mindfucked, betrayed by our country , disposessed of democracy and gang raped.

How can anyone say this was a mandate for change?

I don't fucking care if the real Trump is nicer, or pragmatic, or phlegmatic or decent.

He'll always be a sexual predator to me.







Saturday, November 12, 2016

No Peaceful Transfer of Values

Wouldn't it be nice if this were Hamilton's year?

Alexander Hamilton is an inspiring figure from colonial American history that we've discovered this year because of a great biography and musical.

But we celebrate him now because our society has progressed, finally, to the point where we embrace Hamilton in light of the fact that he was raised in poverty by a single mother of mixed race.

Our forefathers, like my poodle, were men of pedigree. It has taken us this long to forgive Hamilton for not being the right kind of poodle, and to acknowledge our debt of gratitude.

Hamilton had no advantages in society except what  lay under his skin. He was smart enough to rise among snobs. But this year, we literally sing his praises.

The electoral college, described by Hamilton in The Federalist Papers (#68),was intended to guard the integrity of the executive branch--though it has proved a nuisance and consistently failed to right the course of history.

However, there is a chance that it could still prove useful. If the electoral college turns on President-Elect Trump like a pack of rabid dogs (on Dec. 19 when they vote), it would overturn the election. It has never happened, and I don't think it will happen, but it is legally and theoretically possible.

To prevent this country from falling apart in its infancy, Hamilton argued persuasively for the ratification of the Constitution.

Wouldn't it be fitting if he saved our country from crumbling once again--this year of all years--when we've finally come around to celebrating him as an outstanding patriot?

Because what will prevent a little more than half of this country from being able to acquiesce to a peaceful transition of power are core values of fairness, responsibility, and justice--oh, and let's not forget to save the planet.

These things cannot wait four years.

Political etiquette does not trump core values.

There will be no peace.

It's the 1970s all over again: rioting in the streets, demonstrations on Washington...Don't be surprised when student protesters are shot dead on campus.

There will be no peace and no rest, because bigotry and racism cannot be tolerated.  The mass deportation of people of color cannot be tolerated. The appropriation of women's bodies and rights cannot be tolerated.  The attacks on our environment and the failure to save the planet from dying cannot be tolerated.

We have a mandate.

There will be no peace.













Sunday, November 6, 2016

Beans Are Bad

Faced with the prospect of knee replacement surgery, I am spending a beautiful Sunday afternoon performing due diligence.

A. What's the matter with my knee?

Answer: (Let's see if I can explain this without my notes.) There's no cartilage between the knee cap and the femoral bone. (Clickety-clack.)

B. Do I have to have surgery? What are my other options?

Answer:  Zero other options. My doctor said that injections wouldn't help, because there is no cartilage there whatsoever. (Clickety-clack.) He said it comes down to pain management or total knee replacement.

C.  Do the on-line experts agree?

Answer:  Yes, because there's no cartilage there, ma'am. If there were any cartilage, there would be five things I could consider to heal the cartilage:

  1. gene therapy
  2. platelet rich plasma
  3. growth factors
  4. stem cells
  5. drilling and debridement (I dunno--it sounds horrible.)
D. What can I do to reduce inflammation and pain and postpone surgery?

Tricky. I refuse to go on the Paleo diet. Forget it! Not happening!  I hate diets.

Here's what I'll do. I'll make a list of good and bad food.

GOOD FOOD
Tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, certain nuts, fatty fish, berries, cherries, oranges, bok choy, broccoli, bone broth, walnuts, coconut oil, chia and flax seeds, turmeric and ginger, brown rice, greek yogurt, jalapeno peppers

BAD FOOD
Everything else, specifically: Sugar, vegetable oil (yes, canola), all fried foods, refined flour, cheese, milk, butter, synthetic sweeteners, additives, burgers, pizza, chips, candy, grain-fed meats, processed meats, soy milk, tofu, most bread, transfats (dairy queen, blizzards), PEANUTS (which can attack joints and cause inflammation) and ALL beans. (Dear God.)

I know, right?  There's joint pain, and then, alternatively, there's the enervating process of limiting the scope of one's pleasures so narrowly that one is finally left in the yoga position, slim yet miserable, clinging to a book of poetry that is no comfort.

I'm not motivated to be an ascetic. I've encountered ascetics. They are excessively lean. They go for endless walks from sacred place to sacred place. They wear loin cloths and little else. I'll walk the dogs and lose five pounds. There it ends.

Still, the idea of asserting control over a body that is admittedly falling apart is undeniable. So, I will look at the list of GOOD FOOD and try to assemble some sort of meal from it. I will study the BAD FOOD and redouble my efforts to avoid them.

What annoys me, frankly, are the regimens one finds on-line that promise to REVERSE ARTHRITIS or to jump-start my metabolism or whatever bullshit line they're trying to sell. Clearly, they are offering a religious experience. They are asking me to believe--to put my body and faith in their hands--and to suffer accordingly in obeisance.

NO. I refuse. I will not! I will not go Paleo. I will not go Green Mama. I will not go Seventh Day Adventists.

I will take more Tumeric.  I will cut out the peanuts. I'll buy brown rice. Kale. Spinach. Blueberries. (I'm having deja vu. Have I said any of this before?)

Have I mentioned that Phil can eat whatever the hell he wants with his sugar conspiracy documentaries?

I'll continue to eat walnuts. I won't drink soy milk, except in coffee. What milk may I eat?  Is this a trap? Am I not supposed to eat cereal?  Am I going to wake up to sausage and eggs?

We should all be eating less red meat. It's not sustainable, or kind. Chickens are sustainable, and I don't care about them. (I know there are people who love their chickens, but I don't get it.) Too bad if the chickens eat grain--they'd eat their own egg shells, given half a chance.

I'm supposed to eat shell-fish but not chicken? Do you know what shell-fish eat?  (It's disgusting. I like them, but it's disgusting.)

Okay, I might be a little irritable because I have to have total knee replacement. But do I have to have a total lifestyle replacement as well?

UPDATE

  1. The orthopedic surgeon did in fact inject something into my knee (Synvisc One), and my knee felt better immediately. The relief may last 4 - 6 months, and then I can opt for another injection to postpone surgery yet again. Eventually, I will have to have knee replacement surgery, but it's best to postpone it as long as possible. 
  2. I have been eating almost exclusively from the GOOD FOODS list since I first wrote this post (not long ago). I am almost chagrined to admit how much it has helped. I had been icing my feet as well as my knee every night to relieve pain caused by inflammation. I have not had to ice anything since I gave up kettle-cooked potato chips and the like. It could be a placebo effect, but the difference is truly remarkable and motivates to continue eating the right foods. I've also lost a couple of pounds without feeling the least bit deprived. Please excuse me while I go write this up in a book and make a million dollars.




Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On Grief and Loss

There's a reason why so much poetry is written about death and love. Death and love: they bewilder and stop us in our tracks.

Love pours into a life like an elixir. It assumes the shape of our days, and fills in all the empty spaces.

Death, on the other hand, stops the clock, cancels all plans, and plucks us out of routines that we had thought to be our lives.

At first, we are not alone in this new place and time; but soon we must be left behind.

I can only speak for myself.

I count myself fortunate for this: The loved one lingers with me for a while. For a week or a year, they stay close.  We go for long walks. We talk, and reminisce.  I can hear their voice clearly in my head, and I can feel their presence filling up my heart.

I take that time to be with them. I am grateful that the clock stops, and for the days on the calendar that have been crossed out. They belong to us, those days.

One close friend stayed with me for a week, after he died, summoned by my surprisingly loud grief. He may have been elsewhere at the same time, but he was with me, too, that week.

We used to smoke, so I bought a pack of cigarettes, and we walked together. He made wise-cracks, and commented on my wardrobe, which was no longer interesting. He was full of comments--it had been some time since we last talked.  Eventually, we both knew, he would have to go; neither of us could go on excluding everyone and everything else--death and life--indefinitely.

He left me with a gift. It was very apt, and very personal. It came as a big surprise, and I won't tell you what it was.

My father's death was beyond my comprehension. Only after I saw his dead body could I begin understand, in some visceral, physical sense, that he was no longer alive.

But even then, I heard him tell me, "That's enough [wailing and crying]. You're going to have a stroke."

Those were the first words he said to me, after he died.

In the year that followed, I saw him in dreams in which it had all been an incredible mistake, and there would so much logistical sorting out to do to reinstate my father in his place in the world. (How quickly everything converges on the space we've occupied.) I have to collect and return his things to him. Accounts must be put back into his name. The Death Certificate has to be nullified. (It had all done in good faith, but in those dreams, I was ashamed and embarrassed, as if I had meant to steal from him.)

My father moved into my head. He was a man of opinions. He got comfortable in my head...too comfortable. My personality changed. I was channeling him.

As an only child, I was never completely comfortable with the degree of overlap between our personalities. Becoming my own person, I had taken pains to draw lines in the sand: This is where I begin and you leave off. After he died, those lines became blurred.

One day, I was writing something (I don't remember what it was), and I typed this:

"I hope that my father can find a place for himself where he is at peace."

I believed that he could read it, just as if he were standing over my shoulder, preparing to give me  advice about how to invest my 401k.

I felt his heart sink, and the beginning of him letting go.

He left soon after that. At first, he didn't go far. He seemed to want to stick around in case I needed him--that white-out snow when I was driving west from Milwaukee, for example. He got the GPS working again. It hadn't been working for ages.

They say that the dead become natural electricians. The lights in the house had flickered on and off after the memorial service, precipitating a toast in his honor.

He might have stayed longer, if he could have. I don't think he had much of a choice. Eventually, time, in the form of all natural processes, resumes, for the living and the dead.

My father is gone, but when I look in the mirror, I see his deep-set eyes. I see my mother's jaw line. I see my own face.

It used to bother me, how much we looked alike. He was a handsome man, but I am a woman. But now, I like our eyes--the deep, scrutinizing set of them; the hard intensity and the soft warmth of them. They are what we are, a flickering light.

Someone told me once that our loved ones leave us gifts when they die, things you can't buy online.

My father gave me many things. Much of it is still in boxes in the basement. But clearly, the greatest gift he gave me was my horse. I bought her because he had loved boats all his life the way I had loved horses as a girl. His passion for sailing became my renewed passion for horses and riding. That's what he gave me after he died.

And the love.  It stays.  Somehow (I don't know how), it crosses the threshold between life and death, and blesses the rest of our days.



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ew! The Too-Sweet Smell of Success

I don't mind telling you, I am a member of a secret cabal of feminist and transgender writers, (not all of us are transgender). Some of us--not me (not yet)--have actually had books published.

Yes, we have a secret Facebook page, where I can read their success stories.

And it has occurred to me that I had better write one more blog post complaining about writing my book, before I have any success, because I can tell you from personal experience, nobody is interested in reading about success.

Struggle, and preferably failure, are much more interesting.

In some respects, success is where the story ends.

A few kind souls have asked me about my own work-in-progress. This is my answer.

Yes, it will be three years in January since I started writing it.

I'm not one of those Iowa-Workshop people who actually know how to write a book. I'm figuring it out as I go.

And anyway, who has the patience to read about writing a book? Not me.

I'm an English major. I've read books. I'm an editor; I've edited books. I should be able to this. Right?

A horrible thing happened yesterday. I was working on my fifteenth or sixteenth draft, and I was finding the writing perfectly terrible. So, I looked back to an earlier draft, and what did I find?

I found the writing in last year's draft of that chapter was better than the slip-shod revision work I had done more recently.

So there you have it: It is taking me three years to write this book because I am insane. I am writing the same thing over and over again, with worse and worse results.

I can't tell you how troubled I was by this discovery. Words fail.

We've talked about menopause. The question of my sanity comes up over and over again. This feedback strikes me as definitive. The only question is, what to do about it?

I'm certainly not going to stop editing, if that's what you're thinking. It's not ready. Believe me, it's not!

Here's my process: There's the current draft and the old draft. There's the electronic page, and the printed page. My job is to excise the best of all iterations: cut and paste, review and revise, slash and burn. Print it out. Read it again. Edit. Repeat.

Had I not recently edited two unbelievably difficult projects, I would never have the patience to finish my own. For those earlier projects, I am eternally grateful. It was a fitting purgatory to edit other people's books while at the same time neglecting my own.

Let's admit it, once and for all: Editors hate writers. Don't we? Of course we do. We pretend to love authors, but our job is to find fault with them, and to clean up after their prose. We have to keep the authors on schedule. We have to say everything nicely, we can't hurt their feelings, their delicate egos.

How is that supposed to elicit tender feelings?

I am editing myself, and believe me, if I hadn't just crawled through the proverbial jungle on my belly for other people, editing myself would fill me with such profound self-loathing that I would never finish this project and would want to indulge in self-destructive behavior.

Total editing time for this recent draft: 11,877 minutes. What is that? A million hours? That's not counting the first and second drafts.

Total number of words in the document: 69,389. They have to be the right words and they have to be in the right place.

People write books. I know it's true. It's amazing, isn't it?

I was about to conclude that the secret to getting a book written was simply to keep coming back to it, over and over, consistently and doggedly, until it's finished.

Now, I think it is possible to spend six or eight hours a day writing and editing, writing and editing, writing and editing, and never get the manuscript finished or better or longer....

Isn't that a horrifying thought. What kind of personal hell is that?  What kind of life is that to lead?

I hope I'm not doing that. To be honest, IF this manuscript is not finished to my satisfaction by the end of 2016, then yes, I am locked into a literary hamster wheel, and I do require rescue. I just want to put that out there.

The next post about this book will be either, "Yay! I can't believe the day has finally come that my book is being published, and I'm being interviewed by Trevor Noah on The Daily Show!"

Or, it will be much more interesting.



Friday, August 12, 2016

The Rising Tide

We are all familiar with the man who speaks loudly and says whatever pops into his head, sans filter of any kind. Some have suggested that he's the logical product of the worst ideological elements of the Republican Party, the pillars of which are now wringing their hands and grinding their teeth in the wake of their fallen angel.

And because of him, most of us have become reacquainted with the word "demagogue." I'll tell you straight up, I had to Google it to be quite sure what it meant: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

In addition to "demagogue," which, let's face it,  smacks of intellectual elitism, the more colloquial term, "bullshit artist," has been upgraded in popular psychology to describe a person who so full of shit that they can no longer tell the difference between truth and lie--at least, not in every instance. (The New Republic, The Washington Post, and CNN have all written about the Republican candidate being a bullshit artist. Google: Trump as bullshit artist.) According to this theory, Trump has not lost his mind, he has lost his bearings.

And have you heard about the rising tide of anti-intellectualism?  I wish they would call it something else.

The word "intellectual" has always bugged me. It's like referring to one's self as an athlete. Even if you are an athlete, you don't go around saying that about yourself. It's too grand. And I don't go around calling myself intellectual, because I know that someone who has read more than I have would smack me down for it. And I would deserve it, especially if they're the stealthy, under-the-radar intellectual type who eschews pretentious words like "eschew"; who were raised without advantage by their single mom; who reads Blake and keeps manuscripts of difficult but brilliant poetry in cheap notebooks in the back of their closet.

Those are the intellectuals I most admire, as well as the unemployed ones living out of cheap hotels in Bangkok, with her ear to the wall of every insurrection and terrorist plot in Southeast Asia. (Yes, I'm speaking of the class valedictorian who spent her senior year interning for Green Peace before cutting out for the Western Territories, ultimately continuing until West became East.)

Those are my intellectuals: the quiet ones who don't speak of anti-intellectual tides, because that is a meaningless platitude that fails to elicit any concern from the masses for the drowning intellectuals muttering, "Idiots, idiots!," instead of "Help!"

I digress.

I do think that there are a lot more voices in the media shouting a lot of bullshit to a lot of impressionable young people, mainly through You Tube.

I think You Tube is a marvelous thing. I know there are a lot of thoughtful and terrific Tubers on You Tube. Some that my son has watched over the years have been a delight for me to watch with him. They're witty and clever and funny and smart. They do science experiments and "life hacks" and sing hilarious and ironic songs.

But like the Internet itself, there is a dark side to You Tube--perhaps not like the notorious  other side of the Internet that is supposed to be a seedy, miserable, crime-ridden space where people exchange human organs, traffic in drugs, stolen art, and God knows what else. I've only heard tell, and it sounds apocryphal, but it probably isn't.

If, like me, you have a twelve-year-old boy, it may have come to your attention that he is on the receiving end of a stable of talking-head Tubers, mostly young men, who do and say all kinds of things--sometimes funny and clever; sometimes sopping with prejudice.

Watching a talking-head Tubers (THT?) speak at three times the normal rate and volume makes me feel like I'm being assaulted by a drill sergeant with ADD.  They talk as if we were hard of hearing. And they speak super fast, knowing that their audience could instead be spending that hour watching 550 vines.

Everything in my kid's You Tube world is fast, fast, fast. After I've watched 20 - 25 vines, I feel disoriented. I have to concentrate so hard to take in so many slivers of information that when I look away, the room fairly spins. It takes me a moment to focus my brain on any one thing.

Josh has grown fond of some Tubers, so sparkly and cool, so fast and loud. He looks up to them, and it kind of tears him up to have to acknowledge that sometimes they might be wrong. He wants them to be right all the time. To borrow the parlance of some popular Tuber, he gets very "triggered" when I argue against anything any of them have said.

Condemn me if you will for letting my son "subscribe" to such nonsense. I'm not proud. I admit it, he spends too much time on the computer. Most kids do. But next month, he'll be 13; and then there's 14...and  after that, there will be 15 to deal with...If I have little control over him now, I'll have even less as time goes by. In any event, there will be other talking-head Tubers to spout off on every topic for every age.

In his article, "Why Are SO MANY YouTubers Faced with Allegations of Abuse?" (click on the link below to read the article), Liam Dryden, who worked with Tubers Tobuscus and Toby Turner, suggests that their enormous success "gave them a sense that they could have anything--and anyone--they wanted."

http://www.wetheunicorns.com/debate/youtubers-abuse-rape-tobuscus-toby-turner/

Tobuscus was not a demagogue or a provocateur. I used to watch his videos with my son. I enjoyed his mostly tasteful, clever, ironic humor and funny voices and songs. He may have treated women badly behind the camera, but I don't remember him speaking badly about women or girls in front of the camera. (That is not to excuse his behind-the-camera behavior.)

My son was upset by these allegations, as you can imagine. He had a hard time accepting that they could be true, and was inclined to believe that the accusers were lying. Tobuscus denied and denied, but the allegations piled up. Ultimately, Tobuscus was roundly condemned by the You Tuber community. My son was tapped into that grapevine, and I think that his disappointment ran very deep. Based on the comments he made, I have the impression that it made him feel like humanity was more shabby and bleak than he could have imagined.

Last year, he was a big fan of PewDiePie. I bought PDP's book for Christmas, This Book Loves You.  PewDiePie strikes me as a kind and popular kid who, through his power and grace, levels the social hierarchy and makes friends of everyone. That's a marvelous quality. With that in mind, the title and marketing of his book (This Book Loves You), seemed brutishly manipulative (less transparently so, if you're eleven).

My son made a study of that book, which was said (by PDP) to be an ironic treatment of platitudes, but is, in my (ever so humble) opinion, a bunch of crap between covers (with the exception of earnest illustrators and book designers), created for the sole purpose of cashing in on PDP's mega-market earnings potential.

To be able to put a book into the hands of millions of young people who look up to you as an ally and friend is a tremendous honor. PewDiePie dishonored the kids who look up to him by squandering the opportunity to give them something meaningful for their money, and with a cynical book title that slyly mocks them.   

I would take pains to emphasize that not all You Tubers who appeal to young audiences are predators, demagogues, provocateurs, or mercenaries. Many enrich kids' lives with their creativity and genius for teaching. And even the talking-head Tubers who speak loudly and fast are not always speaking out of their ass. Some of them, like Daz, (who referred to feminists as femi-Nazis) are a mixed bag. In one video, he gave what I thought was a very sensitive explanation of what it means to be a transgender person. Kudos for that.

I've tried to emphasize to my son that I'm not condemning his fave Tuber by disagreeing with something they've said on a specific topic. Josh doesn't yet understand what I mean by that. He wants to believe that everything his fave You Tubers say is Gospel. This is worrisome, as far as it goes, but I am reassured by the fact that he doesn't let it end there. He continues to mull things over, to ruminate.

He asked his camp counselor what he thought about feminism. (The counselor told Josh that the word "feminism" has become meaningless. It used to mean something back in the day, but now it doesn't.) Josh asked his cello teacher (a woman) what she thought about feminism. (I don't know what she said; he didn't report it to me, so maybe it was consistent with my views and therefor a wash.)

He does report back that the word feminism has become meaningless; that it used to mean something, but now it doesn't. And I tactfully correct him, which upsets him. He wishes everyone would just get along, and there was no sexism or racism or rapists or terrorists.

I remind him that we started out as fish. We crawled out of the sea as frogs. We were lizards before we were mammals. We were apes before we were human. We have evolved. We started out brainless and got smarter and smarter. But we're still kind of dumb, so we have to keep learning and getting smarter. Not just about stuff, but also about ethics--about what's true, right, and decent. That's how we get better, I said. (Something like that.)



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mom v. Daz

My twelve-year-old son was very excited for me to watch a reaction video on You Tube about feminists.  I was dubious, but I tried to keep an open mind. When the Tuber used the word "femi-Nazis" interchangeably with "feminists," I knew that I would not be entertained.

People sometimes say things that they don't actually mean. So Mom maybe heard him wrong and he didn't mean that. But he is not sexist. Mom, you're very triggered. You should take a chill pill.

I was not positively impressed by the substance of the Tuber's argument. I thought he was mainly an entertainer, and a comic--

Well, he is.

Nevertheless, this guy has a pretty strong influence on my son's opinions about feminism.

Because he's right! But feminism isn't bad. 

So, we watched that video for a little while, until I couldn't take it anymore. 

Because Mom is impatient.

Then I switched to Feminism Frequency, a You Tube channel by feminists about gaming, because one of their videos was the subject of the aforesaid Tuber's ribald criticism.

She made a video that said that video games were sexist just because you kill women, even though you kill way more men in the same game. She's totally against equality. 

She was trying to make the point that female characters--

In certain video games, don't say all video games.

She was trying to point to a trend of-- 

It's not a trend, it's just people trying to make money. They have kids, you know! They have a family to feed. And then she was pointing to GTA, which is obviously controversial. It's probably the most sexist game out there today, even though it's one of the most popular.

As I was saying, she was pointing out that in general, in video games, women's butts are shown a lot more than men's butts.

Anyhow, after we watched that video, we talked about it for a while, but the conversation deteriorated rapidly. So then we watched a video of President Obama, saying, "This is what a feminist looks like." I thought that President Obama, as a beloved and respected man, would be a great counterpoint to the aforementioned You Tuber. He was. And, in fact, after we watched Obama's video, my son and I had what I thought was a MUCH more productive and sensitive discussion of feminism.

Don't you think you should notice that I broke this thing, and stop and delete that post and scold me?






Monday, July 11, 2016

Just People

Trevor Noah said it best: It is perfectly possible to believe that Black Lives Matter AND that the lives of police matter. I can hold those two thoughts in my head at the same time, and I see no contradiction.

I feel affronted when I hear white people in my life express the idea that black people pose a danger to police. It was one shooter in Dallas; but even if it had been twenty, or one hundered, and all of them black, and all of them hating white people and the white police and the Black Lives Matter movement, (as did the shooter in Dallas), they still wouldn't have represented the motivations or actions of anyone but themselves. To believe otherwise is, frankly, racist--and I say that with a heavy heart, knowing that it could drive a wedge through some friendships.

I was chatting with my friend Ron the other day. We were talking about parenting, and how we were both working on being better parents (actually, he was working on it, and I subsequently realized that I should be working on it, too). That was last Wednesday. The next morning, Philando Castile was shot by police in Minneapolis, and Alton Sterling was killed by police in Louisiana.

Suddenly, even the weighty topic of parenthood and its attendant anxieties seemed trite. Ron is black. I didn't know what to say about all of this to him without sounding like I was apologizing on behalf of all white people, as if he were all black men. I decided not to attempt to tackle this gaping wound with one well-worded text. It was not a situation that lent itself to pith.

I had been reconnected with Ron because of our mutual affection and history, and then, not 24 hours later, disconnected from him (temporarily, I hope) by the latest outrageous examples of racism in our criminal justice system.

I am white. I live on a bucolic farm in Wisconsin (far from Louisiana and Dallas, but not far from Minneapolis, and certainly not from Madison, which has had its own examples of police violence against black people). I may be horrified, outraged, and saddened by these events--and I will worry about my friends who are black--but I know that I will all-too-quickly shift my focus to the details of my life. My mood and focus will drift.

The implications of these stories do not apply to me, directly; they don't strike exactly the same chord, because I am not going to be a victim of police violence, and my son isn't going to be a victim of police violence, because we are white. I also don't have any loved ones on the police force.These things make a big difference in how I experience these events. However appalled and disturbed I may feel, it's still basically news. It's still happening to someone else, and though I may catch my breath as I hear of it, and feel the joy sucked out of the room, still my day will proceed as planned.

I have in-laws who are Moslem. Over the years, we remained close. Maybe we didn't talk very often, but when we did, we could pick up where we left off. But, that's changed in recent years. I didn't know what to do or say when the tide of anti-Moslem feeling rose up, threatening to drown out all reason. I failed to call and express my concern because I didn't want to place us in the position where I was speaking as a white person to a Moslem person. That was never how it was before; but now, with everything that's happened, that is undeniably the elephant in the room.

And yes, I know it's probably stupid. I should have called a dozen times to express my support. Even if it was awkward and imperfect, it would have been better than nothing.

What I did instead was to write in this blog, as I am doing now. Here, I hoped to articulate what I couldn't say on the phone or in a text. Here, I hoped to express my solidarity with social justice and the enormous value of confronting attitudes of prejudice and racism. Here, I hoped to openly and honestly express my views with reason and love, and not to drive more wedges between people.

Racism, and not race, makes us different. Without it, we are family. Without it, we are friends. Without racism, we are a just people. Without it, we are just people--people who can talk together about small things, like raising children and striving to be better parents.





 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Upside-Down Woman

When I was in the part of the maternity ward where no expecting mother ever wants to be, (the extremely high-risk part), there was one woman there who was worse off than me, and that was the upside-down woman.

When I was 23 weeks pregnant, my body started to go into labor. (A full-term pregnancy goes 41 weeks, give or take.)  I was rushed to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and given something to stop it. I was sent home the following day. But, 24 hours later, my contractions were ten minutes apart.

"We can give you something to stop the labor," said the doctor, "but it's going to make you feel lousy."

"Fine. Give it to me."

I desperately wanted to save my pregnancy.  It was going to be a boy, and I had already named him Joshua.  (Later, my father would say, "Jesus, I wish you hadn't named him.")

The magnesium sulfate drip they gave me felt like a horrific hangover. Looking left or right brought intolerable pain, I could only look straight ahead. The magnesium also made my muscles weak--that's what stops the contractions--the muscles of the uterus become too weak to contract. I shuffled very slowly to the bathroom like an extremely frail old lady. ("My God, this must be what it feels like to be 99-years old.")

Every day on the magnesium got worse. I had headaches. I couldn't sleep. I was nauseous, I couldn't eat. I had diarrhea. I could barely walk.

I only fell asleep shortly before sunrise. Soon after, a doctor whom I never set eyes on would come in to check on me. She would take my vitals (and Josh's vitals) while I semi-slept, semi-lucid, and too weak to roll over.

"Have you had any contractions?" she would ask.

"No."

"That's wonderful. You're doing really well." (She was like an angel.)

A young nurse told me that no matter what I did to foul up the room, it wouldn't bother her in the least. I shouldn't worry for a second, not one second. (I was profoundly grateful.)

The head of the NICU paid me a visit. She gave me the impression that she was required by law or hospital policy to read off the entire list of everything that could possibly go wrong with a 24-week old preterm baby, a 25-week-old preterm baby... 26 weeks... 27 weeks....

It was a long and relentless list, and when at last she finished, I threw up.

I was semi-conscious, semi-sleeping, but able to respond yes or no, when a woman with a clipboard came into my room. She told me about a study that required dead preterm babies.She had come to me because there was a good chance that I would have a dead preterm baby. Would I give them permission to use its body in the study? Or part of it?

I don't remember how I responded to that question. I might have  agreed. I was on my second or third day, unable to deliberate on such a choice. But I'll never forget the request.

After one week, I was discharged from the hospital, still pregnant. I went home, and spent the next ten or eleven weeks in bed, with bathroom privileges. (I didn't have to use a bedpan, thank God. Some women on bed-rest have to use a bedpan.)

Really, I was fine in the hospital until about the third night. Until then, I was glad to be pregnant, everyone working to help keep me pregnant. But after the third night, I was so sick in body and spirit that I would have turned back time to become not pregnant.

At no point, however, did I consider having an abortion, though I did receive the message from the head of NICU and the woman with the clipboard that abortion would have been a sensible solution to my problem.

For me, an abortion would have only added heartbreak and God-knows-what physical trauma to my situation.

I am not anti-abortion. In fact, when I was in my twenties, I was proud to work at a women's health clinic where safe abortions were performed. It was the clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts, where John Salvo shot and killed two women who worked in admitting (as I had, two years earlier).

I just really wanted to keep my baby, whom I had been dreaming about vividly for months, whose name was Joshua, and whom I already loved  deeply, just as I assumed the upside-down woman next door from my hospital room must have loved and wanted her baby.

The upside-down woman had been worse off than me. This was before HIPAA, and though I never knew her name, I knew that she was about 23 weeks pregnant when her uterus sprung some sort of leak.  In order to keep her pregnancy, she had to spend the next several months strapped to a hospital bed (in the hospital) at a 45 degree angle, head down.  She didn't have bathroom privileges, and she was on some unpleasant medications.

Clearly, given the weirdly subtle encouragement I had received to have an abortion, the upside-down woman did have a choice. I understood why she was doing it, and I thought she was awesome.  She was in love with her baby. She probably knew if it was supposed to be a boy or a girl. She had probably named it. It was probably her first child, like mine.  She had let her imagination run away with her. She had dared to have powerful dreams, and to fall in love too soon.

This is what the upside-down lady would do for love. She was my hero. She was everyone's hero on that ward, and we all felt sorry for her.

At 38 weeks, I had a scheduled c-section.  After that, like all parents, I had endless other frights and worries, but I was very grateful and happy to have Joshua still with me.

Be that as it may, when one well-meaning friend dismissed my entire ordeal by declaring that "it was all worth it in the end," (not having asked for any details of the experience), I felt woefully under-supported.

Someone else told me that she had known all along that everything was going to turn out okay...And maybe she did have that psychic revelation. But to me, this sounded dismissive.

We are told to expect a normal pregnancy.

At 36 weeks, my husband and I attended a required orientation for new parents at Beth Israel. (At 36 weeks, I was allowed to get out of bed and even walk the dogs; I wasn't having any contractions, and the baby was perfectly viable.) The guide showed us the attractively appointed maternity ward for expecting mothers.

"What's over there?" someone asked, pointing down the hallway in the opposite direction.

"Those are the rooms for high-risk pregnancies. We won't be going down there. None of you will have to worry about having a high-risk pregnancy." (Of course not, I thought, rolling my eyes.)

Most of my close friends have not had "normal" pregnancies. We have had these incredibly surprising,  horrific ordeals.

When we first started talking about our experiences, it seemed incredible that one story was as traumatic as the next. I had thought mine was the worst pregnancy story ever, second only to the upside-down woman. But three of my close friends' pregnancies had been as difficult as mine or worse.

One friend's pregnancy had had a lethally septic effect on her body--and she had twins. She needed to remain pregnant (and on strict bed-rest) until the twins (which take longer to be viable, because they're smaller) could survive, but not so long that the pregnancy would kill her.

Another friend had a complication with amniocentesis in which her unborn baby's fingers and toes perforated the intrauterine membrane. She was told that her baby would be born with severely damaged or missing fingers and toes. (He wasn't.)

I knew one young mother whose pregnancy caused a rare form of cancer to grow rampant through her body, ultimately killing her.

I could tell you more stories of real women's real pregnancies, but I'd have to go about gathering more specific details, and that would postpone completion of this post. I don't think I need to do that to make my point.

My point is this: Why are women so broadly assured of having an uneventful pregnancy, when we so frequently don't?

Why are our real stories dismissed by just about everyone except the initiated?

And why is it alright to dismiss, ignore, gloss over, and generally white-wash the whole experience?

And what if the upside-down lady had not been in love with her child?  Can we bear to imagine a world in which it was not her choice to spend those months upside-down, drugged into misery, and strapped to a bed?




















Friday, July 1, 2016

How to Grow Old Gracefully, Like a Dog

As I may have mentioned, I recently turned fifty years old. When time throws down its gauntlet, all we can do is accept the quest (the holy grail, you'll never find it) with grace and dignity...as if we were glad.

Easier said than done, especially, within a culture that answers the question (how to age gracefully?) with, DON'T.

JUST SAY NO to fine lines and wrinkles.

JUST SAY NO to "liver spots" (who came up with that charming phrase?) and sagging boobs, bellies, and butts.

The older you are, the more expensive your moisturizer--because it has to work that much harder.

Wear more make-up and "spanx" and girdles--and yes, even corsets are making a comeback--we are that evolved.

So, once again, I have to look to my dogs for guidance. I'm telling you, they know how to age gracefully.





Take Sam, for example, a Labrador Retriever. As a youth, she was tireless. She loved to run fast and swim for hours. She loved to dive into the lake with her little legs curled up (so cute) to fetch a stick over and over and over.  She was dazzling, a regular Zelda Fitzgerald in the fountains.

But, as Sam got older and slowed down, her interests  shifted gradually from running and swimming to sniffing and rolling.  She developed a keen interest in smelling everything and rolling onto her back and kicking up her feet, joyfully. These became her primary activities on our walks.

Toward the end, she still sniffed everything, but now when she rolled, she took longer to get up. We would stop for a spell on our walks, and she would rest on the grass in the sun or shade. Sometimes, passers-by would express their concern.  Yes, she probably did have some discomfort. She was very old, at 13.  Eventually, she would get up, shake it off, and be ready to go, The sniffing, the rolling, and the resting--these were her pleasures, now.

Her counterpart, Bart, was an intimidating mix of Rottweiler, Doberman, German Shepherd, and Lab. He lived one year longer than Sam.  He disproved the adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

When Bart was young and kids came to the front door he went out the back. It was as if he didn't trust himself not to eat them.  But toward the end of his life, Bart decided that kids were alright. His feelings for them softened dramatically and bloomed into love. He already adored our Joshua, but he also fell hard for the kid next door.

Now, I have three different dogs, and they're all getting old.

Hank, a standard poodle, is twelve, approximately. (No one's really sure; he's got a shady past.)

I'm not saying that all poodles are sociopaths, but Hank was.  He had no conscience. He knew right from wrong, and neither weighed more or less than the other on the scales in his mind.



But, being a smart and elderly poodle, Hank apparently has given some thought to his mortal soul, and he has concluded that he was certainly going to go to Hell.  As a result, Hank has by and large reformed.

Hank no longer steps foot in the kitchen. If he did, he would certainly raid the garbage and devour any food left out on the table or counter tops.

He used to wear an electric collar that sounded off every time he came near the kitchen, but he hasn't worn it for a year. Don't think for a minute that he doesn't realize that he could go into the kitchen if he allowed himself. Hank always tested the electric collars to see if the batteries were working. I had to keep back-up batteries and order them way in advance.  If they expired for even a day or two, Hank raided the garbage. Poodles are many things, but they are not stupid.

Hank doesn't go in the kitchen of his own accord. He's trying to be a good dog. He doesn't want to go to Hell.

Personally, I don't believe in Hell, (although I do believe in the gnashing of teeth and the wringing of hands), but I think it's interesting that Hank does.

My three aging dogs have good days and bad days. Sometimes, they seem younger; sometimes, older--just like me. The right supplements (fish oil, glucosamine chondroitin, and Milk Thistle) and a bit of love seem to make a big difference.  If I forget either one, they slow way down.

Today, Hank didn't want to go on his second walk; he was very comfortable on the couch. I cuddled up to him and told him he didn't have to go with us if he didn't want to, but we'd love his company. And then he bounded up off the couch, energized and dog-smiling, as though it had all been a practical joke. Of course he would go for a walk!

Hank and Gretchen are slowing down and hanging back. Betsy has more energy, though she and Gretchen are both nine. Betsy is not my favorite dog, but I think some day she will be.

Betsy is getting more gray and grizzled than Hank or Gretchen.  She is a black Border Collie/Lab, now with a mostly white chin and muzzle. The gray hairs don't bother her in the least. She's not vain.

My three dogs started out terrible. They were the worst dogs I've ever had. (I say this with love.) But every year, they get better. By the time they're ready to die, no kidding, I think they'll be perfect. Figures.

Physically, dogs have a high threshold for pain. Rarely does it hold them back, or obscure their view of what is good and pleasurable in life.

I could make this really sad. Yes, dogs die with grace. Let's leave it at that.

We humans, we're all in knots about these things.

I was born without any powers of denial. That's why I write. That's why I'm a freak of nature. So, I confront this aging business head-on, every day.  And, right behind that, my mortality.

For inspiration and guidance, there's nothing good out there.  It's all twisted, fear-driven, youth-obsessed, vanity-mongering, horribly depressing crap. In French, "c'est nul."

If you want to know how to age gracefully, ask a dog.

Or ask a horse. My friend Fire, a 20-year-old Polish Arabian, has taught me a thing or two about getting old...

First off, pageantry is everything. For short stints, be fabulous. Make a big impression. Keep the young in line. But if you're asked to  do something difficult or dreary, get a very tired look on your face and say, oh! I am so weary! My arthritis is acting up!  (It works every time.)



Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bon Appetit

The French are famous for, among other things, having a deep appreciation for good food and wine. Even the simplest components of their diet--bread and cheese--are second to none.

But what I observed during my week in France (mostly in Brittany) was that my hosts were not slavishly devoted to eating. Despite their love of food, they don't seem to mind a little hunger.

If we were to measure food appreciation by how much or how frequently the citizens eat, America would trounce France as an eating culture. But it's not the quality of the food for which Americans are known, but the quantity of food  consumption.  It's not how much the French eat but the quality of their food that makes France a foodie nation.

My son, 12, held to the American script, asking every thirty minutes to stop for  an ice cream or crepes or croissants. In his persistence, I recognized a familiar anxiety, the American mindset about food that would suggest that we had  recently emerged out of a prolonged period of famine.

Hunger gnaws on the American psyche like a bone. When, if ever, will I eat again? 

Where does this come from? From the Pilgrims' experience of near-starvation? Is there a genetic marker in the American profile that reminds us of the Irish Potato Famine, the American Dust Bowl, the Depression?  Or does it point to the Pogroms, the abductions, and the deprivations that propelled our forebears to the New World?

While in France, we had places to go and things to do and see. We walked, took photos, and did not stop to eat every time we felt the slightest twinge of hunger. We got plenty of exercise exploring the old cities, neighborhoods, gardens, chateaus, cathedrals and basilicas. We stopped to eat only after we had thoroughly exhausted the breakfast fuel, having seen and done what we set out to do.

And when we did eat, we sat down at a table, hungry and enthusiastic. The menu dazzled with possibilities, almost a torment to read. I would choose something rich and delicious: a pasta with Gorgonzola sauce; a sausage wrapped in galette; a carafe of cold fermented cider to take the edge off the harsh light of day; a tartine for me, a chocolate crepe for Josh.

I explained to my French host that Americans were generally deeply neurotic about food, but I couldn't explain why.  For my host, such negative feelings about food were inconceivable.

Nonetheless, most of us are like that, I said.

But that is a mistake, he pointed out. Food is to be enjoyed. Eating is one of life's great pleasures.

I agree, it's supposed to be that way. And it is a pity for us.

My host was searching for the English word that describes a person who passionately loves to eat. Such a person, he explained, seeing desserts on a table, could not prevent himself from eating it. What is that word?

Pig?  The only word that came to mind. That's how we would describe such a person.

He looked at me as though I had willfully misunderstood.

The French have more regard for pigs than Americans. There are expressions in French that compare close relationships among friends to the affection between pigs. Apparently, pigs can be quite devoted to their friends; a quality that has seldom been celebrated in America, except by E.B. White. The majority of us focus on their flies, filth, and gluttony.

The correct word was "gourmand."

gourmand-- 1. one who is fond of good eating, often to excess. 2. a gourmet; epicure

If you have a passion for eating that borders on excess, you're a gourmand, not a pig. Don't be so hard on yourself. There is nothing shameful about being a gourmand.  (Nor is there anything shameful about being a pig, come to think.)

Perhaps Americans eat too much because there is too much sugar in our diet, or too much gluten or too many carbohydrates.  Perhaps the linings of our stomachs remember our grandparents' brush with starvation. For me, it's all conjecture.

There was simply no way that I could convey to my French host any plausible reason why food should ever be a source of grief.  And it was equally impossible for me, an American woman, to imagine having a lifetime of eating without it.