Friday, November 25, 2016

Seven

Dear Bug,

How is Heaven? What is it like?  Does everyone really get their own version? There is not a day that goes by that I don't want to ask you something. I find myself wanting to ask your opinion about things going on down here and whether you can see it all and whether I am seeing the world clearly or if my sight is too strongly filtered by my opinions and fears.  I want to see if you find the same things funny that I do.  I want to try to absorb some of that childlike wisdom and lack of cynicism that you always carried with you. I guess because when I feel your spirit it seems so little like that of a child, that I figure we all get to "grow up" finally when we leave this earth.  Maybe because when you were on this earth, you sometimes seemed not to really be a little kid, but rather some incredibly wise old being who was just out playing for the sheer joy of it. But maybe not.  Maybe just the faith of a child in her mother makes me tap into wisdom I didn't know was there.


So much has changed this year.  Both of your grandpas are with you now.  So is Angus.  I'm sure he appreciates being able to play again. Grandma is in Florida.  She could use an extra hug; her life has changed so much.  Serena misses you terribly too; she has a lot of changes in the works in her life as well. See if you can wrap her up for a few seconds, OK? 

My heart still breaks for missing you. I miss everything that was and will never be and sometimes I still feel like I will drown in the missing of you.  I told you a few years back that the day will come when you will have been gone from my life longer than you were here.  Oh, how I dread the coming of that day.  Maybe I'm afraid I won't be allowed to miss you anymore then, and I'll be diminished for lacking the pain. I don't know.

Bug, if you know how to work the collective consciousness and wisdom up there, see if you can send me a bit of it. There are so many things that are a struggle right now and I could really use a guiding star to navigate it all.  Help me live my life in a way that would make you proud, OK?

Today, I'll focus extra long on your laugh, your smile, your goofy word games and the feel of your hugs.  And then I'll turn on the tuna fountain for the Foosas and the Aslans.

Love you, Bug.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How does that grab ya?

I had a friend over this past weekend remind me of the post immediately preceding this one, where I described my absolute dismay at how implicitly my then-8-year-old daughter perceived and accepted gender bias in our society.  "Who would have thought that the last few weeks of the election cycle would make this not so much about our first woman president, but a re-visiting of basic women's rights, in 2016?"

Who, indeed?

I'll be honest and say that I was not the least bit surprised or shocked to learn of Mr. Trump's statements or the accusations of the dozen women who have come forward to say they were sexually touched and imposed upon by Mr. Trump. The nature of this man is so transparent and so crass that frankly I would have been astounded to learn that he hadn't sexually harassed women.

No; instead I am struggling with a myriad revelations that have emerged since these accusations and tapes became public.

First, the sheer number of women who have come forward to tell their own stories of being sexually assaulted, some by strangers in the street or in bars,but more often by classmates, business acquaintances, authority figures, family members, dates.  Millions, tens of millions of women who all say that they have been treated by a man (or by multiple men) as just an object to be taken, used, discounted,shamed.  Most kept their stories to themselves for years, either fearing they'd be judged, or disbelieved, or because they felt ashamed, as though they had done something to deserve this treatment.  Others had spoken out before, only to suffer the judgement, disbelief, or dismissal they feared. "Oh, that's just guys."  "You were drunk!" "He'd NEVER do that!"  "Are you SURE??" "Well, if you go out looking like THAT, what did you expect men to do??"  The sheer scope and scale of mistreatment of women, today in this nation, is appalling. But in many ways, the reasons for not speaking out earlier are even worse. 

Which takes me to my second revelation:  the number of people who believe it was OKAY for this man to make horrible, gross, unwanted sexual advances on these women, who believe he has no reason to apologize, who believe that this sort of behavior is just "boys will be boys".  Women...WOMEN who think it's okay for themselves and for other women to be treated this way.  Who wear shirts in public that say "Trump Can Grab My P***y".  Who say things like "he says the things that people like me think all the time." There was even a small but determined group calling for the repeal of the 19th amendment, so our husbands and brothers could cast votes without our pesky p**sies getting in the way! I'm horrified. I'm dumbfounded.  I recall a blog post that I did several years ago where I was flabbergasted at the number of people in the United States who believe that evolution isn't a real thing.  My level of non-comprehension at that is NOTHING compared to this.

But in the middle of my outrage, I'm also questioning some of my earlier beliefs and positions.  Particularly in regard to my opinion about the conduct of President Bill Clinton, when it was revealed in the 1990's that he'd carried on several extra-marital affairs, then most recently with a White House intern.  At the time, I said "Just about every powerful man in the history of mankind has kept a mistress.  I don't understand why this is such a shock.If he were French, or Japanese, no one would think twice." So this week I had to check myself a bit and wonder if I am applying a double standard to Mr. Trump and Mr. Clinton.

My answer? Yeah, maybe, sort of, not really.

Let me explain.

On one hand, here are two men who are in positions of wealth and power which afford them almost unparalleled access to beautiful, desirable women.  And both took advantage of those positions to help fulfill sexual desire. I found one horrifying; the other I greeted with a Gallic shrug. Score one for Beth being a hypocrite.

On the other hand, Clinton carried on extra-marital affairs with women who were, by their own admission, willing participants.  Trump on the other hand (while he may also have had willing mistresses) has, by his own account, forced himself on women without their consent, trusting to their fear and shock and star-struck awe to keep him out of trouble.  He's also an unrepentant Peeping Tom.  Ew.  Score one for Beth recognizing the difference between apples and half-rotted durian.

On the third hand, I recognize that, while Monica Lewinsky was a grown woman over 21 and capable of making her own decisions, her position as a White House Intern, alone in a room with the Leader of the Free World, just *might* have left her at a bit of a disadvantage when it came to the question of if and when to say no. Was she really in control of that situation, and were the charges a function of unscrupulous political machinations of off-stage directors, or was she scared and horrified when she was alone with him?  Who knows?  In any event, I look back now and the slut-shaming the nation perpetrated on her and I think that it was cruel and misguided and wrong.  Score one for "yeah...probably not all that straightforward, really".

The take home message is this:  Today, in this country, in 2016, a man without principal, powerful or not, can still reduce us to a body part at will, and more often than not, there's not a damn thing we can do about it without exposing ourselves to shame and blame and ridicule, or worse. Despite the fact that we're about to smash the biggest, baddest glass ceiling in this country, we still can't safely let a stranger buy us a drink, work late alone with the boss, walk to the car at night or wear that cute short skirt to the party without taking a risk that can ruin our lives, and not just in that moment when we're grabbed or kissed or violently taken, but for years to come.As women, we have a responsibility to be outspoken about sexual abuse, in whatever form it takes.  And to take each other seriously when our sisters speak up about their experiences. 

We may have "come a long way, baby", but we have a long way to go.

Post script:  My friend Wendy posted this link on Facebook the other day.  Just in case we start feeling a bit to comfy in our liberation, to remind us how recently we had a lot less freedom as women.  Pay attention, ladies. 


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Chapter 12: In which the smashing of the glass ceiling is viewed from above.

I got home from work last night around 7:00, just in time to watch the roll call vote of of the DNC, and the delegation from South Dakota make Hillary Clinton the first female major party candidate for president in our nation's history.  I stood in the entryway of my house, my purse and briefcase in hand and watched the cheering and the scroll across the bottom of the screen for about 30 seconds.

My husband walked out of the kitchen to take the bag of groceries dangling from my right arm and asked me, "What's up?"

I didn't realize it immediately, but in that moment watching the scene on the television, I had started to cry.

He asked me again, "What's wrong?"

I came around to myself again, and turned toward him, "They just nominated Hillary Clinton for president."

"Well, yeah...did you expect something different?"  I took the towel from his hand.

I cleared my throat, dabbing my eyes with the towel.  "No...no; I knew they would nominate her. It's just...Kiersten's not here to see it.  I wanted her to see this day."

He looked down, "Yeah, I know."

November, 2008:

We had gathered on the couch to watch the election returns, with some enthusiasm. We had called Kiersten off school for the next day so she could stay up, and her best friend, Serena, had been given permission to stay overnight and watch them with us. We played games and laughed as the states on the map started to light up red and blue, tried, with limited success, to explain the Electoral College to a 4th grader and a 6th grader, sang songs from Schoolhouse Rock, and generally spent an evening so geeky, so academic, that I was sure neither girl would ever be able to tell her friends about it.

Around 11:00, the results from Ohio were announced and the electoral votes put Barack Obama over the 273 mark, making him the first African-American to be elected President of the United States.We all cheered.  Serena put her arms around my neck and started to cry a little.  


Steve spoke up, "Pay attention, Bug. Barack Obama is our first black president.  We've never had one before.  This is a big deal."

Kiersten looked like we'd just told her there was a secret passage in the back of her closet that led to the temple at Machu Picchu.  "You mean, we've never had a president with chocolate-colored skin before?  That's just weird.  Why should that make a difference?"

Serena leveled a gaze at her that said, wordlessly, "I love you for your heart, but my God, you are just about clueless..."

Steve spoke up again, "Honey, some people think that people with dark skin aren't smart enough to be president or to run companies and stuff like that.  We don't believe that in our family, but there are enough people who do, that we've never elected anyone with brown skin to be president before."

"Well, that's just dumb!  Why should the color of your skin matter?  Serena has brown skin and she's way smarter than me!"

I spoke up then, "I know it's dumb. Are you ready for this?  We've never had a woman president either."

She looked at me.  "Well, I get that!  You can't be a mom AND be president at the same time!"

I nearly choked on my drink.  Here was a child who lived in a household where her mother was the primary wage-earner. Who had grown up with an African-American best friend. Who was widely regarded by her classmates and teachers alike as the smartest in her class. And whose complete lack of comprehension of racial bias was exceeded only by her matter-of-fact acceptance of societal inequality for women. This child, who I thought I was raising to become a strong, self-actualized woman, had encountered gender bias so tacitly, so ubiquitously that she didn't even know there was anything to question about it.

I was horrified.  And I vowed then and there to give her as much exposure as possible to strong, capable women in important roles, so she would never again question how someone could be a mom and ANYthing else.

How many little girls across America see gender inequality so regularly, so matter-of-factly, that it simply does not register on them? How many of them look at portrayals in the media that emphasize a woman's clothes, or her tone or her weight and understand, without it ever being said out loud, that her brains, determination and hard work are less important than her appearance and ability to bear children?  And how long before we as a society reject this double standard and call out gender bias as readily as we call out racial bias?

As it turns out, I didn't get much time to fulfill on my oath.  But I hope, wherever she is today, that she sees what happened last night and understands how important it is.

And I hope, 20 years from now, a little 8-year-old girl sees a woman running for president and doesn't give it a second thought.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Laws of Fun



Last weekend, I attended a marvelous meet-up of folks from Radio Paradise that I have known for the better part of a dozen years.  I've attended a half dozen of these meet-ups over the years and they are always just an enormous amount of fun spent with some of the kindest, most talented people I have ever had the pleasure to know.  It's always an absolute kick when we get together.

However, after a long weekend of shenanigans and a red eye flight home, I ended up with the obligatory cold, no doubt picked up on the airplane either there or back.  A friend commented to me:  "Ah; it's the law of conservation of fun.  You had fun and now you have to pay for it."  I also noted this weekend that my having been gone last weekend meant that it took about three times as long as usual to clean house and weed the garden. 

I had another friend, who attended this year's ComicCon with four teenagers in tow, comment that he highly doubted that he would get to see a single thing on his agenda, as he was busy making sure that the kids got to do everything they wanted to do.  It made me think of many, many (MANY) afternoons spent with the Bug when she was young, going to places that I thought were fun, and spending pretty much all of my time watching HER have fun.  And that I was OK with that.  Which got me thinking about the Laws of Fun and what Fun invariably means to us as adults. 


So presented here for your review, debate and critical analysis are The Laws of Fun

Law 1:  Conservation of Fun:  The total amount of fun in the universe is a constant. Fun may be neither created nor destroyed.
  • Corollary of Inverse Rationality:  For each act of fun, an equal and opposite act of unfun is generated somewhere in the universe. 
  •  The TANSTTAFL Constant:  The amount of work that accumulates while you are having fun is equal to the the normal amount of accumulated work, times the square of the amount of fun you have while you are away from work.
  • Corollary:  Generation of fun with a deliberate target for the unfun can result in later rebounding of unfun upon the original perpetrator.  (“The Karmic Payback Theory”)
    •      Susan's Theory of Karmic Balance:  Just because it isn't nice, doesn't mean it isn't funny

Law 2:  Funtropy:  As the scope and scale of fun increases, the potential for degradation into unfun also increases
  • Corollary:  The more structured the fun, the more unstructured the unfun (the “National Championship Effect”)
  • Corollary:  The rate of degradation into unfun is inversely proportional to the cost of the alcohol being consumed (the “Bud Light Constant”)

Law 3:  The Parental Observer Effect:  Watching your kids have fun is, in fact, fun.
  • Disney's Corollary:  The likelihood your child will melt down and/or puke is a function of the product of the amount and duration of fun the child has.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

City of Cleveland throws temper tantrum; mayor claims "it’s been up way past its bedtime for the last three days"

CLEVELAND -- The entire City of Cleveland, Ohio threw a huge temper tantrum Wednesday evening, disrupting the Republican National Convention proceedings and eventually crying so hard that it threw up all over its recently-re-opened Public Square. 

“The city simply has been up way too late all week”, claims 2-term Mayor Frank Jackson, “its regular bedtime is around 10 pm, and so far it hasn’t gotten to sleep before 2am once this week.  This was bound to happen eventually.”  The mayor expressed concern that the city was due to have another late night on Thursday and there was no telling how bad things might get.

“It took sanitation workers almost three hours to clean up the mess it made in the fountain last night.  I swear, the city has stuffed so much damn confetti in the FREE stamp that now it just says ‘BBBB’. And have you seen East 4th street?” said Mr. Jackson, shaking his head in disgust and gesturing toward the entertainment district.  Reportedly, the street hadn’t managed to settle down for more than about 45 minutes all day, was still wearing last night’s outfit with a pair of underpants on its head and was just lying there, kicking its heels against Prospect Avenue.

The city's Director of Public Health complained that the city still hadn’t eaten a decent dinner from the night before, opting instead for a root beer Big Gulp and half a bag of Cheetos.  “At this rate, it’ll be constipated for a week. Have you ever tried to force a city to eat a nice salad if it wants chips?  It’s impossible.  And it's still recovering from the Cavs parade a couple weeks ago. I just don't know how we're going to get it back on a regular schedule.”

At press time, city officials expressed concern that if the city couldn’t manage to settle down, they would be forced to put the entire East Bank of the Flats in a serious time out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Random Existential Question of the Day

None of us knows the day and time of our own death, so theoretically, I'm told, we should all live like we can't be certain of tomorrow.

Few of us do; me included.

But most of us believe we have some reasonable number of years ahead of us and that most of us will have some advanced warning of declining health, so we plan around that. Some of us make better use of that time than others, and some of us leave the Earth with more regrets than others. Certainly nobody wishes they'd spent more time on paperwork or at the office, or wishes they'd hugged their kids fewer times, or gone on fewer adventures.

But what if you knew that your death would not be preceded by a herald?  If you knew that, when you died, it would be sudden, swift and would arrive completely without warning? And you had no idea when that would happen?

What would you do differently?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Yeah, you're still in the right place


I just decided to update the theme.  It was looking dated.  Same stupid crap content is still here.  :)


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

BelieveLand, indeed



“Fezzig, you did something right.”


“Don’t worry; I won’t let it go to my head.”
            
   --The Princess Bride (1987)

You may have heard that the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship the other night.

I’ll start off by saying I’m not a basketball fan, except for sometimes enjoying the purity of a good high school game, where I care about the kids playing, or the occasional bracket-busting NCAA Cinderella story.  I greeted the return of King James to Cleveland with a yawn.  I’m sure that all makes me un-American at some level but there you go.

I’m a fan, though, of the City of Cleveland and the surrounding area that has been my home, on and off, throughout my life.

A lot (a LOTTTTT) has been written about the sports championship drought in this city, the “ya gotta be tough to live here” mentality of the residents, and the hardscrabble, “you’ll get nothing and like it” history of economic disappointment in this region. One more voice isn’t going to make much of a difference there.

Instead, I want to write about the power of a winning attitude and what it can do for a person, a family, a town. 

This town isn’t used to winning. We expect to lose. Even when everything points to success, we anticipate failure, and way more often than not, we get it. Sports, business…hell, even our weather is crummy.  We live on the coast of the largest single body of fresh water on Earth, and we can’t develop a waterfront entertainment area. We are the second-poorest big city in the nation. Our malls are closing down, our population is moving out of the area.  The city, is literally, three times as big as it should be for the number of people living here. 

And yet, there is a fierce pride in the people who live here. A sense that we are truly a community. A willingness to give one another a hand up. A sense of perseverance, of shared purpose. We don't give up easily, and we're proud of that. That pride has had a chance to show itself off a bit this year.  We are hosting a national political convention next month. Our downtown is growing and the population is moving back to the city. Our restaurant scene has been named one of the ten best in the nation. Our art museum (a true hidden gem) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer.  Our biotech investment environment has grown faster this year than just about any other in the country.

And today, we are celebrating a sports championship win. A hard-won victory that was borne out of that sense of perseverance and pride. It may not seem like a big deal to those of you who live in New York, or San Francisco, or Denver or Chicago. You’re used to winning.  You expect it. You’re cynical about it at this point.  But to a region that has become so accustomed to losing, this feels magical. It feels like the type of event that can take a region beyond the tipping point, to help it get juuust over that peak and make the next win come more easily. 

It’s the type of event that lets the people who live here say “We are winners.  Look at us.”  And that feeling, that momentum, is contagious. I know it’s just a game, but this win is important for this city in a way that most people can’t possibly appreciate.

LeBron James appreciated it.  I gained a new respect for the man the other night, after watching him, I swear, break his wrist with 10 seconds left in the game, still take a couple of foul shots, and then break down, sobbing, on the floor of that arena when the buzzer went off and he and the rest of the nation realized the Cavs had won that game.  Doris Burke, the ESPN analyst (off-topic: does that woman ever smile?) asked him if this win was more important than his previous two championship wins. 

He answered “Of course it is.  This...this is about my home. These people deserve this.”

He’s right.  They do.  And I’m looking forward to see what the combination of perseverance and a winning attitude will do for us here.

They're calling it BelieveLand today.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Have a Good Time



Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life's a mess
But I'm having a good time
                                                                                            --Paul Simon, Have a Good Time

As nearly as I can tell, Paul Simon speaks for pretty much everyone I know.

There was a part of me…ok, pretty much all of me…growing up that really thought that by the time I got to my 40s and 50s, life would feel way more in control than it did when I was younger and really felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants all the time.  You know; theoretically I’m supposed to have my shit together and have coping skills and disposable income by this point, right?

Well, here I am newly-minted at the age of 50-something and I have all that stuff.  I have a great job and a good house and I can balance my checkbook (with a pen and everything when necessary), replace the tail lights in my car, prepare a nutritious meal in 30 minutes or less with whatever crap I can find in the pantry, hem my own pants, soothe a crying baby, negotiate a contract, and re-light the pilot light on the hot water tank without assistance.  I have mad skillz, yo.

What they DON’T tell you in your 20s and 30s is that there is an order of magnitude difference in the complexity of the problems you face in your 40s and 50s versus those you face as a younger adult.  I mean, this is like graduate school.  You know, when you’re an undergrad and they give you a problem to solve, there’s actually a SOLUTION to the problem, and your job is to find it.  Grad school is different.  You get to grad school and you encounter a problem and you think you have the solution and you ask your professor if it’s right and he’s all like, “How the fuck should I know? Your job now is just to justify why you came to the conclusion you did and ensure you actually accounted for all the variables. The rest is uncharted territory, Buttercup.”

Wow.  Thanks.

And really, that’s sort of what you deal with once you hit middle age and beyond.  It’s no longer just can you show up for work every day, keep your toddler from falling off the earth, manage to make your paycheck last as long as the month, fix the leak in the kitchen drain, help patch together your friend with the drinking problem and get in for a pap smear once a year.  Now, we have sick and dying parents, estate management, patching together the adult children of the alcoholic friends and relatives we had in our 20s, retirement planning, trying to launch our own adult kids who really think they really have all the flipping answers already (Mom, seriously; thanks for not killing me when I was 22), keeping other people’s toddlers from falling off the earth, middle age depression, managing metabolic syndrome, and how the hell did we accumulate all that crap in the garage???

I really never understood why the members of my parent's generation always looked so serious and stressed out. For heaven's sake, who knew they were spending a decade and a half in their thesis year??? Mom...Mom?  You there?  I get it.  Sorry. 

And it’s not just me – all my friends are singing this song.

For my birthday yesterday, I received the following things:

  •       A children’s book from 1965
  •       A rock, painted to look like an owl
  •       A few decent bottles of red wine
  •       Purple garden tools
  •       A kitschy solar light for my garden
  •       A jingly belly dancing skirt
  •       A new bra (ok, I bought that for myself) 
  •       A decent meal with good friends

When I was younger, I wondered why old people were so delighted with the simplest little presents. I thought they were just trying to be cute and agreeable. Now I know why. Because they are simple, when so little else is.

For my birthday this year, I asked only that my friends go for a walk with me at my favorite park and that my husband make conch fritters in the kitchen and we hang out and have a drink and a laugh together.  The weather was glorious and my friends were caring and the food was delicious and I was grateful beyond words for the joy and simplicity of those acts and that day.

So from now on, if you’re over 45, I’m probably going to start wishing you the joy of an uncomplicated year to come.  Because heaven knows I could use one; you probably could too.

Have a good time.