OK, In Words of One Syllable, It’s a Girl

WSJ clinton announcementSo, it’s a historic moment in this country. The first woman to be nominated for President. Well, at least the first one in a political party anyone can take seriously. The first one with a real chance of becoming probably the most powerful person on the planet. Pretty heady stuff, historic even, as the Wall Street Journal acknowledges in its headline.

But, but. As a woman who pays attention to power and how it plays out, I see something here. Do you see something here too? Pay attention. Who’s photo is on the front page of the WSJ? On this amazing historic day? Is it the woman who won or the man who lost? But wait, there’s more. Check out the second headline, “Sanders Puts Rival Over Top in Landmark Moment.” Ah, I get it, we’re in the WSJ’s world, where the woman nominated for power got there thanks to the man who is really in charge.

Ladies and Gentlemen, once again a picture is worth a thousand words, but I will give you the thousand words anyway. This election is providing us with a microcosm of our world. Earlier this week thanks to the Republican convention it was racism at its most discouraging. Now let me introduce you to one of the ongoing battles half of the world faces, in case you haven’t noticed, the casual dismissal of half the world.

Are you maybe going to suggest that I am overreacting to this photo? After all, it is only one newspaper. The Wall Street Journal, to be sure, but still. Well, allow me to share another couple of examples with you. The Washington Post does include her first name, a distinct improvement. The Chicago Tribune doesn’t even do that.  However the photos in both show her husband, because historically when a Presidential nominee is announced, the paper has a photo of the first lady, right?

chicago tribune clinton nominationWashington post clinton nomination

I think it’s about time for another one of my little stories. Years ago, more years than I care to count, I was a reporter for a public radio station in Toledo Ohio. And one of my favorite interviews was with Gloria Steinem – yes, that one. It was the first time I’d heard her speak, and she said some extremely interesting things, things no one had ever explained to my 20 + self before. She actually explained why men held so tightly to their power.

You see, it’s actually about biology and property – a weird combination, I know, but think about it. Women always know that a child is theirs. No question. Simple. And before men made the connection between sex and children, they didn’t care what women did. It had nothing to do with them. But once they realized that a child could be their child, or not, it made a difference. They were willing to invest their time and energy, and leave their property, to their biological child, but not to another man’s. So in order to control where their property went… they had to control the mothers.

It’s the ultimate selfish act. Women’s bodies became an ownership issue. This is the underlying reason why the Republicans are so horrified by organizations such as Planned Parenthood. They actually don’t believe we own our own bodies. Amazing, but there it is. It goes back to prehistoric days, but then they sort of do too…

So, you say, what does this have to do with these newspapers? After all, we’re talking about a post-menopausal woman, a grandmother, former senator, former secretary of state. The last thing we’re really interested in here is her womb. But here’s the point. Once you hand a group power they are loathe to hand it back. And women made a deal with men lo those many years ago. We said, “OK, we will give you power over our bodies and any property we have if in exchange you will protect and support us and our children.” And in some cases that was a fair exchange, but in so many cases it really was a deal with the devil. But we’re not here to debate that today.

And the world has changed. Women can protect and support themselves. Women have been slowly taking that power back. From library cards and reading books to getting degrees from some of the best universities in the world to getting the vote – 100 years ago this year in the United States, by the way – to slowly getting closer to parity in wages. But for some men it’s not easy to let go of power. And whoever made the editorial decisions on these papers…  and I can almost guarantee it was an older white man – just couldn’t do it.

Those editors didn’t have the… it wasn’t courage. Courage was the suffragettes who fought to get us the vote in the first place. Courage is Hillary Clinton who sat through a grueling abusive battle in the Senate to defend her behavior with Bengazi and came out clean and still is willing to face her detractors and run for President.

Those editors didn’t have the… it’s not grace, because grace implies that they are deigning to grant Hillary something, and that woman has earned the right to have her photo on the front page of their papers yesterday. It was a historic moment and they chose to put a loser and a husband there instead in a significantly graceless move, but putting Hillary on the cover wouldn’t have been about grace.

Grace was the amazing speech President Obama gave last night when he stated in no uncertain terms that no one is or has ever been more qualified to hold the highest office in the land than Hillary Clinton.

Those tired, scared old white men, holding with both hands to the last vestiges of their power, chose to put men on their newspaper covers instead of the woman who earned that position with over forty years of hard work, fighting and struggling to get there, because they didn’t have the balls to do it. And that’s just pitiful.

 

 

 

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OK, If I Have to Explain it to You, I Will…

republican summer internsSo, after the debacle that was the 2012 election for the Republicans, they gathered together and actually talked about how they needed to change if they wanted to start winning Presidential elections again. They actually noticed that they weren’t reaching people of color and they became just a bit introspective, wondering if maybe they needed to adjust their message, their approach, before 2016. They actually considered the possibility.

But it’s four years later and Paul Ryan thinks its just fine to post this photo of the Republican summer interns. There he is, smiling his shit-eating grin in front of a sea of tidy whitey faces, not a brown, black, or even tanned one in the bunch. If you look carefully there may be one, maybe two Asians. But you know… they’re so smart, those Asians… they may as well be white.

So guys, are you trying to tell me that in all your constituencies you couldn’t find any kids of color to take into your offices for the summer? Oh, maybe you tried but none of them applied? Or you had to take the most qualified and they just weren’t as qualified as all of these white, white, white kids? Is that it? Then I’d guess we’d see the same color mix with the Democratic summer interns, right? Because they would have had the same problem finding qualified kids of color to serve as their summer interns. Well, let’s just see about that.democrat summer interns

Surprise, surprise. This group of interns looks more like the U.N., doesn’t it? Actually, this group of interns looks more like the United States, doesn’t it? Now you need to understand something. I am not in any way saying that all Republicans are racists. I think that many of them aren’t. What I am saying is that if you don’t make a real effort to bring everyone to your table – whatever your table is, wherever your table is – the result is the same as if you are a racist. And that top picture sure looks racist to me.

And there’s a piece missing from that top photo that I sure wish I had: the household income of the parents of all those white kids in that photo. And whether they went to public or private grade schools, high schools and colleges. Basically, are they children of doctors and lawyers and others with money? Is this internship that last nice piece of resume fodder they need to get the job they want to keep the privilege circle intact from generation to generation? Because that’s another thing the Republicans have always supported – the privileged class.

Now, I am not speaking from some outside position of envy. I am a daughter of educated parents; a doctor’s daughter who went to private schools and a good private college. And, I was raised Republican, as all privileged children should be. But I know there is another world and I have been part of that world too. And at some point, everyone has to make a choice. Will you live in that world of privilege and close the doors and stand braced behind them or will you step out the door and live in the real world and reach out your hand?

And here’s another really important point. I am not saying reach down your hand. I am saying reach out your hand. Because those of privilege are not better. Not at all. In fact, they are missing so much by being behind that door. And unless you are willing to open that door, you will not ever learn. And you are a racist, and a classist, and ignorant, and a fool.

I will tell you the first time that door opened for me. I was in the sixth grade. It was my first year in a new school and a lot of the kids were bullies. I was too naive to understand that. My old school hadn’t been that way. One of my favorite people and new friends was Annette. She was lovely, smart, funny and interesting. I liked and admired her so much, she was so amazing, that I was flattered that she wanted to be my friend. Have you had people like that in your life? She also happened to be African American  – the first one I had ever had the chance to get to know.

One day I walked into the library in our school. Annette was sitting at the piano, playing. Did I mention that she was talented too? One of the girls – Susan – one of the biggest bullies in the school – was saying something and I just caught the end of it. “What should I call you then… negress?” she was saying. I looked over at Annette and caught a look on her face. She was stricken, I could see that. But she held herself together with a dignity. She was the tallest person in the room. Everything was so quiet.

I wish I could say that I stood up to Susan. I wish I had known what to say. I didn’t understand what was going on. I had never seen racism in action before. I didn’t even understand bullying. Now, I realize that for Annette, this was probably not a new experience. But for me it was. I’ve seen it since, but that was the first time. And it still stuns me.

Everyone holds the seeds of their own destruction within them so I don’t wish for revenge on Susan. I’m sure she’s gotten hers many times in her life. I would like to be a fly on the wall to see it just once though. Just to see her pay for that look she put on my friend’s face. That moment, although I didn’t know it, opened the door for me. And I walked through and never looked back.

And you need to understand that I think President Obama is possibly the smartest, classiest, most caring and best President we’ve had in decades. And people have spoken about him with a lack of respect that I have never heard before about a United States President. And  I know he has had to stand there and take it just like my friend Annette did that day. And he has always shown the same kind of strong tall dignity.

And I will tell you that at every State of the Union address when President Obama has stood in front of Congress and spoken so eloquently.When he stands there and I see in the faces of too many Republican congressmen – in their expressions – that they are thinking how dare that black man stand where only a white man belongs –  I will do everything in my power to make sure a Republican never enters the White House again, except as a guest.

The Real Election Challenge

voting photo 1So, some blogs are harder to write than others, and this one is hard. It’s because I am handing out advice that I just don’t want to take – about something I feel incredibly strongly about – the upcoming presidential election.

You see, I feel that my candidate is the only viable choice of any smart, thinking person, and I can’t imagine anyone I know and respect making any other choice. And yet, people I respect are making the other choice. So I basically have two options here: scream at them to let them know that they are the unthinking people I sincerely feel they are, or shut up. I really really want to scream, but I am choosing to shut up.

Why? Because I am not going to change anyone’s mind and I have no right to try. Who people choose to vote for is based on a deeply-held set of values that won’t change over the course of one election, and may never change.  And as this country has gotten increasingly polarized, the differences mount and the ability to actually get someone to shift their beliefs shrink to nothing. So I’m telling you, just let it go now. In the interest of civility, good manners, friendship and peace in our time, let it go.

Who am I voting for? Who do I feel so strongly for? Actually, I’m not going to tell you. We have a secret ballot for a reason. We live under this truly amazing system where we actually have the opportunity to undergo a quiet, private revolution every four years without a shot being fired. (Well, we hope without any shots being fired…) We can literally start over with a new bunch of people if we don’t like the old bunch.

I have a theory that our founding fathers were so tired of the fighting at the end of the revolutionary war that they decided to create a government that allowed this country to begin again every four years without going to war against the current administration. Given the history of the world, that’s a pretty neat trick. And while some other countries have followed suit in their own way, we were the first.

Now, that’s something to be proud about.

And I also have to say that, no matter who you plan to vote for in November, you should be proud of the fact that this country has moved past the time where we are just choosing which white guy would lead us. Our country is changing, faster than we can completely understand. We’ve always been a melting pot, and the mix is getting spicier and more interesting every year. And yes, that’s scary. But in the long run, it’s good.

The more perspectives we have, the more ideas get added to the mix. Some of those ideas will be bad, but some will be good. And some will change the world. And every child born in this country, no matter what race or gender, should be able to grow up believing they could be president someday.

As I look at this upcoming election, I think of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Well we do, in spades. And I am looking forward to the end of the election when all of the hoopla is over for another few years. And I want my person to win desperately. But it’s a quiet desperation. Because as important as the decision is to me, keeping my friends is more important. How about you?

 

Requiem for a Handyman

When you buy a house built in 1952, it’s not just a house, it’s a hobby. And if you’re smart and lucky, you soon discover that life is so much easier if you have a good handyman on speed dial. I was very lucky: I found Ron.

I discovered Ron thanks to his wife. I first met Leslie when we worked together on a consulting project. She intimidated me on sight. Tall and slender, with Lauren Bacall looks and a matching smoky voice, she was dressed in the most professional of grey suits. As a short, chubby Italian girl I was prepared to hate her on sight.

My perceptions changed almost immediately. She was fun, self-effacing and a joy to work with. Work is so much better when there’s someone to laugh with – someone who gets it. But I didn’t really understand Leslie until I met her husband Ron. It was then I discovered the street-smart woman who was savvy enough to choose someone like Ron as a life-partner.

Ron was a scrappy little Irishman who lived in comfy clothes and a cap. Not a big man, but I would want him on my side in a fight.  From the first Ron was the ideal handyman. Totally reliable, he was there when he said he would be, he fixed what needed fixing, and his prices were always fair.

But to just say that about Ron is to seriously short-change the man. He was fearless. He worked as a stuntman and a “roughneck,” one of those men who make their living dozens of stories in the air, working without a harness or safety rope. Speaking as someone with a fear of heights who has trouble dealing with some stairs, Ron was my no-fear hero.

And maybe it was because of all the years of marriage to my smart, strong friend Leslie, but Ron respected women. I never felt the “little lady” attitude I experience so many times from men working on my home. He listened, asked the right questions, and then got to work. I could count on Ron.

My dog,  Gracie, simply loved him. I was just so much chopped liver when Ron was in the house. Whatever he was working on, he always took time to have a chat with her and give her the petting she asked for.

And whatever I asked him to do, he did, extremely well. My husband at the time thought of himself as pretty handy, but getting him to actually do the things that needed to get done was another story. Ron was my secret weapon. I’d simply give my ex a deadline, and let him know that I’d call Ron if he didn’t get it done. Most of the time I called Ron.

Over time, the projects got bigger. He built my walk-in pantry, converting a useless half-bath into my favorite room in the house. He built a stairway to our flat roof so that we had an instant rooftop deck for parties and watching the sunset. Whatever I needed, whatever I asked, Ron would come with his tape measure and notepad, take a trip to Home Depot and get it done.

My mother, who is shy and not particularly social, adored Ron. He became her handyman too, and I was comfortable knowing she was comfortable asking him to tackle anything.Which he did.

And when I was in the middle of a difficult divorce, he was there when I needed him. Oh, he never pushed me to talk about my difficulties. He just did what he could to help fix them. I called Ron when I needed all the locks in my house changed immediately – not an unusual thing when going through a rough divorce – and he came and took care of it that afternoon. And all the while there was a gentle, quiet sympathy that was comforting without being patronizing. Ron wasn’t fancy. He was never fancy. But he was a gentleman through and through, and his gallant nature and intrinsic kindness made him every woman’s dream of a handyman.

Now I don’t want you to think that I underestimated him. I know he was a good husband to Leslie and a loving dad and granddad. And their home was so much nicer because of his design and planning skills as he turned it into everything Leslie wanted. He was not a perfect man – who is? But he combined a tough exterior with a gentle and even courtly interior that made me feel safe around him. He was a good man.

I will be moving again in the next year. I’m looking at homes that are some 30-40 years old. Homes that need work. And throughout my planning, I always knew I had Ron to help out. From picking up and assembling cabinets from Ikea to tile work and replacing light fixtures, Ron was part of my plans for making that new home my own. But that’s not going to happen now. My always-reliable handyman is gone.

I’ll be going to their house this afternoon for his memorial service. Casual, as the man was. Leslie is my good friend, and I want to be there for whatever I can do. She’s lost so much so quickly.  And there will be tears, as we are all heartbroken to lose Ron. And it will be a particularly hard afternoon. Because the man who could fix anything couldn’t fix this. I’ll miss him.

 

 

I Went and Took My Momma and Me on a Midwest Adventure

casino photo

It all started with the change, you see. I collect up my loose change when it gets too heavy in my purse and put it in old mayonnaise jars with the labels washed off, because you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.

So I did what any smart girl does with two jars of change that are too full to put more change in. No, I did not wash the label off another jar of mayonnaise. I called my bank. They have to be worth something with all that money over there.

I asked the nice young man who answered the phone whether they had a use for all of my mayo-free coins. He gave me two choices. Take them to the CoinStar machine at the grocery which would eat my coins and spit out paper money for a 10 percent cut or go to the casino down the street which had a machine that would eat my coins and spit out paper money without taking a cut.

Of course the casino wouldn’t take a cut. They had hopes that I would leave much more than the grocery’s 10 percent with them in that walk between the cashier and the front door.

Now, I may be from the Midwest, but I am not naive. I have been to Las Vegas and I have lost more than one nickel in the nickel slot machines they have there. I have even seen a show or two. So I went to the source for all the information in the world and looked up the local casino and as if it were a sign, last night was Prime Rib night at the casino buffet. And my momma loves prime rib with an unholy love. So I wandered back to where she was in her bedroom watching “Ancient Aliens” on television.

“Momma,” I said in that charming Midwestern way I have. “I have two mayonnaise jars full of change to turn into cold hard cash and the casino is serving prime rib. What say we put on our town clothes and check out the devil’s own playground tonight?”

Well, I had said the magic words, “prime rib,” and “my treat,” and some 15 minutes later we were headed out the door.

Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen. If you’re thinking an Arizona casino closely resembles those items you visit in Nevada, give yourself another think. Yes, there are plenty of flashing lights once you walk inside, and the slot machines measure up. (There were even some based on the “Ellen” show but I thought they were probably sucker bets and walked on by.) But the crowd… the crowd is… different.

When we pulled up to valet park (I do things up the right way when I take my momma out for prime rib) the man coming out of the car ahead of us was straight out of an Iowa moment. He was a tall man, wearing jeans that had never met a designer and a plaid shirt, ditto. He had a behind on him that had spent its share of time on the seat of a John Deere and was wearing one of those duck-billed hats that you get for free at a feed store. I wondered if he would feel out of place at the casino till I took a look around. No, he would be right at home. I was at a corn husker’s convention.

I had taken a turn off on my way to McDowell Mountain and landed back in middle Ohio. The entire Midwest had been hiding less than five miles from my Arizona backyard. Nary a sequin in sight. No extra-skinny girls in extra-high heels giggling and looking hopefully for some guy to buy them a drink and maybe flick an extra $5 chip in their general direction here. No scantily-clad cocktail waitresses with big hair serving drinks on a tray. Instead a lot of men wearing extra-large Sansibelt slacks – the kind that have a waistband that can expand a whole extra two inches – and ladies with behinds that require your full attention in pure self-defense as they move around the room.

And I realized what I was seeing. I watched lovely Native Americans smile as they helped these comfortably chubby, comfortably well-off white Midwesterners spend their money on flashing lights and mirrors. I watched their over-large behinds get even larger at the all-you-can-eat $10.99 Tuesday prime-rib buffet. They poured free coffee and ice tea all through the casino, all the while watching as their guests poured their money away.

It was the perfect payback. Settlers, farmers and ranchers, had come decades ago. Traded with the Indians for their land, buffalo pelts, resources and a way of life and in return gave them beads, smoke and mirrors. And they accepted the trades. They were cheated over and over, lost their lands, cut back to smaller and smaller parcels. But they watched. And they learned.

And now, on the small amounts of reservation land they now hold. The Native Americans are winning it back. And from all over the country, from the land that they used to own, people are coming to give them their money back. One quarter, one dollar, one hundred dollars at a time. The sons and daughters of the people who wrested the lands away from the Indians with empty promises and useless trinkets are losing it. Sitting their oversized well-padded seats on oversized well-padded seats at slot machines, bingo parlors, and card tables. Smoke and mirrors. Beads and trinkets.

And as for my momma and me? We had us a nice prime rib dinner and went home.

Stormy Weather

az stormWhen I was a kid, people used to say that Eskimos had over 100 words for snow because it was so much a part of their everyday lives that they needed and used that many words for something we had only one word for. I liked that idea, probably because I like words so much.

I later – as an adult – learned that the story was apocryphal. But I did realize that we use more words for a common occurrence than we do for rare ones. Growing up in the Midwest, we had lots of words for grey wet weather: misting, drizzling, raining, cloudburst… and others I forget now.

Because now I live in Arizona. In the desert where the average rainfall is less than two inches and the average number of sunny days in a year is 360. Yes, you heard right. We have 360 days of sunshine here every year, give or take a day or so. We do get clouds on occasion, but you get the feeling that it’s only a token gesture on the part of the sky.

The local weather people have a rough time. Some few use that job as a stepping stone to other television news positions. But for those who have to present our weather day after day after day, it’s not easy.

I’ve noticed that they often develop a tic. “Today’s weather was sunny, and for tomorrow (twitch here) sunny. Later this week, we’re expecting (twitch) sun. And for next week… (twitch). It’s sad. You can imagine all of them desperately applying for jobs in other parts of the country. Areas with weather you can talk about for hours.

But this summer has been a bit different. We’ve had more than our share of storms.

In Arizona, it’s generally either sunny or stormy. We don’t seem to do those gentle in-between days I remember from Ohio. So I will stand outside on those days and watch the storm build. First the clouds, piling up like a promise, “Oh yes, we have rain here and we’re going to share.” Then the wind whips up making the trees sing with it. A few raindrops, and a few more. And then suddenly it’s storming.

As if to make up for all of the sunny days, Arizona throws its heart into its storms. Lightning, thunder, wind, dust, rain. You want it, you’ve got it. The kind of weather that makes you turn off your computer because something might happen to its innards in this weather. But that’s OK, because you have the storm to entertain you and you need nothing else. Nothing else.

Those of you who live in areas like the one I grew up in have more than your share of weather. But you’ve never had the chance to see what it’s like when a place with so much sun really lets go with stormy weather.

I like to sit on my covered porch and live in the middle of every storm when they come. Breathe in and out, in and out. Feel the desert capturing and savoring every drop. Every single drop. And like the desert I stand up and absorb the storm, take it into me to savor. Every drop.

Or sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of thunder and know there’s a storm outside, like a surprise gift. I may just lie in bed and listen. Or I may get up, open the front door, and watch. Oh, I live for storms.

Feel the air – so soft. Breathe in the scents of the desert just waiting to come alive with water. Watch the trees tremble and then flail as the wind picks up. Every living thing holds its breath and then gasps with the excitement of it.

I like to imagine all of those weather people on the local news, outside, dancing in the rain. (Like I do sometimes.)

And then it’s over. We don’t get days of stormy weather here. The world rips up and goes wild like a cowboy breaking a thoroughbred, and then it’s over. In hours, not days. Too soon. Water on the sidewalk, the street, dries up in the sun. We’re back to our dusty, sunny version of Arizona normal. But if you try, and I try, you can hang on to each storm inside your heart, in your memories, until the next one.

Anna

anna-photo1webHe couldn’t be sure but he thought maybe he was dying. His dad said, “Plenty of girls out there son.” His mom said, “Nobody ever died from a broken heart.”

But he wasn’t breathing right. He heard her name in his head every time he tried to talk. And when he tried to write things down, all that came out was Anna. Anna, Anna, Anna, Anna. He took a pen and scrawled her name on his arm. Over and over. And with every line, he felt just a little better.

The walls in his room were bare. Anna, Anna, Anna, he wrote. Across, up and down, sideways along the window ledge. It helped, but not quite enough. Pen in hand, he headed outside.

It was autumn and leaves were everywhere. He picked one up, wrote Anna, and then dropped it and picked up another, and another, and another. He moved down the street. Through the neighborhood. Toward town. Anna.

Days went by and he needed new pens. He bought a box at the drugstore, writing Anna very small on the shelf under them. Then again in the next aisle. And the next, and the next, and the next.

Small pieces of paper, scraps, receipts, empty coffee cups in the trash. Anna, Anna, Anna. For days and weeks. He bought a second box of pens. And a third.

Snow covered the town so he wrote her name in it with his finger, his hand, his foot. His boots stamped it out. Anna and then again Anna.

Soon he didn’t need the pens. He said her name in his head and it appeared. In white on store windows, on top of street signs, carved into stone on the old buildings. Anna.

And with every Anna, he felt a little, just a little, better. But it still wasn’t enough. Anna. Sometimes he added extra n’s. Annnnnna. It felt like a little cry. Annnnnnnnnnna. With spring there were new leaves. When he looked up, every one said Anna – like he had changed their genetic code.

People were talking about him. He heard them speak softly. He knew they were saying something, but all he heard was Anna, Anna, Anna, Anna. He listened harder, Anna.

She heard. People talk. To be that important to someone else felt, felt, strange. It was so weird, but… She smiled to herself.

One day, there he was. Handing out green leaves, flower petals, sticks, and stones. With her name carved on them by his fingers. She could see it. Anna, Anna. Over and over.

She walked up to him. Stopped. “I’m here Tommy,” she said softly. “It’s me.”

He looked up. “No, it’s not you, it’s me,” he replied, and kept walking. He touched another leaf. “Tommy,” it said. Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.