Daily Thoughts: April 4, 2020

Welcome to Daily Thoughts post number two.  I don’t know if it’s helping any of you, but it’s helping me, so I’m going to keep it going.

Daily Gratitude: Clifford, our five-year old yellow lab, continues to be our comfort dog. He loves us unconditionally and comes and cuddles when he sees we’re sad. He did this during our kitchen renovation, our evacuation during the wildfires and now, again, as we stay at home. Of course, he’s no doubt loving the extra person in the house, the fact that we never leave him and all the extra walks and playtime. But he’s also putting up with us when we get bored and do things like this…

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Today’s Tune: Younger daughter told us she was watching the Hulu series “High Fidelity” and come to find out, she had no clue it was based on both an excellent movie with John Cusack and before that, an excellent book by Nick Hornby. So today’s tune, book and entertainment suggestions are all related.  The closing song of this movie is a great Stevie Wonder tune that will make you remember just how good Stevie Wonder could be (and will hopefully make you forget some of the lesser stuff he pumped out in the 80s like “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – ugh.). This one is a keeper.

 

Today’s Book: So, yeah, today’s book is High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. And then, if you like that, do yourself a favor and read some of Nick’s other excellent books like About a Boy and Juliet, Naked. Movie version of the latter two not quite as good as the first, though.

Today’s Watch: This movie. This movie. I have seen it maybe ten times, and I’d watch it ten more.  Yes, John Cusack and Joan Cusack do a ton of movies together, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, Jack Black plays the same character in every movie. But in this movie you’re gonna love that character. Also Tim Robbins…I can’t even. For anyone who has ever made a mix tape…just watch it. Let me know what you think (unless you don’t like it and then I don’t want to hear it).

Today’s Quote: It may be one that I just stumbled upon and not one that I’ve had in my back pocket all along, but I think this fits the times we’re living in to a tee. Let’s just not make the same mistake in November, folks, ok?

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Daily Thoughts: April 3, 2020

One thing is for certain during this global crisis and our shelter-in-place orders: we have all been given the gift of time – even if this is not how we’d prefer to spend it!

Most of my extra time is on the weekends when I’d normally be going out to dinner with friends, seeing family, attending concerts and sporting events, and running errands. I’m fortunate that my weekday routines haven’t changed much: I’ve been working from home for 20+ years and can still take daily walks with the dog, so the primary change – beyond missing my Pilates studio classes and interactions – is really the mental part of all this, the knowledge that I CAN’T do whatever I want.

So, I’ve decided to jot down some thoughts and recommendations each day, both to chronicle and help pass the time, and maybe provide some outlet for fun and enjoyment during the long days we’re all spending at home. Each day, I’ll post a “gratitude” – something I’m thankful for, a song I love and am listening to, a poem or quote, some recommendations for books and movies/shows to watch, etc… Maybe some cute puppy pics, along the way. If you have some ideas to add, please share and let’s try to make this time a bit more enjoyable.

Daily Gratitude: It’s no longer March! I’m thankful we’ve turned the page on the calendar. I could swear that March had more than 31 days this year…

Today’s tune: In honor of the recently-departed Bill Withers…it’s physically impossible to hear this song and feel sad.

 

Today’s poem:  The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats. I mean it’s good enough for Joan Didion, so it’s good enough for me.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

Today’s Book: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – it’s captivating and beautifully written and lets you disappear into a multitude of interconnected characters’ lives. This NPR review will tell you more. I highly recommend it.

Today’s Binge-watch: Season 3 of Ozark is amazing. And, of course, if you haven’t already watched Seasons 1 and 2, do that STAT! Season 3 has the twists and turns of previous seasons, and all of the excellent writing and acting that this show has displayed from the start. And if you think staying home is boring, you can live vicariously through Marty Byrd and family since their situation is never boring.

Writing, I’ve Missed You

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I know that I abandoned you for a time.

I’m not sure why. I could use the usual excuses. I was busy with work. I was busy with family. I was busy with household chores. Someone once told me those were good excuses, but excuses nevertheless.

It’s funny to look back now and realize that one of my most productive periods with you was during the busiest time of my life. How did I find the time? If you want something done, they say, ask a busy person.

Now, it seems I have time to spare, time that drags on, hours and days and weeks, counting the time until I can be busy and fill my calendar again. So I’ve returned to you. Because you’ve always been there in good times and bad, in difficult moments, and in cherished ones, to bring me solace, to help me understand, to express what I cannot otherwise articulate.

When I was a child, I found my voice through you. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I needed you as much as I needed food and water. Uprooted and moved from Birmingham to Dallas to Kansas City to Atlanta to San Rafael, back to Birmingham, to La Jolla to Houston, to Palos Verdes and back to San Diego (and I have lost track even now of some of the stops), I found solace in my Dear Diary, my steadfast companion. I wanted normalcy and stability and you heard me, loud and clear, in words I screamed out to the pages within.

While separated by some of these moves, my best friend and I kept our friendship intact by creating magazines for each other. I looked forward to receiving hers in the mail, and even more so, to writing and creating one for her. They extended a necessary lifeline in a chaotic storm.

Through junior high heartbreaks and mean girls and friendships and crushes, I confided in you.  Teachers along the way encouraged and praised, so I began to write stories, but just for me. In high school, I joined the newspaper and for the first time tested the experience of writing for my peers’ eyes to read. It was the most frightening chasm to cross – allowing others to view my words, letting them stand bare on a page for all to judge and critique, but, perhaps, also to enjoy and empathize. Either way, I couldn’t quit you. To write was as natural as breathing by then.

Though there were essays upon essays about English literature in college, I still found time for you, logging pages about the highs and lows, the adventures, the sadness, the heady moments of joy. I still wrote stories, though for no one’s eyes but my own.

Then, a long period of time went by without you. I don’t know how it happened. I married. I had children. I had a thriving business. I was happy. You seemed unnecessary or at least, for a time, unimportant. Days were filled with children’s laughter and crying, work deadlines, and so many activities, and most nights consisted of falling into bed, exhausted, barely able to read a few pages in a book, much less put my own words onto a page.

And then I suddenly needed you – desperately – but I didn’t know it.

Traveling often for work, I suddenly became terrified of flying. Anxiety rocked me weeks before a trip. Terror filled me the night before, so I could not sleep. I would sit on a flight, head leaning against the window on take-off, hiding my face so no one could see my discomfort and tears. Even while on land or in a car, the sight of a plane overhead could elicit panic. It was exhausting and painful both physically and mentally and I didn’t know what to do. The lack of control over my phobia – especially for an admitted control freak – was overwhelming at times.

A family member convinced me to see a hypnotherapist. I was skeptical, of course. But I went. It was entirely different from what I’d expected. The first half hour was an ordinary therapy discussion, followed by a half hour of actual hypnosis. During the first half hour, the therapist asked about my life, my job, and more importantly this:

What have you not done in your life that you’ve always wanted to do?

I had to think long and hard. I acknowledged that I’d always thought I’d be a writer. And that I’d write novels. And clearly, I hadn’t done that.

Why haven’t you done that? 

I don’t know.

Are you writing now? 

No, not really. (Truth was, not at all, except for work)

And why not? 

Because, I explained, I have two young kids, and I’m juggling my family with my business, and my kids’ activities, and I write for work and that takes so much out of me, and oh, I teach aerobics three times a week on top of that, and I just can’t fit anything else into my schedule.

Those are all good excuses. But excuses nevertheless.

After he allowed me to ponder this, he told me that when he put me under hypnosis, he wanted to give me a suggestion to begin writing again. To come back to you. I didn’t understand, but I said that was fine. I didn’t believe him. Even after he successfully hypnotized me, even after I came out of his office feeling as though I’d had the best sleep of my life, I didn’t understand how this could have anything to do with overcoming my fear of flying.

I never went back to hypnotherapy, but over the next three months, something startling happened. I returned to you. I signed up for creative writing extension classes at my alma mater. I wrote short stories – one of which was published. I wrote a novel (still unpublished, but completed, nevertheless). I journaled. I blogged. And something even more amazing happened over the next year – my fear of flying dissipated.

It may be dramatic to say that, at times, you saved my life, but you’ve certainly helped in times of crisis, in times of despair and confusion. And so, I have returned to you.

The words may not be perfect. They may be awkwardly strung together and not form the most cohesive and beautiful sentences. But they are here on the page. Those writing muscles are rusty and soft and altogether underutilized, but they are still here.

Thank you for coming back to me now, in this scary and anxious time, when it’s so hard to make sense of what’s happening in this world. Thank you for, once again, being my companion in fear, anger, sadness, joy, and belief. It’s true, I abandoned you. Yet you have never once abandoned me.

 

It’s Not Just Politics 2: Good People Don’t Continue to Support Bad People

UnknownIn 2016, right after the presidential election, I wrote a blog called “It’s not just politics”. I was dumbfounded, shocked, and utterly despondent that our country could elect such a terrible human being to the highest office of our land. I heard people who either voted for Trump, didn’t vote at all, or who casted a protest vote for a third party nominee they knew couldn’t win, saying “just give him a chance” and “he can’t be that bad” and “I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Hillary”. I wanted to try. I wanted to believe he couldn’t be that bad. Really, I did.

Three years later, it’s crystal clear that they were all wrong. Trump is ten times worse than I could have ever imagined. And our country – and real people the world over – are suffering as a result. We’ve rarely had a single hour – much less a single day – without an assault of “what did he do?” or “what did he tweet?” or “oh no, how could he say that?”. It has been a constant barrage of awful – and I’m utterly exhausted from it. And I know I’m not alone.

Now, on the brink of another election that may not even be valid because of the Republican leadership’s refusal to put in place any safeguards against interference (which we know for a fact happened last time), an election that is likely to be full of anger and protests because our country is more divided than ever, I want to ask those same people who either voted for him – or couldn’t bring themselves to vote for – GASP – a Democrat, exactly how bad does it have to get before you stand up for your country, our democracy and most of all, DECENCY?

One argument I hear is “yeah, he’s an idiot, but I like his policies”. Never mind that you’re on board with allowing a terrible and wholly unqualified human being to hold the highest office in our land – one who cheats, lies, lines his own pockets with taxpayer money, refuses to show his tax returns, and demonstrates racism, misogyny and constant signs of utter dim-wittedness on a myriad of issues – I can’t get past that, of course – but let’s talk about those policies you like so much (and do check my hyperlinks for factual back-up of all of these points, in case you’re inclined to do as Trump does and question the legitimacy of a free press in a Democratic society).

Do you like his idea that he can order American businesses to do what he says? You used to call that “socialism” (though most of you don’t even know what socialism actually means nor have you ever lived in a country that practices it) and you railed against it constantly when Obama was president. But I guess you’ve decided you like it now?

Are you a fan of the tariffs and trade wars he has initiated that are causing rising prices and damaging our economy? Funny, I thought you conservatives would never want to do anything to harm farmers, businesses, the American consumer and the precious economy, but I guess you’ve changed your mind.

Perhaps you fiscal conservatives are fond of the record deficit that this White House occupant has driven up during his past three years in office? You complained continually that we had no money to pay for education, infrastructure, healthcare and other priorities that might help America lead in the 21stcentury because you said they would cost too much. But the tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% were cool and so is funding all those Mar-a-Lago and Trump resort trips and don’t forget that border wall that Mexico was going to pay for! $1.067 trillion in debt – the highest the debt has been since 2012, in the aftermath of the financial crisis? I guess you must have changed your mind on those fiscal policies you claimed to favor.

I’m guessing you must be a big fan of the idea to hold secret meetings with the Taliban – a terrorist organization that harbored and helped the people responsible for 9/11 – on U.S. soil?And the timing – just before 9/11- was impeccable, right? Remember when some of you called Obama a Muslim and thought he was in bed with the radical extremists? Even finally doing what the Bush administration couldn’t and killing Bin Laden wasn’t enough to convince you that Obama had America’s best interests at heart, but I guess Trump convinced you that he did when he ignored the pleading of his third and now departed National Security Adviser, his Vice President and I’m guessing nearly everyone else who tries their best to advise the unadvisable, and invited the Taliban to a little get-together on American soil…then tweeted out his cancellation of the meeting. Maybe you ought to start reading something into the fact that this administration has had a record number of job-holders vacate their positions just three years in? Maybe you should also take a look at how many of these folks related to the Trump campaign and administration have been indicted – by Robert Mueller…a Republican. Perhaps you should also remember that the only reason Trump wasn’t? Because Mueller and his team came to the conclusion that a sitting president cannot be indicted. They never said he wasn’t guilty.

I guess like most conservatives (and – you’d be surprised – a lot of liberals), you think that we need to reform immigration policy. But I guess if you like Trump’s policies, you’re in favor of separating young children from their parents, putting them in terrible conditions that will undoubtedly affect them not just physically, but mentally, for years to come – something other countries have clearly called out as a human rights violation – and doing so indefinitely. Yeah, big fan of cruel and unusual punishment to helpless children, myself…

Perhaps you like the shifting of $3.6 billion in military construction initiatives towards building that border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for? Oh, I know, you’d be out in the fields picking strawberries, doing your own damn gardening and sending your housekeeper on her way if it wasn’t for all those Mexicans taking those jobs you so want for yourself. But do you really believe building a wall that requires taking away land from private citizens and will only be possible if we take funding from the military that conservatives profess to love so very much is a good policy? I guess you aren’t convinced that this is a supremely bad idea – not even after the U.S. Air Force report that shows that diverting funding from the 51 targeted projects will actually pose national security risks? I guess not.

Maybe your favorite policy is the introduction of that rule that says those serving in our military – serving our country and living on military bases abroad –  now cannot guarantee U.S. citizenship for any children born to them abroad? Because you’re a patriot and you stand behind our military, don’t you? So you’re certainly on board with taking away their rights as citizens of the U.S. when they’re – you know – serving the U.S. interests abroad.

Maybe you’re just a big NRA fan and not part of the 90% of Americans who are tired of watching mass shooting after mass shooting take innocent lives and want better background checks and gun controlI can certainly understand that you like the Trump policy of doing whatever the NRA tells him to do. And you probably forgot that even under your conservative hero, Ronald Reagan, we enacted gun legislation that worked.

Speaking of Reagan, who must be rolling in his grave at this point, you must have forgotten that he was actually quite an environmentalist because it seems you’re in favor of all those Trump roll-backs of anything Obama’s EPA did to ensure our water and air stays clean, that polluters are punished, and that we try to move into the 21stcentury by using things like energy-efficient lightbulbs. Well, but he has such a good argument, that you’re surely in favor of, right? The lightbulbs “make him” orange, after all, and well, if Obama did it, it must be bad. I guess you think policies should be based on good reasons like this and we should enact them via tweets.

Do tell which of these policies exactly allow you to continue to put blinders on when faced with the despicable behavior of a man that – if you’re honest – you would NEVER associate with in your everyday life. Had your sister met this guy in high school, you would have, as Joe Biden says, taken him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him. If your brother was friends with this guy, you would have gone right to your parents to let them know that you were worried about the crowd your sibling was hanging around. If your parents said they were thinking about going into business with this guy – a guy that has bankrupted nearly all of his endeavors – you’d tell them they were crazy and to stay away from the con man. The guy has been married three times, dumping his previous wives for the one that came after, he has paid off porn stars, and there is video evidence of him saying horrifyingly sexist and misogynistic things. He has called Nazis “fine people” while refusing to call out white supremacy. He has told more than 12,000 lies or misleading claims since taking office. But I get it. Those policies you love are worth having this guy lead and represent our country and be a role model to young children across the country. After all, you’re for family values and boy does Trump model them like no other, right? The saddest thing – I’m how many pages in? And I have barely scratched the surface of the awful things Trump has done in just three years.

Let’s be honest: both the man and the policies stink and you’re afraid to put aside your partisan views and vote for your country, its democracy and ideals first. Stop telling us the lies about loving his policies. You didn’t love them before. You don’t love them now. You only love the idea of blind loyalty to a party and hatred for the one that opposes it.

I’m a life-long Democrat and liberal (though I have voted for a Republican before because, when faced with a bad person, I vote for the good one). I didn’t vote for Nixon, Bush the first, Reagan, or Bush the second. But I lived through them. And I’m no worse off today because of any of them. And while I vehemently disagreed with many of their policies, I never for a second doubted that they loved their country and had its best interests at heart. You know that’s the same for you with Carter, Clinton and Obama whether you voted for them or not, whether you liked or hated them, whether you want to admit it or stubbornly refuse to do so.

I don’t know how much worse it has to get before good people (or what I thought were good people) decide that a very bad man should not be allowed to sit in the highest office of our land and represent our country on the world stage. I don’t know how much worse it has to get before these good people recognize that no policy is worth allowing a liar and a cheat who demeans people constantly, to get richer and more powerful at our expense. I don’t know how much worse it has to get before these same people admit that they were wrong, that they’re just clinging to a party-first mindset and ignoring the fact that none of these policies are actually things they want or agree with. And I don’t know how long before they will see that by accepting this man, these policies, they are allowing our country to lose its way, allowing our democracy to be threatened, and our place in the world to be diminished, and that these things pose real danger for real people everywhere. I don’t know how long before good people realize that history will look back on them some day with shock and horror that they allowed a criminal to sit in the White House and spread corruption across our Nation.

Good people make mistakes. But if they are truly good people, they are big enough to admit them and do all they can to correct them. If you’re one of these people, and faced with all that we’ve seen in the past three years, still can’t bring yourself to vote for anyone who runs against this corruption and criminality, then I have to say, I just don’t know how long I can call you “good people” anymore.

 

An Ode to 2017

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Remember at the end of 2016, when the combination of Trump’s election and a seemingly unending series of celebrity deaths had us declaring that 2016 was “the worst” and we couldn’t wait for it to be over?

Then 2017 came along and said “hold my beer”.

It has been a historically difficult time for America. And around February, it seemed like our family’s personal journey might mirror the difficulties facing the country. But when I look back on 2017 now, I see that there were many wonderful moments to embrace and be thankful for and lots of great memories to cherish. Since one of my resolutions for 2018 is to start focusing on the positives, I took a look back at some of the wonderful things that took place in 2017 and realized that there were plenty of moments to appreciate and that, if anything, the tide has turned as we approach 2018 and hope (and change) is close by.

  • 2017 started with the Women’s March and we flocked to downtown L.A. with friends and strangers, alike, to show that we wouldn’t be silent and wouldn’t give up. It was an inspiring beginning to this challenging political year. On January 20, 2018, we will do it all over again.
  • We had visits from our family in Nor Cal and San Diego, Birmingham, Alabama, and even some of the Hultin clan from Sweden. I loved time spent with a college friend visiting all the way from South Africa, work friends during trips to San Jose, CA and Nashville, TN, reconnecting with a friend just “down the road” in Pasadena, and attending book signings for two great friends and authors – one local and one from Vancouver – to feed my literary longings.
  • We enjoyed celebrating one niece’s wedding and with the engagement of her sister, have yet another happy occasion to look forward to in 2018.
  • One daughter completed her first year on the job, while the other completed her freshman year of college. They are both healthy, happy and generally thriving and as a parent, you can’t ask for much more (although, I know I do – READ A BOOK, GIRLS!).
  • Per and I celebrated our – GULP – 31st wedding anniversary. The time flies. Clearly, I was a child bride, because I cannot be old enough to have been married this long, right? We are fortunate that we still love hanging out together, still laugh together and of course, I credit myself with taking our relationship to the next level by finally deciding a few years ago to become a crazed hockey fan.
  • In 2017, I was fortunate enough to watch the UCLA Bruins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Kings in action, see U2, Lady Gaga and the late, great, Tom Petty, live, at some of my favorite venues (Rose Bowl, Forum, Hollywood Bowl, respectively), experience some new L.A. restaurants (Yamashiro, Alta Kitchen) and some old favorites (Saddle Peak Lodge, Otium), watch outdoor movies on the rooftops of Los Angeles and even in a famous Hollywood Cemetery, tour the Norton-Simon, Japanese American and Broad Museums (the latter including the fabulous and freaky Infinity Mirrors) as well as the Museum of Ice Cream, attend a free concert in beautiful DTLA’s Pershing Square and drink coffee at Grand Central Market (G&B is a MUST try if you like coffee).
  • I read a lot of great books. Among my favorites: Bear Town by Fredrik Backman; Gangster Nation by Tod Goldberg; Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang,; Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty; Moonglow by Michael Chabon. Also, sorry to say that I actually liked the movie version of Hidden Figures much better than the book (which almost never happens!).
  • Most every day of 2017, I got to walk by the beautiful lake and neighborhoods of Westlake Village. Most times, I was accompanied by the sweetest yellow lab on the planet.
  • A Dem won an election in Alabama for the first time in 25 years and he defeated a crazy pedophile. If that sounds like something that shouldn’t be remarkable or shouldn’t need to be celebrated, you’re right, but we’re living in a new age, so celebrate we will (‘cause life is short, but sweet for certain). Other year-end election results looked promising and Mueller is still employed, so I remain hopeful and optimistic as the new year dawns.

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I hope this day finds you all looking back on some cherished memories and good times. Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2018 bring you all health, happiness and joy!

 

 

 

Empowering Women: Four Steps We Can All Take

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Even if you’re not a self-proclaimed feminist, it’s pretty difficult these days not to notice there’s a new and rejuvenated focus on empowering women and ensuring they have a voice in our society. From the Women’s March that protested the election of a man who admitted to grabbing women by their private parts, to the heartbreaking rise of #MeToo that began an avalanche of allegations against powerful men who have abused their positions to sexually harass and assault women, attention has turned to what we as a society – and individually – should do to better empower those who form nearly half of the world’s – and more than half of our country’s – population.

While I’m actively rooting for anyone who even acknowledges there’s a problem, I’ve seen far too many giving lip service to the issues and not presenting real solutions – and not just men. Women are sometimes their own greatest enemy (I’m speaking directly to you, Roy Moore supporters) and often, without realizing what they’re doing.

I recently sat through a sales pitch for a multi-level marketing company that is aimed almost exclusively at women (though they talk about expanding both their product reach and employee makeup to encompass men). It’s no secret that these companies make their bread and butter more from recruiting salespeople to join their ranks than the actual products they sell, and that they have become very popular amongst women with young children looking for a way to have a business and earn money without sacrificing full-time, stay-at-home motherhood.

This particular sales pitch leaned heavily on the idea that this sort of home-based business empowers women to “have it all”. The products sold by the organization are also primarily geared towards women: makeup, skin care including the all-important anti-aging line, and of course for “internal beauty”, a wide variety of diet and nutritional products. The entire organization and its products were pitched, in a nutshell, as another form of female empowerment.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who is trying to have a home-based business and I’m not against the idea of beauty and nutrition and taking care of oneself. Most of us want to feel good and look attractive. But I do have a few issues with this organization’s philosophy and product portfolio being sold to me as female empowerment.  This leads me to some steps I think we could all agree to take that could actually give women the power they seek and so richly deserve in our society.

 

  • Work on male-female equality in the workplace AND in the home. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for women-owned businesses and enabling the flexibility to work from home and take care of your children. My career choices changed dramatically when my older daughter was born and I started my own PR and marketing consulting practice, working from home, because I couldn’t bear the two hours of commute time and 10+ hours per day my corporate job demanded. But what we really need are corporations to step up and make it easier for women to climb the ladder: equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare and flexible working hours. Studies show that children – both girls and boys – benefit from having a positive, working mother role model in the household, so policies that allow women to work benefit everyone.

 

But perhaps, most importantly, let’s make it easy – and socially acceptable – for men to have the same workplace flexibility so they can share in the household and parenting responsibilities. My husband was an odd-man-out when he took paternity leave to stay home with our older daughter for a month in the early 1990s. For him, it was an expected step, having been born and raised in Sweden where both working parents are given generous leave to care for their newborns. Here in the U.S., while we’ve made some progress, I know far too many women who shoulder the entire burden of childcare, parenting and household activities – whether they are working full-time or not. We must make it easier – and more acceptable – for men and women to share these duties. I don’t know about you, but I never want to hear another man say that he is “babysitting” his own child. That’s not babysitting. It’s your job as a parent.

 

  • Stop talking about “anti-aging”. No one enjoys the process of growing old. From creaking joints to sagging skin to a forgetful mind, none of us enjoy watching these things happen to those we love or ourselves. But we can’t be anti-aging unless we want to be anti-life. Aging is part of life. We are all aging – every day – and there is absolutely no known scientific way to stop that. If you’re not aging, you’re dead. So why are products that cater to “anti-aging’ so popular in our society?  I’m not immune to vanity – I complain about the wrinkles that have sprouted on my face and certainly, I’m in daily denial about what my body can and can’t do any more – but I am becoming increasingly irritated with all of the focus on stopping a process that can’t possibly be contained. Sure, we all want to feel and look as good as we possibly can as we age, but by constantly focusing on the aspects of aging we don’t like as women, we’re missing out on the opportunity to embrace the positive aspects of aging. Gaining wisdom, having adult relationships with our children, or just being able to say “I don’t give a rat’s ass about that” because we’ve earned the right to – these are all aspects of aging that we should revel in. And the constant focus on anti-aging as it relates to beauty is probably the least empowering thing we can do as women for each other as it puts the focus squarely on our appearance and diminishes the value of our minds and our accomplishments.

 

  • Compliment your daughters – and the other women in your life – on more than just their appearance. “What a pretty, little girl!” “You’re so beautiful!” “You look so thin!” I’m not saying that these kinds of compliments are never appropriate. But the amount of times we comment on young girls’ appearances dwarfs the number of times we tell them how smart, capable and independent they are. Boys, on the other hand, are rarely complimented on their looks, but more for their athletic prowess, their accomplishments in the classroom and their ability to complete tasks on their own. Perhaps the worst of these three statements above is the “you look so thin!” remark. Take it from someone who battled disordered eating early on in life – women become so used to the societal emphasis on “thin is beautiful” that they begin to crave those kinds of remarks to the point of self-destruction. Emphasize “healthy” and “fit” all you want, but an overemphasis on being thin does the exact opposite of empowerment.

 

  • Quit putting yourself down. If you’re like me, this may be one of the most difficult steps to take. It’s not humble or self-deprecating to constantly look in the mirror and put yourself down. As women, we are sometimes taught early on to not be vain, to brush aside compliments and praise, to be grateful, humble and “nice”. And combine this with the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, where every picture can be altered, filtered and airbrushed, and that “anti-aging” message we hear over and over in advertisements, in magazines, in TV and movies, and amongst our own friends, and you can see why young girls grow up to be women who are constantly analyzing their every fault in the mirror. But if you look in the mirror when your daughters are standing beside you and complain about your newly-formed eye wrinkles, or stand sideways and grab at a slightly-protruding belly and call yourself “fat”, remember that your daughters are watching you and modeling your behavior. And let’s not forget the boys: what message does it send to young boys if they continually hear their mother complaining about her own appearance? That appearance matters above all else and the women in his life need to conform to some unachievable beauty standards?

If current events are any indication, we have a long way to go as a society when it comes to female empowerment. And while the recent spotlight has been squarely on men and their attitudes and behaviors – and rightly so – women also need to take a long look at their own, often unwitting, complicity (Side note: is it any wonder that both “feminism” and “complicit” are Merriam-Webster words of the year?).

We’ve got a long way to go, baby.

You Don’t Know How it Feels…Or Maybe You Do.

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I had last seen Tom Petty in 1981. I wasn’t about to miss what was billed as his 40th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers and what he, himself, said might be his last tour. And turns out, sadly, he was right about that “last” bit.

Well, it was nearly Summer as we sat on your roof
Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon
And I showed you stars you never could see
It couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me

It seemed an eternity between the time I bought the tickets – as soon as they went on sale – and the night we finally walked up the familiar path to the Hollywood Bowl. Side note: you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced the magic of the Bowl in the waning days of summer. Or in Los Angeles, well into September, during what other parts of the country might call Indian summer. Magic lives at the Bowl, the way it lived in Tom Petty’s lyrics.

My husband and I went to the concert with my niece and her fiancé. Turns out Tom Petty appealed to generations much younger than ours – something I’d never really realized. Our own daughters were certainly exposed to his music because we played it, and while there are many artists for whom we share a passion, I never suspected Tom was one of them until my older daughter complained that we didn’t buy her tickets, too. I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised that songs full of yearning, love and loss like Tom’s could cross that generational divide.

Oh, baby don’t it feel like heaven right now
Don’t it feel like something from a dream
Yeah I’ve never known nothing quite like this
Don’t it feel like tonight might never be again

After food and wine, we sat on the wooden benches of the Bowl, snuggled in close because, the couple next to me had revealed, we had “one extra” – someone who didn’t have a ticket in that row and section, but had squeezed in between us. He was a young guy, at the show by himself, and somehow, rather than calling security over to have him removed, we just decided to make it work. He was enjoying some very fragrant weed during most of the concert and asked me more than once if the smoke was bothering me. No, I told him. It was just fine.

 So let’s get to the point
Let’s roll another joint
Let’s head on down the road
There’s somewhere I gotta go

Tom told the audience that they’d just “throw a bunch of records out” and play what they wanted to.  And they did. With joy. There was the crowd-pleasing sing-a-long of “Free Fallin’”, the soaring “Learning to Fly”, and classic encore of “American Girl”, but there were also lesser known tunes like “Forgotten Man”, “Crawling Back to You” and “It’s Good to be King”.  Truth be told, I had hoped for a bit more “Damn the Torpedoes” and never really imagined I wouldn’t have another shot at hearing those songs live.

And for one desperate moment there
He crept back in her memory
God it’s so painful
Something that’s so close
Is still so far out of reach

My niece nudged me towards the merchandise on the way out of the Bowl because the lines were short and I was not opposed to adding a shirt to my collection, wishing I’d bought one the first time around in 1981. Yeah, guys were selling them for just $10 all the way down Highland Avenue, right next to the street dogs and the scent of peppers and onions in the air, as we walked back to our cars, but paying for the official merchandise seemed like the right way to go at the time and doesn’t seem like a bad choice now either.

That night, my husband and I drove down the 101, past Reseda and all those vampires walking through the valley. I was playing some of Tom’s songs, of course. Mostly the ones I didn’t get to hear live that night. My favorite of Tom’s songs, “Straight Into Darkness”, came on.

I don’t believe the good times are over
I don’t believe the thrill is all gone
Real love is a man’s salvation
The weak ones fall, the strong carry on

As his songs played, I recalled the many times I’d heard them in the past, and the people and places that were forever linked to them. I was overcome with sadness. Tears streamed down my face and I felt at once, foolish and distraught. Why was I crying? What was so overwhelmingly sad?

It could have been that I drank a little too much wine. Or inhaled a few too many times as my bench neighbor at the Bowl exhaled.  It could have been a nostalgia for times past, for times when Tom Petty’s voice played in the background of my youth – ever-present through first loves, first heartaches, first jobs, first moves.

After all, his voice had accompanied me through my first love in high school:
But then something I saw in your eyes
Told me right away
That you were gonna have to be mine

He had been my companion for a period through heartache in college:
Even the losers
Get lucky sometimes.
Even the losers
Have a little bit of pride
Yeah, they get lucky some times

When my husband and I found ourselves far away from our beloved California and tried (rather unsuccessfully) to convince ourselves that we could make a new home with our shiny new jobs in Dallas, Texas, it was Tom’s brilliant ode to Los Angeles that filled me with a homesickness I couldn’t shake (and spoiler alert – we didn’t stay in Texas):
I’m gonna glide down over Mulholland
I’m gonna write her name in the sky
I’m gonna free fall
Out into nothing
I’m gonna leave this world for awhile

His voice was a constant companion and thankfully, it still can be. I had no way of knowing that night would be my last opportunity to see Tom play. I guess none of us did. But maybe it’s why, driving home that night, realizing how much time had passed since I’d first heard “Breakdown”, I sensed the beginning of an ending, as we all do when pieces of our lives come rushing back into our heads and we long for certain moments and cling to remnants of who we were the first time we heard those notes.

Yeah and it’s over before you know it
It all goes by so fast
Yeah the bad nights take forever
And the good nights don’t ever seem to last

The day after Tom – and so many innocent people in Las Vegas – died, I wore my concert t-shirt to run errands. People everywhere I went – the grocery store, the CVS, the Starbucks – stopped me to comment on my shirt, to ask me if I’d gone to the concert, to remark on the sadness of his passing and of that day, in general. One girl told me that she’d had a chance to go to one of the last Bowl shows, but didn’t, and was now regretting her decision.

In the wake of both his passing and the horrific massacre in Las Vegas, it seemed to me the time was ripe for some communal grief and Tom had given us a soundtrack to express it. What is a great song, after all, if not a vehicle for sharing joy, sorrow, yearning, frustration – all of the things that make up the complicated lives we humans lead?

Clearly, Tom Petty knew this.

You wreck me, baby
You break me in two
But you move me, honey
Yes, you do.

It’s Not Just Politics

The past few days have been tough. Following what will likely go down as one of the most bitter elections in U.S. history, America has elected Donald Trump – a morally (and literally, six times over) bankrupt man with no experience in governing or world affairs who ran a hateful and divisive campaign.

I’ve been posting to social media. A lot. At first it was the only way I could process and make sense of the situation. And then it actually became somewhat comforting to share thoughts and feelings with all of the other people I know who are equally dismayed about the future of our country.

Many people misunderstand the sadness and anger. No, it isn’t because “my team lost”. This is not a football game. This is real life, the future of a country and its people, what electing this kind of person means not just in terms of policies he might set and enforce, but the kind of climate we live in – what is acceptable and what is not.

I’ve battled with the fight or flight syndrome. Stay and put up the best fight I can? Or move to a place like Canada or Sweden that better suits my values? I realized that while flight could be a long-term prospect (and I’m awfully thankful my daughters are dual citizens), at least I’m fortunate enough to live in a state that overwhelmingly voted against Trump and is filled with people who believe in equality for all and many other values I hold dear.

So what do writers do in these times? Write. Write to make sense of it all. Write for purposes of release and catharsis. Write to share with others and perhaps, gain understanding.

The first point I’ve had to battle with friends or acquaintances who either voted for Trump, voted third party or simply – and worse – didn’t vote at all, is that it’s just politics, it’s only four years, move on and come together. That he’s just one man.

  1. Point One: It isn’t just politics this time, folks. It’s the future our children and grandchildren and it’s the kind of country we want to live in. When you elect someone to the highest office of your land,  you’re saying that this person – and all they say, do and embody – represents your country to its children and to the rest of the world. You hold the person to a higher standard and you hold him or her accountable for his or her behavior. To elect a man who ran the most hatred-filled and divisive campaign in history, someone who demeaned and assaulted women, who threatened to ban all Muslims, who referred to immigrants as rapists and criminals, who has offended African-Americans, Jews, the disabled and LGBT people, says something about your country and who you want to lead it. It isn’t just politics. The electing of this man to our highest office is not just politics as usual. It is unprecedented.
  2. Point Two: It isn’t just four years, but let’s talk about those four years. In those four years, so much progress could be rolled back and so much damage could be done. Trump will likely appoint several Supreme Court justices. These Court appointments are for life and those justices could make decisions that affect the present – and future – of every American. If you’re a white male living in America, you may not see much at stake. But already we’re seeing the effects of electing someone who has spewed racist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric, seemingly making it “normal” and “ok” when it is anything but that. We’re seeing a rise in hate crimes, bullying and excitement among groups like the KKK, who suddenly feel their positions have been legitimized and they can operate as if they are normal – rather than unwanted and despised elements of society. I hear people claim that Trump is not responsible for that, nor are the good people who voted for him, voted third party or didn’t vote. I beg to differ. Trump spewed the rhetoric, incited the violence, called his comments about grabbing women’s genitals just “locker room talk” and because we as a country did not reject any of this, we have given the signal that all of it is ok – more than ok , he somehow deserves to hold the highest office in our land. This is beyond despicable. Yes, I’m having trouble coming to terms with the fact that not only did people in this country vote for him, but many people did not do all they could to stop him.  I have gay, immigrant and Muslim friends, and at least half of my family are Jewish and women, and you’d better believe that we are all worried and fearful of what the next four years hold. Only four years? For a white male, perhaps. For the rest of us, it isn’t just about the policies a Trump administration could put in place, it’s about the climate of our country where it is suddenly ok to hate and discriminate against all of these groups of people.
  3. Point three: Move on and come together. I see the wisdom in not spending my days posting on social media. I can’t be angry forever. I can’t cry many more tears. But I will not “move on” and “come together” under someone whose message was the exact opposite. Trump and his supporters drove a hard line of division into this country and his election lit a fire under all those who would hate and discriminate against people of color, immigrants, women, Jews and Muslims and LGBT -and I will NEVER come together under anyone who holds those views. Instead, I will do everything in my power to fight against the views and policies of Trump and those who support him, I will do everything I can to protect innocent people from falling victim to anyone who hates, bullies or tries to discriminate against them. Many think we are overreacting. Open your eyes, turn off Fox News and look at a variety of news sources both in and outside the United States right now. You will see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s ugly and I, for one, will not accept it.
  4. He’s just one man. Certainly. And we have a congress – now fully in control of the Republican party. Again, this isn’t about politics. While I am a registered Democrat, I have voted for Republicans in the past and I have many moderate Republican friends (most of whom wisely voted for Hilary Clinton) with whom I share both differences and similarities. I never felt the world was imploding when Ronald Reagan or George Bush the first were elected. Indeed, I was upset by the second election of George W. Bush and was horrified by the Iraq war quagmire, but I never thought our basic humanity, decency and all of the tenets our country was founded on were at stake. With this one man, they are. It’s possible that even without the checks and balances of Democrats leading the House or Senate, sane Republicans will curb Trump’s desire to radically change policy. But regardless of the policies – again – this isn’t just politics. It’s about human decency, equality, the way we behave with our fellow man and woman. I buy the argument that many good people voted for him because they wanted change or hated Clinton, but they still knew the full package they were getting and those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for anyone or at least not for Clinton, knew what Trump brought to the table. They knew he was endorsed by the KKK. They knew David Duke rallied for his election. They knew Putin and the Russians were hacking the DNC and rooting for Donald Trump. They knew that Trump was guilty of saying and doing horrific things against women and people of color because they HEARD and SAW it with their own ears and eyes. And yet – they still elected or allowed him to be elected. He’s just one man, but he has changed the climate of our country for everyone – especially those who are not white males.

To quote Dylan Thomas “do not go gentle into that dark night”. Or to quote my favorite NHL coach, “We will not go quietly.” I will not go gently or quietly. I will speak up. I will use my voice. I will use my actions. I will watch where each dime I spend goes. I will fight against Trump and everything his election says about this country and everything he stands for. Most of all, I will fight for those people who are endangered not just by potential policy changes but by the horrifying change of climate in this country where it’s suddenly ok to bully, hate, exclude and discriminate. In short, Trump’s vision of America? This will never, ever be my America.

Is This What it Sounds Like When Doves Cry?

when-doves-cryPrince died today. He wasn’t my favorite artist nor did I ever have the chance to see him perform. But he was certainly a touchstone for a time in my life that was peppered with equal measures of excitement, angst and emotional upheaval.

That time was the 1980s. I was at UCLA and life seemed to be spread out before me like a banquet, ripe for the tasting. You didn’t escape Prince on the radio or on the newly-launched MTV back then whether it was “Little Red Corvette”, “Controversy”, “1999” or his masterpiece, “Purple Rain”. In the early 1980s, when I turned my borderline obsession-compulsion with going to aerobics classes into a part-time job, Prince’s “I Would Die for You” was featured on my very first aerobics tape (that’s right: cassette tape). It was a fun time to be young. I think Prince knew that.

This isn’t just about Prince, though. It’s about David Bowie, Glenn Frey or any of the many talented musicians out there that bring us joy, pain and sorrow through their art. And it’s about the actors, writers, painters, athletes that are all part of the fabric of our lives and to which we form an attachment. It’s about emotional investment.

Some people call me “passionate”. I am ultra-aware that I am often too emotionally-invested in things that bring me pleasure, but in equal measures, pain. It’s why I am an easy target for taunting when my Los Angeles Kings or UCLA Bruins lose. It’s why in my work life, I often follow my clients to their next job and their next, and why I sometimes go to bat beyond the point of reason for a decision I disagree with. It’s why I cried when David Bowie died. And again when I heard about Glenn Frey. And again, today, for Prince.

Partially, it’s about feeling your own mortality. If Bowie and Frey and Prince are gone at ages that are now not too far from my own, I am suddenly cognizant of how fast time is moving and how little time might be left. In part, it’s the reminder of people I used to know, places I used to go, things I loved and lost, memories that are stored away but brought quickly to the surface just by hearing a few notes. I’ll never hear “Young Americans” and not remember a particular summer between junior and senior year of college when two of my friends – one, a summer love – painted my Mom’s living room in exchange for beer and that song blared from the speakers. I’ll never hear “I Can’t Tell You Why” and not think of my college roommate who loved – and actually possessed the vocal chops – to sing it around our apartment on Gayley Avenue. I’ll never hear “Baby I’m a Star” and not think of the little aerobics studio in La Jolla where I first started teaching and where my summer was a blur of teaching classes, riding my bike to the beach and drinking margaritas at Jose’s Cantina.

Certainly, it begs the question: is such a fervent emotional investment worth it?  My girls sometimes make fun of my intensity watching hockey games or my excitement at a concert. Or wonder why I would cry over the death of someone I never knew personally. I tell them it’s not just about the game or the team or the artist or the song. It’s about what it all represents. And it’s simply inevitable that anything that gives you so much happiness when it’s all going well, is going to bring you sorrow when it doesn’t.

Is it worth it? As I listen to “Purple Rain”, feeling a familiar pang as the memories shelved long ago flood over me, I want to say no, but I know that’s not true. For me, the answer can only be yes. A resounding and emphatic yes.

Letting Go

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The plane begins its descent and I shift in my seat and look out the window. Nearly home. My younger daughter, sitting beside me leans her head on my shoulder and reaches for my hand, intertwining her fingers with mine. My heart does a small leap and I clasp her hand a bit tighter. She is seventeen, nearly an adult, and these moments don’t come often anymore.

We are on our way back from a college visit. She is “stressed” about making the right choice. I tell her she has choices and choices are good. There are so many places that could be right for her and she will figure it out. She nods her head but I can see in her eyes that my words are of little comfort. She will have my experiences and her Dad’s experiences and her sister’s experiences to draw from, and plenty of advice from us, from well-meaning friends and other family. But ultimately, she will have to choose.

Her eyes close and we push through the clouds. I stare out the window and try to remember the last time she held my hand to cross a street or climb the steps onto the school bus or approach a neighbor’s door at Halloween. When she was little, we held hands all the time. A small, daily act taken for granted, as so many are when our children are small. We think we’ll remember every second, then with the passage of time and all of the many activities filling our days, our memory fades and we wish we could have taken a snapshot of those moments.

When the kids were young there were always dishes to wash, laundry to be done, bills to be paid. There was work and the dog and all of the sports and activities and playdates and school and homework. In a blink, they were out the door, driving their own cars, and while there was worry, there was also relief. Time alone, time to do whatever we like. The end of being a chauffeur and the beginning of the next stage in parenting.

I have been through this once already, I think. It should be easier. Somehow, it feels a bit harder. It could be because she is the baby of the family. It could be because facing an empty nest is quite different from having one child leave home. It could be because I’m older and more aware of the time slipping away. Whatever the reason, there are mixed emotions. Excitement for her and the next chapter in her life. Anticipation of the freedom that comes with an empty nest. A bit of jealousy at the wonderful experiences that await her. But also sadness that this chapter is closing. That she is moving on and away and of course, things will never be the same. Riddled with doubt as to what the future holds and how everything will change forever.

The aircraft hits a few bumps on its way down and she shifts in her seat to look out the window. She begins to untangle her hand from mine. Don’t let go, I whisper silently to myself. I take a deep breath and swallow hard. There will be no tears. She is letting go and so am I. Don’t let go, the voice inside me pleads. But I know it’s time and while we have a few more months like this, it is inevitable.

And then, we both let go.