The Curious Notion of Mom-Work Balance

Aug
31

 

I adore my son Enzo. He’s a beautiful spirit, an amazing human being and my greatest joy. I cherish every single hair (presently green) on his wonderful head. I love hanging out with him and his company is most extraordinary and delightful. He’s a gem and a wonder in every way. All that said, he’s going back to school next week and I can’t wait.

You see, I haven’t gotten nearly enough done this summer.

Like many, many women, my work life is subject to the schedules, needs and activities of my child, with summer vacation being the big daddy of disruption. Enzo’s summer has involved twice weekly tutoring sessions, one week at a performing arts camp and lots of down time here at the apartment. My days of late involve running him around, coordinating between his tutor and his math teacher, filling out school paperwork and trying to write with a bored teenager bouncing off the walls in the background. Although his dad is in the picture, all of these responsibilities fall to me; I work from home and therefore my schedule is “more flexible.” (subtext-less important.) The reality is that the buck stops with me. If I don’t manage the details, then most likely, they won’t get taken care of. To be clear, I am more than happy to do what needs to be done for Enzo. It just makes for a tricky balance sometimes.

The precedence for this particular inequity was established many years ago when my ex and I mutually agreed that I would take on the role of “stay-at-home mom.” I stepped out of the workforce to raise our children and he was able to continue his career path without disruption. It was the agreed upon plan. I was happy to do it. However, when the kids were old enough to start school and I went back to work, it was assumed that I would still be available to cover sick days, school breaks and any other situations involving care for the kids during work hours. As a result, I ended up taking low-paying, part-time jobs that I could work around the boys’ schedules.  Although the goal was to jump back onto a career track, I still had one foot firmly planted in the homestead.

Things are different now. We’re divorced and I’m on my own. Yet the dynamic remains the same, especially because I work for myself. It is still assumed that I always have the flexibility to put my work aside and manage the particulars of Enzo’s life and to a much lesser extent, Emmett’s, although he is now 18-years-old and is handling most of his own affairs. I could dig in my heels and insist that my ex take on more of these responsibilities, but he often readily dismisses the things I feel are important. I’m not willing to drop the ball when my kid’s well-being is at stake. Another factor in the dynamic is that my ex covers the majority of the fiscal responsibilities for the kids, mostly because he makes significantly more money than I do. Although it is certainly unspoken, I sometimes feel like I need to take on more to compensate for what I can’t provide financially. To be fair, this last point may very well be all in my head. Yet it factors in all the same.

But the intent here is not to point a finger at my ex or to pat myself on the back. The situation is what it is. It’s unlikely to change. The issue is in the mom-work balance, or lack thereof.

Ideally, I need long stretches of quiet and privacy to write. I have enough distractions kicking around in my own brain, and minimizing outside distractions is critical to my gaining any kind of creative momentum. I’m at my most productive when I’m alone. Needless to say, I haven’t been alone much this summer. It’s been difficult to work with the sounds of Super Smash Brothers permeating the apartment and the clunk and rumbling of a hungry teenager foraging for food in the kitchen, which happens to be right next to my workspace. Even worse is the mom guilt I feel for having my nose poked in a computer while the kid plays video games for hours on end. We should be having quality time together, right? Sometimes he gets bored and starts hovering around my desk, even peering over my shoulder as I write. I get irritated, which only ups the volume on the mom guilt. At some point, I simply give up, leaving work unfinished while I deal with whatever Enzo issue is at hand, be it boredom, hunger or driving him to a friend’s house.

My summer has had a start-stop quality to it. I feel like I’ve been writing in fragments. I also feel like I’ve been parenting in fragments. This is the problem with imbalance; I don’t feel that I give anything- the kid, writing, music-adequate attention. I move through my days with a gnawing sense that I’m forgetting to do something. When I sit down to write, I find it’s difficult to focus on the task at hand. My mind is abuzz with grocery lists, emails from the tutor, music to learn, school supplies to purchase and on and on and on. Adding to my sense of chaos is an onlooking teenager, who just wants to have something to do and someone to pay attention to him. If my life were a high wire, I would have long been splat on the ground below by now. Of course, I am in no way unique. Women everywhere are confronted with the same challenges. This seems part and parcel to motherhood.

School will start soon and some of the burden will be taken off, but not all. There are still carpools, permission slips, emails from teachers and after-school activities to juggle. Perhaps mom-work balance is sheer mythology. Maybe, like unicorns, it doesn’t really exist. I’ve certainly given up the notion that a woman can “have it all.” I think that is the luxury of a privileged few with fatter bank accounts and bigger support teams than I have. But even if I can’t have it all, I still entertain the fantasy that I can at least get it all done.

 

*****

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

- Virginia Woolf

 

 

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Gloom Busters: 7 Bloggers You Should Know About

Aug
24

 

It’s been a bit of a grim summer. With the relentless news of an economy trembling on the brink and a political divide that seems to grow uglier by the day, a gloomy pall has settled over our collective psyche. We’re fatigued. We’re weary. We’re increasingly frustrated with a situation that is, by and large, impossibly out of our hands. There is a pervasive sense of scarcity and fear across the land. In such an environment, it’s easy to succumb to cynicism or despair.

But there is still reason to believe, or plenty of reasons as a matter of fact. Out on the blogosphere, some very creative people are kicking some very serious ass. These are writers, artists, thinkers, entrepreneurs and rebels who have taken matters into their own hands and have crafted new models for how we live, work and think. These are people who have met chaos with creativity and in so doing infuse fresh life into a troubled world. The following is a list of seven extraordinary bloggers who epitomize bold possibility and fierce optimism. These are the people that I turn to when the quagmire of fiscal dread starts to get the best of me. Without fail, these brilliant souls give me something amazing to chew on every time I read their blogs.

In no particular order……..

1. DARRAH PARKER (www.darrahparker.com/blog)

Nobody has inspired my life more this past year than the lovely Ms. Parker. She is more than a photographer; she lives her life with full senses and open wonder and encourages others to do the same. Through her “Slice of Life Tuesday” series, Darrah challenges her followers to set forth into the world with cameras in hand and to capture day-to-day images that relate to a weekly theme. The concept is deceptively simple yet powerful. Getting people to pay closer attention to their lives? Huge.

2. AMANDA OAKS (www.kindovermatter.com)

There is nothing complicated about the premise of this blog. It’s all about kindness. Amanda Oaks has created a lovely online oasis for inspiration, encouragement, art, beauty, whimsy and love. While Amanda’s gentle vibe permeates this lovely site, it is further enhanced by contributions from guest bloggers and other artists. This blog appeals to the best in everyone. It is one lush garden. (Tomorrow-August 13-is Amanda’s birthday! Drop into the blog, say “hello” and celebrate with her!)

3. ASHLEY AMBIRGE (www.themiddlefingerproject.org)

I effing love this woman. And I would give both breasts and my favorite pair of Fat Baby boots to write like her. For real. She’s insanely smart, beautifully irreverent and spit-coffee (or ginger ale or vodka)-out-your-nose funny. Her entrepreneurial chops are rock solid and if you’re looking to do your own thing on your own terms, she will ramp your ass up like none other. She’s one of my main gurus. Ashley also has one of the most inspiring stories that I’ve ever heard.  At one point, she was living in her car and writing on her laptop. But she went on to create her own empire. She is living proof that we can survive our worst-case scenarios. (Ashley announced just today that she’s taking a brief hiatus from blogging. No worries, there are plenty of gems in the archives to keep you busy until she gets back.)

4. LORI DESCHENE (www.tinybuddha.com)

I visit this blog almost every day. As Lori succinctly states it, “Tiny Buddha is about reflecting on simple wisdom.”  The posts are quick, well-written reads but penetrate deeply. In the midst of a busy day, a visit to Tiny Buddha is a little like a short meditation. Although Lori is the driving force behind Tiny Buddha, people from all over the world contribute to the blog. It is like having the wisdom of the world in one spot. I love that I can grab little bites and carry them with me throughout my day. In some respects, Tiny Buddha is inspiration on the go. That said, it is a blog where one can easily get lost in for hours.

5. ERIKA NAPOLETANO (www.redheadwriting.com)

Erika Napoletano is a no-nonsense blogger and online strategist. She’s feisty, hilarious and quite motivational in a snap-yourself-out-of-it kind of way. In fact, one of the features on her blog is “The Bitch Slap,” a weekly kick in the pants for her followers. She’s one straight-talking sister and she drops the F-bomb as much as I do. Just like there’s no whining in baseball, there’s no whining at Redhead Writing. This is my go-to blog for those occasional days when I’m feeling sorry for myself. Erika always gets me square again. And to be clear, this site is not all hard edges. There is a depth of humanity here, articulated with grace and elegance.

6. SEAN PLATT (www.ghostwriterdad.com)

Sean Platt is a successful writer who has dedicated his blog to “helping good writers makes a GREAT living.” I recently bought his book “Writing Online,” and felt an immediate kinship. Sean really gets how the mind of a writer works and he understands the challenges-both internal and external-that a writer comes up against in the evolution of a career. His approach is friendly and accessible and his tone is refreshingly free of marketing speak. When I read his book or his blog, I feel like I’m reading a note from a friend. One other thing I will say about Sean is that he’s an outstanding ambassador for other bloggers. On any given day, he frequently retweets posts and gives shout outs to links that might be of interest. Sean Platt inspires me to keep writing, which is about the best antidote to gloom that I can think of.

7. KATE NORTHRUP (www.katemoller.com)

Kate is a self described CEO or “Creative Expansion Optimist,” who is “dedicated to the art, science and practice of loving life.” Her blog exudes a certain spunk factor that I quite enjoy. I’m just now getting into Kate’s blog. However, after reading her post “It’s Not Going to Turn Out Like You Thought,” I was instantly hooked for life.

In case you’re wondering, I came across most of these bloggers on Twitter.

Although we are presently inundated with dark news, there are other stories out there. Strong and brilliant forces are hard at work, countering fear and pointing us in alternative directions. A big wave is coming. The people on this list are part of it.

 

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Late to the Party

Jul
29

A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of seeing the 2011 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra at Jazz Alley here in Seattle. The orchestra, which is sponsored by the Monterey Jazz Festival, was created “as part of a continuing commitment to jazz education and the perpetuation and development of top-level jazz musicians and jazz performance.” Every year, high school students from across the United Stated audition for a coveted spot in this prestigious Big Band. The average age of each member is roughly between 15-18 years old. In essence, the musicians in this band are the cream of the crop of up and coming jazz talent in the country. The performance was a mind-blower. Each and every one of these kids possesses mad talent, brilliant proficiency on his instrument and enough soul power to launch a rocket. I might add that the song repertoire was very interesting and the arrangements were exceptionally hip. The music was at such a high level that it was easy to forget that the players were just kids. After the show, I read the bios of some of the musicians in the band. Holy Shit! The majority of these kids have accomplished more in a few short years than most adult professional musicians can hope to in an entire lifetime. Crazy stuff. As I was sinking into sleep that night, a pesky thought invaded my headspace: I wish I’d found my passion earlier in life.

I came to the jazz game late. I’ve only been singing and performing for about ten years.  When I was the age as the kids in the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, I was smoking pot, writing poetry and plotting my escape from the small town I was growing up in. Although I did play alto saxophone in the marching band, it would be many years before I got hip to jazz and even more years before I started singing it. I’ve done a lot of work and definitely feel that I’ve grown significantly as a vocalist. Overall, I’m confident and happy and don’t feel like I have anything to be ashamed of. Still, when I think about insanely accomplished teenagers like the ones in the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, I wonder sometimes if there’s any hope of catching up. If we’re late to the party, is there still even a seat at the table?

Of course, writing is a completely different story. I was writing pretty ferociously from about the time I could hold a pencil. My first story was about a bird that lived in a cuckoo clock. It was a happy tale, complete with illustrations. The woman that lived next door to us owned a bookstore, and I remember trying to work out some kind of deal with her to sell my masterpiece in her shop. Sadly, negotiations fell through. However, my yen for writing was in no way diminished. Writing became like a sixth (or seventh?) sense for me. It was as natural to my day as breathing. Growing up, I wrote all the time about everything. I always kept a journal. Language arts classes were a snap. Inspiration was never a problem. Granted, not everything I’ve written throughout the years has been amazing or even good. (High school poetry comes to mind, especially that written while tripping on LSD. I filled up half a notebook once night, all with deep and important observations about a piece of ham one of my parents had left out on the kitchen counter.) I went to college as an English major and survived the obnoxiously competitive environment of the University of Iowa. Of course, I went on to get married and have kids. Up until quite recently, my main focus was on the motherhood thing. Still, writing has always been part of my daily experience no matter my life circumstances. And now, it is front and center again. I am back to writing all the time about everything. I run blogs, I write for freelance clients. I’m presently working on an e-book about the business side of vocal jazz; it’s equal parts how-to and inspiration. I am entirely comfortable with my voice and skills as a writer. Writing was a passion that came early. I have no sense that I’ve missed much.

Sure, I wish I’d found jazz as early in life as I found writing. I think, however, as a kid growing up in a small town in Oklahoma in the 60’s and 70’s, that probably wasn’t part of the plan. Much of our life direction is dictated by time, space and circumstances. We can’t be passionate about something we’ve never been exposed to. However, even though I did find writing early in the game, I honestly don’t know that I had much of relevance to say until fairly recently. There is something to be said for the value of life experience in expression. I certainly don’t for a second discount young writers; God knows there are many, many outstanding young writers rocking the word out there. I’m just thinking back on when I was a teenager. What did I know about anything? My brain was basically bong water. While it may be nothing more than my own personal measure, I feel like I have more credibility as a writer today as an almost 50-year-old woman. I’ve seen some stuff. I’ve lost a lot. I’ve survived. I think my life experience has shined up my grit and deepened my voice. It is also the best thing I can bring to jazz. At the end of the day, writing and singing are both about telling stories.

I suppose that if we are living fully, then we will ultimately be late bloomers in one capacity or another. True, our early passions will continue to evolve. I like to think, though, that we ourselves are in a perpetual state of evolution and attendant with that is an ongoing discovery of new passions and interests. In the past year, I have taken up photography. In fact, my last blog post was about that. This is purely a hobby that I do for the joy and the fun of it. (Lest my 13-year-old son start squawking, I will offer the following disclaimers: One- I am not a professional, nor do I present myself as such. Two-Most of my photos are taken with my i-Phone, and I often manipulate the images with an application called Lightbox.) I think I take some pretty cool pictures sometimes. I took the photos that are in this blog post. I’m having a blast. And who knows? If I live to be an old lady, then I may actually get pretty good at this.

As a woman in her forties, I am, no doubt, late to some of the game. But being a late bloomer is better than the alternative, isn’t it? The day I squelch the bud is the day I stop really living. There is no sin in being a beginner. The life party will roar on no matter my age. Even if I lose my teeth, my support hose and my mind, I can still get down. I believe I’ll bust a move.

 

 

 

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“reflections”

Jul
12

The other day, I was a passenger in a car that was traveling north on Highway 99. We were on the stretch of the viaduct that ribbons past downtown Seattle.  As we drove along, I was looking at the tops of the buildings and at how they were juxtaposed across the city skyline. I saw buildings I’d previously never noticed. I also saw angles and shapes and colors. A year or so ago, I more than likely would have completely missed all of this. But these days, I’m seeing bigger.

Inspired by Seattle photographer and blogger Darrah Parker, I started carrying a camera around with me and taking pictures of things in my day-to-day. On her blog, Darrah does a weekly post called “Slice of Life Tuesday.” The premise is simple; each week she introduces a theme and encourages readers to take photographs inspired by that theme. The goal is to discover the beauty in everyday life. While I haven’t always participated in each weekly challenge, Darrah’s mission has not been lost on me. Taking photographs is a little like waking up. It demands that I stay squarely in the here and now and pay attention to what is right in front of me. It also gives me a wonderful opportunity to see things from a fresh perspective. I am a writer and a jazz singer. I never really considered myself a visual person before. But taking pictures has changed that. I feel as if I am rediscovering my sense of sight. When I take photos, I see the world in a new way. I am starting to understand that if I can see things differently, then I can think differently; about the world around me, about other people and most of all, about myself.

The “Slice of Life Tuesday” theme for this week is “reflections.” This resonated with me immediately. In her post, Darrah talks about how our perceptions of ourselves are not necessarily what other people’s are. That struck something in me. In the past few days, I have taken two photographs of myself, both in front of mirrors. One was shot in a dance studio as I was waiting for a class to start. The other was in the green room at a nightclub where I was gigging. In each of these photos, some semblance of my form is captured but for the most part, I am invisible. Interestingly, that’s often how I feel in the world. I think a lot of middle-aged women do. In many ways, we seem to float in a cultural ambiguity. Our bodies have changed. Our children are grown. Our roles are shifting. We no longer fit the “standard” that equates youth with beauty. When we speak, we are frequently dismissed. In the workplace, we are often considered as past our prime. If we are single, we are told that our prospects of finding a companion at “our age” are grim. If we voice a strong opinion, we are viewed as shrill. I have felt all of these, especially on the career front. These two photos reflect the sense of invisibility that I feel from time to time.

But this blog is not at all about invisibility. On the contrary, it’s about stepping out, grabbing life and living in full color, no matter our age. One thing that I’ve learned from taking photos is the art of looking at things more deeply. Yes, my initial take on these particular photographs was that I am invisible in them. But as I have a second look, I see that there is light around me in both of these. Sure, technically speaking, we all know that the light is merely the flash. But I rather like the metaphorical suggestion that although my physical self is unseen, my inner light is still blazing. And to dig in just a wee bit more, in both of the mirror photos, I am the one holding the camera; I am, quite literally, the one calling the shots. There is something inherently powerful in this.

 

We are only invisible if we allow ourselves to be.

 

I am ending this post with one final photograph. It’s a picture I took of myself just today, right before my yoga class. Just like taking photos, yoga is an exercise in discovery, illumination and immediacy. It is another opportunity to see myself differently.

I AM VISIBLE.

 

 

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly,  our whole life would change.

- Buddha


 

 

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Fat

Jul
01

The other day, I did some trolling around on the Internet to see what other sites are out there that are written by, for and about women over 40. I was dismayed to discover that the top two blogs that came up in the search both had lead posts about losing belly fat. The next few blogs were dedicated to anti-aging skin care and fashion. One post was entitled “What to wear when you’re over 40 and want to be casual.” (Um, how about this: whatever the hell I want.)  As I continued to hunt, the next several sites were specifically dedicated to weight loss after 40.

Really?

Is this the best we can do? Is this really representative of what’s in the hearts and minds of women over 40?

I’m incredulous.

While I found most of these blogs and websites to be off putting, I was particularly appalled by ones about belly fat and losing weight. We live in a culture that worships youth, slenderness and beauty. From a very early age, we are inundated with a steady stream of images of freakishly thin young women with size zero bodies, which are probably only attainable for less than one percent of the female population. The message is that if we dare deviate from this rigid construct of the female form, then we are decidedly “less than” and it is incumbent on us to shape up, lose the weight and ultimately comply with the “standard.”  Failure to do so leaves us in chronic states of uneasiness and discomfort-if not loathing-of our bodies. We become enslaved. In my own circle of family and friends, I don’t know one woman who hasn’t, at one time or another, struggled with issues around body image. For many women out there, it’s a chronic mindset. And it seems that none of us are immune. In a recent post, one of my very favorite bloggers was tearing into herself about how “fat” she is. To accentuate the point, she even posted video of herself salsa dancing so we could all see for ourselves. My heart broke on the spot. This particular blogger  is one of the sharpest, sassiest and most fiercely brilliant women writing on the web today. She has amazing vision, and I believe she can and will change the world. Yet even she is not impervious to the pervasive burden of “fat.” (For the record, I thought she looked wonderful in her videos and I was impressed by how beautifully she moved.)

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the aforementioned blogs and websites is that they are written by women. Although this isn’t a direct analogy, it reminds me a little of the part in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” when McMurphy realizes that most of his fellow mental patients have voluntarily admitted themselves to the asylum.

Why would any women want to perpetuate our own cultural incarceration?

I’m willing to bet that the majority of women over 40 have more important things to think about than fighting cellulite. Speaking for myself, I’m pretty flipping concerned about how I’m going to survive a recession that seems to have no end in sight. I have the same concern for my 18 year-old son, who will soon be entering the workforce, or at least trying to.  I’m also troubled by the lunatic fringe right and its ongoing attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood and ultimately take away our fundamental right to choose.  I think a lot about next year’s presidential election. So far, the only candidates that the right wing has trotted out are mere cartoon characters. However, it’s alarming as to how many of the voting public sees them as qualified. These are just a few of the things that I concern myself with on any given day. I also think a lot about writing, music and how my kids are doing in the world. Being “fabulous after forty” is pretty low on my priority list.

This is not to say that I haven’t had my own struggles around weight and body image. I have. It started back when I was a kid. I remember oh so well my mother’s embarrassment at shopping in the “husky” section with her seven-year-old daughter. I have never fit the cultural ideal for body type. Most of my life, I’ve been overweight, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I can blame some of it on genetics. My father was a really big man. My sisters and I did not inherit my mother’s delicate frame. I have been quite thin at times as well. Throughout the years, I, like so many other women, have dealt with a nagging inner voice-the one reinforced by billboards and glossy magazines-that says I’m not skinny enough, I’m not beautiful enough….I’m just not enough. Today, I’m probably about 10-15 pounds overweight. However, my focus is more on how my body feels than how it looks. For the most part, my body can do anything I ask it to do. I keep fit and active through dance and a very dedicated yoga practice. I feel pretty robust most days and very strong. Still, the pressure to somehow be or look different than I am occasionally lingers. It sometimes comes up for me when I’m getting ready for a gig. There is a requisite “look” for jazz vocalists, usually characterized by sultriness, beautiful clothes and dazzling hair and make-up. I feel like I miss that mark more often than I hit it and sure enough, those old, mean, outdated tapes begin to play in my head. But frankly, I really want to be done with all that. I’m almost 50 years old. I’m smart enough and have racked up some pretty significant life experience. I’m funny and friendly. My body is just fine. There’s inherent beauty and grace in authenticity. I don’t need any chatter about being too fat

Yes, as women, we are up against some deeply rooted cultural sensibilities that don’t serve us. However, they can only harm us and rob us of our dignity if we continue to allow it. We need to stop doing this to ourselves. This is especially true for those of us over 40. We’ve deepened too much to put up with this crap.

I propose a challenge for all women, no matter the age. What if we make a collective vow to go for six months without uttering the word “fat” (or any of its attendant synonyms) when referring to our own bodies? Can we do this? Can we love and honor ourselves as women enough to treat ourselves with kindness? Instead of tearing into ourselves about how we look, can we instead turn the focus on health and vitality? Can we use our journals to come up with more compassionate language for speaking to ourselves about our bodies? For six months, can we stop using the term “fat” when we talk to ourselves? Can we do this?

Can we stop buying into “fat?”

 

Maybe the revolution starts in our own minds.

 

 

 

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The Wheel of Time

Jun
23

Sometimes I think that there are mad little gremlins behind the scenes of the universe and that their sole purpose is to manipulate time. With one maniacal twist of a knob or flip of a switch, they accelerate it or slow it down as they see fit. As a result of these shenanigans, the human experience of time is forever interesting. Depending on the situation, five minutes can be a snap or an eternity. If you’re stuck in a car going down the highway and need to take a pee, the five minutes until the next exit feels like an hour. Conversely, if you’re saying good-bye to a loved-one who is about to board a plane that will take him/her away from you for several months, five minutes is merely a flash. We are in a perpetual state of flux. The one thing that is certain, however, is that no matter the speed, time is always moving.

Last week, my oldest son Emmett graduated from high school. I sat through the graduation ceremony in a state of shock and awe. I was in awe of the beautiful celebration taking place before me. I don’t know that I have ever seen a more upbeat or spirited group of young people as this one, the “Class of 0-11” as Emmett refers to it. The stadium was infused with a palpable joy and infectious optimism. It was easily one of the happiest nights of my life. Yet the awe was balanced with a bittersweet measure of shock.  As I watched the festivities, I was struck by how fast 18 years had gone by. Emmett’s graduation and his recent 18th birthday mark a significant milestone; he is an adult now. And with that milestone comes the stark realization that the wheel of time has taken a dramatic turn.

There have been periods of parenting that were interminably slow. My mind goes back to when Emmett was around three years old and we would play with Hot Wheel cars on the floor in the living room. Our play was quite elaborate. Each car had a name and a detailed backstory. Some of the cars were in relationships with other cars. (I seem to recall two ambulances that had quite the courtship going on.) It was anthropomorphism in the extreme. Looking back, this is quite a jolly picture, and these were happy days. But at the time, these play sessions sometimes felt long and, I’m ashamed to say, unbearably dull. Part of the problem was that Emmett, without fail, liked to get the party started around 6am and had the stamina to play Hot Wheels for hours and hours. It was fun to play with Emmett, but there would ultimately come a point where all I wanted was a cup of coffee and a little headspace.  Still, as I watched my handsome, grown-up son walk across the stage to receive his diploma, there was a nanosecond when I would have given anything to be back on that living room floor, playing Hot Wheels with him. Whatever happened to that busy tot with the curly, blonde hair and the chubby hands?

As we hit these major life passages with our children, we inevitably reflect on the ticking away of time in our own lives. Although the whole point of the Life As a Tango blog is to celebrate this period of my life and to encourage other women to do the same, it would be disingenuous to claim that the reality of midlife isn’t sometimes sobering. I believe it has been especially so lately with Emmett’s graduation and attendant leap into adulthood. I look back on my years of mothering him and assess my performance. I wonder if I used those 18 years with him to their full advantage. Even more, I think about what’s next both for Emmett and for me. Midlife certainly isn’t what I thought it would be. I didn’t envision that at almost 50 years old, I would be rebuilding my life from scratch or that my financial future would be so tenuous. Given my Buddhist leanings, it’s almost silly that I should be surprised by such ambiguity. Still, this patch of road doesn’t look like I thought it would and I have no sense at all as to what lies ahead. I only know that what I want for Emmett is for him to be happy, to be at peace and to be safe in the world. That’s also what I want for myself. As the saying goes, “time will tell.” Such contemplation is probably normal for a woman whose oldest son is just about to leave the nest. The march of time feels particularly acute. But eventually, the busyness of days and activities will take over and the intensity of this reflection will, no doubt, subside.  I still have a chick under wing and a day-to-day life to live.

Just this week, we heard the sad news about the death of Ryan Dunn, one of the loveable members of the “Jackass” posse. He was killed in a horrific car crash in the wee hours on Monday morning. He was only 34 years old. As the mother of boys, I’ve become well acquainted with the Jackass TV and film franchise and, along with my kids, have become a big fan of this playful group of misfits. I’m heartbroken. Dunn’s death is a tragic reminder that the one thing we don’t know about time is when it will stop. And this brings me squarely back to a fundamental Buddhist teaching: All we have is the present moment.

Our best option is to live it well.

 

 

 

 

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10 Survival Tips for Parenting a Teenager

May
22

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on teenagers. Anything I have to say here is gleaned from pure trial and error. Parenting a teenager is perhaps the most bewildering thing I have ever done in my life. God knows, I’m still learning. My teen animals Emmett and Enzo (“the E’s) are great teachers. They also kick my ass on a fairly regular basis. The days of carrying a screaming toddler out of the grocery store were were blissfully simple. Teenagers definitely turn up the fire and change up the game. But it’s ultimately part of what we sign on for. The following is a list of ten things that I’ve found helpful for surviving this very weird trip. I’ve come to a lot of this the hard way yet slowly but surely, I may be on to something…

 

1. DON’T FREAK OUT

When dealing with teen animals, everything-from dirty socks left on the living room floor to the kid coming home buzzed past curfew-can rapidly become very elevated. Emotions are right on edge like a quivering Chihuahua that needs to be let out for a pee.  In an instant, piss is everywhere. Part of the reason is, quite frankly, that teen animals can be really snotty and we overly sensitive parents tend to take this personally. It’s hard not to, I know. And it’s especially challenging to keep things in check when, say, the teen cherub that just got caught smoking pot on the school field trip responds to your upset with belligerence instead of the requiste contrition. Nothing launches a parental missile faster. But if I’ve learned anything it’s that freaking out doesn’t help. It just creates more turbulence, more drama and more disconnection, which is the last thing anyone wants, even the kid believe it or not. The best I can do is to shut my righteous trap, breathe deeply and, if necessary, walk away until we can approach whatever the problem is from a calmer space. As long as the kid is still alive, any situation is workable when cooler heads prevail.

 

2. DO YOUR OWN THING

Constantly ruminating on the state of things with your kid only serves to keep the pot perpetually stirred, at least in your own psyche. The driving mission of a teenager is to establish a life that is fiercely independent of mom and dad. As painful, ungraceful and awkward as this process may seem, it’s absolutely what your teen animal needs to be doing. If he or she doesn’t undergo this phase of development, he or she will become a real weirdo as an adult. We all know the type. Trust me on this. The best we can do while they pull away from us is to let them. The process of letting go is much easier if we turn the focus on our own thing, whatever it is-knitting, sumo wrestling, raising goats, etc. Focusing on our own thing fills us up again, brings us back to center, calms us down and reminds us of who we are independent of our teen animal. I’m not suggesting negligence here. Of course, we’re still involved with our kids. But doing our own thing loosens everything up a bit. Our teens are living their lives. We should be living ours. Interestingly, if you’re engrossed in your thing, you may be surprised to look up and find that your teen animal has inched a little closer while you weren’t paying attention.

 

3. REMEMBER WHAT YOU WERE DOING AT THAT AGE

This is one that my older sister is constantly reminding me of. Of course, it’s a double-edge sword, isn’t it? It’s precisely because I remember what I was doing at that age that I worry so about the E’s. But leaning into this nugget a little more, there is helpful wisdom here. When I was 16 or 17 years old, I was definitely getting into the kind of hell-raising shenanigans that any bored teenager stuck in Oklahoma would do. I was no angel. However, I wasn’t a complete idiot either. I was trying to figure stuff out: relationships, my job, high school, SAT’s, etc. My parents were the last thing on my mind most of the time. This had less to do with them and everything to do with me; I was trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in the world. This is huge. When I remember what that process was like for me, it helps me look at my own kids with much more compassion and empathy. They are doing hard work right now. It’s not about me.

 

4. LEARN ABOUT THE TEENAGE BRAIN

Seriously, this is very enlightening. I once saw “Inside the Teenage Brain” on Frontline. This was highly informative and definitely put things into perspective. Our teenagers are not assholes; they’re just firing from a completely different part of the brain than we are. Their brains are still developing. In some ways, they’re biologically incapable of functioning in the manner that we sometimes expect them to. We see the dirty mess they left in the kitchen but they honestly don’t even remember making it. Their minds just aren’t yet organized in the same way as an adult’s is. This is definitely a case of a little knowledge going a long way. If we can get some insight into how the teenage brain does and doesn’t function, we’re less inclined to take some of their obnoxious behavior personally.

 

5. CHALLENGE YOUR ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SUCCESS

When I was growing up, the assumed trajectory for my life after high school was to go to a four-year college, get a degree and then, presumably, get a career that would offer me financial security for the rest of my life. Although I was a hard-partying wild thing, I still managed a high enough GPA and decent enough SAT scores to position myself for the aforementioned track. I did graduate from college but I did not exactly realize the prescribed American dream. The world has certainly changed a lot since I graduated from high school. The whole game is different, and I’m not sure that the model that we grew up with is necessarily best for our kids. My oldest son Emmett is graduating from high school in just a few weeks. Although he’s made some rumblings about going to community college, it’s looking more like he’s going to delay higher education for now and jump straight into looking for a job. He wants to move out of his dad’s house and into an apartment with friends. Admittedly, this leaves me a little unsettled. I worry about his chances of securing sustainable employment without a college degree. But when I think about it a little more, these concerns are my problem and not necessarily his. Who’s to say that this isn’t a reasonable path to success for him? And what defines success anyway? Income? Happiness? Popping a cold one with your housemates after a long week at work? There’s a whole lot of people out there with college degrees and nothing to show for it but student loan debt and unemployment benefits. It’s not like my college degree has been very useful. I have to say that neither of the E’s is particularly motivated in academic achievement or interested in school at all. They’re super bright guys, but they seem disinclined to buy into the belief that school is the be all and end all for their own personal success in life. I’m not entirely sure that they’re wrong, especially given the times we’re living in. Perhaps the problem isn’t their lack of educational drive but in a cultural view of success that is too small. The best advice that I can give them is this: figure out what you’re passionate about and go for it. Although I can’t say for sure, I intuitively feel that if they can do that, the rest will take care of itself.

 

6. FIND YOUR SWITZERLAND.

Find your Switzerland and go there. What I mean is to find a shared passion with your teenager and let that be the neutral spot where the two of you meet regularly. Let the space be sacred: free of outside conflict and negativity. When you and your teen animal meet up here, keep the focus on the positive. It can be anything that the two of you share. For Emmett and me, it’s been jazz. But it can be something as simple as eating ice cream and watching American Idol together. Maybe it’s lawn bowling. It doesn’t matter. What matters is keeping a connection, even when things are flat out horrible, which they are sometimes. Just one shared passion can be your lifeline to each other. Find it.

 

7. BE ON THEIR SIDE

This might seem obvious, but when you’re going through a bumpy patch with your teen animal, it’s easy to slip into being chronically at odds with each other over each and every damn little thing. A few years ago, Emmett and I were having an extremely difficult period in our relationship. During this time, our general way of being with each other was oppositional. It felt like everything boiled down to a “me vs. you” situation. I did a lot of soul-searching during this heartbreaking stretch of road. As I dissected my thinking and behavior, I was able to get back to one fundamental truth: All I want is for him to be OK. Further, that’s really all he wants for himself. The cosmic thump on the head was the realization (or reminder) that Emmett and I are on the same side. So if I am on the same side as Emmett, then I need to act like it. Even when he does something that appears to be misguided, I need to remember to give him the benefit of the doubt. I need to hear his explanation. I need to assume the best about him.  If my belief in him is a given, then his belief in himself can deepen and grow. Such simple math really, but so easy to forget in the heat of the battle.

 

8. TALK TO FRIENDS WITH ADULT CHILDREN

These friends are the veterans, the survivors and the all-knowing sages. These are the ones that have made it across the treacherous divide and now watch us from the restful perch of “the other side.”  They can pat us on the hand and tell us, with some measure of certainty, that everything will be OK. They too have gone head-to-head with an angry teenager over a disappointing report card. They know what it’s like to haul an inebriated, barf-covered kid off the front porch and up to her room. They’ve also shelled out money to pay for the broken side view mirror of the car that their kid hit in the parking lot of the local Target. But they also have the benefit of hindsight and of watching their teen animals bloom into happy, reasonable and functional adults. When nothing else is working, the counsel of these friends is golden.

 

9. KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR

We need to loosen up those tightly clenched buttocks. There’s plenty of humor to be found in parenting teenagers. We have no clue what we’re doing here, and that’s pretty fucking funny sometimes. We’re like crazy rodeo clowns dealing with a smoking bull. All we can do is run around and hope to hell we make to the barrel before we get our asses gored. Sometimes the E’s make me laugh so hard that it’s physically painful. Enzo is especially skilled at playfully holding up a mirror and showing me just what a clueless goober I really am. And that’s hysterical. Our teen animals are funny. We’re funny. If we miss this critical piece, then I’m pretty sure we’re hosed.

 

10. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE

Fiercely, tenaciously, unflinchingly. No matter what they throw at you, throw back love every time.

 

Again, I reiterate my earlier caveat that I do not profess to be an authority on this. There’s no doubt in my mind that many of the people reading this post have far greater insight and wisdom than I do. I’m just one mom, without a playbook, making it up as I go along. So far, we’re all still breathing.

 

If you have survival tops for parenting a teenager, please share them in the comments section of this post. As always, I love to hear from you!

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Getting Back on the Damn Horse

May
15

I have been job hunting since March of 2007, when my ex and I decided to end our marriage. The goal has been to secure a solid employment situation that pays a livable wage and get the hell on with my life. If said job offered health insurance, that would be icing on the employment cake. Of course, my divorce couldn’t have been more poorly timed; while my marriage was crumbling, the great recession was gathering steam. In a million years, I would have never imagined that I’d be unable to find a job or that I’d have any difficulty supporting myself. Yet, that’s exactly the situation I find myself in.

The hunt has been long and grueling. Coming from a background of full-time mom, freelance writer and part-time jazz singer has not been advantageous. (I get the feeling that some potential employers equate motherhood with incompetence, even if, ironically, they themselves are mothers. Just sayin…) Like millions of other job seekers, I followed the course of “conventional wisdom;”  I worked long-term temp assignments in the hope of permanent employment, I tweaked my resume a few hundred times, I massaged my network inside and out and I created online profiles at LinkedIn, Monster and numerous others. I even went back to school and received a certificate in Public Relations. While I’ve been among the final two or three for a few positions now, I’ve yet to be the chosen one. I’ve had hopes rise only to have them crash and burn horrifically.

But every time, I somehow manage to get back on the damn horse.

In the absence of a bright and shiny full-time gig with the bells and whistles of solid pay, health insurance and vacation, I’ve been doing my own thing and getting along as best as I can. I support myself through a part-time teaching job, freelance writing and as many jazz gigs as I can hustle. I also still get a small amount of spousal support but that will stop very soon. My resources are dwindling. The fiscal sands are rapidly falling through the hourglass. My teaching gig will be finished in June and my plan is to blast full-speed ahead on writing projects while also continuing the hunt for the Holy Grail of full-time employment.

I must confess that this process has left me a little ragged. With each instance of being passed over for a position, the esteem erodes just a little and the cold, black waters of fear rise a little higher. Towards the end of last year, I realized that I had sunken to a depth of pessimism and despair that was not serving me. In fact, it was quite harmful to my heart. So I set the simple intention of changing my viewpoint. For the past several months, I’ve made a concentrated effort to invigorate a renewed sense of optimism and to shut down the negative chatter that spins around in my head like a roost of hens at a coffee klatch. I’ve dedicated myself to yoga and have made many amazing discoveries there. I’ve retooled my daily meditation practice to a dedicated exercise in Tonglen. I journal extensively and make a gratitude list every single morning. Per the words of the beautiful  blogger  Jill MacGregor, I’ve made an earnest effort to expect the best in myself, other people and situations.

It felt like I was starting to get somewhere. Overall, I’ve been happier these past few months, and my outlook has indeed become more optimistic. With this change of view, it has seemed as is if things were starting to shift as well. My CD received a great review in a major jazz publication and some cool new gigs starting rolling in. With the seeming turn towards better days came a most unexpected nugget: a posting for my dream job.

The job was for a position coordinating a new jazz series that is being launched by a small nonprofit in my neighborhood. The job description fit my resume to the letter. Adding muscle to the equation, I had previously served as a director for another musical event in the area and had worked with some of the people in the same nonprofit. The moons and stars were aligning perfectly, or so it seemed. I sent in my resume and was called in for an interview, which went swimmingly. My references were contacted and gave glowing recommendations on my behalf. Things were looking very promising. Although I knew better than to assume anything, I felt very, very optimistic. The fit was so perfect. The interview hummed. The energy around the entire situation felt so right. I really believed that this time, finally, it was quite possibly my turn to be the one.

I didn’t get the job.

The woman heading the hiring committee tried to soften the blow. She said it had come down to me and one other person. He is the head of a major nonprofit jazz organization in town and is also prominent in a handful of other jazz festivals and associations. He’s a major player on the scene: a member of the old guard with more clout in one pinkie than I could dream of having in a lifetime. It was a little like a David and Goliath situation but in reverse. The giant squashed me like a bug. The woman told me that it was actually a very close call, that they’d gone “around and around” about it. But ultimately, he was their chosen one. I was actually shocked that he’d even applied for the job at all. I’m not sure why a person of his stature would concern himself with a community music series of this nature. I can speculate but it’s probably best I keep my thoughts on the matter to myself. I will say that I am crushed and disappointed beyond words. I’m disappointed that the people at this nonprofit couldn’t see the value in giving someone different-although well qualified-a shot or in letting a woman run their series. I’m going to wrestle with this for a long time. Frankly, my optimism has been rattled.

It didn’t help that the day I got the call with the bad news, I was laid out flat with a 101.7 fever, chills and an unbearably sore throat. My physical misery compounded the pain in my broken heart. Crying only made me sicker, but I couldn’t stop. I was alone in my apartment, trying to nurse myself through the motherfucker of all viruses and deeply grieving the loss of what felt like a magical opportunity. It was the lowest of low points. And if there was a horse to get back on, I wasn’t interested. No matter how many times I’d climbed back on, the nag seemed to be forever going nowhere.

It is soul killing that a simple job-hunt has turned into a four year odyssey with no end in sight. And there’s really no way to describe how deeply painful it is to be passed over for a position that I knew I could completely rock. There was not a moment of doubt in my mind. The rub is that I don’t think my plight is that uncommon, especially for women over forty. I think the burden is particularly acute for post-divorce women trying to establish some kind of fiscal stability. It’s lonely out there and damn scary. Recently, there was an email thread among the people that I went through the certificate program with. Everyone was giving updates as to their careers and work situations. Of the people who started looking for employment after our program, the only ones of the bunch that are still looking are the handful of women over forty. Age discrimination is a very real problem in our country, and I believe it hits women the hardest. While I don’t know if I could chalk up this last disappointing outcome to age or gender discrimination, it in some ways lines up, statistically-speaking anyway, with what my experience of the past four years has been.

So now what?

It is really hard to keep picking yourself up, dusting off and jumping back in. It takes some pretty tough moxie to keep bringing your best game to a world that seems to consistently reject you. But what are we suppose to do? When my sister had cancer, people remarked about how brave she was and what courage it took for her to go through chemo. But what choice did she have? They made the same remarks to me when my son was stillborn 19 years ago. But what choice did I have? In the very simplest of terms, we do what we have to do to survive, even when the odds seem enormously and hopelessly insurmountable. And even when we think we can’t.

When I was holed up in my apartment, running that fever and reeling from the news about the job, I didn’t have a clue what to do next. I was frozen. But life has a way of sending in helpers, or in my case, emergency response teams. All three of my siblings called me. It seemed like they felt the disappointment as deeply as I did and their love was palpable. Two of my closest friends also called. They shared tears with me and offered big shoulders. I continued to try to get better. I made tea and toast for myself. I watched hours and hours of Netflix. I slept. By the time Saturday came around, I was better. My fever had finally broken and I was well enough for my gig that night. I did a long vocal warm-up. I took a shower and put on a dress. As I got ready, I began to feel a little lighter. The band and I had an amazingly fun gig, and by the time it was over, I felt more like myself again. Thanks to my siblings, my friends and my band mates, I’m reminded of who I am and also of what my life is. No matter how hard it gets, there is much to be grateful for.

I still don’t really have a clue as to the question of “now what?” My plan was to use the summer to write an e-book about the business side of vocal jazz. That was going to happen regardless of whether or not I got the position with the jazz series. I will forge ahead with the project; the outline is written and the graphic designer is on board. I’m optimistic on that front. Hopefully, I will sing a lot of jazz and cultivate some more freelance clients. I’m scared about my financial future but that’s nothing new. I’ve been carrying this boulder around for some time now. I’m up against it but I can’t just roll over. If there’s not a place at the table for me, then my only option might be to make my own table. I really don’t know what’s next. I just know that the damn horse is still standing there, snorting and swishing its tail. I might as well get back on it.

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What is a “Good Mom?”

May
07

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Lots of people are putting snapshots of mom on their Facebook profiles. The kids at my teaching gig made watercolor pictures, which they placed inside cardboard frames with macaroni shells glued around the edges. Florists are banging. The greeting card section at Bartell’s has been picked clean. Everyone’s getting ready. So with all the hoopla going on lately, a question has been kicking around in my brain:

WHAT IS A “GOOD MOM?”

The term “good mom” is thrown around all the time. But what does it really mean? How would it be defined? What are the characteristics? Is the archetypal good mom a woman in an apron with a sparkling clean house, a pot roast in the oven and a mini-van in the driveway? Is she the go-getter who drives the carpool, signs up for every school committee and bakes cookies for the team, all with a smile on her face and a commuter mug in her hand? Is she the saintly sort who can maintain her composure and keep her mouth shut when her teenage daughter calls her a bitch and slams the bedroom door in her face? And what about the martini swilling, cigarette-smoking mom who sits by the pool in a slightly ill fitting, gold lame bikini and lets the kids eat as many Cheetos as they want? Does she qualify?

When it comes to being a “good mom,” who gets into the club?

When I went charging into motherhood, my main objective was to be as different from my own mother as possible. Although this is probably oversimplifying it a bit, I think my experience of my mom could be narrowed down into three distinct phases: disappointed in me, chronically buzzed and completely checked out. From the first day she had to shop in the “husky” section with her prepubescent tomboy of a daughter, I was an affront to my mother’s most basic sensibilities; I was fat, God forbid, and unladylike. By the time I was a teenager, Mom’s problem with alcohol was well established but duly ignored. I’m a big girl now and quite responsible for my own shit, but I will say that Mom’s drinking days had a lasting impact on my psyche. And now, my mother is basically checked out. She’s been done with motherhood for over twenty years now. My contact with her, although infrequent, is friendly enough. However, if she passed one of my kids in the aisle at Wal-Mart, she we wouldn’t even recognize him. All this said, Mom did a lot of things right. She rocked holidays-especially Christmas- like none other. She was generous with her time; she volunteered for the PTA, came to my softball games and drove me to band practice. When my kids were born, she came to help me. (That was basically the extent of her grandmotherly involvement.) And she did give me money when I was going through my divorce. Was my Mom a good mother? I don’t know. What I do know is that she did the best she could.

By the same turn, I can’t answer the question as to whether or not I’m a good mom. I suppose that’s for my boys and, possibly, their future therapist to answer. Yes, I am different than my own mother, mainly in that I am sober and also that I truly accept each of my sons as the individuals they are. But I’ve made my own unique mistakes and I know I’ve fucked up badly along the way. I think my darkest hour as a mother was when I was dealing with a pissed-off teenager in the midst of a shattering divorce. It was like trying to navigate a ship through a raging storm in the dead of night. I had a broken mast, a broken heart and an enraged shipmate in full mutiny. My oldest son, who was 14, then 15 years old at the peak of the struggle, chose to live exclusively with his father. With his adamant decision came a long list of horrible transgressions that I had committed throughout my mothering of him. It was a sobering, come-to-Jesus moment. Many of his claims were unfair but some of them were accurate. Nothing holds a mirror up like your own child. The best I could do was to own my stuff and learn from it. I’ve never had my heart so completely broken as it was then. And the absence of him in my physical space is an aching void that never really subsides. But the waters between us are much calmer and more loving now. I do believe I’ve learned from my mistakes. I also know that like my mother, I’ve done a lot right with my kids. I’ve been a playful mom, something I know I got from my father. I’ve tried to make the world entertaining for them like when I used to give them a dollar for every time they could get a stranger on the street to say “underwear.”  I threw great birthday parties complete with water balloons and ice cream cakes. I played poker and Monopoly with them, sometimes long past bedtime. Like my mother, I’ve rarely missed a band performance, a sporting event or a school play. Also like my mother, I’ve rolled up my sleeves and volunteered. I guess in some respects, I’m more like her than I thought. However, I have been sober myself for 24 years now. My boys have never once seen me drink a drop of alcohol. I have not been a perfect mom. But I have been and always will be a present mom. And hopefully, my deep and unconditional love for my boys will count for something.

While determining the exact definition of “good mom” is tricky, the one certainty among those of us who are mothers is that we don’t want to be a “bad mom.” Being a “bad mom” is about the lowest rung on the ladder, coming in even under crack ho’ or murderer. Culturally, the buck stops with us. We are the hearth and the home. The last thing any of us want to do is to make some mistake that will cause irreparable harm to our children and require years of therapy for them to work through. Motherhood, it would seem, is equal parts hypervigilance and guilt. But do we give ourselves enough credit? Do we focus more on the things we’ve fucked up and not enough on all the things we’ve done right? Are we better moms than we think we are? Am I the only one asking myself these questions?

Help me out here. What is a “good mom?” And how do we know if we fit the bill?

 

 

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Hick Patrol

May
01

Well, it’s certainly been one nutty week. Between Rep. Sally Kern (R-OK) and Donald Trump, there’s no question that racism and stupidity are alive and well in the U.S., or at least in the GOP. Both received suitable karmic comeuppance for their misdeeds. The pushback against Kern (and her backpedaling mess of a statement in defense of her racist remarks) caused a temporary crash of her website as people logged on to voice their outrage. “The Donald” was roasted-by both President Obama and SNL’s Seth Meyers-at last night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. (Who’s fired now, bitch?) It was heartening to see the strong and swift responses to such egregious nonsense.

Of course, these incidents with Kern and Trump are just two examples of the GOP getting its crazy on. There have been countless others. All of this makes me wonder as to the potency of the party. Will all the outrageous ignorance and blatant racism ultimately serve to erode the GOP’s credibility? Or are they pandering to an equally insane and scary majority that will beef up their numbers in the 2012 presidential election? I would like to believe the former. However, the stupidity of the American people should never be underestimated. The fact that George W. Bush was elected to a second term is case in point one. That some people still believe that President Obama was not born on the U.S. is case in point two. The list could go on and on.

I’m truly mystified by the fervent hostility and slobbering ignorance that seems to be prevailing in the conservative movement in this country. Where is all this hate and crazy coming from anyway? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that racism is at the core of much of the heinous behavior from the right. Sadly, there is a frightening and disappointing segment of our population that absolutely can’t stand it that we have a black president; they seek to discredit him at every turn and with any means they can think of, no matter how ridiculous. I think another contributing factor to the current climate is the rise of Christian Evangelicals who have a fundamental misunderstanding of the establishment clause of in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Perhaps it’s not a misunderstanding but an abject disregard. The end result is the same; the minute one group claims that its God is running things it makes the field wide-open for crazy and, apparently, hatred. I think hatred is ultimately fueled by fear. But what all these people-especially the ones claiming to have “faith”- are so afraid of is the subject for a deeper sociological analysis on another day.

I’d like to take a moment to say  a word about Sally Kern, Oklahoma and Christianity. I was born and raised in Oklahoma. Sally Kern is not representative of the people I knew growing up. Her bigotry is a disservice to all Oklahomans, both present and former. I hope that Oklahomans will demand her resignation. Also, although I no longer consider myself a Christian, I was brought up in the Presbyterian Church. I am appalled by some of the hatred that I see carried out “in God’s name.” This is not the Christianity that I used to know.

Shenanigans such as the birther crusade only serve to distract from some pretty big flipping problems here in the U.S. Millions of people are still unemployed or are working part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time gigs. We’re currently engaged in three wars. Women are fighting for the right to control their fertility as granted by Roe v. Wade. Gays and lesbians continue to be attacked on all fronts and are denied basic rights that their heterosexual brethren take for granted. Corporate greed is eroding the fiscal fabric of the nation. We have some major shit to deal with here. So moving forward-especially with an eye on the upcoming presidential election-a big question lingers:

WHO IS GOING TO SET THE INTELLECTUAL TONE FOR AMERICA?

Of course, racism and bigotry should be called out and challenged at every turn. In response to Donald Trump and Sally Kern, American intelligentsia appropriately expressed its outrage through Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere. There was rigorous push back. But given the sizeable issues in front of us, we have to be more than mere hick patrol. We have to proactively elevate the conversation. We need to firmly set the agenda in a way that they are responding to us and not the other way around. Indeed, it’s tricky; as I pointed out earlier in the post, it’s hard to decipher the impact of the crazy, to know what to pounce on and when to let the GOP hang itself. At present, the list of potential GOP candidates for the presidency includes Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Ginrich and Sarah Palin. Each of these has already made his/her own contributions to the vitriolic and philistine tone of the party. If these represent the best of what the GOP has to offer, then we should gear up for more nonsense because it is surely coming. However, I say we can do better than that-much better. Intelligent and informed debate is not cultural elitism. Instead, it is the radical vision of an America that is much greater than its lowest common denominator.

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Here’s the Deal

We are women over forty.

Our youth-obsessed culture may write us off as old mares ready for pasture (Or Botox or obscurity).

I say fuck that.

We've got life smarts, moxie and fire. We make big magic. Sidelines don't suit us.

It's midlife and we have a choice here.

We can curl up and go away. We can slump over sideways. We can go on another diet.

Or we can stand the hell up and blast off like bottle rockets. We can be joyful and free. We can be loud.

We get to decide.

We aren't finished yet. Not even close.

We are formidable.

Talk to Me

katy@lifeasatango.com