Who Are You?

From my mother, I grew up with very specific ideas about who I am genetically. We were Irish, “Descended from Jonathan Kelly, who stowed away aboard the Mayflower to get here and practice his Catholic faith in freedom from the English swine who stole our language and religion.” My mother had opinions on the English.

The stowaway part was a bit o’blarney according to my mother, what my Grandma Helen referred to as a “whopper,” and an outrageous lie in truth. There was an actual Jonathan Kelly, Irish Catholic, who came to America in the early 1700’s through the Virginia Colony, and one can follow the bloodline down to my mother’s generation and now, mine. He was not indentured. Jonathan Kelly came of his own free will for a chance at a better life.

caroles dnaMy daughter took the Ancestry DNA test first, then Paul and I, all with a little surprise in the results.

Paul, my very tall, very fair, second-generation Irish American hubby was predictably Irish. Not a big surprise since his family came so recently. What was a surprise was the trace amount of Indian Subcontinent. How fascinating is that? How on earth did his poor, bog-Irish ancestors meet and mingle with someone from the Indian Subcontinent? We will probably never know but it sure makes for interesting conversation and speculation.

For me it was, what I had been told about my genetic code, along with so much else of my childhood, was not necessarily true. All the Irish heritage I was fed as a child ignored the far larger percentage of my genetic markers from Great Britian and hey, how ’bout them Spaniards and Jews! Like Paul’s Indian Subcontinent, hours of contemplation can flow from those Spaniards and Jews.

In a time when DNA testing didn’t exist, her Irish heritage was what my mother believed in. My paternal genetic heritage she dismissed as, “Scottish I think. Maybe some Welsh.” Sometimes I wonder if when my mother, removed from Ireland by multiple generations, an ocean, and most of another continent, railed against the English, was she really railing at my biological father? Were “the English” code for “the guy who left me”?Her Irish genes and superstitions were what she had to give me, and as with many things, maybe felt like she had more to give than she did.
What’s really got me curious is: who were those Eastern European Jews, Spaniards, Basques, and/or Portuguese lurking in that gene pool? Sailors from Phillip’s ill-fated Armada, washed up on Ireland’s shore? Or do they go further back, were they Celts who went north? I might never know. But I think there are fascinating stories there, waiting to be told.

It solidifies a suspicion I have harbored for some time: Americans are all mutts, mongrels, and we are stronger for it. Instead of standing shouting at each other, looking at one another as “Other” we should be mixing up the gene pool and ferreting out heritable diseases. Consider, the person you’re shouting at could be your cousin. If you’re not a Native American, at some point your people left someplace else, or were brought here against their will from someplace else and here we are now, together.

We’re going to live or die, together.

Last week, a 3rd cousin  contacted me via Ancestry.com; she’s a beautiful mixed-race woman in Michigan. We haven’t figured out the common ancestor yet but there it is, courtesy of Science: two women of the same generation, raised thousands of miles apart, one recognizably African-American and one recognizably Astoundingly White, are  genetically linked. We share blood family. We are blood family. How could I stand across a protest line and shout at my family? How could I wish less-than for my family? How can I not cry out for justice for my family?

I wasn’t who I thought I was genetically, but I am still me and as an American, I choose who that is. That is the grace of freedom, and freewill. I am a mutt and a mongrel, an American Girl.

It’s kind of liberating.

Who are you?

Then One Day, I Knew the Headline

It was and is a rough school, where I once worked.

The surrounding area and schools feeding into the 5A High School were tough, with a student population of whom more than 50% were Economically Disadvantaged, and there were a lot of the troubles that seem to come with living in a poor neighborhood.

There were drugs, gambling, and near-constant fights. Our kids often didn’t have great examples of problem-solving in their homes. Many had only one parent in the home, or two over-worked parents just trying to keep everyone fed and clothed.

There were about 50 or so students who were “Frequent Fliers”, always in trouble, and thus, always in and out of my office, waiting for their Assistant Principals, who meted out Discipline. Matthew was one of these boys, the ones I knew by name, who their siblings were, and their class schedules. Some were rude to me, even once we knew each other well. Matthew never was.

When shootings of particularly African American boys started making the news with alarming regularity, I would look at my Frequent Fliers and fear for them, so many of them being Black or Hispanic. They weren’t any more trouble than the White kids, it was purely the demographics of our neighborhood. But to me they were no longer Black or White, or Whatever; to me, a whole lot of them were just “my” kids, and I feared the day I might hear one of their names on the news, victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin color. Sometimes a kid I loved would come through my door and I’d think, Trayvohn Martin, and I almost couldn’t stand it, the tears and the fear would be so close.

Matthew wasn’t rude to me, or surly. Maybe a bit frustrated on occasion when called into my office again. He didn’t get up to too much mischief, despite the sometimes questionable company he kept; he just didn’t go to class.

But in the year after I left, supported by family, his Teachers and Principal, he did start going to class. He graduated in 2016. He had his whole life ahead of him. Armed with a High School diploma, his future was his to make.

Matthew was shot to death last weekend. He was maybe in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police are still looking for his killer, who was most likely targeting his friend Edgar. Both young men were left to die in the street. Matthew and Edgar became more statistics in our love affair with guns.

Matthew’s mother, who loved him and wanted only the best for him, will bury him this weekend. Matthew was more than a statistic to her.

Matthew was more than a statistic to me.

Matthew was a life just beginning.

God grant to you peace everlasting, Matthew, and may light perpetual shine upon you.

Reason #863 Why I Hate Shopping

I won’t be surprised if, on my way to the loo, one of the animals doesn’t try to interest me in buying some slightly used plastic chew toys.

Everywhere one goes to conduct some sort of business, there is an invitation to buy something, buy more. Some random samplings from my life:

As I walked into the local bank branch, a nice young man opened the door for me, greeted me, then asked if he could interest me in an IRA or Investment Planning? Not today, I just want a crisp bill to put in a birthday card. “Well let us know when you’re ready!” Sure. Sure, I will do that. Absolutely.

Grocery shopping tests both my healthy eating resolve and my patience; when I’m not running demolition derby through the aisles of the local Kroger, dodging both “Click-It” shoppers with their unwieldy carts full of other’s shopping or, worse, the shelf stockers, since no one pays employees to work graveyard and stock shelves overnight, it’s the sample people crying out from the end of every aisle, and even when I’m hungry I can’t take the samples and then not buy the product, right? Isn’t that like using the loo at McDonald’s and not buying at least a soda?

Speaking of McDonald’s, after running errands all morning hunger strikes and I drive through for a quarter pounder, because their adds say it’s fresh beef cooked to order lately. I order it and nothing else, since apparently two orders of fries per week will kill us and I’m already over-limit.  I don’t drink sodas and hate sweet tea so no, I tell the speaker, I do not wish to make it a combo. Yes, I answer the unbelieving voice, I want only the sandwich. “Ok; $4.69 at the first window.” I can almost hear the shake of his head.

Yesterday, I’m at the car dealership to get routine service on Paul’s car. “Wow, that’s some hail damage you have there!” This is said as if to draw my attention to the dozens of golf-ball-like dents covering the top and hood of the car, like I didn’t know they were there. Resisting the temptation to feign surprise, as though I and everyone else in North Central Texas didn’t wake from a dead sleep six weeks ago to ice bouncing off rooves, cars, patio furniture and fences, and am shocked – shocked! to find hail damage on my car, because all I want to do is check the beast in, take my place in the Customer Lounge and disappear behind my fresh New Yorker, I instead go for politeness infused with finality: “Yes, I know. My husband is looking into it,” I tell him, with a longing glance toward the Customer Lounge.

It’s as though I haven’t spoken. “Let me give you the card for the guy who does all our work – he did my car. That’s all he does – body work, and particularly hail damage….” he goes on at some length about the quality of the work done by this apparent god of auto body work. I glance again at the Customer Lounge – so near, and yet so far, but the lure of a spiff and an obvious lack of talent for reading visual cues propels him on until I give him my cell phone number so he can text me the information. At last I make my escape and, finding the seat furthest from the TV and human contact, I sink behind my magazine.

Paul tells me perhaps the finality I’m infusing my voice with, isn’t final enough or nearly as final as I think it is. Having been told (quite literally) my entire life to “Watch your tone young lady!” and, “Well, maybe you didn’t intend it to sound mean but it really kinda did….” and, “Your voice is just such that you are always going to have to watch your tone with customers…” and, “You sound sarcastic even when you don’t intend to” I find it hard to believe that, when I actually do intend to verbally drive another human away, they don’t get it.

But I guess they don’t, or the need to make a sales supersedes even an obvious display of customer disinterest. The most recent, maddening example was when we were looking for bedroom furniture. We walked into a nice furniture store TO LOOK. We were not planning to buy, merely to get ideas about what we liked and didn’t like. The only certainty was the need for a king-sized bed, as the queen is just not enough for man, woman, dog, and cat.

As the soles of our shoes made contact with the tile of the store floor, hidden sensors detected us and deployed a sales woman, who manifested before us cheerfully asking,  “What can I help you with today?!”

“We’re just looking, Thank You.” This is me, believing I am troweling on Finality. I am hungry. Truth be told, I am hangry, and I just want to walk through this place, get a gander, then go to lunch. We’re not buying. For the love of God and all things holy, please just let us walk through unmolested. My silent prayer goes unanswered.

Paul tells me weeks later, “I don’t think you sound quite as final as you think you do…”  and the sales woman, because she’s been trained to never take no for an answer says, “If you’ll tell me what you’re interested in, I can take you to the right place! Maybe save you time!”

Ooohhh, she’s good. She has offered an argument I can only defeat with absolute, pointed rudeness and, while I am unknowingly rude and thoughtless all of the time, I was raised to never, on pain of eternal damnation, be meaningfully rude to another human being, even if he or she truly deserves and desperately needs it. So because we know we like Mission style furniture, I say, “We like Mission and Arts & Crafts styles. Do you have any Arts & Crafts or Mission headboards?”

“Well…” and she begins leading us, winding through the furniture and finally to a couple of bedroom sets that might once have winked at a true Mission style headboard, “…. these are similar in style…” and now she has pissed me off because she’s made the colossal mistake of looking at my thrown-together attire, wild hair, and lack of make-up and assessed me as not knowing what a Mission style headboard actually looks like. She’s probably only wasting her time with us because Paul looks like an 800 credit score.

“None of this is Mission,” I tell her, turning on my heel. But she’s not a new salesperson, oh no, so she tries one last gambit, “We do make one but don’t have one in stock here right now.” She’s walking while she talks, leading us to a giant computer monitor. “Let me just bring it up…” she begins tapping away and I am done. Done, fini, finito, final, donedonedone. Confident I had bucket-loads of finality in my voice I said, “I am not buying something from a computer image,” the biggest lie I’ve ever told, when rarely a week goes by I don’t buy something online, from cosmetics to hot bean paste and everything in between.

The look on her face tells me I’ve made contact and she relents. She stammers out something about not having everything they make displayed at every store but I’m already walking off in high dudgeon, hating myself a little more with every step, but grateful that every step was bringing me closer to lunch…

… Where I was asked, “Would you like to combo that for only $1.39? You get fries and a drink when you up-size to a combo…”

Sure. Make it a combo-double-heart-attack. Bring it on. I surrender.


Passages and Paths, Obvious & Obscure

Yesterday afternoon, a room full of young Americans in every color young Americans appear, raised their hands and swore alike , “… So help me God”, to uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Raising his right hand and swearing with them was Paul’s grandson, Levi. “… So help me God…”  he swore, and passed from teenager to U. S. Army soldier in a heartbeat.

IMG_8208 (2)
Proud Grandpa & Levi

Most of them were so young! Watching my daughter-in-law’s video of the ceremony, I was again amazed and thankful for people willing to devote portions and sometimes their entire lives to the service of our country.

(I might be biased, but Levi was clearly the handsomest male in the room and will no doubt look smashing in his dress uniform.)

Levi Grad 5 x 7 (2)

They swore their oaths and were duly shipped off. When Levi awoke this morning, he was in a different state and a different life. A month ago he crossed a stage and received his high school diploma: today he is a soldier in the U. S. Army.

I hope, despite the nerves and excitement, the crazy family vibe of parents and friends saying a temporary goodbye, that he was able to be truly present in the moment, that he recorded the sights and sounds of the ceremony that will forever be a point of demarcation in his life, a clear starting point for whatever comes next.

Would that every passage was so clear! Christenings, confirmations, bat mitzvahs, and quinceaneras; weddings, graduations, and funerals. Every culture creates helpful, symbolic markers along our varied paths through life. Growing up in Southern California, I tended to mark personal milestones by the most recent large earthquake or natural disaster, which is why I always know when we buried my grandfather: one week before the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. (Slightly related aside: all my Jewish relatives said the earthquake was a good sign, it meant that Papa was at rest and I’ve never figured out that logic.)

And yet, it’s often only after years and much soul searching has passed that I see other, but no less real, moments when for me everything changed, and I passed from one life to another in a moment almost ridiculously banal.

Keep your high school graduations; I think one’s actual passage from child to adult might be as devoid of fanfare as choosing to stay in and do one’s laundry on a Friday night while tackling the staggaring amount of reading one’s History professor has assigned. Sometimes, a career ends not because one was bad at it, but rather with an awareness of having nothing left to give it; one notices how a client has become a good friend over months of conference calls and working lunches; a new love is born across a fast food restaurant table, when she notices, with a bit of a start, she can no longer imagine a life without him in it.

Many are the blessings of retrospection, however much I bargain with God for prescience instead.

In the coming weeks, information will be blasting those new soldiers like a firehose. Some won’t make it through Basic Training and may struggle to find meaning for this particular passage in their lives. Unbeknownst to them today, their paths lay elsewhere. For some, the next four years will be a junction, or a stepping stone to another path. A small set of truly remarkable recruits will dedicate their careers to serving our country and us, their fellow citizens; yesterday will always be their first autonomous steps on their path through Life. Which of those, or a path I can’t even imagine, is Levi’s?

The beauty is, it’s his life to make and live. I believe he’ll be a good soldier; he’s determined, intelligent, physically fit, and in possession of a first class, loving heart. I’d want him beside me in a foxhole, and I know if he serves in a foreign country he will show the best face of the American Soldier. What will he learn, and lose, and love along his path? Levi, like all of us, has endless choices scattered along every possible path through Life, though I hope he’ll learn also that every choice has consequences, and closes doors behind him even as they open other, previously hidden ones, ahead.

Have you ever found, in retrospect, a moment where everything changed, one that maybe you didn’t see at the time? Do you ever see such passages when they’re occurring? What have you learned about yourself or others from the significant passages of your life?

Wonder Women All Around

stork parkingThe first time I saw this in a parking lot, I was irrationally irritated. Seriously? I thought. Humpf! I waddled my fat pregnant ass from the back of beyond all through Christmas. Yeah, petulance is not my best side. I’m not proud.

More rationally I thought: Since when do pregnant women need special parking? It’s not a physical disability. (Said the woman whose sole complication of pregnancy was packing on 50 pounds through the constant consumption of Mexican food.)

Have you seen Wonder Woman yet? If not, stop right now and go see it. Seriously – git. I’ll wait.

Back? Good. Now we can talk.

I was not a Wonder Woman comic fan; when I did read comics, it was Spiderman for me. Bat Man on TV. Hated the 70’s Wonder Woman TV show (sorry, Meggie). But I adored the new film starring Gal Gadot, and were I a younger woman I’d happily follow her Wonder Woman into battle to bring about a just world.

I’ve always enjoyed movies where the girls got to be just as badass as the boys, that’s the appeal, for me, of X-Men, the Avengers, and the Justice League, that the girls are equally fearsome and talented. Truly treated as different, but equal.

Then I learned, maybe with the rest of the world, that Gal Gadot did her own stunts while five months pregnant. As one does.

gal-gadot-wonder-woman business insider
Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman; photo Business Insider

Just before that I learned, maybe with the rest of the world, too, that Serena Williams won her latest Grand Slam title while two months pregnant. As one does.

Serena Williams SI Cover
Owning it!

Along with the beautiful, Jesus-like humanity of the Wonder Woman film and character, and the glow that came from watching a beautiful, powerful female lead take the box office it’s opening weekend, came a far better reason for my irritation at a parking sign conferring a privilege on my younger sisters I never enjoyed: we aren’t delicate flowers, really, in need of special parking places when we’re pregnant. Women are carrying on with their lives, while pregnant, every. single. day. Lifting. Toting. Multi-tasking. Conference calling and commuting. Wheeling and dealing. Building buildings. Selling stocks. Buying bonds and groceries. Cooking meals, running restaurants. Performing brain surgery or delivering other women’s babies. Lifting aged patients. Performing weddings, baptizing babies, burying the dead. Picking-up, dropping-off, checking-in, driving, carrying, and tending children, husbands, wives, and partners, too. In other words, women are Wonder Womaning all over the place every day and every where you look. Often, while pregnant.

Gone, for me, is any whiff of condescension or patronage, replaced instead with a sense of a gift given in recognition of shear badassery. A gift given not to “weak” pregnant women, but to pregnant women who are soldiering on as women always have done.

And I admit, when I was preggers and roughly the size of Jupiter, there were a few days towards the end I would have put aside my stupid pride and used that parking space, were they popular 28 years ago, so I’ll not begrudge my younger sisters for enjoying it. They’re earning it every. single. day.

Keep on Wonder Womaning, Sisters.


Kids, Cameras, & Captures

One of the things I love about photography is it gives me a handy place to hide and watch people.

This is a big difference between me and Paul: though both introverts I find people fascinating, while his personal jury is out (I’m being kind).  It’s a difference that binds rather than dividing us, as both find the other’s perspective amusing, in the way one finds a crazy relative endearing. Auntie Martha may be mad as a hatter, but damn is she ever funny.

Kids are awesome to watch and photograph until they become conscious of the camera and start posing for every shot. The instant gratification of smartphone cameras has made this worse, I fear. It’s hard to get a good, candid picture of our seven year old granddaughter, who now vogues for every shot. Capturing her when she’s just being seven and fully engaged in life is the best, because it’s when her sweet, curious, dare-devil heart shines the brightest.

Jackie Summons 16 x 9
Jackie summons the Gulls

Not long after we met our now daughter-in-law, Sarah, I got this shot of her and Sean, Paul’s youngest son.

IMG_1435 (3)

I have no idea what he was saying but man is she ever listening to him. The lens captured what Paul and I had happily noted: she really likes him! They were so gooey-newly-in-love, each inquiring if the other was enjoying the meal. It would have been revolting if it hadn’t pleased us so, and we drove away saying to each other, “She gets him! She loves him anyway! And she’s nice, and smart, and pretty!” because really, what else is there for parents to want when meeting an adult child’s intended? Scrape away the need for income and being practical and tidy and not an ax murderer, and I believe we all just want our grown children to love some worthy person who also loves them back. Will have his or her six when needed. Gets them, in the fundamental, important ways the rest of the world may (and often does) miss. We already know all the wonderful quirks about our children that make them lovable but the wider world is a hard, impatient place, and folks are far more likely to see our babies’ flaws than finer qualities. It’s a gift to parents when you see a sensible and pleasant person clearly besotted with your offspring.

look of love, b & w

Flash forward a couple years and Sean and Sarah have a little one all their own. When lucky (and on high speed continuous shooting), I get a shot where one or the other of them are in their own little world with their little man, and it makes my heart happy and also makes me wish all children had parents who love them as much as these two love him.

SJ & Sarah pattycake 5 x 7

Paul’s namesake has a new girlfriend. She’s been a while in coming but clearly worth the wait. She’s smart, sweet, practical and makes him happy. Here he is feeding her a line of BS a mile wide and twice as deep, as a good Irishman does:

Alice & PD3 5 x 7 color

See it? She gets him, and loves him anyway. Plus dimples.

It’s frustrating when I don’t get the technical stuff right, or think I and my equipment are faster or better than we are but, hiding behind my camera I sometimes see things others maybe don’t and when the Force is with me, I can capture it.

Alice & PD3, 5 x 7 (2).jpg
Blather on, lucky man. She loves you anyway.

Gotcha!  She gets him.


Radical Hospitality

I’ve been hearing the term Radical Hospitality in Christian circles for some years now. It seems to vaguely mean Inclusion, Tolerance, and Support for the individual on his or her faith journey, as well as a method of bringing newcomers to the faith. It has meant different things to the various different people and congregations I’ve known who espouse it, or at least espouse the concept of it. I’ve heard it used as a reason to host a local ecumenical event, include Gay people in all aspects of congregational life, and as something the Welcoming Committee needs to take Very Seriously. It’s meaning for me has changed many times, but as ever: recent experience + old memory = lesson learned. One of the rewards of living long enough is that even ancient artifacts of memory can have lessons, given the right ignition.

My ex-husband’s late father left my late mother-in-law for another woman. It was as cliche as could be: she was his secretary. All his adult children and we spouses disapproved, vocally so, and then sat back in our disapproval and waited for the affair to end.

But the affair didn’t end, and a couple years later it occurred to all of us that if his children and grandchildren wanted a relationship with him, we were gonna have to get over our disapproval and hurt and bring them both back into the fold. As the family Golden Child, it fell to my ex-husband, and by extension me, to make that happen.

We invited them to dinner and, because my father-in-law didn’t like me and I knew it, I went about my pre-party cleaning with a double dose of OCD; my neighbor, finding me sponge-mopping the ceiling, gently told me I might be taking things just a tad far. They were likely happy to be invited and wouldn’t be judging my housekeeping too harshly.

They arrived fifteen minutes early and found me, mop in hand, finishing the powder room. Wanting to kill them, I smiled through gritted teeth. We all ate. Both Agnes and I drank way too much. After they left, concluding that “the other woman” had neither horns nor claws and that my father-in-law was not being held against his will, we counted the evening a success.

My ex and I felt quite proud of ourselves. What grown-ups we’d been! We’d nobly cracked the door open a little bit, so they could get back in. Over time, I think all of the kids eventually found their way to forgiving him enough to include them in their lives somewhat, and maybe they’d have done that without my dinner party but, weren’t we Good? Weren’t we hospitable to the woman who had broken up their family? We congratulated ourselves that we’d given more than they deserved, and were the bigger people for it.

Never once did it occur to me how much courage it took for Agnes, whatever her sins, to walk through my front door.

Never once did I think how nervous she must have been.

Never once did I even try to imagine what she must be feeling.

Never once in all the years that followed did I open my heart to her, to who she was, what she felt or thought. I don’t recall ever asking her a question about herself, her life, her interests. But I was always polite.

They eventually married and remained so until her shocking, sudden death some years later. She lay down for a nap and never woke up. There were no second chances at offering Radical Hospitality to Agnes.

According to Dictionary.com:

Radical:  Adjective 1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference; 2. thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company. 3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.

Hospitality:  noun  1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. 2. the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Just reading the definitions calls up Jesus for me, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. It points out my giant failings were Agnes was concerned: I took the standard societal attitude about a woman who has an affair with a married man – that she was a heartless homewrecker and not worthy. If I’d been more radical, I might have accepted her as a fellow human being, full of errors and mistakes, just like me. And if I’d been truly hospitable and received her in a generous fashion, I might have saw in her whatever it was my father-in-law saw and loved. I might have offered radical hospitality as well as food and drink.

It is difficult to step away from our convenient labels for people, especially those we consider “other”, be they other woman/other man, or other color, other creed, other point-of-origin, but the loss is greatest to ourselves when we won’t. I say won’t, rather than don’t or can’t, because the latter two might denote a lack of choice, and our freedom to choose how we think is the best, and potentially perilous, gift of freewill.

In a dangerously angry world we need not walls but truly radical hospitality. From being radical enough to suppose the lady with 47 items in the express lane ahead of you at the grocery store didn’t do it to piss you off, to being generous and hospitable enough to listen to fact-based ideas and concerns from the opposing political party.

I think our lives depend upon it.

Feminists & Goats

Over dinner one evening, Paul wondered aloud about something he’d watched while eating lunch. Unless he tunes it to English Premier League Football, the TV in his office’s break room is generally showing HGTV or the like, so he’s come to know all about Tarek and Christina el Moussa, house flippers once married to one another, but alas, No Longer.

With the end of their marriage and show, Tarek and Christina are now busily working on independent ventures. A recent show featured Christina doing a photoshoot. In a bikini. And here is reason #852 why I love Paul: watching the attractive Christina promoting her new venture by showing as much of herself as is allowable on daytime TV, Paul wondered if he’d soon see an ad wherein Tarek was doing a photoshoot, clad only in swim trunks or, if we’re to have true parity, a speedo? Would he have Revenge Abs? Realizing that men don’t have to promote their work with revealing photoshoots, Paul wondered aloud that night at dinner, Why are women still putting up with this?

In the wake of a celebrity breakup there always follows an article on the woman showing the ex what he’s missing with her Revenge Body. As I was googling Tarek and Christina I found this article about her Revenge Body.

When we moved to South Carolina I faced the debacle of getting a new Driver’s License, for which I was required to produce: my birth certificate, my first marriage certificate and/or something proving I had a right to my first married name, then my divorce decree, followed by my new marriage license and subsequent government-issued ID in that name. Upon our return to Texas a year later, I dragged it all back to the Texas DPS to get my old, still-current Texas license reissued. All of which had Paul wondering aloud why women are still changing their names upon marriage? Given the giant pain in the a$$ it is to change one’s name in a day when we are no longer exchanged for a certain number of goats and thus, traded from father to husband as property, why do women still take their husband’s names?

The old argument was women retained their married names upon divorce because their children bore that name, and I would concede that point if we were still living in the 1950’s, but we aren’t. Having worked in Education and dismissed from campus literally hundreds if not thousands of students, I can assure you what their mother’s names are makes no difference to us whatsoever. It all comes down to a) who is listed by the enrolling parent/guardian as authorized to take a student from campus, and b) if they have ID to prove they are who they say they are. Period. That’s it. If you’ve listed Mr. Peanutbutterandjelly as an authorized contact and granted him permission to take your student off campus, and he has government-issued, picture-bearing identification proving he is, indeed, Mr. Peanutbutterandjelly, your student can leave campus with him.

Paul’s and my marriage is quite traditional, but our blessing is we choose that, rather than society imposing traditional roles upon us. I might do more cleaning and he may do more handyman things, but it’s based on inclination and skill, rather than traditional gender roles.

As we neared the end of binge-watching The White Queen and subsequently gobbling up the actual history of the time, Paul remarked of Margaret Beaufort and Queen Elizabeth Woodville that for all their lack of autonomy they, like so many intelligent, capable women before and after them throughout history, still found ways to exert influence and shift the course of events. How much might such women have accomplished if they had rights? Birth control? Equality?

Fast-forward to the 20th century and the epic battle between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, as deliciously told in Feud on cable channel FX.  Fueled largely by a male studio head who felt convincing performances could only be gleaned if they kept the two leads perpetually at each other’s throats.  What followed was the kind of emotional guerrilla warfare only old foes can make, strike-counter-strike, hitting with unerring accuracy the ancient, never-healed wounds in each other. What took my breath away was the lack of respect for them as Academy Award-winning, acting professionals. Would Jack Warner have suggested such a thing if the stars had been, oh, let’s say John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart? I sincerely think not.

Here we are in 2017 and in Texas we have SB 25 looking set to pass the legislature, a bill allowing doctors to lie to or withhold information from a woman they believe will abort if informed of birth defects/issues with the child she’s carrying. Think about that: a doctor can LIE to a woman by omission, and is immune from prosecution for doing so, thus removing her autonomy to make her own healthcare decisions, and possibly affecting her for her entire life. Doctors will be legally permitted to treat adult, rational female human beings as children, incapable of making sound choices over their own lives.  Left unanswered is who will pay the staggering costs of raising all those profoundly disabled children?

It seems we are not so far removed from trading our young women for goats after all.


Babbling Bucket of Bad Interview

This Lent I got a much-needed (I am sure) lesson in Humility. It’s just the most recent in a lifetime of them; they keep coming since clearly I Don’t Get It.

There was a job posting for which I was eminently qualified. The first interview, with a panel of three professional women I would be supporting if I were the successful candidate, went swimmingly. While the lead of the group was hard-ish to read, the other two were warm and welcoming and in about three minutes I made them all laugh. They were on my side. I knew I’d get the second interview, with The Boss, and about a week later, I did.

That is where it all fell apart.

After an awkward handshake (setting off my inner alarm bells), she led me back to a pleasant but impersonal office which told me absolutely nothing about her. I’d have to work with what she gave me verbally to establish a connection. Foolishly, I wasn’t worried yet because I like people, generally, and can usually find common ground with almost anyone.

As had the three before her, she worked from an HR-provided sheet of questions. I answered honestly while still hoping to imbue each with a little sparkle, a little something that said, “I understand your industry and the pressures of it; let me make your work life better”. There was eye-contact. She was cordial, intelligent, polite, and absolutely impossible to read.

As an introverted child who moved a lot, I learned at an early age to make people laugh, but I couldn’t make this woman laugh. I wasn’t quite sure she was even smiling at me so much as with sympathy for me, because when I can’t find a connection with someone, one of two things happens: I shut down entirely (this is very rare – I am GREAT in an emergency) or, more common and what happened on this particular day with this particular woman, The Babbling. When The Babbling happens, words come out of my mouth in response to the conversation, a great many words, but I have no real idea if they are relative to the other party’s words. They just come, dozens at a time. It’s like a shotgun, really, and sometimes I get lucky and one of those words hits the target, say, if “efficient” or “detail-oriented” happens to elbow past all the other words and accidentally fly out of my face.

Job Interview

I was a Lector (reader of lessons) in an Episcopal church, and told I was a good one. This came as a huge relief because no matter how prepared I was, every time I stood at the lectern in front of literally God and everyone, I was certain that not Scripture but rather an endless stream of profanity was exiting my mouth, and my Episcopalian brethren were simply too polite to tell me. About half way through the interview, I found myself wondering if she was Episcopalian, and exactly how many incarnations of the “F” word I’d dropped.

This is why Pride always, always goeth before the Fall: I saw a job for which I was qualified and assumed that once they got a load of my wonderful resume, not to mention razzling, dazzling Moi, the only question would be: how soon could I start? I never considered that I’d blow it, or that maybe they’d just like someone else better than me.

When she walked me out she thanked me for my time, which told me all I needed to know. She’d made her decision, at least regarding me, and I cannot fault her. With only a brief time to make an important decision about the team around her, a team which will largely determine her success or failure, she can’t afford to gamble. Presented with a good resume offered by a babbling idiot, she made the only possible decision.


It’s certainly not the first interview I’ve had that hasn’t gone well; it is surprising how much it stings, but I imagine that is flavored with other recent, more personal rejections.

Have you ever completely blown an interview or presentation you should have aced? What throws you off your game? What helps you dust yourself off and carry on?

Weekend Coffee Share: It’s Time

If we were having coffee, I might ask if you follow any sort of Lenten practice? I do, and generally find it a helpful, healthy time of year to clean up, clean out, recenter.

In years past, I’ve given up chocolate, red meat, etc., or taken up some reading, some form of self-improvement. Last year, we chose Star Words on Epiphany and I worked on that, though I never really did understand what Authority was trying to tell me.

Never have I been foolish enough to give up coffee, and a grateful world rejoices. Settle in for another cup; I have a confession.

This year I’ve given up nothing. I’m trying to eat better, get more exercise. Tackle a couple things around the house I’ve been avoiding. But I couldn’t settle my mind on a serious Lenten discipline until a sermon on the first week of Lent on Sin. Fr. Greg did a great job of bringing the concept of Sin out of the Big Hairy Sin area, and down into the little, niggling, just-as-dangerous personal level. The kinds of sin that eats away, slowly but surely, at people. The kind of sin that destroys from inside, and it has me thinking about the things left undone in my life (in the Episcopal confessional, we atone for both the sins we commit in action, as well as our sins of omission). It’s just one thing, an ending, and it is fair to say I have allowed it a lot of space in my head to the detriment of better, nobler pursuits.

I neither desired nor initiated this ending, and it’s only me that hasn’t acknowledged it, but if there is a time for rigorous self-honesty, Lent is it.

There have been letters written and wisely left unsent; a good, long talk with Paul during which he let me ramble on until I finished with, I don’t really know what I expect to get out of it, or even what I want. Maybe that’s not it – maybe I just want to force the issue, hear the words ‘I’ve decided you are not necessary to my life anymore, please go away.’ And ultimately, what’s the point? When I find myself questioning if I care enough to want that, truth be told. 

For a smart person, I can be a bit slow on the uptake, particularly with regards to rejection, but I do eventually get there.

A good Lent provides clarity but also time, time to sit with the clarity, time to accept it. Acceptance: the final stage of grief. Admitting to myself that what I have been doing, not terribly well, is grieving, and that the grief is consuming energy better deployed elsewhere.

Earlier this week I saw a video clip of Prince Harry reading Ecclesiastes 3. What a beautiful timedeep voice he has, and as a two-tour veteran of Afghanistan, I imagine he understands the wisdom of this passage better than most of us. All that being said, I think there was something more kept it circling my head this week. There was a message in it for me: It is time. Time to stop looking for answers or reasons to this particularly unanswerable question. Time to consign it to the Mysteries of the Universe, and People. Time to Accept. Time to put away the grief, confusion, and sadness. Time to acknowledge the season that was, and passed time to let it go.

Time to face forward, walk through the hurt and heal. Time to evict this particular squatter from my head. Time to move on.

If we were having coffee, I would wonder aloud if you have ever clung stubbornly to people or situations beyond what was healthy? Do you struggle with accepting an ending because it hurts? Who or what helps you? How do you evict the squatters in your head?