To linger at the bus stop

January 30th, 2014

 

I can usually be counted on to announce when one of my columns appears in the Minnesota Women’s Press.  I like the gig, I want to keep it, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done for the magazine.  But the column that appeared in last October’s issue was different.  It felt too raw, too emotional, too vulnerable to link to on Twitter with the usual “HEY EVERYBODY CHECK THIS OUT!”

How could I be happy to publicize a column I wrote about a loved one who is dead?

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My friend and neighbor Pam Taylor was diagnosed with an aggressive and virtually untreatable brain tumor in November 2011.  In one week Pam went from being just another mama at the school bus stop to a semi-paralyzed terminally ill hospital patient.

This was nothing at all like other times cancer has touched my life.  My friend Liz’s colon cancer treatment, though eventually futile, allowed her at least some time with mobility, hair, and most importantly, hope.  A family member with lung cancer has been trucking along for six and a half years, switching out medications in search of whatever works.  Not Pam.  Once her cancer was diagnosed it was too late for anything but goodbye.

 

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A new mother I know told me recently that she was surprised to see the parents in her neighborhood linger at the bus stop long after the children had been whisked away to school.  It seemed odd to her that busy people, commuter mugs in hand, would yak at the corner for up to a half hour in the mornings, longer on warm afternoons.  I told her that I might have thought that was silly, too, if I hadn’t lingered at my own bus stop and gotten to know some incredibly funny, thoughtful and supportive parents who I’m happy to say became dear friends.  Including Pam.

 

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Pam’s diagnosis was shattering for me.  In late 2011 I was already in a pretty crappy headspace, dealing with professional rejection, interpersonal drama, and a long-festering depression that required more attention than I cared to give it.  I used to write a couple blogs a week, but in 2012 and 2013, I wrote a couple blogs a month.  I say this just to be honest, not to make you think that my own pain in any way compares to the suffering endured by Pam and her family.  And what a family!  Pam loved her two daughters so fiercely that she defied the odds and lived 14 months after her diagnosis, more than a year than any fancypants oncologist expected.  She was stubborn like that.

Pam passed away on January 30, 2013, in the house just up the street from where I type one year later.  I still miss her.  As I wrote in that October 2013 column:

I could pretend, in my worst days, that Pam was merely behind schedule and was seconds away from opening the kitchen window to ask me if I’d seen the school bus cresting the top of the hill. All of that pretending failed to make her materialize; on my very worst days, I blamed myself for not trying harder. 

The bus is scheduled to drop my daughter and Pam’s youngest off in ten minutes, but will likely be delayed due to last night’s heavy snow that has yet to be fully plowed.  With the windchill factored in, it feels like three above zero, not the ideal conditions for hanging out on a street corner, gabbing.

But I’ll do it anyway, and if you have the opportunity, I hope you can too.  Who knows?  Taking the time to linger at the bus stop could change your life.

It changed mine, for the better.

 

 

 

 

Repose en paix, Monsieur Seeger

January 28th, 2014

 

“Aw no, Pete Seeger died,” I said, turning up the radio so I could hear the entire report from NPR news.

“Who’s Pete Seeger?” Elliott asked.

I paused for a moment, listening to the familiar plinkety-plunk of his banjo on the cold airwaves.  ”I know you’ve heard of him,” I said.  ”Pete Seeger, probably the world’s most famous folk singer.”

“Nope,” Elliott said.

“Have you heard of him, Miriam?” I asked.

She stared at me blankly. “Who?”

“Are you telling me that you’ve both been in public elementary school music programs for years and you’ve never had to sing “If I Had a Hammer”?’

“NO,” they shouted.

“Crap,” I said, snapping the radio dial off when talk returned to the ongoing disaster in Syria, the kind of hopeless warring between brothers and sisters that Seeger spent his music career denouncing.  ”I’m sorry,” I added.  ”I guess I goofed on an important part of your musical education.”

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I cannot hope to add much to the public conversation about Seeger’s contribution to music, politics, and culture.  Instead, I’ll use my tiny platform to share my favorite version of “If I Had a Hammer” outside of an elementary school music class. In the wobbly but magnificent clip below, it is performed in French ye-ye style by the obscure but amazing group Les Surfs.  Enjoy it as part of your musical education.

Merci beaucoup, M. Seeger.  RIP.

 

 

 

 

How to control your libido

January 24th, 2014

 

READERS!  From the feedback you give me, the majority of you are bio-women, which means that you have insatiable sex drives and need to hump the living daylights out of everything you see.  It’s a terrible burden, I know, but I’m here to make your life easier!  I have discovered a foolproof new system that will allow you to unplug your Magic Wand long enough to get out and do your grocery shopping.  Take a look!

 

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After you stop laughing, do a quick check of your lady parts: any dampness or tingling?  Are your cheeks flushed?  How about the rest of your skin? Any goosebumps at all?  Is your breathing heavy?  No?

GOOD!  Your libido is now under control.  You may now fetch your prescriptions without sexually harassing the pharmacist, the clerk, and the elderly woman in line behind you.  Repeat as needed to function in polite society.

xo,

Aunt Sugar

 

 

 

The dream

January 20th, 2014

 

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”

 

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“….when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

Mothering performance anxiety

January 16th, 2014

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The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality is NOW AVAILABLE.  I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified by this.

Thrilled because the talent in the book is staggering, including feminist writers both famous (Jennifer Baumgardner, Jessica Valenti) and really-should-be-famous (the blogging brains behind blue milk, Black Girl in Maine, The Feminist Breeder, and Raising My Boychick to name a few).

Terrified because my essay in the book contains some of the most vulnerable writing I’ve ever shared in public, and I fear that when you read it, you will judge me a BAD MOTHER.

I’m not kidding.

 

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Oh Philosoraptor!  DON’T GO THERE.

Luckily I have a dear friend who is also a mother-writer, and she thought the essay was good.  Another dear friend, a mother who is more the mathy-sciencey type, thought the essay was good too.  But as Paul Westerberg once sang, “the ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please.”  It’s not enough for my FRIENDS to like it: I want EVERYONE to like it.

I want everyone to like me.  To tell me that what I unloaded in the essay doesn’t make me a freak, or gawd forbid, a bad mother.

All of this anxiety from something I wrote in a book that breaks down the myth of the good mother??

Dammit!

Help a mom out, won’t you?  Pick up a copy of the book and tell me what you think.  Great reviews of it are in Literary Mama, Brain Child, Parents magazine and elsewhere: click on this link to read more.

Look at me trying to convince you that the book is actually good.  DAMMIT!  When will I ever learn?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very white lady holiday

January 8th, 2014

 

Though the  holidays kept me, your ever-lovin’ Radical Housewife, too busy to blog (that spiked eggnog can’t drink itself, ya know) I did spend the rare moments I could escape my family learning new hashtags on Twitter:

#twitterfeminism

According to Meghan Murphy of Feminist Current, feminist action that occurs on Twitter isn’t “real” feminism, in part because her feelings have been hurt sometimes.  Ohhh-kay……

#stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity

According to Adele Wilde-Blavatsky via HuffPo, this hashtag is necessary because HER feelings were hurt sometimes, too!  And something to do with Beyonce, I think.  The hashtag was so blindingly dumb that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

#RighteousRetreat

According to Ani DiFranco, hosting a songwriting retreat at a Louisiana plantation that whitewashed (PUN INTENDED) its slave history was not big deal–in fact, in her cancellation announcement she wrote “i believe that people must go to [slave plantations turned into fancy resorts!] with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness.”  She later apologized, then apologized AGAIN for giving the world’s lamest non-apology.

#NotAllGreenPeople, #stopblamingKermitweneedunity

According to white lady Anne Chastain, it is possible to rise above racial disharmony just by wishing it so!  As she wrote on Twitter: “I’m not white, black or hispanic, I tell my kindergarteners. I’m beyond all that. I’m green: one w/nature.”  These hashtags were created to mock Chastain, who likened the negative response online to “lynching.”  REALLY.

I drank my eggnog looking like this:

 

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I hate it when dumb white lady feminists ruin things for me, another white lady feminist!

Yep, I’m white.  Just look at me!  I’m descended from Northern Europeans and I live in Minnesota: the only color I get is boiled lobster crimson when I’ve been out in the sun too long.  Like the white ladies mentioned above, I’ve benefited from white privilege in a hundred million ways.  I’m not very happy about it, but there it is.  I do whatever I can to unpack my privilege, to be aware of it, to learn from it, to give my children the information that they need to do the same (because as you have seen from their photographs, they’re white, too).

I’m a cis-gendered, middle-class, hetero white feminist lady.  Does it hurt when call-out culture calls ME out?  OH MY GAWD YES.  Of course it hurts. It hurts so much that against my better judgment I want to get out my Diversity Bingo card and wave it around (if you’re a white liberal like me, you have one, even though it embarrasses you to admit it).  I see words like “racist” or “heteronormative” or “trans-exclusionary” and want to hit the caps lock IMMEDIATELY AND TWEET “OH NO, THAT MIGHT BE SOME WHITE FEMINISTS, BUT IT SURE AS HELL ISN’T ME, NOPE, YOU’RE TOTALLY WRONG, THERE IS NO WAY THAT I COULD EVER, NO NO NO NO NO NO.”

Which doesn’t help at all and is over 140 characters besides.

So what can white lady feminists do instead?  I always like to give my readers advice, so here it comes: I suggest we grab a cup of eggnog (confidential to “Green Liberation”: Silk makes a vegan version I highly recommend), step away from the TWEET button and take it all in.  Read, listen, think.  Stash the Diversity Bingo card in the drawer with the holiday gifts that don’t fit.  Pay attention.  Go to the store and buy more eggnog because in January it’s on sale.  Read, listen, think.  It’s not that hard.

And behave yourselves, dammit!  If any of you ruin Easter I will hunt you down and break the ears off your chocolate fertility symbols!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My vote for person of the year

December 11th, 2013

 

Today the world learned that Pope Francis is Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

 

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It’s a little surprising, isn’t it?  I mean, why choose this guy when the field included candidates like Edward Snowden, Bashar al-Assad, and MILEY FREAKIN’ CYRUS?

In Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs’ words: “a focus on compassion….rejects the pomp and privilege… embracing complexity…”

Like the complexity behind a woman’s desire to delay motherhood by using contraception?  Like the complexity that informs her decision to terminate a pregnancy?

I can’t think of anything MORE complex in a woman’s life than her reproductive health and its consequences for her future. So far the new pope has shown little interest in changing the status quo when it comes to Catholic policy regarding women’s reproductive freedom.

I’m not a Catholic–I was baptized in 1971, but it didn’t take.  Still, I have an vested interest in the happenings in the Catholic Church due to its undue influence on American social policy.  Remember the sway that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had on the Affordable Care Act waaaay back in 2009 and 2010?  I know you do.

Apparently the church is conducting a survey among the faithful to discern just what the heck they think of all this gay marriage, divorce and whatnot that’s been happening in the culture since Vatican II.  So far there’s no indication that the results will push Catholic hospitals to start offering emergency care for women whose unviable pregnancies are at risk of killing them.  This recent article at RH Reality Check has a great breakdown of the stranglehold Catholic directives have on the providing of health care throughout the United States, and what the ACLU and plaintiff Tamesha Means are doing about it.  I am VERY grateful that Tamesha Means is alive to tell her story, unlike Samhita Halappanavar.

Maybe Tamesha Means should be Time’s Person of the Year, instead.

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photo credit: ACLU

I get that Francis looks like he might be a kinder, gentler Pope, but for women, there is no social justice without reproductive justice.

Period.

 

Manuscript Monday: how we became “traditional”

December 2nd, 2013

 

 

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First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Elliott in the baby carriage!  That Matt and I became the poster children for the “Traditional” (hetero) American Family was no accident.  We didn’t have to ponder our choices because many of our paths were proscribed for us years before we met.

Matt was born into an educated, upper middle class family, expected from childhood to match the level of education obtained by his parents, who started dating while pursuing advanced degrees at UC-Berkeley.  His natural aptitude for mathematics was encouraged by his parents and high school teachers, who encouraged him to college level study while still a teen.  After earning his BA, he knocked around in a skronk-punk band, earning beer money at the record store where he met me, aware all the time that dorking around after college was a choice for a man of his socioeconomic status.  When he decided to leave, he could.  He started on the bottom rung of a startup software company’s ladder, but today his salary comfortably supports himself, his wife and his two children.

As for me, I found math maddening, and I heard no objections when I decided to drop the subject after tenth grade.  My guidance counselor did not raise the notion that taking all these English and history classes might land me in a pink-collar ghetto….

Ultimately, I got an English degree that would have prepared me for graduate school, had I not been so burned out by academia after earning it that I couldn’t face another day in the classroom again. But If I’d changed my mind, and jumped in the professor pool with both feet, I still would have been paid less and been less likely to receive tenure than my male peers!  

 

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Manuscript Monday: Building my brand, losing my mind

November 18th, 2013

 An excerpt from chapter 12, “Burnout”:

 

I clicked to open a browser and loaded up the dashboard of my fancy new site, theradicalhousewife.com.  After MySpace tanked, I wrote for a while on a Blogger platform before determining that it was time to bite the bullet and, in the parlance of mommybloggers across the country, “build my brand.”

 

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The dashboard stared at me.  I knew I ought to write a new post, but instead I loaded up the fancy statistics widget that revealed my total number of page views, incoming search terms, referring sites, and the like.  Reading that stats widget was like swallowing a Krispy Kreme in one gulp every morning—addictively sweet, but never truly fulfilling or even satisfying.  If I had a hundred page views, I wanted a thousand.  If I had a thousand, it was usually because a blogger with a much larger following, like Gina Crosley-Corcoran of The Feminist Breeder, had linked to me, and I felt pangs of jealousy that I wasn’t yet in her league.

I couldn’t feel grateful or humbled that my blogging peers seemed to enjoy my work; instead, I wondered why I wasn’t being asked to appear on Ricki Lake.

 

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In another attempt at brand-building, I appeared at a local Netroots conference, suffering a lonely panic attack in the women’s bathroom before shakily convening a panel called “Feminist Activism in a Gone-Rogue Age.”  When I submitted the (surprisingly successful!) panel to the national conference, I was told that I didn’t have enough name recognition yet—The Radical Housewife was not yet a brand.

 

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I stared at the keyboard, the mouse, the monitor, blank screen with NEW POST at the top.  What exactly did a brand write about, anyway?  Shannon Drury once wrote about any old crap that came into her head, hiding behind a goofy moniker as a joke that she thought would make Erin and Christine laugh.  Then Erin moved to DC, Christine moved to San Diego, and The Radical Housewife moved to her own URL address.

I stared at the blinking cursor.  There wasn’t a shortage of topics to write about; thanks to global patriarchy, half a million ideas buzzed through my mind through any given day.  I could take a controversial position.  I could repost on Daily Kos, Minnesota Progressive Project, orFeministing.  A writing friend gave me the contact information for an editor at the Huffington Post, the site around which gone-viral careers were being made, but I couldn’t type her a sentence, much less pitch her an article that might build my brand.

I couldn’t write.  I didn’t want to write.  This scared me back into talk therapy.

 

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….with [the therapist's] help I began the process of untangling the knot of my many identities: feminist, activist, writer, mom, even “radical housewife.”  I’d worked myself into a this/that, us/them, either/or box just like the one I thought I was fighting against years before.

Instead of me naming a MySpace page back in 2006, my MySpace page named me!

 

 

Seven alternatives to Miley Cyrus

October 7th, 2013

 

As the parent of a 13-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, I have an interest in the ongoing pop culture debates over art vs. raunch, nakedness vs. maturity, empowerment vs. exploitation.

But I am also an admitted fan of pop music, and in my considered opinion, the stuff Miley Cyrus is putting out is just boring.

I could spend hours discussing the impact of Rihanna, Ke$ha and Britney on impressionable children, because “We Found Love,” “Tik Tok,” and “Toxic” are kickass singles.  I tried “We Can’t Stop,” but I don’t get it.  I don’t even think it would be a good Rihanna record.

As a result, Miley’s antics with foam fingers, teddy bears, and cultural appropriation are not even on my kids’ radar–but they might be on yours. If that true, then I’m here to help!  Below is a Radical Housewife-approved list of hip-hop/pop gems by women that I guarantee inspiring mad twerking that you can feel good about.

 

Your kids might be surprised to learn that this talk show host used to be cool:

 

Mary’s groove is as fierce as her clothes are hideous:

 

Everyone in my house loves M.I.A.–and the family that galangs together, stays together:

 

Miley DREAMS of being as hot as Neneh Cherry:

 

Amanda Blank is Brooklyn’s answer to Ke$ha (and that’s a good thing):

 

One of my closest college pals went to high school with Santigold, a totally pointless factoid I trot out to seem “hip”:

 

And Le Tigre, of course:

 

If you disagree with these selections, please refrain from writing me an open letter.  I’d prefer you just leave me a comment.