Pat 2015

I’ve been thinking about my mom, but I can’t figure out the angle here.  Well, there’s the anniversary of her day of birth.  But, maybe it’s this:  After getting my perfomance reviewed at work — corporate America’s annual dance or bloodletting depending on how you are doing–I keep wondering if she’d be happy or pissed at me.

First week of the month, I was going full-on existential postal.  I can’t think much about where I am in life before I start thinking of all the places that I am not.  I am not rich, famous and beautiful, and I’d be good at all three, goddamnit, so I should be.  The crisis du month, though, was the triple-decker pileup of my birthday, my performance review and this thing at my place of toil that I can’t describe but involves sharing stuff about yourself.  

Amid the self-loathing caused by age and excess self reflection, I had a fleeting thought about my mother. A point I will get to after I set it up with too much detail.

Some days, I think I confound some of my coworkers.  The environment of my paycheck generation is well-educated and high performing. It definitely charts about the curve by most definitions, or it’s proof positive that with the right motivation and circumstances, and money to pay for it, anyone can get a graduate degree.  There’s a metric ton of letters after people’s names.

I was too desirous of money and the associated purchases — groceries and rent mainly — to stick around ivied halls any longer than I had to do to get my bachelor’s.  I wasn’t burning for any more learning of the formal sort circa 1985.

From 1985 almost to the day she died, Pat, my mother, reminded me I could still go to grad school.  I let her down on that decision for decades.

Today, I am docorate-less and masters-less in a sea of masters and doctors.  I have more years of relevant experience than many, though, so I hold my own with common sense and moxie.  Hence the confounding, I just don’t defer to not knowing shit, because there’s a lot of shit I know even without the sheepskin to prove it.  

it’s a bit like the end of the Wizard of Oz; I grant myself a doctorate of thinkology.

Now here’s where Pat comes in… That woman worked hard, year after year, helping to educate other people’s kids.  That hard work full on cramped the woman’s style.  Some of the other teachers and the school administrators crushed a bit of her creative sparkle. She was a little pounded down.  By retirement, she was caved in by it all.

She indoctrinated me into a fear about work.  A fear that you could lose your job for many types of infractions.  She had near perfect attendance over years and years.  She carried out all of the side jobs and extra tasks asked of teachers with nary a complaint — bus duty, after hours tutoring, grading papers on her own time, mentoring young teachers and helping with banquets and school events in the evenings.

I learned and listened and I have almost perfect attendance and do a lot of good citizeny extras at work.  But try as I might I can’t bury my non-conformist tendencies.  I am a good worker bee in a happy hive, but I’m a square peg in a round-holed world.

Problem is, I like it.

So, I work in a job that is easy for me.  I sacrifice some pay and will likely never have a good title, but I know everyone in the building.  My days are laid out with honkingly wide swathes of leeway and not a lot of  having my clocked punched by somebody else.

It’s a trade off.  It’s a choice.  And, it’s a little bit of anxiety.  If I got the gig where I got the pay that meant I have to manage stuff, I might fail.  I might have to leave my sneakers at home.  I might have to be at my desk for geometrically larger periods of time than I am now.

I think Pat might see the genius of my choice.  For good benefits and a not awful paycheck, the man isn’t keepnmg me down and the thoughts inside my head are free to breathe.

Outwardly, she’d tell me to do more.  She’d ask about promotions and growth opportunities.  She’d worry. 

Or maybe she’d smile.

Happy birth control day

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There’s this thing that I know about from work. I’m breaking my almost a decade’s long avoidance of writing anything related to work. Although, the connection is, I hope, tangential enough with the good will outweighing my fear of big brother.

It should also be mentioned I now work at a place in which the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and even a group of women swapping stories about their abortions are all allies. I haven’t polished my resume to get those choice gigs at Hobby Lobby or the Catholic Diocese, despite my obvious qualifications.

So, far from my old job and the shadows of Boston, here I go.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has a thing going on to thank birth control. Like almost everyone with a uterus, it resonates, because I know the birds and the bees and that the stork doesn’t bring babies.

To be fair, I didn’t have real sex education in school as a kid, and my mother never really gave me the straight skinny, and my 50-year-old uterus the doctors assure me is probably not at risk of occupation. But, with my memory of things past, and a swell exhibit at Boston’s Science Museum that my aunt took me to somewhere during the 70s, I’m gonna try to hype the cause.

One of my head-scratchingest moments from my current place of employment was around a very committed and truly feminist leaning co-worker, who is also chockfull of Y chromosomes and gender privilege. He might be the most committed person I have ever met on the issue of choice among men, women, and all other currently recognized genders, bar none.

Still and all, he had never lived the life of a young woman and, I dare guess, probably didn’t go to the same types of parties I went to back in the day.

Statistics show the U.S. leads the developed world in teen pregnancies. So, our country is newsworthy across the Atlantic, including links to detailed explanations of our crazy foreign ways, like this one.

By the way, how fucking unfair is it that birth control is finally free right about when my pre-menopausal body is saying “whatever.” I could have used that extra cash flow some nights when beer money was low and CVS raised the price on contraceptive sponges.

Hell, when they went off the market, sponge-worthy was not just a Seinfeld episode.

Anyway, back to the point and the head scratching. My coworker couldn’t quite get over or understand that while teen pregnancy is definitely going in numbers, a good thing for our nation, unwanted pregnancies among 20-somethings remains at the top of the charts and rising.

For better or worse, I can understand it. I didn’t just see the movie, my friends and I, back a quarter of a century ago, were living it. Most of the time, everyone tried to do her level best to stay ahead of ovulation and use anything and everything they could. But, life, as John Lennon may not have been the first to say, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

Condoms break, people forget, passion and illicit substances trick your brain into magical thinking. Many of my friends and myself held each other and held each others’ hands on trips to clinics or the drug store to find out if a night of fun had resulted into cells dividing inside our young bodies.

Many of us were, as we would all sigh and say, “lucky.” Sometimes we weren’t. I know of both abortions and babies that were part of those years of our lives.

We fought about it, cried about it, and shared a lot of wine. I had a long, long feud over a friend’s crazy boyfriend and too many sleepless nights worrying over her drugs and reckless behavior within our small, shared apartment.

In one of life’s cosmic gifts, though, I ran into her literally one of my last days in Boston before moving across the country. We talked, laughed and left each other with a hug of reconciliation to each other and our former not always well-played youth.

Today, I feel fortunate. I was always ambivalent about my own suitability or ability for motherhood. It’s very complicated and would require a long-winded and long-winding explanation from my own childhood to now as to why I never had a child of my own.

Suffice it to say the man that I finally, truly felt like I could spend the rest of my life beside, the man I finally consented to marry, came into my life rather late in the game. Also suffice it to say, that I had the wherewithal to not imagine something better with a baby among the rogues gallery that had come before M.

Other friends have married, divorced, stayed single, had children, haven’t had children, recognized a non-heterosexual lean, earned advanced degrees, wrote books, acted in films, were celibate, became celibate, and survived. A great number, I think, are living their own sort of happily ever after.

I consider myself one such lucky woman. And, I am grateful I was born into a time in which I really could choose.

The other Mother’s Day

I was reading that it is never ever St. Patty’s Day on March 17. But, today is March 15, and Patty’s Day it is, the erstwhile day of birth of my old, and not quite sainted mother.

Erstwhile, perhaps, because can you celebrate birthdays when the guest of honor no longer stomps the earth?

So many reasons to think of my mother, Pat, today. Not the least of which is being there for the funeral of M.’s mother. The ceremony, the prayers, the food, the people, the rituals so different. Yet the similarities so deep.

Both M. and I grew up with just one parent. My dad died when I was four. His dad and mom split when he was a kid and then dad died young. Now we are both orphans together.

Like for my mother’s wake, a wave of older people came by for M.’s mother. So many people identifying as friends, explaining who they were, where they lived, how lives intersected. For both women, the presence of these mourners spoke to affections and warmth and relationships that we, as children, did not know. Shading into depth the women we knew only as mom, but they knew as a friend.

Comic relief: My favorite old broad who came by to say goodbye to M.’s mom, walked up to him, and I’m told said to him, “If you don’t remember who I am, I will slap your face.”

I hope a long line of people drops by my remaining body to call me friend in the end. Of course, I hope more to have more years of partying it up and making and having friends.

M. and I have talked about our mothers. It seems to me that they were both gentle people bruised by unexpected circumstances and tragedies big and small. Each woman was shy and reserved, sometimes too passive, sometimes just bound to get the smallest piece of pie, shortest straw or dealt the unlucky hand.

Each of them squirreled away pennies, sacrificing their own wants, for their kids.

Consequently, M. and I each rail against an imagined fate, louder, stronger, more resolute than the women who raised us. We don’t save money for cake tomorrow. We buy cake today and enjoy it with gusto.

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Holy shit, I wanted this one to be funny and light. As the kids say — FAIL.

Here’s the manifesto to put the morose and melodramatic bullshit behind.

Every month of March, every year, hell every freaking day, I want to remember and climb on the hand offered to me. Our mother’s didn’t die in vain. Our mother’s didn’t live lives of privation for no reason. Precisely because our mother’s didn’t have every opportunity and real life undercut their dreams, we will live ours.

Don’t wait. Don’t stop. Don’t allow worry and anxiety to be roadblocks.

Dream and more importantly act.

Hate your fucking job? Leave.

Landlord sucks? Move.

Tired of the cold and snow? Relocate.

Today, and I hope every day, if I don’t fucking laugh at least once, I haven’t done it right.

For both our mother’s, who weren’t given the chances to do it all, we will try to cram in the fun we can in the days we have left. Misery is not an option.

Maybe it’s because another birthday is a-coming

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I thought I had a thought about something to write about here. The jump was a Facebook status I saw with a quote that boiled down to whether you could call yourself an artist.

I usually don’t. Sometimes I do. It’s usually when I am melodramatically claiming insights and wisdom and sensitivities I don’t actually possess. Recently, I did gesticulate and gesture broadly while declaring “Fuck them all, I’m an artist,” to a work friend (he is beleaguered as I am by those people who cannot discern wit and sarcasm from assholic behavior).

Generally, I’m more unsure. Although, as M. will shout at me, ridiculously so. If I don’t trust my words or my way with words, why the fuck should anyone else?

It’s a baby step that I now tell people that I’m a “writer” (yup, note the quotes and do the little airy double-fingered gesture) or admit to blogging or working on a book, now with M.’s sage advice an admitted collection of essays. Essays I can manage; a book creates a dry heave kind of thing in my brain. Hmm, not a great visual that – a retching head.

It’s important, I think, that you have to at some point say “fuck it, I’m in the club.” I’m tired of waiting for permission to decide what I am.

I never or rarely call myself a stand up comedian. I say (admit) I’ve done stand up comedy (and suppose I might again).

At night in dim clubs and bars, there was a mostly unspoken hierarchy, and there was a definitely bitched about gripe of who got to call themselves a comic. I think I took the atmosphere too much to heart, too personally, and I couldn’t bring myself to compare my meager offerings to people who made money and gigged madly and got auditions.

In retrospect, I wish I had brassier balls to front myself as belonging, even if I didn’t feel it inside. After all, I drank beers (and retro-shamefacedly even slept) with clowns who cashed checks built literally on fart jokes. Fart, fucking, jokes.

(Cue the smoke and vaselined lens with swirling colors, I feel a nostalgic memory coming on….

Back in old Boston, there’s a dingy room in a basement of what was once a bank. The tiny tables behind the stage, where comedians impatiently wait there turn, is adjacent to the black, iron wall of the bank’s vault.

I chatted and fiddled with my list of jokes in front of me and nursed a beer. A guy who at the time got paying gigs and took a shine to me, leaned over me to whisper sweet nothings of advice, and no doubt peer from above my head at the fun bags in my blouse.

He explained that I was too smart, and audiences don’t like that. My success, it would seem, would best be served by following his lead. He suggested I stand up from where I was sitting and watch his carefully calibrated performance unfurl.

Woman that I am, because I do sadly believe woman are a bazillion times more likely to politely follow these kind of orders, I got up to watch.

No lie, it was painful. Scampering and dancing on stage and a solid gold bit that if my dim mind remembers culminated in the comic gold of not being able to tell if the farts were coming from his dog or his grandmother sleeping on the couch. GOLD!

People do laugh at that shit, I’ll give him that. Although, sometimes it’s the uneasy laugh of watching someone fall spectacularly or the cruel laugh at the handicapped or maybe the giggle from watch monkeys flinging poo at the zoo. So, indeed the room had laughter in it.

A couple of people later, it was my turn. He returned the favor to study my set and give me notes.

It was one of those nights I only sort of remember. My best moments on stage are the ones where like a trained athlete it’s all muscle memory, mechanics and flow. Everything rolls out instinctively, not held up by my conscious (and self-concious) thought of what’s next.

I ripped it. The audience was listening and laughing exactly where I planned. They were silent on my words that would lead to revelation and release. But, in my game, in that ultimate zone, I don’t remember the details.

Admittedly, those nights were rare for me. I could measure my success by the astonished smiles and back pats from my friends and acquaintances back stage.

In a comedy club, a cold handshake with no eye contact tells you your fellow comics are embarrassed for you. In contrast, there’s a warm spread of people reaching out to touch you, pat you, congratulate you, smile when you’ve just nailed it in the end zone.

My would be suitor, smiled and offered the perfunctory hand shake and “good set.” He didn’t try to sleep with me again after that night.)

Those moments are the ones that make me want to sell myself harder. I only wish it didn’t take negative stimuli for me to feel the need to conquer.

There’s a bit more in my head. Stuff about what happens into the next decade, now that I’m about 10 years deep in M.’s and my relationship, just shy of that many years into my California dream, and looking down the barrel to 49, knowing it was 38/39 when it all last shifted seismically. And, as they say on Madison Ave. and Cupertino, wait there’s more.

But, for now, I’ll have to consider a part 2.

I don’t know who you are, but I just might hate you

I got called out for not writing anything political in politically charged year, a politically charged month. Fair enough, I am mad as hell, and I know full well that I live in a bubble that shelters me from morons.

The obvious target of my hatred right now are the so-called undecided voters. But, like some of what is implied here in this article from The Week, I’m not sure that they exist. All of the focus groups and idiots getting their 15 seconds of fame on the news channels are probably just happy to wave at the cameras. Maybe a chunk of them won’t even bother to get off their fat asses and get to a polling place on Election Day, when they aren’t guaranteed any camera time.

Nope, I think my anger is mostly at the real, live, breathing, pearl-clutching, hyperventilating ladies of the GOP. I say “ladies,” because I hate that word and everything my women’s studies reading ever taught me about the coded meaning of it. Sit like a lady, act like a lady, be quiet like a lady, allow yourself to get stomped on like a lady. For a few women, the language sadly still fits.

Here’s the thing, my sisters, you folks out there rocking a cootch not a dick between your legs, this shit is real and Romney and Ryan do NOT have your back.

Abortion is a loaded term with all sorts of shit laid on it that has nothing to do with what it is. Normal women get abortions. In every layer of society, every historic period (and most certainly in prehistory), always and forever in mankind, just like there has always been sex and hookups, there have been unwanted pregnancies. Here’s some factual information from actual research: http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/facts/women_who.html.

By all means, be against it in your own life. Help yourself, help your family, help your friends, help anyone you can work out what is best for them. Always remember, always, that the only way to really be able to do the right thing and make the right choices for yourself, for your family, for your friends, for whoever matters to you, is in a society where you are goddamned allowed to make a choice. And, in a society that recognizes your rights and supports your choices.

When weasels like Paul Ryan are about your business, when they want to put their noses in your uterus, and they really do want that, you have lost that choice. Keep weasels out of your vaginas, my sisters. It’s the right thing to do.

Oh, and while I’m ranting about weasels like Ryan, if you are a woman or a human being who doesn’t despise women (or children for that matter), you really should look up the bill he supported, the Sanctity of Human Life Act.

If life starts the moment of fertilization, that warm little instance when the sheets are still damp or the petri dish is still in the scientists hands, and we have laws weighing in on that instance, a lot of crazy shit happens in our modern world. Tagg Romney gets locked up for the criminal he is for participating in in vitro fertilization. Yup, we got contraband grandkids for Mitt and Ann.

And, any of us who have messed in the voodoo that is birth control pills, even if you did it to control migraines, acne, anemia or all sorts of hormonal things, you be committing a crime. A lot of pills work by giving the fertilized egg no place to call home and settle.

A real life thing that happened to me, which made me realize there are folks out there who truly don’t see eye-to-eye on this one. In my world of earning a living, I have to answer a phone from our company website. Where I work is involved in some huge human issues, and one of them involves women and health. That phone number on our webpage is a honeypot for attracting people with time to talk about the one issue that blows their skirts up; my job is pretty much only to answer the phone with respect.

So, an older, female, not unkind voice greets me on the line. Dare I say, a voice past the childbearing years. I am informed that the owner of the voice has read our website with great interest and in depth. It’s wonderful that we are doing good works around the world and helping poor people. I hear it in her voice, the wind up, the setting a snare, baiting the trap, she’s made calls before. She is kindly setting me up for what her real agenda is. Did I know that where I work is helping to kill babies?

The upshot was, as I good-naturedly took the hits knowing that there could be no victory in arguing against someone so strong in her convictions, she truly and absolutely believed distributing contraception is baby killing. She explained to me in detail how some contraception is a form of abortion, and it needs to be stopped.

At the end of the day this woman, who know doubt has a life and smiles gently and laughs with family and friends over sweetened iced tea and a good Sunday dinner, probably is not a monster. She wants to help babies and the world. I’m sure she wants to do right and good.

However, the rhetoric has gotten out of hand. The heat, the lies from cynical bastards who don’t really care about people, who themselves quell their best “Christian” impulses with back room deals guaranteeing good money for their investments, have taken hold.

They don’t want to protect Catholic women working at a Catholic university, as they claim because her religion is being attacked. They want to fight universal health care, because it cuts into the profit margin of pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

They don’t hate the birth control pill, because they so love the potential souls that never become babies. They hate it, because free women, able to make their own decisions on family planning, are an economic force with a voice, who will shake their status quo.

If they really cared about babies, if they really cared about women, if they really wanted equality, if they really wanted to help women in any way, they would support universal health care. Instead of vitriolic protests with photos of fetuses, hyped rhetoric and downright lies, they would support daycare centers, good, practical sexual education, preventive health care, women’s shelters, stronger laws and prosecution against human trafficking, domestic violence and child abuse.

If they supported women, the GOP would shut up their own kind, people like Rush Limbaugh. They would make sure their daughters grow up more like Libby Dole, giving them education, support and strength. They’d help get the word out that there are so many more choices beyond 16 and Pregnant, Teen Momor Honey-fucking-Boo Boo.

If you are a woman, vote. Vote for the people who have your back. Vote for the people who think you can make decisions for yourselves, and don’t try to construct a world where forced counseling and vaginal ultrasounds are for your own good.

Vote for the people who just might make a difference with equal pay. Or don’t need binders to know that there are qualified women.

Obama/Biden, ladies. Obama/Biden.

If I never been born

I totally missed my usual Ides of March tribute to my dear, old Pat. If she had seen this March’s birthday, she would have been 83. She’s never that far from my thoughts, Pat, mostly when I’m doing something wacky.

Recently she’s been in my thoughts, because while we never specifically talked about birth control–hell I’m still waiting for someone to take me aside and explain the facts of life–I think she’d have much to say about Rick Santorum, the Catholic church and the country’s “progressive” conversations on contraception that will ensure we move back to circa 1956.

Seriously, the national dialog has backslid into a parallel universe where medicine hasn’t changed and women are just gals waiting on husbands to save them from spinsterhood or sluttiness.

For some reason, I flashed back over 30 years to a classic Pat moment of logic clashing with the status quo.

I’ve written before about a certain friend I had back from junior high to high school past college into adult life. For ease of reference, I’ll call her Sally Mae. Now old Sally Mae caused a great deal of friction between my mater and me. Pat never liked her, and I didnt really understand until I got all growed up and had problems of my own with her.

One of the ironic aspects of Sally Mae’s and my friendship was how her mother always thought of me as a bad influence. I was a special kind of bad influence as far as school kids go. I got pretty good grades in the highest level classes. At the time I didn’t swear or drink, and my biggest hobby was reading.

Still and all, Sally Mae’s Ma didn’t trust me. She didn’t cotton to my book learning. In retrospect, I also think she thought my vocabulary was kind of uppity, which was maybe understandable given that my 12-year-old self knew more words than her. She bristled like a wet cat one of the first times I was in their house and asked where there books were. I had never been in a house without any book shelves.

Non sequitur alert: I just thought of a downside of dating in the age of tablet computers. How the hell can you just someone new if their bookshelf is virtual? You’d never have the early warning of standing in an apartment and coming upon an entire collection of Ayn Rand.

In addition to distrusting my precocious self, Sally Mae’s Ma was suspicious of my mother, because she worked and by necessity left us alone some of the time. Not for very long, mind you, since Pat was a school teacher precisely because it let her be home when her kids were.

Like a few people in our town, I think Sally Mae’s mother would have been more comfortable if instead of raising us kids to be smart and take care of ourselves, Pat just found another husband and settled herself down.

Now when I look back at that time in my life, I realize that my mother probably didn’t dislike Sally Mae as much as our fights might have indicated otherwise. Nope, I think she just knew that the family of my bestest best friend was more conservative, more bigoted and more narrow than anyone I had known to date. And by god or by nagging, she had to try to protect me from my choice in friends.

All of this relates to the current state of women’s choice and contraception through one particular day, a day in which my mother came home from the grocery store spitting with rage. Pat was apoplectic. Purple with anger. All kinds of heated. She could barely sputter out the reason.

Pat had run into Sally Mae’s mother at the store. Over the aisles of canned goods and produce they had an interesting tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte.

Now getting back to my being a bad influence and my whole family being suspect, the ironic twist is how much trouble Sally Mae and her brothers were able to attract. Their mother worried about the evils in the outside world, but overlooked the demons under her roof. For example, her darling daughter used me as a foil to hide that at 15/16 she was dating a 20+ hippie with his own apartment and van. Her special friend was a friend of her oldest brother.

Today, at the age of 48, my oldest brother still wouldn’t let me date one of his friends, let alone spend the night at his apartment or drive around in his van.

At 19 one brother in Sally Mae’s family got his girlfriend pregnant.

A mother of three boys herself, Pat, in the grocery store aisles bumped into Sally Mae’s mom and offered her sympathy for the trouble in which the kids had found themselves. I wish I had a transcript of what went down after that, but I know Pat came home enraged.

What I do know is that Sally Mae’s mother brushed aside any notion of trouble and started talking about the upcoming wedding. And, Pat, logical, unconventional, and now I realize radical Pat, told her that they shouldn’t ruin their lives. They shouldn’t marry so young, because they “had to.” The kids had choices and as the adult, Sally Mae’s mother should know that and help them make the right choice.

Words were exchanged. Much more than that, I don’t know. I’m almost certain my mother’s sanity and morals were both brought into question.

The wedding happened. So did the inevitable divorce.

Thanks to my mother’s politics, or practicality, Sally Mae’s mother took a closer watch of me. Nonetheless, her daughter lost her virginity years before I did. (Cruelly and sadly, Sally Mae told stories about me, implying to our friends that I had done all of the things that were in fact her secrets. Who knows what she told her mother.)

Now, 30 years later or so, it’s stunning to me that this conversation is still happening. Instead of more choices, we have the same or less. And narrow-minded people still get away with calling women sluts.