How to Radicalize a Moderate Woman

All week it’s felt like “Today in Pecker News”. A Supreme Court nominee talks about his virginal pecker. A sitting president’s pecker is described in a porn star’s tell-all book. A once-beloved sitcom star’s pecker finally gets jail time. Disgraced peckers are finding their way back to stages and directing gigs and political appointments. And we get to hear and read all about it. It’s exhausting and demoralizing, as if peckers think they run the world.

canstockphoto2216511I don’t write much about my feminist views or experiences as a woman. There are plenty of tales to be told and women are telling them. My experiences have been mild by comparison, so I’ve chosen to do what many people need to do – listen. That a second man with dubious character will be appointed to the Supreme Court in my voting lifetime angers me, though. The world moves forward without us, as old corrosive men dig their peckers in to hold progress back and keep their avarice and entitlement unchecked. What happens when power is not a reflection of the people’s will?

The consequences for speaking up and reporting sexual crimes are so extreme and the incidents of false reporting are so low, that as a human being, I believe the women who are speaking. It’s not bias – it’s common sense. I also believe the men who have come forward to say that Catholic priests abused them. Because I believe power and money and secrecy corrupts.

canstockphoto2002566These days I feel a slow-burning rage. Yes, it’s all well and good to settle down, to not be so reactive to every political pronouncement said by people well past their sell-by date. And that date has less to do with age than mental acuity, some level of self-awareness, some level of empathy for other humans. Their neural pathways are as hardened as their arteries – they don’t know how to think or be any other way. I try to imagine what is going on in some of these people’s heads. They must be so completely insulated from the consequences of their actions that they just do whatever the hell they want – whatever their little club wants them to do. Useless peckers.

What do you do with this rage? At this point, I need to shut off the news. The Republicans are determined to put this man on the Supreme Court, no matter what anyone says. It is likely he will be appointed. I have no say in the matter. I already saw the Anita Hill hearings. I don’t need to see another one of those creepy circuses.

I’m voting and encouraging others to vote. I wrote 150 postcards on behalf of the ACLU to latent voters. I joined and actively serve in my local chapter of the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization focused on voting rights. I’ve donated to the NAACP, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. I’ve written, called, and emailed my representatives and those outside my state. I’ve taught my daughter critical thinking skills and about her rights and expectations as a human being. I have done what any citizen can do within the confines of the law.

canstockphoto57591012Despite all this, I have a sinking feeling. Congress was too busy worrying about somebody’s pecker business to pass any legislation to protect our elections. They were too busy protecting another white guy to take care of the business of our nation. The contempt I feel for them is corrosive. Whatever respect I felt for their offices, their roles has evaporated. Civility, respect, courage, ethics, morals – these things are mocked on a daily basis by people who call themselves patriots and “real” Americans.

I’ve always tried to be thoughtful, think critically, not allow my anger or my self-righteousness to get the best of me. But that is the luxury of a bystander. And the time for that has passed.

Where I’ve Been

Where I was once lackadaisical, I am fierce.

Where I shrugged my shoulders, I now set my chin.

Where I was generous, I set boundaries.

Where once politeness seemed imperative, integrity takes its place.

Where I laughed a little in discomfort, I now roar in dismay.

Where I was embarrassed by tenderness, I steel myself in intentional kindness.

Where I showed up to help, I now grab the reins.

Where once I pursed my lips at your unkindness, I now teach you.

Where I tolerated your gaze and judgment, I now see you are wantincanstockphoto15586920g of character.

Where I stood along the sidelines, I now stand up front.

Where I stayed silent, I now speak up.

Where once I stepped back to be measured in my thoughts, I now understand that all sides do not merit equal time.

You thought you could rely on my manners, my gentility, my introversion, my comfort level, your ideas of obsequious femininity.

That you could keep doing what you were doing and I would stay where I had stayed.

But I have seen the future in the eyes of my daughter. And it cannot be you.

Inside Out: Coming to America

canstockphoto12339761Yesterday was a perfect day in my neighborhood. The sun was out. Pasty white Minnesotans emerged from their Netflix caves after months of winter. Immediately some started their leaf blowers (which I posit is the worst invention ever). I went to the park with my daughter and one of her besties. They played basketball, as I sat at a picnic table and read.

I love my neighborhood more frequently than I hate it. It was built in the late 1950s, tracts of little nondescript ranch houses. We add shutters and paint different colors but in the low light of a late sunset and a few beers under our belts, we’d be easily confused. It’s a working class neighborhood near schools and apartment buildings and a grocery store. We can walk 15 minutes to anywhere we need to go.

I’ve been here about 16 years and have watched the young couples move in and out as their families expanded. The retirees move a little slower. Some have gone to nursing homes. The demographics have changed from the homogeneity of Germanic and Scandinavian residents to a more diverse neighborhood with families of color.

canstockphoto9412008(1)When I hear all the angry conversation about immigrants, I don’t understand it. I love being in a metro area for the richness of its diversity. My daughter’s friend is from Kenya. This is a family that completely transplanted itself into a bizarre culture, with its Minnesota niceness and subtle and not-so-subtle bigotries. With its climate so opposite from theirs. With its language so difficult and complex to learn. That they chose to uproot their lives and come here is amazing.

At the park, a Hispanic mother followed her toddler son as he rambled happily across the lawn, while his father chatted with neighbors. The little boy unsteadily walked over to the picnic table where I sat and stared with big, beautiful dark eyes. His mother smiled shyly at me as I rolled a basketball to him. He laughed with delight and was off, carrying a ball twice the size of his head.

I don’t think she spoke English and I’m not yet confident enough with Spanish. Smiles did our communicating. I think about their lives here and why they gravitate to communities that reflect their own cultures and experiences. It must seem overwhelming and isolating at times. My fellow Americans curse and spit about why “they” don’t do this or that, when many Americans are barely literate and do nothing to pursue self-improvement.

There is something about the immigrants whom I have met in my life. The inherent optimism of moving someplace foreign – a belief that a better life is possible and that they have some say in that. From the antics of some Americans, it is quite apparent that they have no such belief. They believe in a savior with a comb-over, that a boastful ingrate will lift them out of their shitty lives and save the country.

It’s amazing that anyone believes a politician will improve their lives. Politicians do very little that isn’t badgered out of them by polls or bought and paid for by donors or brought on by bad publicity thanks to activists. Individual choices and protests still impact our country, are still part of the algorithm of the elusive and mythological American Dream. There’s no point in waiting for a mouthpiece to do the work for you.

canstockphoto5109847Now, I’m a bleeding heart liberal, there’s no doubt about that. But I also served my country, worked my ass off, came out of poverty into a middle class existence. I believe in the power of hard work and education and ethical living. My street cred as a hardworking American has been established by every hard knock, graveyard shift and paid tax.

As a resident of planet earth, though, I believe in compassion and kindness and seeking to understand. My experience in this country, as a first generation American, was helped by the color of my skin and my language skills and happenstance of birth. While I’ve experienced sexism in the military and various workplaces, I’ve always assumed the individual was some sort of stupid I couldn’t fix and got on with things.

Last week, I attended a lecture by presidential biographer, Jon Meacham. It was an interesting, if not somewhat sanitized, conversation about the impact of some presidents on the country. What I was struck by, though, is that Jon Meacham is two years younger than I. He’s an executive editor at Random House. He has numerous biographies, including one that won a Pulitzer Prize. I felt momentary envy. Huh, so that’s what a successful career track looks like.

canstockphoto18730397Still, it made me think about how much control I actually do have over my own life. I made very specific choices, some of them good, some of them terrible, that got me here today. Despite the times when I struggled, when I had no health insurance, when I turned in pop cans for grocery money, I never assumed that the state of things was anyone’s fault or responsibility other than my own. Sure, there’s all kinds of systemic flaws that can really mess up a linear rise in circumstances, but for most white Americans, it’s on us. Yet we still seek to blame.

The minute I rise in defense or even in curiosity of immigrants’ lives, some dipstick will share anecdotal evidence of people gaming the system or laziness or criminality. I can double down with stories of Americans I’ve met who game the system, are lazy or are criminals. Hell, I’m related to some of them.

canstockphoto32473828At this point in my life, I do have a tendency to romanticize lives of people outside my purview. I recognize this and remind myself that people from other countries likely have the same percentage of shitheads that we do in the U.S. But these days, some of our citizens seem the more immediate danger.


Resources about the immigrant and refugee experience in the US:

Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

10 Essential Films about the Immigrant Experience

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: Syrian Refugees Part 1

US Refugee Admissions Program (Subtitled: It ain’t easy)

The Anatomy of One American Voter

canstockphoto5811625This post is unusual in that it is excessively long. Apologies on that count. Politics have been eating at my brain all week and it made me think about my motivations as a voter.

The unethical, monied arena of American politics is picking up steam. Political support is reaching all the frenzy of a stock exchange pit.

I find unwavering, unquestioning support of any human or organization to be slightly creepy. This is what puts me off about religion and sports teams and Beyoncé fans. Essentially, any group that seems to demand that one check their critical thinking skills at the door, lay out a bunch of money or spend a lot of time looking for ways to condemn others is too simplistic. And I’m very skilled at being angry all on my own, thank you very much.

This voting cycle is challenging me. So much of it looks like politics as usual, the spewing of vague, unsubstantiated promises, inflammatory rhetoric and sound bite triteness. I stare at the crowds holding signs for this candidate or that and I think What makes you so sure? I’m not. It made me think about who I am as an American voter, uninterested in joining campaign rallies, cynical about every word out of any politician’s mouth, and disdainful of the half-assed reporting being done.

I have prejudices – against the wealthy, against old white politicos, against corporations,  trash-talking politicians, and religious demagogues. Overt nationalism gives me the heebie-jeebs. I have to work with my own biases and critically think about what matters. I need to listen, read and research, because I know relying on my gut feeling or knee-jerk reaction is not rational. I have a history that informs my choices and I need to be honest about that.


Georgic_postcard.jpgI was born a first generation American. My mother and her family emigrated from England in the early 1950s. Historically, the women were homemakers with little power and unhappy marriages. The men had respectable careers and wandering eyes. Children were born. Divorces were decreed. Poverty happened.

My mother had me when she was 18. My father was around for the first 5 years, but I have little recollection of him. Then a stepfather. 4 kids later, my mother was married to an alcoholic who was irregularly employed and abusive.

I was born into a family comprised of drinking Republicans, raised in the shadows of Seventh Day Adventist fundamentalism and lived in poverty, lining up for government cheese and butter. Judgments from all corners were swift and dogmatic.


I believed in a vengeful god. As a little girl, I expected to be punished for every infraction. My home life served as evidence. I was baptized in a pool in the front of the church wearing a gown with weights in the hem. The pastor slowly pushed me under the water while my hand scrambled to grab onto his robe. I was 12.

By the time I was 18, I was filled with doubt about the existence of god, the necessity of religion and my ability to believe in something I could not see. In 1987, a 6-year old girl named Lisa Steinberg was murdered by her adoptive father. She was on the covers of magazines. She looked a lot like me when I was her age. It stuck in my head. If I was so protected by faith, why did no one protect her?

canstockphoto7351147It was the studying of Ancient Near Eastern History in college that made me lose my religion. Not some liberal professor or godless academic. It was learning about the Egyptian gods and how gods were changed to suit political purposes and control populations. It confirmed my suspicions that religions were driven by men in power.

It was a nice little set up for them. Ancient texts confirming that they were more important than women, than children, than animals. Organizational rules that ensured women could not lead, corporal punishment could be used on children and that animals could be sacrificed and eaten with alacrity. It was a theological casino where the house always wins. I let it all ride, left with my pockets empty, but my heart lightened.


I signed up for the Army when I was 17. I was a smart kid, but no one ever talked about college in my household. We worked. We survived. We didn’t ask for more. But I wanted more. I took tests and signed on for an eight-year gig in military intelligence as a Russian linguist, 4 active duty, 4 inactive /reserve.

canstockphoto0087452.jpgBasic training was at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. I got held up because my mother was not a citizen. When the background check finally cleared, I joined the ranks of women trainees. We were the first company of women to be trained more on par with the men. Except every day, we knew we weren’t.

Physical training put us in thin gray t-shirts and gym shorts. A lieutenant would walk around, watching us do sit-ups, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his dick was always at attention. Drill sergeants bellowed out Jody calls that would only make sense for men and then laughed their asses off when we’d repeat them.

I spent a lot of time doing push-ups, because I had a bad habit of making direct, angry eye contact with people who were bossing me around. My drill sergeant had the red-rimmed, watery eyes of an alcoholic. I hated him on sight.

I graduated basic to spend a year at the Defense Language Institute in California. Then 3 months at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. My final duty station was Wuerzburg, West Germany supporting an infantry division. I spent two and a half years there, mostly out in the field or at the motor pool with a team of 4-5 men. Off-duty I rambled about Europe either drunk or hungover.

For my reserve time, I joined a field support hospital unit, got re-trained as a combat radio operator and waited, with the rest of the unit to be called up for the first Gulf War. Despite the combat-hungry commander, who called Washington nearly every day to volunteer the unit, and all the training sessions about how when I got over there, I couldn’t drive and had to keep my sleeves rolled down, we never got called. Once the war paused, I left the unit and did the rest of my time on inactive duty.


I settled in to use my college fund. I tested out of basic college requirements and did a cheap year at a community college before attending the University of Iowa. I graduated with my BA in two years and with no plan, went to grad school. The college fund was gone, so I worked three jobs to pay for that first year. I was out of my league and regularly fell asleep during lectures. I quit because I didn’t want to pay any more to be miserable.


canstockphoto18405495I’ve always worked my ass off, but seemed ignorant of the fact that I was chronically underemployed. I cleaned toilets and did laundry at a hotel. I waitressed at a truck stop. I cashiered, unloaded trucks and did ungodly shifts at a big box retailer. I was a security guard, a library manager, a medical records reviewer. I made doughnuts and sold VCRs. I translated Russian political documents and managed a medical residency program at a university. My last job was as a small business manager.

I worked with a wide variety of people in very different environments. And the only lesson that really stuck with me is that there is no they or them. Every single person has a story. Which makes life complicated. Which makes politics complicated.


I never imagined that I would get married or have children. I didn’t have good relationships and they didn’t fit in with my fantasy of being a writer who traveled the world and sipped coffee over the New York Times.

canstockphoto2872319It took me awhile to realize that I was hungry for stability. I decided to stay in one place. I hung out my single shingle and met my partner. He was a progressive Lutheran with a sense of humor and a MacGyver competence with duct tape and PVC pipe that was damned impressive.

My wedding with 10 people in a park and a justice of the peace dissipated in the face of his beliefs. His wedding was in a Lutheran church with a zillion people and all the trappings of tradition. He got his wedding. I kept my name. Almost 16 years later, we still like and love each other. And vehemently disagree about religion.


Having a child is a game changer. At 37, it also meant that I would never sleep a full night again, as babyhood evaporated into the insomnia of perimenopause. I attended parenting classes, because I knew more about changing a tire than I did about raising a kid. It has been, for me, an amazing experience. Older, good job, more money, higher education – people may disavow a need for stability to have a happy home, but holy shit – it helps.

3,728 soccer games and music lessons later, I am raising an amazing person. More amazing than I ever could hope to be. She knows how to work, she’s kind to others and she asks the best questions. What will the world hold for her? Who will represent her?

I’m a fervent supporter of public education, but I’m angry about it. Kids have become guinea pigs for the pedagogical meanderings of disconnected administrators, while teachers try not to drown under the unrealistic expectations of bureaucracy and taxpayers. The unimaginative application of corporate values to education has created a cobbled-up mess of logos and hot air.

Health Care

People can complain (and do) all they want about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but somebody finally did something. Our health care system is unfettered capitalism at best, mercenary at worst. The PPACA may be the wrong thing. It may need some work, but no one seems to have come up with an alternate plan that can be reasonably implemented. At least not with the sloppy mess we now have in Washington.


Despite my military experience, I am scared of people with guns. The availability of assault weapons, this much-defunct wild west mentality, the insecurity that drives conspiracies, the hyper-machismo, the idea that more guns means we’re safer, is absolutely delusional. Have you met humans lately? Some of them can’t drink hot coffee without injuring themselves.


I used to say in that pithy way that wishy-washy people do, I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Since none of the major parties represents these ideas, I went from a registered Republican to a Democrat to an Independent. I’m really none of those. Most of the time I vote Democrat, because their rhetoric sounds less likely to kill us all.


The point of this incredibly long post is that I’ve come to believe that it’s not just the politicians who are lying. Voters unwittingly lie about their motives, their beliefs and their objections. They lie because they don’t think about what informs them as a voter – which means their choices are ones of default.

I see people fervently supporting one politician over the other and wish they’d just take a timeout and ensure that their beliefs are reasonable and for the common good, because it matters. Even if our political system is corrupted, even if we feel powerless, personal integrity matters.

I love my country. I love its potential, its diversity, and in the end, its optimism. What I love, most of all, is its changeability and believing that I can be part of that.

I’m an American voter.

What experiences inform you as a voter?

Doorstep Politics: Sometimes It’s Not About the Party

canstockphoto5811625We’re heading into another midterm election. I just spent 20 minutes on my doorstep talking to the Republican candidate for state representation of our district. While I am registered Independent, I tend to vote heavily Democrat. There was a time when I would mutter that oft-used phrase “fiscally conservative, socially liberal”, but now so many distinctions must be made between social issues I think government should get the hell out of and social issues that impact fiduciary decision-making that it’s no longer sufficiently vague to head off unwanted debate at the pass.

It hit me about 5 minutes into this conversation, how hungry I was for real political engagement. This candidate was a character – animated, humorous – he hadn’t been in the system long enough to turn into a rote zombie boot licking two-faced power suck (seriously, TV, stop doing shows about these assholes). He was earnest, but sufficiently vague for me to think maybe I’ll vote for a Republican. It’s happened before – and not always by mistake.

This candidate reminded me of a first grade teacher I once knew. Quirky, slightly awkward, but always, always willing to talk. We’re so used to the drab, polished demeanor of our national politicians. We get a variety here – they’re complete knuckleheads who say bizarre and reprehensible things (I’m from the state of Michelle Bachmann and Jesse Ventura) or they’re vague and incoherent as if pixie dust will fix the state budget but more commonly, they’re the party’s Stepford candidate  – when a slight breeze can blow over their cardboard cutout selves.

I could imagine this guy, years down the road, when our mummy representative finally collapses into a pile of non-pixie dust (the dude has been in office for 4 decades, can I get a term limit hallelujah, please?). The new guy will probably get his teeth fixed. He’ll become more somber. He’ll look less like an uncle you see during the summers at the cabin and more like an undertaker. He’ll be a smooth talker, because he will have said the same thing over and over and it’s what the party leader, who took him under his decrepit wing, said he should say.

He’ll automatically try to reach out and shake your hand when you’re just trying to get to the bathroom. He’ll mistake your purse dog for a baby and kiss it. Whenever he talks to you, you’ll see his eyes darting desperately to the side in search of a teleprompter. His daughter will get knocked up. His son will come out with a documentary on how to be a gay Republican. It will receive a tepid greeting at Sundance. He’ll hire a black Muslim lesbian for his spokesperson to make up for the glaring white heteronormativity of his unwieldy staff (and yes, I meant that to sound dirty).

But today, he’s just this guy who thinks he can make a difference. He laughs and talks amiably. He believes that his country, his state, his town are worth representing. He believes in his ability to be a good representative. I don’t care what party he is in – it reminds me of where politics really should begin. With some hopeful schmuck or schmuckette who believes in stuff. The problem is where it ends up and all the shuffling and unethical compromise in the middle. Did I mention term limits? Term limits, term limits, term limits. Ah, I feel better now.

It took me a couple of decades to get into the habit of midterm voting and I had planned to go this time, mostly for some school referendums. After talking with this candidate, I was reminded of how much I care about participating in this process. No matter what our party affiliations, this man, who I had never met before, who I likely have little in common with, reminded me that we share hope. And we could certainly use some of that right about now.