Why Using Gender as a Defining Criterion for Goodness is Just Wrong.

Back in the early 1990s, I read magazine essays about renewing your life and moving on to be sure you’re really breathing.

Whether I meant to go, or was shoved along by life’s little exigencies—I was quite in need of jumping off the cliff—with no guarantee my wings would grow, I left my position as Director of Women’s Studies at my university and went back to teaching police ethics in the Department of Criminal Justice.

Although the separation was more than painful, I had come to understand that different women had very different ideas when it came to empowerment—and entitlement—that were not in the best interest of all. Rather, they were self-serving and reflected much the same intolerance as men.

It was a reoccurring vision that set my teeth on edge and compelled me to jump. Before I did, I wrote this poem:

There they were—lines of wide-mouthed women. Hordes of immature, needy men. All wanting to suckle at my shriven breasts, my sore and hurting nipples—no milk, no substance—blood was all they could suck.

The worst were those waking dreams at 4:00 a.m. when I was not me, but a bleeding cow, whose udders leaked an ever-decreasing supply of blood.

Women’s studies—university vampires sucking us dry while they revel in our futile strivings, knowing that soon we will lie lifeless—and die.

I was a consultant to the Pentagon while Phyllis Schafly was on center stage debating the Equal Rights Amendment. I remember thinking that this woman must be a female impersonator. Now I’m wondering if she wasn’t right for the wrong reasons.

Then, in 2014, a female student in my online class attempted to sue me for violating her First Amendment rights to free speech. She was using our online discussion board to promote her admiration for Adolph Hitler. It was disrupting the class and diverting them from their assignments, so I deleted her posts—much the way Twitter has now blocked Trump. She tied up university lawyers for several years, until finally a federal district court threw out her claims. She stopped suing me and filed a suit against the judge. We were the fourth institution that this woman had made claims against; all were dismissed.

In 2015/16, I railed against Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem for calling on young women to vote for Hillary Clinton because she is female, as if that were the criterion for positive and effective leadership. 

Now we see Women for Trump. A new hero to the cause was martyred when she joined the insurrectionist mob at the Capitol.

What further proof does one need to know that gender does not define us? Our humanity does.

Feeding the Beast: Or Why I Turned Off the News in 2019

For decades, I woke every morning to NPR’s Morning Edition. It was a ritual of preparation for my day in the classroom with college students—a window to the world of important happenings.  My news binging started around 5:00 p.m. while I prepared dinner, and it extended most evenings until bedtime when I read for an hour to clear my head. Then came the national elections of 2016, whose opponents were a Democratic candidate I didn’t much like and a Republican who was an anathema to all that is sane and moral.

At first, I felt compelled to watch and listen to the news but, as the campaign progressed, I found myself assaulted by it. I made pink pussy hats for the Women’s March in Washington and gritted my teeth at the very sight of our new president. The campaign over, the news did not improve. In fact, all TV and talk radio outlets seemed to be in competition for the most onerous talking, screaming, heads, sensationalism, and conspiracy theories. Only NPR/PBS seemed to be rational and moderate, but it, too, was compelled to provide excessive airtime to the president.

Friends began to complain of depression. They had already stopped looking at social media and were considering wrenching themselves away from TV news. I limited my diet of news to the four minutes of the NPR newscast at the top of the hour and nothing more. I left the country and spent three months traveling around the world—no TV, no radio, no newspapers.

In a matter of days, we will swear in a new president. I am hopeful, but worry that Trump will continue to spew his poison and the news media will continue to treat it as newsworthy. Let the vermin crawl back into obscurity. Give us back news worthy of our attention.

Musings of a school board member in the time of COVID-19

Our governor wants all public schools to go back to five days of in-person classes on January 20th, six weeks ahead of fully vaccinating all teachers and staff and weeks ahead of schools being prepared for class sizes twice as large as in the fall. School boards are being bombarded with emails and calls from community members, parents, teachers, teacher-parents, and staff who are either begging to go back full-time sooner or begging to stay blended for six more weeks. Physicians send conflicting data and analysis; like the Bible, you can use it to justify either position. Parents blame teachers for being cowardly, and teachers blame parents for not following COVID-19 safety guidelines at home.

As a school board member, my response is this:

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on many of our children is horrific. We all agree. The sooner we get students safely back into the classrooms full-time, the better. By safely, I mean for them, their families, and their teachers and school staff.

With the rollout of the vaccines, the goal of a safer school day for all is closer. The faster the governor releases CARES dollars and other funds, the faster we can meet his aspirational goals for public education in West Virginia. The more that responsible adults in our community follow CDC guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing, the faster we can meet all of our hopes for a return to full-time, in-person education.

I am hopeful that we can complete the employee vaccination process by the end of February, as well as create better social distancing protocols in our schools. Until then, I prefer to stay on the blended schedule, moving to five days soon thereafter. 

Petition the governor, petition the state board of education, wear your face-masks, and social distance. I am committed to this community and its children. I will do everything in my power to get our children back in school. But I differ with many of you on the best way to do that. Let’s talk together to find a consensus strategy to meet our common goal.”

I don’t yet know how my colleagues on the board will vote.

Perhaps if we can unify with the community around this issue, we can come together as a loving, kind, and tolerant community.

Once Upon a Time Darkly

I fell asleep last night after finishing the last few pages of a cleverly written book, The Once and Future Witches,by Alix E. Harrow. On its face, it chronicles the return of witches to the world years after the Salem witch trials but not long after the Underground Railroad and segregation.  Really, however, it is a story of misogyny, racism, and mob barbarism like lynching and burning, driven by superstition and fear.  The tales are dark and familiar, but the ending is hopeful if not happily ever after.

One might close the covers of the book, make a reader’s appraisal of its literary and entertainment value, put it down, and utter a sign of relief that those days are behind us. 

No. They are not. I woke to a report by Joel Rose on NPR’s Morning Edition, December 30, 2020. Headlined “Even If It’s ‘Bonkers,’ Poll Finds Many Believe QAnon And Other Conspiracy Theories,” his report stated that “A significant number of Americans believe misinformation about the origins of the coronavirus and the recent presidential election, as well as conspiracy theories like QAnon, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll.”

Perception is 9/10ths of reality. It is the driver of and the apology for all kinds of wicked behavior from violence to an end of democracy. Do a quick Google search and it’s easy to find stoning, witch burnings, lynching, and political parties’ machinations and lies, here and abroad, in our time when we most need truth, rationality, and trust.  

How can we take the advice of Proverbs 15:12 if even the wise among us don’t know from whom to take advice?

The flag belongs to all of us, as does this country. Let’s be worthy of it! Confront superstition and ignorance; turn off the talking heads that spew and spin; let your news and social media outlets know that you will no longer support them if they continue to promote superstition and conspiracy theories, glorify the cult of personality, and neglect the real dangers to our society and this planet.

To quote Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Sweeping Leaves

I used the stiff-bristled broom to sweep the leaves from my patio. It was awkward, and a rake would have been more efficient. Still angry, the extra exertion felt cathartic and soothing. As I recognized the inadequacy of trying to sweep the cement floor clean of bits of dry brown leaves and twigs, Samantha appeared at the double glass doors, a leaf blower strapped to her chest.

“Do you have an electric outlet out here?” she asked.

I frowned. “What are you doing here? You said leaf blowing is stupid,” I groused.

“I still think it is stupid to go through all this just for a Zoom tour with your siblings, but we were afraid that using the blower would hurt your hands. Move those chairs so I can get the leaves piled up against the wall.”

The electric hum of the blower came to life and swirls of brown and rust-colored fauna, along with my ire, flew in the direction of the front yard, leaving the patio clean and me mollified.

I had intended to draft a very different blog when I first came downstairs from my daughter’s kitchen, angry that she and her family seemed so indifferent to my request, responding as if I were a nuisance. I live in a newly renovated basement apartment in my daughter’s new home in Georgia. Most Sundays I visit with my siblings and their children on Zoom—an accommodation to our Covid-19 confinement and our age. My brothers and sisters are seventy or older. My eldest brother was curious to see the new apartment, designed and built to be ADA compliant should I need it—my son-in-law says when I need it. I agreed to join the Zoom chat and take them on a video tour. I wanted to show off my new place and, admittedly, I got a little overzealous in assuring that everything was perfect.

 My intended blog would have been more like the one when I ran away from home several years ago. Then we lived in a similar multi-gen household in Ona, West Virginia, mostly tension-free until we had a huge fight about my granddaughter’s newfound concern about body image—her body image—the cause for which my daughter laid at my feet. Rather than allow the fight to escalate into words not easily amended, I called a friend and arranged to meet her halfway between Huntington and Washington, D.C., in the odd city of Morgantown, WV. I snuck out, leaving a note saying I had run away but would be back Sunday afternoon so that I could take care of my granddaughter after school on Monday. That was my responsibility.

While I spent my first few minutes sweeping leaves, I was rehearsing an angry blog in my mind, feeling the heat of that earlier fight when I felt trapped in a living arrangement from which I saw no escape. I had felt unloved and unwanted. Then Samantha came down with the blower. I took my siblings on a tour, binged on some television series, and went for long walks. However, the morning’s incident kept running like a broken record in my mind. Here I am, trying to make sense of this lesson—for lesson it must be.

Barbara Ballinger wrote in the REALTOR Magazine that multi-gen living, once popular in the 1900s, is now staging a comeback—less among white Americans than other ethnic groups, but still on the rise. She says, “Despite the potential obstacles, peace can prevail with the expectation that resolvable skirmishes will arise periodically.” I think that’s the lesson. We live together to support one another and, despite the occasional tiffs, with that goal in place we manage to keep the peace. Just like this society, we are stronger together.

Clogged Ears and Trump Madness

If you push just above my ear, you can feel the wax sticking to itself. It’s very annoying. I generally have to have it flushed out every few years. Now I am in a new town and looking for a new ENT doctor. In itself, the search would be a minor inconvenience. However, any small problem raises hackles when added to the constant underlying angst caused by The Donald’s refusal to accept the election results and let the country get on with focusing on the pandemic and its dire health and economic consequences. The very air around me throbs with tension and anger.

It’s not just Trump’s behavior. It is also his supporters who still have their Trump/Pence signs up in their yards ringed by American flags and illuminated by Christmas lights. Trump supporters have no priority claim to either the flag or Christmas, and the president is a dubious representative of the true meaning of either!

We are in the middle of Hmong New Year, a celebration that lasts about a month and spans the old and new years by Western reckoning. The Western New Year is just weeks away, followed by the Chinese, Tibetan, and Buddhist New Years. Whether we celebrate with bottles of Champagne, floating or flying lanterns, or fireworks, our wishes should be stated in unison: “Peace on earth, good will towards men, and spare us from the tyrants of this world.”

Killing Babies

“The Democrats support a bill allowing people to kill their babies if they don’t want them after they are born.”

We—the framing store-clerk, and I—looked at her wide-eyed and disbelieving. Generally, I would shy away from confrontation. It is frustrating and anxiety-producing at best, and a futile effort at worse. Nevertheless, this comment was just too insidious to ignore.

“I teach criminal justice; I am a former police officer. There is nowhere in this country where it is legal to kill a healthy newborn baby—nowhere,” I pronounced in my most authoritative voice.

“My husband is a police officer,” she retorted. “Besides, I heard the governor himself say he was happy to sign the bill into law. It was in New Jersey, I think, or maybe South Carolina.”

Her posture became more agitated as she scrolled through her phone looking for the evidence. The clerk kept her eyes down. A black woman who was standing nearby quickly left the area.

“There are a few states where, if a baby is born terminally ill, you have the option of not prolonging its life artificially. Surely, that must be what you heard.” I tried to sound less confrontational.

Defiant, she responded, “I saw it on the news. I heard the governor say it. I just can’t find it right now.”

“You do know that it’s possible to edit videos, leaving out critical language. Maybe that’s what you saw.” I was trying to give this woman an out. She didn’t take it. I was disturbed, but gave up and left. The clerk texted me later (she had my number from an order I had placed with her) and thanked me for trying to stop the woman from spreading such lies. The clerk said she only wanted to go home and hug her son.

I went home and pushed the crazy lady to the back of my mind, where all this hate and stupidity is filed. To my horror, my hairdresser told me just the other day that she has heard this same hateful misinformation from several of her clients. “Oh no,” I sighed. This is fake news at its most destructive. It is misinformation that pushes people to engage in extreme behavior and keeps us divided.

Now I am sorry that I wasn’t more confrontational. In retrospect, I should have looked up the truth and shot it like an arrow into the universe. Would it have helped? Maybe not, but unless we challenge the lies, we will continue to suffer the consequences. And I do mean lies on both sides of the aisle.

Memories of GG

“Children, read through this correspondence before you discard it.” The note was taped to a plastic bag filled with letters of condolence from 1954 when my dad passed, a high school yearbook, correspondence between my mom, GG, and her teen-age buddies, and some very pretty Valentine cards with our names on them as the senders that were unmistakably in my father’s handwriting. There was also one rusty button pin with the image of a football and the deteriorating. faded remnants of blue and grey silk ribbons.

The letters, correspondence from her girlfriends, dated back to 1928. She had to leave Harrison Technical High School, located in the South Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, to move with her mother and baby brother to Brooklyn, New York, for two operations for problems associated with scoliosis, adenoids, and severe burns to her face and neck.

The neighborhood was on the west side of Chicago and, at the time my mother lived there, it was eighty-four percent foreign born or native with foreign parentage. As Eastern Europeans moved further west or north, the ethnicity changed; now it is a Hispanic neighborhood, and Harrison Technical High School no longer exists.

The letters were from girls with names like Sadie, Ida, and Gertrude and nicknames like Shrimp, Curly, and Dubby. Last names, Rabinowitz, Celovisky, and Shitof for example, resembled a roster from an Eastern European Jewish refugee camp. Expressions like tee-hee and heh-heh punctuated gossip about parties, boys, and other girls. The letters were affectionate and hopeful about mom’s recovery and return, as well as the writers’ ambitions and dreams. 

I vaguely remember some of the letter writers, as they became life-long friends of GG’s, and their names were on the sympathy cards sent to her when my dad died. Mom survived them all, living a robust life for 99.6 years.

My brother passed on the plastic bag of memorabilia to me to peruse before sending it on to my sister. I purchased a nicer tote for the papers, but I held back the football button. I am staying with my niece, my brother’s middle daughter, whose son plays center for his high school team. I cleaned up the pin, painted over the rusting back, and glued on new ribbons in red and black, Sammy’s school colors. I’m not sure my mom was much of a fan, but I know that she would be tickled to be with her one of her granddaughters watching a great-grandson play.

Confessions of a 2020 Voter

I pushed the speaker button on my cell phone so that I could hear my daughter. “I can’t stop crying,” she said, her voice cracking. I stopped unpacking boxes; my breath became ragged; I felt the same evisceration of my gut that I felt 40 years ago when my husband asked for a divorce. “No!” I shrieked. “No, he could not have won.”

“Mom, wait. What do you think I’m referring to?”

“Biden lost.”

“No, he won. I’m crying for joy. You haven’t heard?”

A wave of pure relief washed over me. My heart stopped thumping, and I began to relax. However, I didn’t feel joy or elation We had narrowly won a reprieve, but we had not won the war. I did not vote for Joe Biden and the Democrats; I voted against Donald Trump.

While people came out onto the streets in big cities Saturday to celebrate the outcome of the election, my town was subdued, quiet, and careful not to start an altercation. Fear was palatable on both sides. Then the next day I read an article in Medium Digs by Lauren Martinchek called “November 3rd Was a Rejection of the Democratic Party,” which summed up my unease. Democrats are politically impotent and unlikely to make any real change. It is as if they are in black face and, like Ms. Martinchek, I fear for the future and the backlash of “right wing populism” that Trump harnessed. He may be gone soon, but his legacy of racism and white supremacy will still be with us.

From Russia with Love

“Hi Carole. We are doing OK so far. COVID is everywhere; nobody knows what to do. Hope we will survive.”

I woke up this morning to find this WhatsApp message on my phone, sent from a friend in Moscow—a friend who works high up in Russia’s medical establishment. We are two days out from the election, and I don’t know what I am more afraid of: COVID or Trump winning another term. A New York Times headline today stated that people are voting as if their life depended on it—and it does.

How did we get here? I think the etiology of Trump’s ascendancy lies deep within the psyche of America, a country forged on genocide and slavery and justified by religion. Put this in the context of poor national leadership, economic disparity, growing racial diversity and political power, and increasing global threats from terrorism to climate change, and you have a toxic mix triggering an acute stress response among people. (And let’s not forget the worship of celebrity.) For the most part, these responses are irrational, defensive, and hostile.

The answer: vote Tuesday as if your life depended on it—it does.