Friday, December 14, 2012

Parents and Bravery

Connecticut is a horrible tragedy and a heinous act of cruelty without compare.  I cannot even imagine the pain for the families, parents, teachers, administrators and community and I pray for them and for all the parents who are experiencing fear today thinking about their own children.  But the answer is not to pull your child out of school, to hide them away from the world.  It is impossible to protect your child at all times

Today I am thankful for my parents.  I can't fathom the depth of sadness that has been forged today for the parents, teachers, staff and community of Connecticut.  And today, I send out all my love to my friends who are parents; who are more frightened today than they were yesterday, who are holding their children so tightly with tears in their eyes which they hope to never have to explain, who are questioning every choice they've ever made about public schools or mall outings, birthday parties.  Wondering if they should have chaperoned that field trip.  I know it is scary but your bravery to allow your child a life of joy and independence, scary as it may be is noble.  Because you have instilled to the best of your ability wisdom, knowledge and good judgement.  You have raised a child of whatever age to understand right from wrong, to use caution crossing the street or talking to strangers.  And because you cannot control the actions of a psycho.  So hold your little one (or big one) close, talk about what happened at an age appropriate level and then let him or her go and play.  Because a happy life cut short is a terrible tragedy, but a life unlived out of fear is unfathomable. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Today I cried over grape jelly. Divorce is hard.


Sometimes when I’m stumped for an idea, I just float something out on the social networks to see if it goes anywhere.  I know it might seem like cheating but I like to see how peoples’ minds work sometimes and let’s face it, this whole blog started out as a single post on facebook.  So the other day I was stuck for ideas and also had had a weird little exchange at my favorite little coffee shop megoliath chain.  I was sitting in the back, quietly minding my own business, pretending to be a writer while really I was whiling the hours away on twitter when I suddenly realized I had forgotten to take my birth control that day.  Not a monumental mistake by any means; it was still the same day and though technically afternoon, just barely.  Anyway, I reached into my purse, pulled out the handy little pack, which in this case is a discrete little grey plastic wallet, not the fun little sundial, pulled the telltale month pack out, popped the appropriate blister pack, put the tiny little pill in my mouth, swallowed and put the little wallet back in my purse.  The whole event took a matter of seconds but when I looked up from my purse, there was an older woman scowling at me as though I had just peed in her cheerios or in this her vanilla double half café latte.   I smiled non-confrontationally in her direction and she, no joke, huffed and turned away.   I don’t proclaim to know for sure that it was due to my perceived indiscretion or perhaps that she didn’t like my sweater or the color of my eyes or maybe she was having a horrible waking dream and I just got in her line of vision.   But it got me curious.  So I posted a quick message to my friends asking if this was a thing; was it considered rude somehow to take birth control in mixed public.  I thought I might get a few witty quips about sexual freedom or prudishness in the modern age, women’s empowerment and such, all of which I did, but what was surprising was my innocuous little inquiry started a whole discussion of personal freedom versus community comfort,  medical discrimination and shame.  But what was really fascinating to me was this; the idea that if someone takes medication, there is a perception that that person has a medical condition and is somehow telegraphing it for attention, positive or negative.  It got me thinking about the importance of perception.

Put a pill in an aspirin bottle and it has no life of its own, no backstory, no drama, it is just aspirin.  Which is for a headache right?  We see the aspirin bottle and it is such a common item, we wouldn’t think twice about it.  But put that same aspirin in a prescription bottle and via la, that person has a medical condition and it is therefore imperative that we decide whether we should be rude and notice or be fake and ignore it.  That somehow the simple act of taking medication in public, for whatever reason, is a justification for public commentary.  But truth to tell, isn’t everything?  How often have you seen someone eat a candy bar?  Totally innocuous, not even worth noting, is it?  Ok, what if that candy bar is in the hands of a very obese person?  Or an extremely thin person?  Or being paid for with food stamps? We make internal commentary and judgments constantly; it’s a part of our human nature and unfortunately a part of the crowd mentality.  If you enter into the world of others, you put yourself up for judgment.

I thought about other far less innocent moments of judgment when people feel so righteous in expressing their opinions purely out of some sense of entitlement due to people simply living their lives discreetly as their own; the difference between a sympathetic community rallying around a woman fighting breast cancer and a judgmental community turning their backs on a gay man fighting HIV.  Now change the face in that frame from a gay man to a woman?  Now put her wife in the frame next to her.  Perception.  Nothing about the reality has changed, only the perception of that reality.  So much of the anger and hatred and ugliness in the world is a matter of perception.

This whole conversation got me so self-conscious and aware that day that I realized how much I constantly sit in judgment of others, completely unaware of it.  The crazy man dressed in filthy clothes babbling in gibberish to himself is in fact a construction worker on his way home talking to his wife in rapid Spanish on his Bluetooth.  The homeless woman pushing the shopping cart onto the bus pulls out her iPhone and I am suddenly aware that she is simply a grandmother with mobility issues coming back from the grocery store.  It’s Chicago, everyone here is dressed in layers and big hats and scarves and gloves trying to stay warm.  I start questioning myself.  Am I a racist?  Am I a mean girl?  Am I…a bad person?   But here’s what I think.  I am a human.  Flawed, judgmental, imperfect.  The resolution to my day is that I am going to judge; it happens.  What I have to be careful of is letting my snap and probably flawed first impression dictate my actions.  I mean, sometimes those little thoughts can be fun; “Um, girl, did you dress in the dark this morning?”  “Dude, is that a pick up line or are you just trying to gauge how drunk I am?”  Celebrities have made whole careers from saying out loud what so many of us are thinking.  But I think I will leave that mantle to the celebs and just sit in silent judgment.  I’m certain that woman at the coffee shop didn’t mean to be so transparent…or maybe she did.  Whatever, I’m ok with it.  I won’t change who I am, nor will I try to make a big production out of making other people uncomfortable (unless it is for YouTube and I go viral).  But neither will I hide who I am.  If my lifestyle makes you uncomfortable, maybe you are the one who needs a little perspective. 

And to the woman who glared at me at the coffee shop for taking my medically necessary birth control, thank you.  I needed that. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dying to Be Happy

Why is it so often we need a near death experience or a loss to finally let go and get happy?  We spend copious amounts of time working away at the office, to make faceless corporations bucket of money while our love, home, family and friendships are put on the shelf to be dealt with when time allows.  Several years ago, I nearly died and afterward, I made it my mission to tell everyone I loved how much they meant to me.  But time passes and those feelings of immediacy fade and suddenly you realize you are back in the same rut until some other tragedy occurs; some other horrible wake up call to remind you of your mortality and the fleeting time we have to make an impact on this little planet.  

I know it is cliché to say, live every day like it is your last.  Cliché…and kind of dangerous.  Because if I knew today would be my last day, I wouldn’t show up for work.  I would give away my car.  I would max out my credit cards so I could take a trip round the world and die in Tahiti.  And then tomorrow would come and I’d be penniless, homeless and probably kind of naked.  

So instead, I think we should live every day like it is the last day of a best friend; someone you love, admire, respect.  Someone who you want to spend time with, someone you want to make proud.  And when realize that you should care as much about being happy for yourself as you do for your best friend.  Celebrate that your better self didn’t die today.  Honor that, always.     

The Unknown Hero

It was the summer of love, my parents actually missed Woodstock, passing on the concert a mere two hours away because they assumed no one would show up, a fact that clouded my childhood with doubts about their judgement well into my teen years.  But my father was called to serve and rather than flee north to the promised land of pot and universal health care in Canada, they packed up their lives, their toddler who was now 3 years old and headed to Nebraska for basic training, then onto the big city, Arlington, Virginia.

Over the years my parents often spoke of that time when they first arrived in the mean streets of DC; both of my parents like so many people from the mid-west are natural born storytellers, but I never really understood the impact of that time until the opening of the Vietnam Memorial, the black wall.  My father and I went there together when it first opened.  Until then, my father had always been quite tight-lipped about the war itself, in fact he refused to be called or veteran or accept any veteran benefits.  I didn’t get it.  I knew he had served, and if fact had been stationed in Arlington when it was discovered I was going to make my grand debut.  Although he would regale us with tales of sneaking away from KP duty or his near court-marshal from climbing out the window during basic training, he never spoke about his actual time in the military.  My father and I shared a special bond from the time I was little, different to my other siblings.  My sister would eventually be Daddy’s little girl, but he and I were buddies.  We had this game where I would get sad and run away, and he would come get me.  Usually I didn’t make it past the edge of the yard, but he’d come rescue me, put his big, bull-like arm around me and ask me what was wrong.  Then we’d go for a car ride to the store or 7-11 while I told him my troubles and he assured me that all would be right with the world.  One of these special father-daughter outings was to Washington, DC.  When the war ended, my father got a job with the DC power company and I became a bit of a minor celebrity in elementary school because my father would arrange a yearly trip to the power plant.  I actually thought for years that my parents were both television personalities because there was a show on PBS called the Electric Company, which ran right before Romper Room.  I thought my Dad was a behind the scenes guy and my mom, well, I was sure that she was Ms. Molly from Romper Room and that the camera just made her look different.  

Anyway, this particular day, my father had to go into DC to pick something up from his office and invited me to go with him, to make a day of it in DC.  Well, I’ll admit, I would visit DC about once a year to go to the museums but the idea of a whole day in the big city with my Dad was really exciting.   So we dropped by his office, and I got the grand tour.  It was the weekend so there weren’t a lot of personnel in the office but still plenty on site.  Then we went for a bit of lunch in the park, and then we went to the monuments.   We did a little tour of Arlington, ending at the newly opened Vietnam Memorial.  I had of course heard all about it, the black marble wall covered with the names of soldiers, dead or lost.  There had been a national contest and hundreds of artists had submitted designs for the tribute.  My eight year old brain still couldn’t process the impact of these events; I still didn’t understand national politics; I thought the conflict in Ireland had happened a hundred years ago and the Vietnam War was over before I was born.  I had seen the aftermath growing up in DC but still didn’t understand it.  And my father’s time in service was until this day still a mystery to me. 
So we went to the Memorial and it is impossible not to be moved, even if you don’t have any frame of reference or understanding, even if you can’t speak English, the wall is like a living shroud on the landscape.  People walk by speaking only in hushed tones; the only sounds, the wind, the traffic and the occasional catch of breath.  In those early years, the impact was even greater.  My father walked by the wall, pointing out occasional names to me or telling me about this friend or that friend who had been shipped overseas. 
There is a book, a gruesome phonebook which sits adjacent to the wall.  Again, I don’t know that the impact of it would even be understood by the new generation of texting, tie-in teens who have never seen much less used a pay phone.  But this phonebook is unlike any other.  It is a list of all the men who served in Vietnam, a list of where they are now.  I stood quietly enjoying the sun on my face as my father turned page after page and then he let out a slight gasp, more a catch like he was trying not to cry.  Now I have seen my father cry only three times in my life, each time over concern for his family.   But when he looked up at me, chagrinned to have made a sound, he had tears in his eyes.  

“I never knew what happened to David,” he said.  “I didn’t call him after the war because I hadn’t heard if he had come home.  We lost a lot of good people.”  And he started rattling off names of so many of his friends and what had happened, men who had not made it out, men who returned shell shocked and shattered to families who could no longer welcome them, men who were alive when they returned but so dead inside that it was comforting to take a bullet rather than face another day of attempted normalcy. 
I realized as my Dad went on and on, the commonality among all these men.  Each and every one had been shipped overseas.  

“Dad, you served too.”  

“I served here.  I should have been there.  I should have…”

And it was then that I realized the injustice of it all.  My father was ashamed.  Ashamed that when asked to serve his country, he had done so, but by some wonderful luck of the draw, he had come to Washington to fight not with a gun but with a computer.  To use his mind in service to his country.  And at that moment, I was angry.  I was angry at a country that did not honor my father for the hero that he is.   Angry that it wasn’t enough that he serve as asked, even after he had tried to enlist and refused for a heart condition that was too severe for eligibility as an enlisted but not so problematic for eligibility in the draft.  And I was angry that my father felt so badly about his time in service that he was afraid to reconnect with his friends who had served overseas, for fear that they would think him a coward, that he should endure their wrath because he won the coin toss.  

My eight year old mind was wheeling and before I could stop myself I told him how I felt.  “Dad, I know you think that somehow you should be ashamed but I’m proud of you.  When you were asked, you did your duty.  And I know you feel badly that you didn’t get called overseas but I’m glad.  I’m thrilled.  I know maybe I shouldn’t be but I’m grateful that you are alive and healthy and if you had gone, I might not be here so I’m not ashamed.  I’m grateful.  And you should be.  You are a hero; you are a soldier, like your father and your father’s father.  And when they served it was so you wouldn’t have to and they lied.  That’s what Mom says.  And she’s right because you shouldn’t feel bad and I don’t want you to feel bad because I love you and I want you here.  And if that means someone else had to die, I’m sorry for that but I’m happy it wasn’t you.”  And I started to cry.  It came out of me in such a rush, that feeling that if things had been different, I wouldn’t have a Dad.  And I was grateful; to all the men who served and to my father who, after that day, was never again an unknown hero.   

My Growing Love Affair With Chicago

When I was a kid, growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I dreamed of the day that I would make it to the big city, New York, the big apple; a new bright city of giant monuments to human ingenuity, shining beacons of glass and metal filling whole city blocks, stretching with eager fingers to the heavens;  the beating heart of arts and finance, culture and industry in the US.  When I was 18, I finally made it.  I landed a scholarship to college and a dorm room on the 17th floor of a building standing on the very apex of Staten Island.  Every day I woke to the New York Harbour, every night I said goodnight to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and for Christmas and Valentine’s Day I watched with childlike delight as the lights changed on the Empire State Building.  Every chance I could I would take the walk to the ferry to take the ferry to the subway to take the subway to the big city; opportunities that were not as frequent as I would have wished due to time and money but every trip was a treasure.  My sophomore year my new room allowed me to see the Statue of Liberty if I craned my neck and looked only out my periphery.  Those were some of my happiest days but in the middle of my Sophomore year, as I returned home to celebrate the holiday season and take a well-deserved rest from my hectic schedule my parents dropped a bombshell on me.  The end of my next term would be the end of my career in New York.  See, my scholarship covered only a portion of my tuition and due to a fatal combination of events, bad investments, real estate collapse, my mother’s health issues, they were out of money for my education.   I was heartbroken but I never let on, explaining to my school friends instead that I really felt like this was more a two year program and I needed to expand my reach a little.  I returned home and completed my education at a state school vowing that I would return to New York at the first opportunity.   But life and love get in the way and muddy the once clear path to the future.  My path which had led right to the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway took a turn in a very different direction though each time I returned to New York, I felt that same longing to be a part of the big city again.

I have traveled around the world since that time so long ago left behind.  I worked in the Caribbean to lose myself then in the Mediterranean to find myself again.  And then I came to Chicago.  And here, I came to fall in love.  Well, actually I came here to learn long form sketch comedy, but fall in love I did.  Today as I sat on the El train, a man sat across from me staring.  I knew why.  He could see it, that look of pure joy on my face, pent up lest I start singing.  I’ve always wanted to ride the El since I was a little girl watching “ER” though to be fair until I arrived I never realized the El was short for Elevated, I thought it was “L” like the blue or green line in DC.  Funny to realize that one childhood fantasy was dispelled but replaced with something so much greater.  There is a tremendous sense of history in this city, an old city not of skyscapers but of buildings for the most part no higher than a few stories; built not of glass and metal but of brick and mortar, layered one upon another.  The sky is clearly seen overheard, unblemished but for a few towers though no light may pass between the buildings which seem so close that you could not traverse them  but for eating one Chicago deep dish.  No need for a Hop On/Hop Off bus, $2.25 on the "L" and you have a tour of downtown high above the street, nearly level with the rooftops, a maze of brick, stone and cast iron fire escapes.  The mark of Chicago’s hey day industrial age shows in every nook and cranny, on every corner yet without the seediness that often comes in an older city.  The El winds its way seamlessly through the city inconspicuous unless you are standing below the rails which roar and growl like an ancient amiable dragon.  Even the familiar doorbell gong of the El is an unexpected surprise for anyone visiting from the angry underground of the DC metro.   Everything is old school.  There are no credit card machines, no broken escalators awaiting repair, and do not expect a map to aid you.  But fear not weary traveler, the people of Chicago are as enigmatic and inviting as the city.  You would expect people to be funny, as this is the region for comedy but unlike New York, where if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere but many don’t, Chicago is no land of broken dreams and waiters awaiting their big break.  You may not get rich but you will work and you will love it.  There are opportunities on every corner and there are people looking to offer you a hand in every field.  Yesterday while on the train, I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found out my show had been picked up and rather than be angry that I was rudely invading their air space with my intrusive phone call, the others riders cheered me and asked how to they could get tickets.  I’m sure this isn’t an everyday experience, but I do know, when I’m on the "L", I don’t have to keep my mean face on.   I never thought I could love a city the way I loved New York.  But Chicago, you are making me a believer.