Category Archives: Legacy

Stuck in the Middle with You

(This post is modified from a Note I published on Facebook, November 5, 2008)
So you know that commercial for Campbell’s soups with sea salt for flavor instead of heart-ending sodium? It kills me. That actor alone is hilarious to me but the dialogue is genius. “What’s that Taste?” “Taste.” Like the poor guy has gone without taste for so long because of a low-sodium diet he forgot what good food was? I love it.

That’s how I felt two years ago after President Obama was elected.

“What’s this feeling?”

“Pride.”

“I like pride. It makes me proud.”

I haven’t really come to terms with the fact that I was wrong. This country WAS ready to elect a black man (or more accurately a multi-racial man) to the Presidency. I was never so happy to be wrong. The electoral votes showed it to be a landslide victory, but 48MM people voted for the other guy. That left a lot of disappointed people.   Just like in the previous two elections.

My original post read, “Let’s do something. Let’s NOT rub this win in anyone’s face. Let’s NOT gloat or be smug. Instead, let’s follow our new president-elect’s humility and dignity and lead by example, be gracious and inclusive, and find our commonality.”

I had felt disconnected and ashamed for so long that the shock of Obama’s win felt like shrugging off a back-pack. I was lighter and more balanced but perversely, I missed the weight that I’d grown accustomed to. 

Having lived in a (mostly) Red state for the last ten months, I heard an earful of conservative speak, saw more “Jesus Saves” billboards than I could believe, and witnessed protests against healthcare or “Obamacare,” bailouts, and taxes.
I was right about one thing – a large number of people were left disappointed that the Republicans were summarily ousted from the majority of leadership roles in our government.  If I’m to believe the news at all, there is a chance they’ll win back at least some of them in November 2010.
But there seems to be so much anger involved politics right now and the “sides” are growing farther apart every day.  The harsh, disrespectful, violent language is uncivilized at best.  Logic, reason, and compassion have left the building.  What remains seems to be the very worst of human nature on both sides of the proverbial aisle. 
When people who are honored with representing me in my government speak in circular logic and pander blatently to interests not aligned with the good of the country, I feel nauseated.  When they fund war but cancel unemployment, I taste bile.  When did treating the sick become the enemy of the “Good Samaritan” crowd?  When did party loyalty nullify sense and judgement? 
I read that something like 46 states could go bankrupt this year
Our national deficit is so big that I don’t even have words to describe it.
In the midst of the liberals pointing and the conservatives bad-mouthing, accountability has been abandoned completely.

I lack an impressive education or advanced degrees.  I am not independently wealthy.  I don’t rub elbows with anyone in power.  But I have a healthy skepticism that enables me to be unawed by these groups.  It allows me to discern the random nugget of honor and leadership that pops up now and again from the absolute nonsense coming out of their mouths and pens. 

Both sides seem to get more extreme by the day.  Each uses fear and hate to build support.  Neither feels the shame they should for the misleading or aggregiously inaccurate rhetoric they employ. 
I miss that feeling of Pride.  Even though I respect the seal and the man behind it, we are only as good as our weakest link in government or in protest.  And our worst has gotten a lot worse.
Whenever I feel down about the state of the union, this rant by the character Andrew Shepherd in the American President always cheers me up.  Hope you enjoy:
 
“Being President of this country is entirely about character. For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren’t you, Bob? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question: Why would a senator, his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution? If you can answer that question, folks, then you’re smarter than I am, because I didn’t understand it until a few hours ago. America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”. I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.”

Indeed.

Imagine better

In 1996, there was an international Conference on Women held in Beijing.  I remember this because I wanted to go so badly my heart hurt.  I was, however, horrifically poor – working my first job at a Japanese company with an absurdly unimportant job and an even sadder salary.  I wanted to go to this event to hear Hilary Clinton address the world (interested in global women’s issues) about global women’s issues.

 Somewhere in my trunk of inspiration, there is a political cartoon of her speech at this event.  In the word baloon is written, “I dream of a world in which all women are free to grow up to be criticized by Rush Limbaugh.” or something to that effect.  I love that cartoon.

I love that cartoon because it is both hopeful and honest.

Back then, I imagined myself to be becoming someone important.  I imagined myself becoming a leader – socially, politically, internationally.  I had not yet acknowledged my ignorance, my indiscretion, my offensiveness – mostly because I was unaware of them.  I had a precocious ambition that was a carry-over from my childhood.  I had an imagination.

A friend of mine recently told me that she finished her book – a work of fiction.  She and I share the goal of being published authors (not self-published bloggers!).  And while I’ve heard that the work of getting published begins with finishing the book, I am so impressed with her accomplishment.  She has imagined not only herself as a writer, but also the storyline, characters, and detail to make it happen.

Imagination as an adult is such an inspiring thing.

How many of us have allowed the adversity of daily life to box us into what others expect?

How many of us have quietly packed up dreams to be stored in the closet or under the bed?

How many of us have donated our aspirations to someone else because it was easier to encourage them than ourselves?

I worked with a man who recently threw himself and his wife a fortieth birthday party where everyone dressed as who they wanted to be when they “grew up.”  When I heard this theme, I thought it was brilliantly creative and oh-so-fun!  What a comical scene of friends as doctors, rockstars, pilots, firemen, teachers, nuns, and scientists.

What I wonder, though, is how many people dressed as themselves?

Imagination is the process of mentally creating something that doesn’t exist in reality.  When you imagined yourself grown, who did you picture?  Who do you picture now?

I know that when I feel my lowest, I am not using my imagination.  When I see things as they are and feel hopelessly beaten by my weight or the economy or the dangerously-high pile of dishes in the sink, my image of something better has been folded neatly and tucked away with clippings and cartoons that once inspired.

But unlike my pre-baby jeans, my imagination fits perfectly everytime I try it on.  Unlike my retirement fund, my imagination is never insufficient.  Unlike the dishes in the sink, my imagination doesn’t stink up the joint.

My imagination keeps safe the image of me that makes me proud and hopeful and honest.  I really like ‘her;’  I still want to be ‘her.’

Imagine that.

Get over the F Word

Lately I’ve seen a rash of articles about feminism that have me feeling itchy.

Even more maddening, I haven’t been able to name my response.  I just know that it is visceral.

I think it started with this op-ed about the conservative women candidates who celebrated victories in the June primaries.  But as I got deeper into the Great Schism of feminist ideology, bloggers like Taylor Marsh coming down on one side and Kathleen Parker from The Post on the other, I felt my ire rise both at the coverage of Sarah Palin and at my inarticulateness in the face of that coverage.

Sarah Palin makes me cringe.  She speaks almost exclusively in cliches and colloquialisms.  She has the gall to mock things like “hope” and “change” in a country where 50% of the population has felt dissatisfied or outraged for (at least) the last decade.  I think she is akin to one of those wind-socks at a car dealership, blowing furiously for attention, bending this way and that way but lacking actual substance. 

But if we’re to believe her latest campaign commercial, not everyone feels that way.  She was Governor of Alaska and a candidate for Vice-President of the United States so she must have something going for her besides her aw-shucks, Annie Oakley-style rootin’ and tootin’.  Right?  I mean, right? 

With all due respect to Ms. Steinem who categorically denounces Palin as unfeminist by reason of her anti-choice stance, I think she missed the point.  

This isn’t about linguistic copyright infringement.  Saying Palin can’t join our club doesn’t carry any weight because she has her own clubhouse and doesn’t care about our “rules.”  This is about leadership and mobilization and public relations.  She is getting extraordinary media coverage and promoting the idea that she leads a movement of like-minded women.  And we’re complaining that she misused our secret handshake.

There is a beautiful line delivered in the West Wing series by the character Ainsley Hayes where she says, “I don’t think whatever sexuality I have diminishes my power. I think it enhances it.” “And what kind of feminism do you call that?” Celia asks. “My kind.”

There is no doubt that women in politics can be mean girls who deliver catty comments.   There are plenty of arguments for how Feminist Blogs are guilty of the same strong-arm, mind-melting that Women’s Magazines use like in this one from Slate.com.  Feminism shouldn’t pit women against other women.  (It shouldn’t pit women against men, either.)

But Palin is undoubtedly speaking to and for a segment not aligned with Ms. Steinem’s views.  She’s charismatic, and passionate,  and of-the people.  She’s the female version of George Bush with the same bumbling statements and embarassing, you-should-know-better public gaffes.  

I’m of the opinion that the Head of State should be a Statesman (or woman).  A dignified, learned leader and orator who inspires confidence and exemplifies moderation and exercises diplomacy.  I think we have that now.  But about half the country thinks we’re going to hell in a handbasket. 

So wouldn’t that tell us that we have slightly more important things to debate than whether or not Palin is allowed to use the word ‘feminist’ to describe herself?  I mean, you can’t exactly put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

So let’s get over the F-word. 

Reproductive rights are critically important for women to participate fully in society, full stop.  But what of that society?  Is it even worth participating in? 

Or maybe we need another F-word… like F-ocus.  Shine the Feminist spotlight on women’s issues like the war, no, the other war, the economic crisis, unemployment, the obesity epidemic, the oil spill in the Gulf, the energy crisis, the breakdown of our education system, our dwindling competitive advantage in a free-market economy, our crumbling infrastructures, our international relations, our civil unrest, or the growing divide between rich and poor in this country.

F, yes those are women’s issues. 

We are F-amily.  I got all my sisters with me.

Lean Legacy

I love food. 

I have lived and traveled all over the world and sampled cuisine in the most unlikely places that makes my toes curl.  I am an adventurous and confident cook and view dinner guests as my personal focus groups for new, sometimes bizarre recipes.  I love recreating restaurant dishes at home and embellishing cookbook instructions with my own culinary insights.

But I also hate food.

I blame food, rather than my dysfunctional relationship with it, for my over-curvy figure.  I know I’m not alone or even terribly unique.  A reported 68% of adults are considered overweight or obese in this country.

There was a time when I had the lean, tight body of an athlete.  I was a softball catcher in high-school and a swimmer in college.  In my 20s, I enjoyed a brief window of physical perfection after a particularly bad break-up and subsequent work-out obsession.

But that was all a long time ago.

I don’t remember weighing myself until I was in my late 20s…  I never dieted in high-school or college.  I think that makes me somewhat of an anomaly nowadays.    Yet I distinctly remember when my weight went up and stayed up. 

Somewhere in my 20s, I stopped eating for love and started eating for pain. 

I am certainly guilty of ingesting my share of cheese fries, pizza, and processed junk but it has more likely been the volume of food I eat that has kept me from being at an optimal weight.

I would probably go my entire life without addressing the source of my disorder were it not for one small reason… my daughter.

My beautiful girl will undoubtedly inherit her share of my bad habits despite my best efforts to tame them:  my temper, my bossiness, my outspokenness, my mischievousness.

But I would be stricken with grief if she inherited my unhealthy relationship with food.

Of course, children learn what they live.  Girls especially, copy their mother’s habits, mannerisms, and behavior.  How soon will she recognize that mommy eats every bit as much food as daddy?  How soon will she notice that mommy snacks even after a full meal?  Too soon, I’m afraid.

I often joke that I was my healthiest when I was pregnant because my body was a temple to motherhood.  I protected that little life inside me against my normal “toxins”.  Why couldn’t I do that for myself?  Aren’t I worthy of being protected too?

As I watch my daughter mimic my loving cuddles with her dollies, I hope I can also find a way to show her how to love herself and value her health.  She is so precious and worthy to me.  Can I make sure that she feels that same way about herself? 

I don’t believe in “do as I say, not as I do” living or parenting, so my challenge is both real and immediate.  Eating habits are established young.  Body confidence as a woman is difficult enough without adding unhealthy weight to the problem.  How many of us are still harboring low self-esteem that originated in our adolescence? 

It isn’t a charity or celebrity chef raising my daughter.  It’s me.  And there isn’t anything I won’t do for her.  Including breaking some old habits.

There is a legacy of motherhood that fascinates me.  In giving life to our children, they often save ours.

(This article was first posted on www.STLFamilyLife.com on May 10, 2010.)