Friday, September 30, 2016

This Entire Election Is About Gender.

If we’re being honest with each other, I’m glad we’ve reached this point. At least we can talk about what this election is really about.

This should not even be a contest. It shouldn’t. Nearly every editorial board in the country including ones that have endorsed Republican candidates for a century, have unequivocally endorsed her. Members of our national security, a former Republican president – pretty much anyone with any knowledge of what it takes to do this job is literally telling us that he is unqualified for the job.

Still, he is ahead.

He is leading in the polls.


Because he has a penis.

I’m serious. It’s the only reason he is winning right now. If anyone tells you that they can’t vote for Hillary Clinton because of her email server you should immediately stab yourself in the face with a blunt object. Because that is what progress in America in 2016 looks and feels like.

The very fact that this is a contest at all is the definition of a double standard.

She wiped the floor with him at that debate and guess what? It didn’t matter. Why? Because he was gracious enough not to mention her husband’s former indiscretions. We should applaud one man not bringing up another man’s past sexual dalliances.

You see, she is responsible for all of it. She is responsible for staying with a cheater. If she had left, let’s all be straight with each other – she would’ve been another cold divorcee. She owns his mistakes. Some other guy gets points for sort of not mentioning his mistakes. She just loses. She loses if she yells. She loses if she talks. She loses if she smiles. She loses if she is smart. She loses if she owns or is in any way proud of her intelligence.

This election is about currently nearly half of the country supporting a man who has spent the better part of the past 4 days, last night, and early this morning, bringing up the questionable past of a former Miss Universe. You see we can question what she does sexually, that’s fair game because she is a woman. We don’t need to question his own sexual past. That is assumed. Something he should in fact be proud of, or so his old Playboy cover might suggest. Or maybe as he sorts out his current rape investigation. Either way, it’s irrelevant. He’s a man.

In this election, women are fat, bloody pigs who react wildly when challenged, who are manipulative and crooked and vindictive. Is this election about her being a woman? You bet your ass it is. You may not like which woman got first crack at it, but there’s a reason she’s there now. It’s because it’s her that has been absorbing the body blows for the past 30 years (sorry Jill Stein – you can take a seat). It had to be her. She had to go first. Of course she did. She always has.

Still, she’s losing. Every single person – do not kid yourself - literally every single person in this country knows that she is more qualified. But only 40% are willing to even entertain the terrifying notion that we might open up this job to someone without a penis.

This election is about a penis. There are no social issues. Nothing. It is about what you think about women. It is about the burdens we carry with us every single fucking time we open our mouths to be feminine but strong but not too strong – to be healthy but not too thin. To be able to throw back the cheeseburger with the guys, but keep the same waistline as a Barbie doll. To know that when the house looks shitty or the kids act up in the restaurant it’s always our fault. It is because we have always been afraid that if we are too vocal or too smart in class, that we would intimidate the cute boy and then he wouldn’t want to be with us. That strength drives them away. This is not new. We have always known this. I have no idea why I am so shocked to see this play out on a national scale.

I swear to God I have no idea who will win this election. Honestly, I think we’ve just totally underestimated how terrified people are of smart women. So all I can do is dedicate myself every fucking day to raising a man who respects women, who does not compare them to farm animals, who embraces their sexuality, who wants to learn more, who wants to engage with them – who embraces their voice at whatever pitch it comes out at because that is irrelevant to the content of what they are trying to tell him. And I’m going to make it my life’s work to raise young women who will never quit what we’ve started here until we one day people hear them and see them for who they are and not the body part they lack.

I don’t know how this ends, but I swear to God it’s up to us parents of young boys and girls.

We’ve got to be the ones to finish this.

It’s enough.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Buy the Electric Toothbrush and Other Lessons From Your 30s

I am standing in the nail salon staring blankly at the seemingly massive range of colors to choose from. There are dramatic reds and flirty purples and cute pinks and demure soft pinks and those super sparkly ones. There are the fluorescent ones that I imagine you choose if you want to pretend you are a tween or if you actually are a tween. There is the tasteful mauve-ish color my mother would’ve chosen. It is the kind of color that says, “I am a grown up. I know how to do this. You can tell by my toe nail polish color choice.”

The only thing worse than choosing any of these colors is not knowing which one to choose. In a moment of fleeting panic I choose some sort of dark color. It’s not black. I don’t want to pretend I’m moody. It is sort of brownish/gray. I guess it is bray. Or grown. It is called “Over the Taupe” which is like the nail salon’s version of a lame dad joke but either way it’s kind of funny when you are four days shy of 39 so I chuckle to myself. The pedicurist looks at me suspiciously as if I’ve been day drinking. I bury myself in my phone, embarrassed.

I am in the homestretch of my 30s and while I could never have predicted how this decade would have unfolded, I certainly would have thought I would have known more about me as I approach the final lap of it. I preceded my trip to the nail salon with a panic attack at Starbucks when I didn’t know whether or not to put half and half or nonfat milk in my coffee. Half and half makes coffee taste good. Skim milk makes coffee taste bad. But if you want to be healthy you choose the skim milk. But life is too short to do anything other than drink quality cups of coffee. So which one am I today? The healthy me or the carpe diem me? Shouldn’t I know? Does everyone else?

I remember my 30th birthday very well. It was one of those crystal clear days that September seems so generous with. I had been married for one year. I was pregnant with my first child. I did not know if it was a boy or a girl. I lived in a 500 square foot apartment in New York. The world felt like one big ball of possibility. At the start of my 30s, the not knowing felt like a gift rather than an existential crisis.

On my 30th birthday my mother visited me in the city and we spent the day together. We went to see a Broadway show and ate dinner at the Italian place near my apartment which made me a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs that I basically grew my first child on. She gave me an electric toothbrush as a present. It was the kind of gift that sort of felt like it came with the headline, “Shits about to get real.”

It was the kind gift that seemed to say, soon you will completely surrender your needs to someone else and this is good and natural but hard and there will be bills and houses and clogged toilets. There will be grocery shopping and marriage that isn’t new and shiny anymore. Also, your gums will become inflamed because this is a very adultish kind of problem. You will need this electric toothbrush. Here, trust me. All of it will be hard but just take this toothbrush and even though you don’t know how to use it or how to handle any of it, you will. This is what your 30s are for. They are for learning how and why and when to use these things. They are for learning how to adult.

And honestly, all of it was. It still is. It’s all just very Over the Taupe.

As I write this I’m listening to that Chainsmokers song, Closer, play on repeat. “We ain’t ever getting older,” they croon. I can’t help but laugh. Clearly the people singing this song can’t be older than like, 25. No one has ever given them an electric toothbrush as a present. Perhaps when they do, they will write the follow up to this song, Farther, that will include the lyrics, “we are really getting older.”

I squint at my reflection in the driver side window as I leave the salon. I’ve got lines running through my face. Not a ton, but I can’t deny that I look more weathered than I did when I started this decade. I should stop drinking diet Snapple. And get that mole on my back removed. And do yoga. And work on my core and my first novel at night. I realize that the slippery danger of your 30s is nearly choking yourself to death on the shoulds of who you are supposed to be as an adult, until you find that you cannot breathe.

For a reason that escapes me I can’t seem to coordinate my own dinner plans for my birthday. I am almost 39 and I can’t manage a single dinner reservation. I know that my mother with her mauve-ish polish color was planning my father’s 40th at this age. She ordered one of those oversized grinders and planned a wonderful surprise party for him. All of the women had on dresses and all of the men had on khakis and collared shirts and someone gave him a roll of toilet paper with jokes on it that I didn’t understand when I was six but assumed it made sense if you were 40 or almost 40. They were so grown up. I wonder if I will ever arrive at a place in my life where I get the jokes on the toilet paper roll. Was my mother in on this joke? Did she ever actually inhabit adulthood, or was she just better at faking it?

I still do not understand gag toilet paper. But here is what I know so far.

In the first nine years of 30, I’ve become a mother and lost a mother. I had 3 children. I moved 4 times. I bought a house. I started a blog. The whole world accidentally read something I spent about 18 minutes writing. I thought that it would be a rush to have everyone read something I wrote. But instead I hid, literally, under a blanket in my house. I did not answer the phone. I was afraid. And mostly I was surprised by how naturally and instinctively that response was born out of circumstance. Actually owning my own emotions has sort of proved to be the most adult thing I’ve done to date.

People are instinctively drawn to and cannot hide from truth. They are compelled to honor it when they see it and speak it when it bubbles up. Fighting and hiding your truth is very, very tiring and being someone’s parent is tiring enough and so I don’t have time to do two tiring things at once. Also, as most of you already know, I am very bad at multitasking. For safety’s sake, I think it makes sense if we’re all just honest with each other.

I’m going to spend my approaching 39th embracing something I have fought my entire life, the idea that I am bad at the knowing and I am actually good at not knowing stuff. Like I could be a professional not knower. All people who do not know how they like their coffee, I will be your fearless leader! That perhaps my personal quest on this earth is to embrace indecision and to never fit in one box or space or group or dinner reservation or color or even if I do, not know which one that is. Maybe that’s okay.

Lastly, gum care.

This shit is important.

Get the electric toothbrush people. After all, we are getting older.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Sick Obsession

Have you ever felt like you were going to faint? Or throw up? Or maybe even have a seizure? Did you stop to think to yourself before you got sick, I’d like to do this in the most public way possible because I believe that being transparent here is the right thing. Or instead did you worry that others would judge you, or perhaps even fear you. So you hid and went somewhere private.

It sucks to be sick. It sucks even more to be sick in public.

What is it that makes us so scared of sickness in America? Everyone everywhere is whispering about Hillary Clinton’s health and there are hushed tones from people on the news and doctors and campaign surrogates and people in my Facebook feed and all of us are so worried and I literally don’t understand. Is it because we think sick people can’t lead? Is it because we think sick people aren’t strong?

As I watch the news, I’m genuinely stunned by this obsession over Hillary Clinton’s health. I would expect her opponent and some well-seasoned conspiracy theorists to have a gander at this one, but even the mainstream folks are running 24 hour news coverage of basically just hand wringing and speculation about whether or not she is sick.

She might be sick. Really sick.

Is it more than pneumonia? What if it’s Parkinson’s? Are those anti-seizure glasses?

And I’m just floored because honestly, what if she does? What if they are?

So the fuck what.

I do not understand how in 2016 we still associate this concept that people who take medication, who struggle with different physical illnesses are somehow any less fit to lead. It’s honestly a really fucked up conceptualization of leadership.

Hey mainstream media, Doctor Oz, Doctor Drew, Doctor Phil and every other TV doctor out there: sick is not the same as being weak.

Here is what the Republican nominee for president had to say about Hillary Clinton at a speech in Ohio last night. He described her at home, lying in bed, and said this: "It is hot and it's always hot when I perform because the crowds are so big. These rooms were not designed for this kind of a crowd. I don't know, folks. You think Hillary would be able to stand up here for an hour and do this? I don't. I don't think so."

You see what he’s doing there right? He’s taking a dig at her. He’s implying that she is weak and therefore somehow unfit. Perhaps she can’t even stand.


And this is where voters need to be just slightly savvier than say, a four year old, and say, so what?

What if she can’t? What if she can’t stand up? I think she actually can but that’s irrelevant to this discussion. Do you need to physically stand to be able to lead? Would someone mind exhuming FDR so we can discuss this further?

Here is what most people who live with any kind of illness know with certainty. They have to know way more about their body and be far more in tune with what it needs than the average person. They are hyper sensitive to changes anywhere and in anything. They are skinless. This is not bad. This is good. They are trained to notice everyone and everything: they have to be to keep themselves and others safe. They notice strobe lights and sudden changes in humidity or temperature. They are hyper aware of when they need less sugar or more sleep. They are AWARE.

Here is another thing sick people know. They know that to be successful in any real sense of the word, they need to have a community of folks to rely on. They rely on these folks to do night feedings, to drive, to make meals, to hold conference calls bedside. Sick people learn when and how to ask for help. In fact they learn to plan for it. They understand that smart people, sick or not, don’t become heroes or get any special award for doing it all on their own. They line up a team to help take them onto the battlefield of life. They know how critical it is to pick the very best people to back them up. And they know exactly when and how to press them into service.

Finally, sick people are strong. They show up to work when they are feeling 70%. They take their medicine, they swallow their side effects and other people’s judgements about them and they take it all just for the opportunity to drive and work and fight and love alongside everyone else. They have a deep seeded appreciation for how amazing it is just to be able to show up, regardless of what that looks like on any given day. They campaign for president even when it feels like their very knees might buckle beneath them because they know that this is temporary and purely physical. It doesn’t change or tarnish the permanent drumbeat that exists within to just persist.

I don’t know if Hillary Clinton is sicker than she claims. I honestly don’t. I suspect she isn’t, but all I’m trying to tell you here is that it’s actually not the point.

The point – and listen up CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and everyone else: being sick doesn’t disqualify you from being able to lead.

Leading is about good judgement, decision making, the right team of people to support you, and a laser focus on a big goal. This I’m sure of. And you and I can debate who in this race is better at that. But there is no debate that leadership has nothing to do with physical strength. It sure as hell isn’t about whether or not you can stand.

As we sit here and worry about whether or not Hillary Clinton’s health precludes her being able to assume the role of President, I implore you to consider this quote from another first lady many years ago. These words can be found at the memorial dedicated to her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "Franklin's illness...gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He had to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons - infinite patience and never ending persistence."

The fundamentals of living.

Infinite patience.

Never ending persistence.

What does it take to persist in the face of constant attacks from outside and maybe even within your own body? To keep a laser focus on the goal of fighting for others of improving outcomes for women and children and underserved communities. What does that take? What does it look like?

Well, perhaps we could start by asking the 40 year public servant who showed up to honor the fallen 9/11 heroes despite a pretty good bout with pneumonia.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Living History

Here. 9/11 happens to me right here.

In this apartment in this room where I sat, half dressed for interviews I would never go to, in a city that I barely knew wondering to myself, is this how I die? Is this how the world ends?

There is a vast difference between learning about history and living it. September 11th taught me that. I read somewhere recently that for the first time incoming high school freshman will learn about this day having been born after it occurred. They will study it, they will learn through the lenses and gifts of time and perspective about what we did, what we should have done, how it looks from a distance. But for those of us who lived it no matter how much time passes it will never be historical. We will always be there in that moment.

Even now, today, fifteen years later I am there and all I have are questions and no answers. And no one else has answers. Not even people on television and those people are always at least supposed to pretend like they have answers. Everyone everywhere seems to look and act as scared as I feel sitting on this windowsill. Where does it stop? What does it mean? How does it end?

9/11 means questions and fear and vulnerability. Safety is a privilege, not a right. It is the first time I ever see a ticker at the bottom of the screen on my television because at that moment it is quite literally a medium where they are trying to communicate information on how to keep us safe, not just a place to watch Friends. 9/11 means the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end for weeks. It means phones don’t work. It means you should never leave unsaid the things you mean to say to the people you love. Because you never know when you won’t able to finish the conversation.

It means that buildings can literally melt and evaporate into dust. It means nothing and no one is infallible.

It means that heroes are made, not born. That courage means both running toward danger and merely continuing to exist in the face of it.

It means that even if every face in that city is a stranger, when you walk down the stairs and on to the streets of a place you came up on only 3 days earlier, every single person will show up for you. You will feel connected with them. You will study the faces of the missing together in the subway. You will listen to the mayor whenever and wherever he speaks. When the bagpipes play again, you will rise. Everyone lines the streets for every funeral. Obviously. It matters not at all that you do not know whoever you are standing for. He died for me and for you. So obviously we will stand.

It means that all of us who live through history, who live in spite of it, survive and rise.

9/11 teaches me what it means to be American.

I do not know what the banner headline is in that textbook for those incoming freshman. But I hope they feel through this abstract, historical view even some tiny modicum of the biggest lessons of that day. That no one guarantees us anything during our stint here, and that our job is to move forward even when everything seems unknown, and to care for each other deeply along the way.