Mad Women #metoo

at 19

My mother at 19.

What if you had not been afraid to go down that street, go into that bar alone, wear that outfit, be there at night, apply for that job, sit alone at that movie, ask for that favor, drive through that neighborhood, take that creepy prof’s class, knock on that stranger’s door, sit in that seat on the bus, take that trip alone…how different might your life have been? What was lost because you were-are-forced to wear the cold shackles of fear?

Mad Men is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have one friend who didn’t like it for how it portrayed women. She’s 10 years younger than I am, so she missed the era in which it takes place.

Mad Men accurately portrays the culture of the 60s—a culture that was emerging from the emotional fallout from the Depression and World War II. One of Lily Tomlin’s characters referred to the 50s as 10 years of foreplay. By the time the 60s arrived, there was, shall we say, a lot of pent up frustration, along with the Pill. One could have sex, it seemed, without consequences.

I turned 20 at the end of 1969. A whole lot hadn’t changed. Help wanted adds were categorized as “Help Wanted Men” and “Help Wanted Women.” At the University of California San Francisco in 1972, one secretarial position requirements included being multilingual, knowing medical terminology, and having a college degree. That was in the women column. A janitorial position, in the men’s column, required a high school diploma. The janitorial position paid more—because it was assumed that men had a family to support while the woman was just marking time until she got married.

I overheard one of the doctors say that the best secretary you could get was a single mother. She would stick around no matter what because she had a child (or children) to support, and was less likely to get married because what man would want to take on a woman with a child (children)?

Fast forward to 1987. I worked at American President Companies, a company steeped in nautical tradition, including a submission to hierarchy. When you’re aboard a ship, you want the Captain to be in charge. But the hierarchy always had men in charge. So, what cascaded down was an unspoken but firmly embedded sympathy for men and what they had to endure.

I had already proven myself as more than capable. I had taken my assignments and run with them, raising the quality of the publications that were coming out of the department to a level that caught the attention of Corporate Communications. The company was leading the way information technology was changing the shipping industry. Corporate Communications wanted to make sure that internal communications helped shape the cultural change that resulted. They recognized that I had given the Information Technology newsletters a higher profile.

After my success, my supervisor told me that if I learned new technology, I might be promoted. Not I would be. I might be. He told my coworker, a man who was less technically skilled than I, that if he started coming in on time he would be promoted. They both were married with children.

When my mother entered the workforce, she thought there were the “front-office girls” and the “not-front-office girls.” Front office-girls were hired because they were eye candy for whoever walked into the office. Cheered the place up.

My mother thought of herself as a “not-front-office girl.” She had to rely on her skills to make her way in the world. And she resented it. She thought that held her back from realizing whatever dreams she might have had. She thought I was one of the front-office girls. She considered me to be pretty, so thought the way would be paved for me.

That was very confusing for me. I thought I had to choose. I could not be both pretty and smart—a truism reinforced by the culture. I definitely didn’t choose the paved path, but I also didn’t choose the path of embracing being smart. Off and on throughout our lives together, my mother resented me for not choosing to have my way paved as well as for what she thought was an option for me.

I had kept a lid on my smart. Lesson learned not just because of my relationship with my mother, but from the culture. It wasn’t until I was 60, after my mother had died, that I finally made the choice, when I finally embraced that I was smart and talented and was entitled to those gifts. It happened when I directed and produced a production of The Vagina Monologues. Sadly, my mother had died by then. I think she would have enjoyed it. And, may I say, if you look at the photo of my mother at the top of this blog, one would wonder why she didn’t think she was attractive. She was Lauren Bacall-sultry attractive.

I say this not to diss my mother. Or to whine. I say this because I feel like my decision not to choose came from a lack of courage. I was afraid that I would somehow diminish my mother if I showed her that the point was not to be the front-office girl, but to be a woman who is not afraid of her own power. And if I diminished her, I would lose her. I know that last sentence is true because I am on the verge of tears as I write it.

On Mad Men, Joanie was one of my favorite characters. She personified what my mother thought of as the front-office girls. They were the beauties, the women who brought men to their knees with their beauty. They had it made in the world. They would be taken care of. They were safe. They were paid for their beauty.

Joanie’s reality was, of course, far different, as was the reality for all those front-office girls my mother longed to be. Joanie, however, persisted and she prevailed. She found the success she thought was only available to men.

But what a price she had to pay.

Which is why #metoo happened this week in response to Harvey Weinstein.

This is not about Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein does not just happen in Hollywood—Hollywood just reflects the culture that casts women aside once they reach their 30s.

This is not about men. I am married to a man who cherishes me for being smart and tells me every day that I am beautiful and he worries that I don’t know that I am.

This is not about alpha men. Alpha men are leaders. And by leader, I mean one who has the best interest of the pack in their heart. They are the Mufasas. The Trumps, Weinsteins, Cosbys, Iagos, and so on down the road are the Scars—aware enough to know they don’t have what it takes to be an alpha, but simmering with resentment because they don’t.

This is about a culture that has become so poisoned by the fear of beautiful smart women that it enforces a code of silence when women are brutalized, raped, and emotionally bullied to humiliate them. To put them in their place—rob them of the dignity of their life spirit. And, by beautiful women, I don’t mean the front-office girls. I mean the beauty of a soul that has not been brutalized into submission.

I’ve been angry for a long time about my choice to not choose. I own that. But now, I’m choosing. And I’m mad. I’m mad because we are allowing a sick, festering culture of meanness to prevail.

I’m a Mad Woman. And it’s time for Mad Women to rise and rid our culture of the festering meanness.

Wonder Women, indeed.

The Patience of the Vineyards

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s more than the pleasure of wine.

There’s an ambiance to it. Different than beer. Different than a cocktail. You pair it with a meal. Or maybe you just fill glasses with your favorite wine, regardless of how it pairs or is rated.

I lived in wine country in California. The other wine country. Livermore valley. It actually has the oldest wineries, but during Prohibition, Napa-Sonoma overtook it.

This is my favorite time of year in the vineyards around Livermore. The dying leaves turn vibrant yellows, oranges and reds, and the autumnal light makes them glow with a softness that contrasts with the gnarly twists and turns of the eternal vines.

The vines are old. I don’t know how old, but they are old.

It occurred to me one day as I drove along Arroyo Road that producing wine is an act of faith and patience. The vines have to survive late frosts in Spring. Too much rain or a drought. Heat that might shrivel the grapes into raisins.

Once the grapes are harvested and crushed, one has to let them sit years for them to transform into the wine that delivers pleasure.

It takes more than faith and patience. It takes extraordinary faith and patience. It gives one hope for the future.

I thought of that as I’ve watched the fires ravage and consume the lives and land north of San Francisco.

This is a scary time of year in California. There are really two seasons in that part of the state: dry and rainy. So when October comes, and rains are still a month or two out, the beautiful golden hills covered with live oaks are also kindling waiting to be ignited.

I read that the fires that started in the middle of the night on Sunday traveled at 40 to 50 miles an hour. One doesn’t think of fire as something that can travel like wind. But it can. And when it does, its wildness is ferocious. It’s appetite insatiable.

I remember the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991, watching as fire trucks sped past houses burning bright because they could not save them.

A firestorm.

I cannot read about the course of the fires without weeping. Towns with familiar names are being evacuated—places where people were surrounded by the patience and faith of the vines. At one winery, the fire consumed vines that originated in the 19th century.

The fires haven’t spared the apple orchards, where trees that gave us apples for over 100 years stood helpless in the path of its fury.

And, of course, it hasn’t spared the suburban homes and hotels with names like Hilton that sprang up around the vineyards. Sprang up to enjoy the faith and patience of the vineyards.

It’s apocalyptic people are saying. A black scar that once was filled with the colors of vineyards in October.

One can hardly catch one’s breath.

It is apocalyptic, what we’re seeing. There’s a depravity to it because climate change is certainly driving the apocalyptic tone of what nature does. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires happen. But they are becoming increasingly ferocious as the earth adapts to human-created changes in temperature.

And now, Americans are dying in Puerto Rico because they do not have clean water available to them.

I want to restore my faith and patience in my country. But right now, we are being held hostage by a man who has a festering wound in place of his soul. A man with a heart so tiny, it doesn’t exist.

I watched a couple of episodes of “The Newsroom” last night. It’s seven years old, and it eerily predicted where we are now.

The fourth estate, the journalists, right now are keeping us from tumbling off the precipice of self-governance into an oligarchy. We are blessed to have military leaders who take their oath to protect and defend the Constitution seriously.

If we are to be self-governing, we need to respect governance. Otherwise we end up with a self-serving oligarch whose festering wound spreads its lethal infection to the earth, and thus to us.

My patience for Trump’s learning curve expired months ago. To be honest, I never have had any patience for him. His actions are leading us to the brink of nuclear war. My patience for his party’s Congressional leaders has long expired. We are dependent on them to act, and they aren’t. They are stuck, it seems, in a La Brea tar pit of cowardice. They are not upholding their oath to preserve and protect the Constitution.

I’ve always had faith in my country, believed that it had the mechanism that would lead us to the better angels President Lincoln urged us to heed.

But, my faith is shaky now. The wine country shows us the ferocity of fire. Puerto Rico shows us the ferocity of wind and rain. Compassion is our only hope, but the man with the power to care is threatening to cut off aid to Puerto Rico.

We have given extraordinary power to this man who has a festering wound in place of his soul. As a journalist pointed out this morning, the president’s powers are limited by institutions in everything but initiating a nuclear launch.

I want the patience and faith of the vineyards to be restored. I want to feel the extraordinary faith and patience that a future will be filled with the autumnal colors of the vineyard. Not one scarred by the ferocity of fire or wind or rain—of nuclear winter.

Seeking Words of Wisdom

“Words lead to deeds . . . They prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness.”

St. Teresa

words of wisdom

Let it be. That’s how The Vietnam War documentary ended. After leading me through the minefield of emotions that is that time period for me. It was appropriate to end it with Let it Be. Seeking words of wisdom, let it be, let it be.

I planned on writing about it. My experience watching it, long buried memories revealed, heart wrenching open.

But, it’s hard to catch one’s breath these days. Events rise to overwhelm and outrage. I like that word outrage. There’s enrage, which keeps rage burning inside. And then there’s outrage. Move the rage outside to take action.

Then, Sunday night, another mass shooting. Fifty-nine people were killed and over 500 wounded within minutes at an outdoor concert. Listening to music. Celebrating it.

Five people were shot, three died in Lawrence, Kansas Sunday night as well. There have been more than 1500 mass murders by gun violence since Sandy Hook. And, as someone said, once you shut down debate after 20 children were shot dead, bodies mutilated beyond recognition, you show you accept that gun violence is acceptable.

Gun violence, explosive violence, man-made mayhem has been a part of my life, a part of my country’s life, since I was old enough to be aware of a world outside my home.

Civil rights activists gunned down

Four girls my age bombed into oblivion during Sunday School

Medgar Evers

John F. Kennedy.

Malcolm X

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bobby Kennedy

I was 14 when Medgar Evers and John F. Kenney were killed. Eighteen when King and Kennedy were shot dead two months apart. It seemed like hope died when Bobby was killed.

And the violence continued. In Vietnam. In Central America. In Iraq. In Afghanistan. In America.

Columbine

Oklahoma City

Virginia Tech

Sandy Hook

Florida

Las Vegas

And then there’s the underlying violence of “otherism.” Dog whistles it’s called. Puerto Ricans are suffering because they just want to be taken care of. They are brown skinned and speak Spanish, after all.

It’s as if every day, a rogue wave sweeps me out into a churning sea, drops me into a riptide of furious impotence, then spits me out to experience another day of events that arise from the depths of human indecency and depravity.

My thoughts and prayers are with you. They offer no consolation for the afflicted.  It just means, Thank God it wasn’t me this happened to.

 

“Remember, too, that little-used word that has just about dropped out of public and private usage: tenderness. It can’t hurt. And that other word: soul — call it spirit if you want, if it makes it any easier to claim the territory. Don’t forget that either. Pay attention to the spirit of your words, your deeds. That’s preparation enough. No more words.”

Raymond Carver

I am seeking words of wisdom.

Words that lead to deeds.

That prepare my soul.

Make it ready.

Move it to tenderness.

Tenderness. That’s what went missing on January 20, 2017. What got banished. With each passing day, tenderness as a national value has been driven deeper into the wilderness.

I have just started to emerge from the deep well of despair I fell into on November 9, 2016. I don’t really even know how, or why, I emerged. I suspect it has something to do with my heart. Not allowing my heart to be irrevocably broken by the tiny-hearted.

I read that the temperature of the fire that will cremate a body is determined by the heart. The heart does not go gently into that dark night. Its density makes it linger.

There is no closure. No magic moment that tells us, okay, that’s done, now you can move on.

There is only experience. It’s never done. You never move on from it.

It’s always there in our hearts and souls. The best we can do is have compassion for the experience, and learn to live with it, to weave it into the tapestry that is our life. Be willing to love knowing that love is not the answer. It’s just what we do because our hearts can endure it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am seeking words of wisdom.

Words that lead to deeds.

Prepare my soul.

Make it ready.

Move it to tenderness.