The Pink Stuff


Mom and me, 1991 in front of the Haida totem pole in Sausalito

My mother made the pink stuff for winter holidays. When I took over hosting the holiday meals and my mother asked what should I bring, I would say, “The pink stuff. Bring the pink stuff.”

I couldn’t remember its name.

I called it the pink stuff because it tasted pink—not cotton-candy-bubble-gum pink. But rose unfolding pink. It tasted great with turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and the warm spinach salad I made—a recipe I adapted from the Greens* cookbook. No hot bacon grease to wilt the spinach. Rather olive oil that had slowly been heated along with smashed garlic. Then there was the feta cheese and Greek olives and pine nuts.

We each were who we were with those dishes. Pink stuff and warm spinach salad.

My mother was not the cookies-baking-in-the-oven kind of mom. Though she loved cookies. And she loved crumbling saltine crackers into a glass of non-fat milk and eating it up with a spoon. It had to be non-fat milk, which had a blue cast to it. I referred to it as blue milk.

Whole milk she claimed was too rich. Blue milk was what she drank and crumbled saltine crackers into. During the last years of my father’s life, she shared her home with the stranger my father had become—a man who was disappearing into Alzheimer’s. I would visit and we would talk late at night as she spooned up the blue-milk-with-crumbled-saltine-crackers concoction. It brought her comfort.

She finally had to find him a home in a skilled nursing facility. It was a good one. But really, no one wants to end their days there. It’s kind of a waiting room where some go as they hover between what was their life, what has become their life, and where their days will end.

She taught me about loyalty.

My mother came as close to being a feminist as she could. She was encumbered by the teachings of her mother and the world she inhabited as a young woman.

That encumberance was often a grand canyon between us. Crossing that grand canyon took a leap of faith that she didn’t always have. I learned about that leap of faith from Jeanette and Sally, two older women I knew from my days with the Gray Panthers. We had great meals together. I learned new ideas for cooking from them, as they, by their presence and experience, gave me permission to womanup and be the woman I am.

But at holidays, it is my mother who visits my heart. It’s always unexpected, though it’s happened every year since she died.

For complicated reasons, I did not help clean out her apartment after she died. And so I did not get the recipe for the pink stuff. I know she used cherry Jello, cranberries, walnuts, and perhaps, cream cheese.

voteThough she did not completely embrace feminism, my mother would have voted for Hillary Clinton. She would have voted for her with gusto and been pissed, really, really pissed at the outcome. She knew about that grand canyon of limitations, even though she couldn’t take that leap of faith.

Is is almost fashionable to humiliate Hillary Clinton now for not becoming president—I will not use the word “lose.” Women have been humiliated throughout the history of our country when they have the audacity to leap over that grand canyon of limitations—limitations defined by tiny-hearted men and the women who depend on them for their power.

It took Russian intervention, Wikileaks, voter suppression, the FBI, and an antiquated institution that was incorporated into our country to protect slavery to keep her out of office. She wasn’t defeated. I say again, she won 3 million more votes than the man who represents the worst of what passes for manhood in our country.

For the sake of women like my mother who saw the grand canyon but could not leap, and for all the women who have been taking that leap throughout our history, it is time to stop abusing Hillary Clinton.

I don’t know why the pink stuff this year is mixed up with the betrayal that was this election. Perhaps it’s fear that all the work that has gone before was for naught. Even though she didn’t take the leap, my mother got to the precipice and wondered what could be. Without that, I might not have been able to take my own leap.

I feel like the old guard is dancing on the graves of women they are unworthy of. It’s a slap in the face. But this latest slap in the face is just that. A slap in the face. We’ve stood up to bullies before. We will do it again.

I’ve Googled and Googled, but to no avail. I cannot find the recipe that my mother turned into the pink stuff. I’ve come to accept that the absence of the pink stuff at my holiday table is out of respect for her. The dish missing from the table because it was her dish. Like her, it cannot be replaced or replicated.

*Greens is the Zen community vegetarian restaurant at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

Small Feet for a Girl My Size: a Mothers’ Day Post

Feminism. It makes sense to me why that is a good topic for Mothers’ Day. Perhaps I will know why it makes sense to me by the end of this post.

mamamear1I got inspired to write about feminism after reading the interview page in today’s New York Times magazine. Its subject was Martha Stewart.

Two things I learned from her interview:

She suggests that women make pillows out of their husbands’ old shirts, rather than just turning them into rags.

She doesn’t consider that she is a feminist.

I’m going to riff on the pillow-made-out-of-a-husband’s-old-shirt first. It sounds suspiciously like the doll who hid the toilet paper to me. Perhaps, even as I write, former shirts worn by current husbands are showing up in living rooms all across the nation, just as the doll who hid the toilet paper showed up in bathrooms in my childhood.

I have often thought that my grandmother was an Oakie Martha Stewart. She put two orange crates together, then sewed a skirt to attach to it to make a dressing table. This was in her new home, the one she set up after she married my grandfather. She was nineteen. The year was nineteen and nine.

“It was just darlin’,’”she told me.

I’m sure it was; she very talented.

I’m assuming that the pillows forged from husband’s shirts are shirts from current husbands. Although there could be a peculiar kind of revenge, I guess from turning a former husband’s favorite shirt into a pillow and displaying it on your sofa.

What worries me about that pillow forged from a husband’s shirt is this: Did that shirt go willingly into pillowhood, or was it marched there by the wife who decided that the shirt was no longer something her husband should wear? At what point did the wife look at her husband, sitting on the sofa and think, “That goes with the furniture”?

What say did the husband have in all of this?

I do not understand homes where the woman decides when a husband’s shirt should become a pillow, or a rag, for that matter. I know a woman who will not let her husband have an espresso maker because she likes to have nothing on her counters. Her husband loves espresso.

I don’t get this.

And now for the feminism part.

I get accused of everything from being so feminist that I’m a lesbian biker’s chick to not being feminist enough. I am a feminist, but I am also a progressive, a good cook, a film lover, a writer, a director, a producer. I have relatively small feet. I wear a size six. Or, as the nasty petite girl in high school who prided herself on being tinier than anyone else said when she learned my shoe size was smaller than hers, “You have small feet for a girl your size.”

So I might also be someone who has small feet for my size.

Whatever, none of these things in themselves define me. I am all of the above (though I still don’t know if my feet are small for my size, or just smaller than the average foot size of a grown woman, unless you are in Asia).

I have a problem with the pillow-shirt thing (as well as the espresso maker) because I am suspicious that it has to do with control. We all pretty much feel uncomfortable when we feel we are out of control. We want to know we have some control in our own environment. But, I think it becomes pathological when we need to control others in order for us to feel in control.

That, I believe, is what feeling powerless leads to.

To me, feminism is about owning our own power. I don’t mean this in any kind of woo woo or even political way. I mean that we don’t sacrifice authenticity to being acceptable – to being a “nice” or “good” girl; that we take the risk of admitting what we want, embracing who we are, loving as if it matters, regardless of what the rule book says.

What feminism does not mean to me is that men are the enemies or that women have the right to control them.

Martha Stewart went to jail while Jack Abramhoff was left free to rob people blind. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that sexism was at the bottom of the decision to take Martha down a peg or two, just to show the rest of us what can happen if you succeed.

It concerns me that Martha’s says she isn’t a feminist. It makes me wonder that she might be one of those women who isn’t concerned about rising so that we can rise together. I worry that she thinks that my feet are small for a girl my size, because if my feet are smaller than hers (I’m talking metaphor here; for all I know she might wear a size four), it somehow diminishes her.

I believe that we are all a part of this big confusing soup where we should be trying to figure out how we can make sure there is room at the table for everyone.

I wanted to make sure, as I directed The Vagina Monologues, that it told a story about women; not a story about women as victims. The cast member who raised a question if she thought I was wandering off into male bashing territory was a lesbian; her passionate domestic life was with a woman. She had children (including sons) from a previous marriage – a marriage with a man.

She was not bitter towards her former husband. I trusted her instincts about something veering into male bashing because I think she understood that that kind of rhetoric could damage her sons. Damage them in the same way that women’s souls have been damaged by anger towards women.

She is truly that crocodile mom – the one who carries her young to safety in her strong jaws. She understands that mothering is the presence of primal strength and creation.

So I guess that’s the relationship between feminism and Mothers’ Day for me. Mothering and feminism are the presence of primal strength and creation. The source of the strength and creation comes from within us.

I think that once we can own that, struggles over power and control fall by the wayside. And that allows us all to rise together.

Happy Mothers’ Day.