story belongs to youBoth of my parents have died—my father 23 years ago and my mother 11. I am officially an orphan.

After my mother died, I was left bereft for several years. I like the word bereft. It sounds to me like it means. I see a solitary person in a rowboat in the middle of an ocean—the boat gently rocking.

I miss not having someone to check in with: to verify I remember what I remember, to find out what happened to that person, to uncover the secret that I sensed was real.

But, being an orphan has also given me my story—a story uncluttered with the expectations of what my parents hoped, wished, and dreamed would be my story.

A few years ago, in a box that had been stored in my mother’s house, I found an essay I had written that was part of an application for a local scholarship. I don’t remember anything about what I wrote. What I remember is how neat my penmanship was—no ambiguity created by the reader having to infer meaning from sloppily written words.

I don’t remember when my penmanship careened into the land of the indecipherable. Did it happen in one day? Over time?

This morning, I decided to be deliberate as I wrote, dredging up the muscle memory of how to form letters in cursive writing. The muscle memory took me back to then—fifty years ago. That’s how long it’s been since I graduated from high school.

I was on the committee that selected the theme song for our graduation, the one the choir would sing. It was between “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” It’s fitting that we chose the impossible dream. It all seemed before us. Possibility.

But really, what I thought was that my goal was to marry. Take care of that and the rest would follow—that would be my destiny. It did not occur to me that I could shape my own.

Or, not consciously, anyway. Twice I married the wrong man. In retrospect, it was a way of rebelling against the notion of being a wife, while trying to satisfy that requirement—being married. Fortunately, third time was a charm.

And then I remembered there was that period of time, after my first marriage ended, when I gave away all my books. Did not keep a single one. What was that about? And then I took a class in basic grammar because I forgot that I knew how to write. Why did I forget that?

In 1976, I traveled alone to Europe. An eight-week trip. That’s when it came to me that I was a writer. I wrestled with that. I wasn’t married. Wasn’t I supposed to be? And weren’t women supposed to be wives and mothers first and everything else second?

I wrote by hand while smoking little cigars and drinking scotch. And I wore a beret and hung out in the Caffee Trieste in North Beach. I had stinky breath and got headaches from the scotch. The writing was my version of Michelangelo’s visits to the quarry to find the slab of marble that contained the statue.

I persisted.

I have been silent for a few months now. Not really knowing how to pen the words that expressed the abyss I was in—an abyss that started on November 9th, 2016. I won’t write his name. I can’t.

Apparently, when Al Gore got into George Bush’s territory during one of the 2000 debates, he was castigated by the media. There was not really even a peep about he-who-shall-not-be-named lurking menacingly around Hillary Clinton during the second debate last year. I knew how she felt. I think most women (if they are willing to admit it), know what it is like to be physically menaced by a man—in this case, one who we had learned two days previously that he bragged about sexually assaulting women.

She soldiered on during the debate. Remaining cool and calm. Putting on a good face. God, I’m tired of women having to do that. Look what happens when we do—we end up with the drunk, abusive father driving the car the wrong way on the freeway with the children in the front seat unrestrained by seat belts.

I don’t know what brought me out of the abyss. Perhaps it was deciding to persist. And from that came the muscle-memory of writing neatly by hand that unleashed those other memories—the memories that began with wanting to dream the impossible dream.

Caterpillars heed the call at some point, wrap themselves in a cocoon, and turn themselves into goo so they can transform into the butterfly. It’s called transformation. But they have the same DNA they had as a caterpillar.

I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing the past 10 months. Cocooning. Some caterpillars don’t make it through that phase. I’ll have to admit, I wondered if I would make it through this time. The landscape seemed a waste land and I couldn’t see my way around it. So I went through it. And I think I’m emerging from it now.

My DNA is the same as that of my younger self who believed in the impossible dream. But, I’m not that caterpillar anymore. My voice is stronger than it has ever been. I have no shame in it, using it to speak my truth, and insisting that it be heard.

And, I’m working on my handwriting. Making that cursive writing beautiful again. My muscle-memory voice.


I believe the quote about owning your story is attributed to Anne Lamott.

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.

Everything’s Going To Be Okay


Sen. Robert Kennedy sprawled semi-conscious in his own blood after being shot in brain and neck while busboy Juan Romero tries to comfort him, in kitchen at hotel. 5th June 1968

Those were likely Robert F Kennedy’s last words, spoken to Juan Romero, the 17-year old busboy who cradled his bullet-shattered head.

“Is everyone okay?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes,” Juan Romero, replied.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Kennedy said. And then lapsed into unconsciousness.

That was June 5, 1968, shortly after midnight. He had just won the California primary. “On to Chicago,” he concluded his speech and minutes later, as he made his way through the kitchen, a bullet ended the dream.

He died on June 6th at 1:44 in morning.

I remember a friend coming into my darkened dorm room and waking me to tell me Bobby had died. I was a freshman at San Francisco State. We were going into finals. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been killed two months earlier—April 4, the day before Spring break.

I thought of the night of June 5, 1968 as I waited for the results from the California primary on Tuesday, 48 years later.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Bobby was no saint. But one had the feeling that especially after his brother John’s death he had transformed. It was not merely political expediency for him to embrace civil rights. I believe he had come to a soul-deep commitment to guiding America to its true greatness

But, something died that night in 1968.

A dream.

A hope.

A belief that everything was going to be okay.

That we could make our way out of Jim Crow, lynchings, young men dying in a war that had no meaning, young and old. men and women dying to secure the right to vote.

Instead, the Chicago convention happened. Hubert Humphrey, who had not participated in any primaries, was given the nomination. Richard Nixon was elected president in November, promising he had a secret way to end the Vietnam War. Instead, it dragged on for another 7 years—for political purposes. And in 1972, George McGovern, an honorable man who served in the military and opposed the war in Vietnam, was buried in a landslide by Richard Nixon, who two years later resigned in disgrace.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

I was at a rally at the Federal Building in San Francisco in the late 1980s. Ronald Regan was president. I don’t remember the purpose of the rally right now—probably protesting our involvement in El Salvador. I had been to so many rallies. Someone began singing “We Shall Overcome,” which always choked me up. But this time, I couldn’t join in singing it. I did not believe we could overcome.

George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan and appointed Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall, a lion of civil rights. Thomas was confirmed after a hearing that brought into the open the insidiousness of sexual harassment professional women endure. I was the sole woman manager in a small technical company. After those hearings, my colleagues made fun of me in meetings I was charged with and when I finally got frustrated and angry, asked me if I was on the rag.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

And then the election of 2000 happened. George W. Bush got appointed to the presidency, in part because some thought Al Gore wasn’t pure enough. And so we got the Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United and eviscerated voting rights.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

And then, Barack Obama was elected. For a brief moment, I thought we had crossed the threshold. Obama brought the economy back from the brink, and laid the foundation for health care to be a right. It wasn’t perfect. It was flawed. But it was a start.

From the moment he took office, the festering racism that lingered in the soul of our country took hold and the Republican Party welcomed it, using it to gain power and delegitimize Obama’s presidency—for the sole purpose of making him fail so they could retake the White House. They succeeded because too many of those who voted for Obama failed to vote in 2010 because they were disappointed that he wasn’t perfect.

And so we got a Congress that has eviscerated a woman’s right to choose, the right to vote, the hope that we can address climate change.

Everything’s going to be okay.

It was hard to believe that.

I thought of all of this as I waited for the results of the California primary last Tuesday.

I went back and forth through this primary season about who to support. I am behind everything Bernie Sanders brought to the forefront. But in the end, decided that I supported Hillary Clinton because I think she is better prepared for the job, and that we have more of a chance of steering the country to the path that Bernie’s revolution evoked with her as president.

I was appalled at the level of vitriol thrown at Clinton by Bernie supporters.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I hope so.

I did not realize how much it would mean to me that a woman is on a major party’s ticket. I know that the Green Party has a woman on the ticket, but the Green Party candidate has little chance of winning a presidential election. A woman on the Democratic ticket is a sign that another barrier has been broken.

I do not understand the vitriol hurled at Hillary Clinton. I think that any of the men running would have folded—or gone ballistic—long ago under the constant barrage of nastiness.

Is Hillary flawed? Yes. She is too self-protective. And that makes her seem secretive. I can’t really blame her for her self-protectiveness, but I think it hurts her.

She is more establishment than I am. And, in 2008, I didn’t think she had undergone the kind of self-reflection about gender that Obama had about race. I think she may have now.

She won the nomination fair and square. I cannot believe the nasty memes I have seen on Facebook about her. The vitriol. I have unfollowed friends or hidden their posts to keep from unfriending them.

I’m going to work for Hillary to become president. In part because it would be disastrous to have a Trump presidency. He is the very definition of white male privilege—a privilege that condones rape so long as it is committed by a white, privileged male. A privilege that I think turns one into a sociopath—a solipsist who has no understanding of where he or she ends and the outside world begins.

I’m also going to work to change the face of Congress. It’s a challenge because I live in a place that already has progressives in place. I don’t know how to influence other parts of the country.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I almost believe that.

I have been feeling very grumpy towards the Sanders’ faction that says Clinton and Trump are equivalent. I actually feel old and grumpy. I want them to look at 1968 and see how assassins’ bullets killed dreams. I could not vote in 1968. I was 18. The voting age was 21. Yet, 18 year-old kids were drafted and sent to. My grandmother, who died in 1988, did not have the right to vote until she was in her 30s.

Things change.

Compromise and governance is what will turn this aircraft carrier that is our country around. I believe it takes a mile for a ship the size of an aircraft carrier to turn around.

I still wonder what could have been if Bobby had made his way through the kitchen and then to Chicago. I still weep when I pause to remember that night.

Here’s a portion of the spontaneous words Bobby Kennedy spoke when he delivered to the crowd the news that King had just been killed. The audience was mostly African-Americans gathered for a Kennedy rally:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

And then there what were probably his last words:

“Is everyone okay? Everything’s going to be okay.”

Everything’s going to be okay.

It’s incumbent on us to direct our efforts and work as if we believed those words.

Is everyone okay?

Everything’s going to be okay.