Monday, May 26, 2008


I am not a veteran. In the sixties when I grew up, they did not draft women even if I were of age yet. And I did not really know anyone who went to that war, the war I hated when I was a child, the war whose vile images seared into my soul each night from the black and white TV in my parents' living room and helped shape the adult I would become.

I did not really "know" anyone who went to Viet Nam, but I had met several. My grandmother had remarried and had a second family, the result of which was that I had an uncle, Carl, who was only a few years older than I. Carl was a musician, a really cool guy who used to let me hang out to listen to his band practice in my grandmother's basement. They were an incredibly talented group of kids, working class all, and ready to take on the world. I remember so many joyful days in that dank space listening to them play, sipping a Coke and convinced that I was hearing the next Beatles.

And I remember most vividly a day--it must have been in 1971 or 1972, when Carl would have turned 18--when I sat in my grandmother's house with those talented musicians and some of Carl's other friends as they watched the draft lottery.

I was fifteen. Had I been draftable, I know I would have moved to Canada: this war, like Iraq, was unconscionable. Carl was of the same opinion, but I could see the tension in his eyes and everywhere else as they began the drawing. It was so hard to watch: a young man's life at stake with a random sequence of balls drawn like a carnival game. The relief on his face, the incredible release in his entire body, when his birthday was somewhere in the 300's--meaning he would not be called--stays with me to this day. But even more vivid in my memory is the soul-wrenching cry from the living room, a few minutes later as I went to get a coke, of one of his bandmates whose birthday was pulled into the first twenty numbers. It is not a sound one easily forgets: the agony of someone's entire future being violently torn apart, ripped not at the seams but irreparably sundered, shredded, riven at its very core.

He knew he would have to go. He knew, he said, as someone consoled him, that he would never come back.

That young man did not ever come back from Viet Nam. His name is among the 58195 names engraved on the Wall in Washington, DC. When I made my first visit to the Wall, years ago, I felt a sadness well up in me that I could not fathom, having never fought in a war or even lost someone I knew in one. I actually felt out of place there among the artifacts of love and memory--the photographs, the flowers, the teddy bears, the letters, etc, that were left at the base of the granite slab bearing the only physical connection that remained to a husband, a son, a father, a brother. Their sadness became mine, and I began to understand the magnitude of what it means to sacrifice a life for a country, even in a war you do not believe in.

It is not only about the soldiers. It is about the dreams of young men and women and their families, dreams that have been lost to the lunacy of war, the ugliest of human activities. Men and women have fought for what they have believed in or for what they have simply been told was right, and they have paid with their blood. The people they have left behind, too, have lost everything: this is a day to remember them as well, to hold them in our thoughts and prayers.

Some day, some future generation of whatever has evolved from humanity might look back on these millennia of death and devastation as the obscene blight on the world that it so clearly is: a species so bent on its own self-destruction that it justifies genocide by invoking a God it otherwise pretends is loving? A species so bent on its own annihilation that it sacrifices its young repeatedly and indiscriminately, even inventing reasons to fight wars when none exist? Some day that post-evolutionary humanity will wonder how it ever managed to survive at all.

Today, though, we have to keep in mind the power of the sacrifices that these young people make every day. The fact that we may hate this war, may even hate the very idea of war, is utterly immaterial. Archibald MacLeish, just after returning from WWII, a war most agree was justified and important, nonetheless wrote a poem that reminded us what a horrible, horrible sacrifice it is:

The Young Dead Soldiers....

The young dead soldiers do not speak. Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses.....who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.

They say.....We were young. We have died. Remember us.

They say.....We have done what we could. But until it is finished, it is not done.

They say.....We have given our lives. But until it is finished, no one can tell what our lives gave.

They say.....Our deaths are not ours. They are yours. They will mean what you make them.

They say..... Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope, or for nothing, we cannot say. It is you that must say this.

They say.....We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning. Give them an end to the war and a true peace. Give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards. Give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.

Indeed, on this Memorial Day, remember them. And remember their families and their loved ones and all who have ever known them. My Uncle Carl, never a soldier himself, may well have had his own life altered that day in my grandmother's living room in ways he could not foresee. When his friends (three of them were drafted) went to war, his life was never the same. When one of his bandmates died, something within him died as well. I don't know how much of Carl's unfulfilled life was due to that loss, but he became a drifter and an alcoholic and, though always an amazingly talented musician, never able to make it work. He died five years ago of alcohol-related liver damage, not even fifty years old.

No one will ever list him as a war victim, and they should not: he did it to himself. But the tentacles of war reach wider than we ever imagine and ensnare us all. On this Memorial Day, remember that, too.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

why am i crying?

I have watched Hillary's statement today, the appalling, amazing, atrocious one that engendered Keith Olbermann's "Special Comment," and I have watched that "Special Comment" itself. I have read several diaries and hundreds of comments, many stunned, many vitriolic, many vehement in the thought that this time, finally, at long last, she simply must get out. The evidence suggests that this is not an accident; it is a tactic. And as Keith said, it is indeed unforgivable.

As I watched Keith, I found myself having an odd and overwhelming reaction. The longer he spoke, the more powerful it got, until I could no longer control it. By the time he stopped, by the time he uttered "Good night and good luck" in such a way that you could tell there was nothing at all good he could find in either, I had completely given in to the tears that were falling down my face.

Since I am from Illinois, I have been an Obama supporter probably for longer than many here had even heard of him. Not being from his district, I was unaware of him while he was merely another state senator, but as soon as he announced his bid for the US Senate, he began to interest me. He stood out, this self defined "skinny guy with the funny name," in a field that consisted mostly of the usual political hacks and millionaires trying to buy a seat.

Obama seemed different. He seemed real. I celebrated the night he won the primary, and when he gave The Speech at the 2004 Convention, I knew I was looking at the next Democratic President (after President Kerry, of course). I assumed that would be 2012. Circumstances changed when Kerry lost (or, if you please, when the chairman of Diebold fulfilled his pledge to do everything possible to re-elect Bush).

I started telling people it would be this year some time in '05. I've been a strong supporter ever since. I say all that because I want you to know that I was not crying out of misplaced love for Clinton or her failed candidacy. I have been in Obama's corner since well before he decided to make this run. But something nonetheless caused the tears to well in my eyes. Something that has been searing behind them for months, some quiet pain, finally burned free and opened wide the gates to let emotion out. Something inside that has been holding on finally broke tonight.

Honestly, I wanted to like Hillary Clinton. I really did. I liked her enough when Bill was President. I defended both of them time and again from my right wing brothers and friends. I laid into anyone who played the Lady Macbeth card or use the B-word when describing her: Can't a woman be strong without being defined in the negative? I'd ask. Can't she have the same strengths that would earn her honor if she were a man? But this campaign has brought out the worst in both Hillary and Bill; if it has not utterly destroyed their legacy, it has left such gaping holes in it that I'm not even sure what remains.

Maybe that's why I'm crying: the tragic fall of someone who might have been great. It's classic, right? And I am an English teacher; I should be appreciative of the richness of hubris and the additional Clintonian tragic flaw: their pathological fear of the truth. And the possibilities that Hillary engendered, the ideal of the First Woman President, her very real and very needed passionate support for universal health care, all slip away with her as she sinks into a quagmire of her own creation. A perfect tragic ending. Cue these tears.

But now I'm being cynical. Now I'm dissecting it and I don't believe it anymore. Maybe it has nothing at all to do with Hillary. Maybe it has everything to do with the legions of people, like my mother, who believe--or believed--in her. When this race began, I said we had two outstanding candidates. Gradually, I changed that opinion into the idea that we had one great candidate and one who, though she clearly was capable of some political ugliness, nonetheless was worthy of support in the fall. Tonight...

Tonight, I know that, were Hillary somehow to become our nominee, I would have to walk into the voting booth, hold my nose, and repeat the mantra "Justice Stevens is 88 years old" in order to vote for her.

Don't the people who have believed in her deserve better than this? Doesn't my mother deserve the candidate she thought she had, the one who cared about something other than herself? I don't blame her or these people for failing to see Hillary as she is: it is very difficult to let go of a well-crafted illusion, and Hillary has honed and reinforced this image so perfectly that it is easy to imagine supporters desperate to believe in her allowing themselves to be continually deluded. But damn it; these people have given their hearts, their souls, their time, and their money to her. They deserve so much more than the hideously ugly campaign she has run, so much more than the self-serving succubus she has revealed herself to be.

I think the day the tears began to well was the day Keith gave his first "Special Comment" on Hillary. Maybe you remember? It was after the detestable Geraldine Ferraro incident, when Hillary did not denounce the remarks. That and other things she had been doing caused him a lot of concern about the direction of her campaign (concern that has since been more than justified). What I recall most from that Comment was the incredible and honest pain on Keith's face as he denounced a leader he obviously respected. It seemed to hurt him physically. And every time anything ugly has happened since then, it seems to be another twist of the knife embedded in his soul.

I watched Keith tonight and I knew that all of his former respect for her had gone. And I knew also that the Hillary Clinton I too thought I could respect was a figment of my imagination. This is a woman who has come closer than any other woman has ever come to being nominated for President, someone who has done good for her country in a long public life. This is a woman who has earned the heartfelt respect and love of her only daughter, a bright woman in her own account, and has been twice elected to the US Senate. But this is a woman also who has fallen victim to her own painfully obvious delusions of inevitability, and whose ugly underbelly seeped through when that inevitability proved false.

You can respond to her now inevitable exit from the campaign with glee, with expletives, with vitriol, with the kind of exaggerated rancor we usually see associated with the worst atrocities of Bush and Cheney...but I cannot join you. All I feel right now is an overwhelming sadness. A powerful and important woman has fallen, sunk by her own overarching greed. A leader in the Democratic Party has failed us and herself, and she has taken with her the memory of the only two-term Democratic Presidency of the last half of the 20th Century. Yet another Democrat has learned to act like a Republican, begging the question of whether the GOP may well simply rise again from the ranks of its foes. And this country, which has seen so much darkness lately and so much darkness in its history, has to endure a stark and politically motivated reminder of one of the ugliest examples of that darkness.

I watched Keith tonight and I cried. We all should be crying.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


A few little ditties reflecting the recent Supreme Court decision in the great state of California:

First, for those who might be worried about the (inevitable) backlash from the right, here is something from Billy Idol.

Hey California, what have you done?
Hey California, have you jumped the gun?
With Massachusetts we saw ill response
With Massachusetts Bush played politics
Hey California, watch out

Is it time yet for a gay wedding?
Is it time yet to find the dream?

Hey California, why you in a rush?
Hey California, what about backlash?
Sixty percent were leaning anyway
Soon it would come without your judgment day
Hey, California, look out!

Is it time yet for a gay wedding?
Are we too quick to force the dream?

There is nothing fair in this land
And the DOMA's there in this land
And the bigots don't understand
So why risk it all being banned
By overplaying your hand?

Come one:
Is it time yet for a gay wedding?
It it time yet to reach the dream?
Is it time yet to grab the dream?
Is it time yet to build the dream?
Is it time yet to live the dream?

Of course, you might really like that particular song but not fear the backlash at all. For you, I offer this version:

Hey little sister time to come out
Hey little sister no more hiding out
Hey little sister who's the lucky one?
Hey little sister who's the one you want?
Hey little sister time now

It's a nice day for a gay wedding.
It's a nice day to find your dream.

Hey little brother do they laugh at you?
Hey little brother what's the worse they do?
Hey little brother time now live the dream
Hey little brother who's the guy for you?
Hey little brother time now

It's a nice day for a gay wedding
It's a nice day to find your dream.

There is nothin' fair in this land
But you take your love by his hand
And together freely you stand
To proclaim the rights you demand
And to force them to understand...
Find the dream!

Come on
It's a nice day for a gay wedding
It's a nice day to find your dream
It's a nice day to build your dream
It's a nice day to live your dream

And for those who are Percy Sledge fans (and who isn't?), we have a sweet little thing to the tune of When a Man Loves a Woman:

When a man's found his true love
Doesn't matter what the sex
He'll trade the world
For the good thing he's found
If she's a woman he will love her
And society will smile
Believing that's the way things
should go down

But if his love should be his gender
Everybody turns away
Though he's only living what he feels
They want him in the closet
Want them both to go away
They can't believe this love is real

Well, this man loves his boyfriend
He wants to hold him in his arms
He wants to buy a ring and say his vows
He wants to keep him safe from harm

It's damn time to believe it
Time to make the bigots see
All we want is just equality
It's not hurting your marriage
Adding ours into the rolls
Loving hearts in jubilee

When a man loves a man he
Wants to dedicate his life
Commit 'til death do make them part
Yes when a man loves a man he
Only wants to prove his love
Only wants to offer him his heart.

And one final little gift, with love, from Ah-nuld:

MARIA: They say it's time but I don't know,
My husband won't be happy, that's fo' sho'

ARNOLD: I said da cohhts would have deir say
And I would never stand here in da way

Gays are due, Babe
Gays are due, Babe

MARIA: They wonder why I married him,
And wonder if our bed is in the gym

ARNOLD: My wife was born a Kennedy
Doze girlie men can't measure up to me


MARIA: He's my man; I'll believe
Though there are times he makes me heave

ARNOLD: If there's a fight, I'll attack
And if it is gay, I will be back....

MARIA: So, trust the court; let it decide
You said you would; your conscience is your guide

ARNOLD: I never thought they'd find that way
Who knew they'd let you marry if you're gay?


Gays are due de cohhts declayud
Homophobes are running scared
Gays are due it's license time
Gays are due this is sublime!
No path to the White House now
You can't get there anyhow
I could go act in films galore
You call that acting? Now I'm bored!
Gays are due, Babe.

Gays are due, Babe.
Gays are due, Babe.

Gays Are Due, Babe.

(Hasta la vista, Cahleefohnya!)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

lessons from this morning; reaction to Kennedy

Saturday, 2 PM

Senator Kennedy's condition, which appeared from early indications to be doubtful, seems much more promising as of several hours later. Reports that he himself made a phone call canceling a luncheon event are encouraging as is the report that he suffered "seizures" that may or may not have actually been stroke-related. Clearly, whatever the events of this morning were, they do not at this moment appear to be life-threatening.

It is in this more positive moment that I wish to reflect on an aspect of this morning that truly saddened me even as my heart was warmed by news that suggested recovery. I was heartened by the response of even some of the conservative media, as people like Pat Buchanan spent time praising the Senator for his decades of service to this country. Unfortunately, this positive aspect was more than overbalanced by the outpouring of hatred on the part of the FReepers who, on their own website, expelled such atrocious levels of bile into cyberspace that their own moderators had to shut down and expunge entire threads.

What makes people act this way?

I noticed this trend immediately this morning when a link to the initial "breaking news" was posted on DK to the Cape Cod Times. The commentary in "Reader Reactions" began with someone who offered that it was time for people to plan excursions to defecate on the Senator's grave, and grew more disgusting from there. The comments have now been removed.

On another site, Bare Naked Pundits, a FReeper who goes by the highly appropriate nom de plume "Philo T. Phlegm" launched into an attack on Senator Kennedy last week, apropos of absolutely nothing. In his hate-filled diary, he repeated an accusation that I have since discovered is a typical one among such people, that Kennedy killed Mary Jo Kopechne intentionally:

Teddy is a man whose idea of quality post coitus is grabbing his partner by the hair and holding her head under water until she expires.

I could quote more extensively from this jackass's post, but I do not wish to be responsible for making some of you ill. What possesses people like this to hang out on liberal websites is beyond me. I, of course, excoriated him for his libelous post, and was joined by several others. But this kind of obscene, malign language goes beyond mere politics, I think. It borders of something sociopathic. And it is not, I am afraid, limited to FReepers.

A Unitarian on Democratic Underground this morning noted that liberals acted in much the same way when Jerry Falwell died. I have not been hanging around on the blogs long enough to know, my husband has and he verifies the remark, at least as far as DU is concerned. My own reaction when he died was sort of a null set: I had no emotions for the man, and that was sadness enough. He was a man who made a living spouting hatred and evil. I'd have been lying if I said I was not glad that he would no longer be doing that, but I am loath to be happy at anyone's death. Even Strom Thurmond, a man who, like Kennedy, stood firmly for everything the other side detested (and who, like Kennedy, had a few skeletons in his closet, even if none had led directly to anyone's death), deserved some amount of respect and dignity at the time of his death.

You can hate the man and everything he stands for, and you can say so, even in a passionate way, without being insulting, disgusting, and bilious, and without stooping to the lowest of locker room epithets. And when a man has died, when there is pain and sadness all around, when those who knew him are suffering, that is not the time to act like yahoos and throw steaming piles of dung at the corpse.

It appears that Senator Kennedy will make a full recovery, and for that I and a large part of the United States will be very grateful. Those who are not, those who actually--and this is so hard to digest--would wish a man dead (and those who might have felt that way about Falwell): it might really be time to examine yourselves and ask, truly, who the heck you are. What has happened to you that has stripped you so of your own humanity? What has made you so hateful? Where is your soul?

And if you believe in God, you might begin to wonder also what He would think of all of this. Somehow, given what I've heard from believers about Him or Her, I don't really think He or She would be happy.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

saint marilyn

I am among the most fortunate people on the face of the earth.

Many people claim to have had good luck come their way. Some truly have. There are some who have won lotteries, some who have gained fame and world-renown, some whose words influence countless millions. There are some who, being in the right place at the right time, narrowly escaped some fate that could have ended their lives. Others have been very fortunate in their choice of friends, careers, or even roommates, finding connections that later redouble to their benefit.

My good fortune did not come in these packages. I did nothing to deserve it, made no move to bring it about, and had, in fact, absolutely nothing at all to do with its existence. It was there from the earliest instants of my life, though for many, many years I did not truly recognize it as the amazing boon that it was. My good fortune has been that I have known a saint. Not, perhaps, a canonizable saint––I have no knowledge of any miracles she has brought about––but a saint nonetheless. This is what I have called her for years: my mother, Saint Marilyn.

As a child, my mother's presence ranged from Giver of Needed Comfort to Sheer and Utter Annoyance; in other words, she was pretty much what any mother is to any child. And as the oldest of six, not to mention as one possessed of several emotional issues I did not feel like sharing, I simply slipped away on my own very quickly, so I did not take the time to notice her as I should have.

I did not, for example, recognize the fact that this mother of six was willing, more than once, to take in cousins and friends whose parents were having difficult times, kids who sometimes lived with us for months. I did not know that a young cousin coming into our home was deeply troubled, but that my mother took him in anyway. I could not see the strength she gave to our family as my father grew more and more involved in his own (quite literal) affairs, indiscretions of which my mother was unaware. I did not see the internal struggle and pain she felt when I and other siblings grew apart from the Catholic Church she loved, and how difficult it must have been for her to let us find our own ways.

One thing I did see, though I did not truly comprehend it until facing a similar moment with my own child decades later, was the way tears filled her eyes every time she said goodbye to me at an airport so I could head out to another semester at college. Even then, though, I missed the stark pain of knowing she would likely face arguments with her husband about their declining marriage during the long drive home.

After her divorce, my mother, who had spent most of my life as a maternity nurse, found herself a victim of the economy. Her hospital cut from the top to save money, and she was among the highest salaried employees, so she was suddenly unemployed. This did not last long, but something had shifted in her, and it resulted in dramatic life changes. Together with a friend, she bought an old farmhouse and converted it into a Christian hospice, taking in end-of-life patients and easing their passage. Among her first patients was one of my cousins, an AIDS victim from his youthful drug-abuse days, now a hard-working carpet-layer, who held on long enough to die in his own home.

When the funds ran out and the farm was no longer sustainable, they reluctantly sold it and my mother left her work at the hospital and went to work as a hospice nurse, where she has remained ever since. Having started her career bringing babies into the world, she has finished it helping the dying to leave it peacefully. It takes a special woman to handle all of this with the dignity and love that she has always exhibited.

Somewhere in there, my own emotional issues bled out, and my meltdown was a source of much panic and angst in our family. My mother was the one left to keep everything and everyone together, and her patience and love sustained me through the darkest times. But even more, her calm acceptance and understanding of difficult realities set the stage for others to accept and understand as well, and (once again) her difficult--and I am sure painful--insistence that everyone must find his or her own way allowed us all to grow together again.

I am sure that there are other mothers whose love and lives rival this. I am sure I am not the only daughter who sees her mother as someone to emulate, someone she wishes desperately she could be like. I am sure there are mothers whose struggles on behalf of their children and others are far greater than those of my mother. But I have not know them. I have had the privilege of knowing, loving, and being loved by Saint Marilyn. And on this Mother's Day, that is the most wonderful thing in the world.


it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and