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God by Any Other Name


Fred Phelps, founder and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, died yesterday.  He was 84 years old.  I don’t know what he died from, but from the pictures I saw of him recently, well, old Fred was looking pretty ragged.  I think maybe he died from hate.  He seemed to be filled with it, determined to make the world understand that every death we were witnessing, whether from these endless wars we’ve been engaged in, or from anything else, really, was a direct result of having pissed off the Almighty over our acceptance, more and more, of people who are gay.  Fred and his church members would jump in their cars with their GOD HATES FAGS signs and drive for hours to picket the funerals of fallen soldiers, or police officers, or tiny children, or even people like Elizabeth Edwards who had the misfortune to discover that her husband was cheating on her right around the same time she discovered the breast cancer that would soon kill her. It didn’t seem to matter to Fred Phelps and his crew that their own actions, although protected by the First Amendment, were just in such bad taste, so inappropriate, and just so flat-out WRONG and that the people burying their loved ones deserved better than to have to put up with the hateful antics of the Westboro Baptist Church

I kept thinking, WHY WOULD SOMEONE DO THAT?  And, from what I’ve read about Fred Phelps, indeed, he seems to be a man of some contradictions. In his younger years, apparently, he was one of the lead attorneys working to get Jim Crow laws overturned, so we know his heart could be open to the plight of others who were experiencing discrimination.  But then something happened, and we don’t know what.  Now, I don’t suppose we ever will.  When Fred found Jesus in a big, bad way, his cause became gay people and how they were all building a big hand cart and taking this whole nation straight to hell in it.  Nobody was immune from the wrath of Fred Phelps after that, and the hatred spewed out of his pores like sweat.

It is doubtful that Fred Phelps ever spent much time on introspection, really examining what the motivating factors were in his life.  I think it was very simple, though.  I think, deep down, Fred Phelps was terrified that he was gay. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have bothered him so much and he would not have felt so driven to stamp it out of the country he claimed to love.  We tend to want to destroy in others that which we most fear in ourselves.  Pretty simple. In Fred, that terror manifested as hatred.  It never saved America, but it killed Fred, that’s what I think.

Oddly enough, by doing some of the really creepy things they did, by showing up at funerals to picket and such, Westboro Baptist Church actually helped form alliances between disparate groups such as the LGBT community and the Patriot Guard motorcycle folks.  Whodathunkit? And, even though there is rarely any news coming out of Mississippi that makes me want to cheer, this story did.  A young soldier’s body was brought back to his home state of Mississippi for burial.  Word got out in this small town that the Westboro Baptist Church people were coming to picket.  People organized.  The desk clerk at the motel where the Phelps people were staying made a call and, before long, there was a car parked perpendicular to the back end of every car in their motel parking lot bearing Kansas license plates.  When called, the two tow truck companies in the small town both swore all of their trucks were out on calls and would be for a long, long time.  The cemetery was too far away to walk to and Westboro Baptist Church missed its opportunity for hatred and harassment.  Darn! All dressed up and nowhere to go; all that gas money spent for nothing.  WAY TO GO, MISSISSIPPI!  Who was God smiting NOW, Fred?

If the God Fred Phelps claimed to know is real, I bet Fred was scared out of his gourd to die.  I would be.  Fred’s God is vengeful and mean; actually quite a bit like Fred, really, if all that could be expected of Him is condemnation and punishment.  That’s not the God I know; that’s not my Creator. The God I know is one of love and kindness and compassion.  I am not afraid to be who I am in front of the One who created me, and I’m not afraid to die and be reunited with my Source, either.  My God knows I will probably screw up and miss the mark from time to time – and it’s true – but I don’t question that the love and forgiveness will always be there for me and my bumbling ways. So, given that, I also know my job is to try to behave as closely to the One who created me as possible, to shadow those who have come before me trying to teach us all enlightenment.  Will I always succeed?  No.  Is it a noble goal? Absolutely.

So, no, I won’t be one of those picketing at the funeral of Fred Phelps. Even Fred’s family deserves the respect they did not give to others.  My biggest spiritual challenge has always been to not become like the people who want to kill me.  I work on it constantly; I’m not that pure. But, I can’t help thinking that God and Michael the Archangel and St. Peter put their heads together and came up with a plan, just to make it rich, then hid behind a pillar to watch this unfold, all three of them giggling behind their hands.  Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein were there to meet old Fred at the Pearly Gates and welcome him home with open arms.  “Fred!” they shouted, as he stepped inside Heaven’s Gate, “Heaven is all about learning and well, old boy, it’s time for you to go back to school!”


All It Takes


When Harvey Milk was murdered by Dan White in San Francisco so many years ago, the defense attorney said it was because Dan ate a lot of junk food and was really hopped up on sugar when he took his gun downtown and into the Mayor’s office where he shot and killed the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, and Harvey Milk, an openly gay man recently elected to public office there.They called it the “Twinkie defense,” but, I don’t think sugar was the culprit. I mean, there are lots of things to blame on sugar, but murder is rarely one of them. Dan just couldn’t stand to see his city, the town where he grew up, changing into some place that he just couldn’t wrap his brain around. They were stealing his memories of how his home town was supposed to be. Nothing fit his pictures anymore. That’s why I think he did it. A belly full of Twinkies won’t make you murder two people in cold blood in the middle of the day. But hatred will. Rigidity will. Fear will.

Ellen Page, the young actress who starred in the movie, JUNO, came out as a lesbian because she got tired of living with the pain of hiding.  I know that one. I will never hide again.  Just before that, defensive lineman, Michael Sam, from the University of Missouri, announced to the world that he is a gay man. Uproar over that, and the problems facing the NFL with an openly gay man in its midst ensued; people wringing their hands over how “uncomfortable” those poor players might be in the locker room, knowing that there’s a queer in there with them.  And I’m thinking REALLY?  ARE YOU SURE??  Are you sure that NFL players won’t just say, “So?” and keep playing the game, grateful that Michael Sam is the powerful football player that he is.

I have often said that I wished, for one day each month, all the gay people in the world would suddenly turn bright purple so the world could see who we are and where we are. Chances are, we are at work with you, at school with you or live next door to you.  We are your sisters, your brothers, your aunts, your uncles, your doctors, your nurses, your teachers, your boss, your friends and, sometimes, even your minister. There would be no more hiding.There we would be, flamed out in all our purple glory, for the world to see.  Can you imagine how freeing that would be – not just for all the gay people, but for the world?  There would be no choice about whether or not to COME OUT! (what Harvey Milk always said we all should do) because OUT is what we would be. So, what Ellen Page did, what Michael Sam did, was not only brave but healthy – for themselves, and for the rest of us, too. There is no shame in speaking your truth and claiming your place in this world; the shame comes from NOT doing that.  That’s what I think. And, I don’t care how much people claim to love the Constitution, until ALL Americans are included in We, the People, with all of the equal rights and responsibilities guaranteed therein, we still have a long, long way to go “…to form a more perfect union…” Gay rights are civil rights, human rights, and rights that need to be granted, finally, in this 21st. century. Oh, and, guess what?  To quote Rachel Maddow, “You don’t get to vote on my rights – that’s why they call them ‘rights'” Indeed. There are fewer things in the world more humiliating or maddening than to know that, every few years, a whole bunch of people get together and vote on my life. Trust me, if you were in my shoes, you wouldn’t like it, either.

In the movie,42, about Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player, there’s a scene where the crowd in Cincinnati is booing that Jackie’s even on the field playing for the Dodgers.  PeeWee Reese, the Dodgers’ shortstop, trots over to first base and starts talking to Jackie.  The crowd continues to boo and yell racial slurs.  PeeWee tosses an arm over Jackie Robinson’s shoulders and keeps it there, then thanks Jackie, and the crowd goes nuts, shouting and booing. Jackie looks at PeeWee and asks, “Why are you thanking me?”  And PeeWee Reese nods toward the stands. “I’ve got family here today,” he says, “They came all the way from Louisville. I need ’em to see this. I need ’em to know who I am.” And, so, they did. Such was the measure of that man.

We got to see the measure of another man last week, something I hope inspires more people to speak up, step forward, take a stand. Dale Hansen is a sportscaster for WFAA-TV in Dallas, the guy who gave the most eloquent commentary about this issue of equality just recently, then was invited to appear on the Ellen Degeneres Show to talk about it last week. You can see it on YouTube, if you’d like. He took a stand and he said what needed to be said.  Sometimes, it takes all you have to speak the truth.  Sometimes, the truth is all it takes: people of good will and compassion standing up for what’s right and fair. His commentary has gone viral, as it should have, and the worldwide response has been overwhelmingly positive, even though he’s caught some flak from certain groups, as you might imagine. In his interview with Ellen, he referred to himself a couple of times as “…an old, fat, white guy from Texas…” but that’s not how I see him at all. In my eyes, right now, he’s the cutest, sweetest guy on the planet. And, a man of courage, too. Some people think our day has come, but I think our knight has arrived, as well. Thanks, Dale. You made us proud.



Universal Luna


A big storm blew into southern Oregon late yesterday afternoon with lots of wind and rain, rain, rain.  INTENSE rain, impossible to escape, unless you were already snuggled up and inside – which I wasn’t – but I was close, except for the firewood, which needed to be gathered.  Then, drizzled on, soggy and bogged down, and with rain dripping off the bill of my wonderful, waterproof cap,I dragged in firewood and built a fire in the wood stove before settling in for the evening to grab a bite of dinner, do some laundry and watch TV.

Hours later, when the rain finally let up, I stepped outside to retrieve something from my car.  The clouds had lifted and the silvery moon shimmered right there in front of me, almost close enough to touch, it seemed like, as if a spotlight was shining on all of us, just another little reminder that we are all in this together.  It was so beautiful, so exciting, so thrilling that I almost hopped, like a flea, around the front yard, shouting out “WAHOO!” and waving my arms in the air, before dancing toward my Subaru.  I was wishing that the one I love was here to witness this with me; hoping that the clouds around British Columbia last night had lifted, as well, so she could see what I was seeing in Oregon, that she could gasp at its beauty along with me.  Our own luminescent touchstone.

I posted a version of this story earlier on Facebook, and it’s fun to read what people have written back about their experiences of the moon. It connects us, that moon of ours, with all of us staring in amazement at its beauty and wonder. A high school friend told me how lovely the moon looked last night as it rose over downtown Dallas. I grew up in Dallas; I can see that in my head. Another friend said she sends “Moon Alerts” to her grandchildren across the country when that silvery orb is giving us an especially great smile in the sky. Sweet stuff. Connection.

Few things in this life have that same kind of connecting quality.  In America, we all stare at our flag and sing our national anthem with our hands over our hearts, often with tears in our eyes.  Our flag connects us as countrymen, but we can pretty much bet that the Russians, say, or the North Koreans, or the Iraquis aren’t going to have that same visceral reaction to our American flag that we do, nor would we to theirs. The moon, though, well, that’s a different story. The moon is an equal opportunity mesmerizer for the whole world as it shimmers out there in an indigo sky, reminding us that we are one world with one moon and that, if we try really hard, we can sometimes think of this family of man as one, also. Really, it’s like a Coke commercial without the great graphics but, truthfully, the moon doesn’t need the great graphics.  It just needs us to pay attention.

The moon was not yet full last night, I know, and, thus, it is not yet perfect. But, then, neither are we and, maybe, that’s what makes it all so wondrous. Even in our imperfection, our shiny, magical imperfection, we all still have a chance to glow.  To shimmer. To sparkle. To shine so brightly it takes someone’s breath away. And, like Buffalo Gal doing the cha-cha across her rain-soaked driveway last night, to even dance by the light of the moon.



That Snapping Sound You Hear…


On the night of Sept.11th, on a late flight from Dallas to Portland, I made every bad assumption I could have possibly made, and I was wrong about every single one.  God has a way of snapping my garter right when I need it, just when I am SO SURE I am right about someone and their evil intent.  You see, that day, Sept. 11th, was a day of rememberance for Americans and most people around the world.  It changed this country forever.  Twelve years ago on Sept. 11th, angry Middle Eastern men took over U.S. jet airliners and crashed them – screaming at full throttle – into the two World Trade Center towers in New York, The Pentagon in Washington, and into a field in rural Pennsylvania.  The death toll of Americans for that day alone was almost 3,000.  On that day, after suffering such a major blow, we became a nation on HIGH ALERT, vowing not only to never forget, but to never let our guard down, either.

Our flight out of DFW was completely packed that night.  As we were getting settled in, two very young, Middle Eastern-looking men hurried onto the plane. They were sweating and frazzled; oddly, despite the September heat in Dallas, they were wearing coats, and carrying small bags.  When I picked up one of the bags to get it out of the aisle, one of the young men quickly snatched it from my hand.  I urged them to take off their coats and put them in the overhead bins because it was already so sweltering in the plane with all those people and, besides, I thought it might be easier to spot a vest full of explosives under their clothes without coats covering them up.  I must have looked panic-stricken, with that same strained expression I know I have when I am double-parked.  As I scanned the faces of others in the plane, our eyes would lock and their eyebrows would shoot up, like, OH, DEAR, WHAT DO WE DO NOW?  The young men did stash their coats and then sat in the two seats right next to me.  They didn’t smell very good and they looked like terrorists, or how I would imagine terrorists to look, so, of course, IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING, that their seats would be right next to mine.  Certain, by then, that they intended to blow up our plane on Sept. 11th with whatever they were carrying in that bag, I managed to ride for almost an hour with most of my weight onto my left butt cheek, almost pushing myself out into the middle of the plane as I leaned as far away from them as I could get.  It became clear, however, that, if they did explode a bomb right next to me, I would be sucked out into the night sky no matter how much of my butt I had managed to wedge into the aisle seat.  So, I sat there, wedged onto one butt cheek, awaiting doom, wondering, if the blast didn’t kill me, if hurtling through the sky would be as horrible as I’d always imagined in my head it would be, screaming, “AAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIEEE”  all the way down.  Would I die somewhere in mid-fall? Would my heart just give out? Or would I make it all the way to earth, splattering like a bug on a windshield?  Would there be no more left of me than there was of those brave souls on Flt. 93 which crashed into a field in Pennsylvania on 9/11?  Would there be just an imprint of me, my Chapstick and some loose change to prove it was me?


So, that’s what happened.  And, boy, was I right about that, because, boy, was I wrong about them.

Turns out, these two young men were from India and they were headed to Portland State University to work on their Master’s degrees in electronics.  They didn’t smell very good because they’d just spent 25 hours on airplanes getting from India to London to Dallas.  And they were sweating so much because when their plane landed @ DFW, they only had 45 minutes to make it through Customs, catch the SkyLink to get to another terminal and race to the gate to check in for this last leg of their trip to Portland.  They had run most of the way through the airport – IN THEIR COATS – to get there before the doors closed.  They weren’t terrorists at all, just sweet young men a long, long way from home and now, here they were, sitting next to me.  I knew their families would want them to get to know someone who would make them feel at welcomed and, so, for that moment, on that night, it became my job.

I told them everything I know about Portland, in particular, and the state of Oregon, in general.  I told them about the sweetness of the people here that I enjoy so much and how there’s an undercurrent of kindness and politeness not always seen in big cities.  I told them about all the things they could do in nature in Oregon, especially since Mother Nature seems to have smiled her prettiest smile on this state. I asked them about India and the Hindu religion and when I said I didn’t really know much about Hinduism except the Elephant God, Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, one of the young men pulled out his wallet and gave me a laminated drawing of Ganesh as a present.  It’s in my pocket at this moment.. Right now, it feels like I will carry it forever.

I am not proud of how quickly I jumped to the assumption that these young men were dangerous.  I don’t like it that I thought badly about them without even knowing them; that I made every terrible assumption so quickly and without knowing all the facts of their lives.  I AM proud, though, of listening to the whispers God puts in my head every so often, snapping my spiritual garter just before I say something that could turn out to be really stupid or really hurtful.  I am proud that I acted on that whisper and that I got to know them, AND THAT I LET THEM KNOW ME, when I could have just as easily stood up and yelled, “TERRORISTS, EVERYBODY!  RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” and turned everything into a real mess.

These two sweet young men and I chattered away for two hours with only 30 minutes or so of that time being spent with my going, “What?  Back up for a second and let me hear that sentence again.”  People from India and Pakistan tend to emphasize a different syllable in some words than we do, making my brain screech to a halt and go into INSTANT REPLAY MODE.  They were patient with me, however, and so, so kind, as was I with them.  As our plane came out of the low clouds covering Portland and the city lights sparkled beneath us, we banked to the east for just a bit before banking back to the west and lining up to descend into PDX.  Lower…and lower…and lower we came in for our landing.  I turned to them and I touched each young man on the forearm.  I said, “I know your mothers would want to know that you had met someone from Portland who made you feel welcomed and unafraid, that you could begin your new journey here with a feeling of friendship and acceptance.”  They smiled at me.  I smiled back.  The wheels of our jet touched the runway.  “Gentlemen,” I said, holding out my hands for them to grasp, “welcome to Portland.”  They were gone from my sight very soon after that, and I was left to my own thoughts and that feeling of coasting in the Golden Glow.  It’s not a new feeling, but it is rare and wondrous.  And so, I say THANK YOU to Ganesh for removing one more obstacle between me and kindness.  And, I say THANK YOU to my Creator for snapping my garter one more time.  God knows me just well enough, I think, to keep me in sight, to make sure I don’t wander off and do something dumb. I am grateful for it.  Humbled by it. Lucky me. What a feeling.


Workin’ It. And Making It Work.


My niece Kelli made a fascinating post on Facebook the other day.  She’s a brilliant, good-hearted young woman, so I’m always interested in the things she finds to share with the world.  This was the story of what is, probably, the world’s most welcomed and useful billboard.  As a general rule, most of us don’t care for billboards.  They are gaudy and distracting, almost screaming at us as we drive along, whether it’s about what beverage to drink, what car to buy, what lawyer we need to call to get us out of a jam, or whether we have found Jesus somewhere along the Interstate.  This particular billboard, however,  is a very special one in Peru, in a village that gets very little rain, even though the air is quite humid.  The well water there is contaminated and, until now, is all the people in this village had to use for drinking, cleaning and bathing.  Thank God for engineers.

The engineers who designed this special billboard in Peru figured out how to draw the humid air around this village into three chambers attached to the sign.  The moisture is extracted, filtered, then funneled into a pump so the people of the village can now go and fill up their containers with clean, fresh-tasting water.  The water is plentiful and sparkling; kids can stop and cool off there after playing, and nobody is getting sick from the contaminated well.  The engineers have performed, for the people of this village, what surely feels like a miracle.  We should be getting used to this, really.

I love engineers.  My Daddy was an engineer – Methods & Tooling at Texas Instruments, working his way up from the shops where he ran a jig borer for years before T.I. decided to use his brain over his hands.  I love how engineers think, that they can see a problem and, faster than most of us, can ferret out a solution or, sometimes, even several solutions.  That’s a gift I don’t have, so it’s one greatly admired by me.  Someday I hope to have a linear thought, but it may not happen in this lifetime.  One of my publishers at Koho Pono Press, Scott Burr, is an engineer by training.  Scott and his wife, Dayna Hubenthal, not only run a publishing company, but also have another company called Innovation Scientific which is a problem-solving company for other corporations. I love spending time with them because, not only do they think bigger than most people, they also, in the kindest and most gentle of ways, make me dig deeper and think bigger, too.  They drag me out of my fog of right-brained living and shine the light on solutions in such a way that even Right-Brained Representative Jody can see them.  What a joy.

In 2012, I was badly injured with a brain injury.  Everything was difficult to do.  No thought or action or word came easily.  All of my life suddenly became a struggle; if I wasn’t raging, I was crying. Or sitting, staring blankly, and rocking, just rocking back and forth, like the kids at the Denton State School in Texas.  It was an awful time.  And tormenting. Going to my first brain therapy session at Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, I forgot about the camper on top of the Bubba Truck I’d borrowed from my friends (because my car was in the shop) and got the thing wedged in the entrance to the parking garage.  I was in tears.  Distraught.  Desperate.  The sweet little security guard who came to help sensed that something good needed to happen quickly or he’d have a real mess on his hands – a woman old enough to be his mother, big enough to be a linebacker, and upset enough to be suicidal.  Or, even worse, homicidal. He made a quick call to the engineering department right across the street. Within seconds, about six engineers, The Pocket Protector Brigade, came charging across the street.  My half-dozen heroes.  Here’s what they did.  First, they let almost all of the air out of the tires on the Bubba Truck, then four of them hung onto the back of it, forcing Bubba as far down as they could get him, which left just enough room at the top that I could ease that big boy back out of the garage.  Then, we slowly drove Bubba across the street to their engineering dept. and they filled the tires back up with their air compressor.  To me, this felt like a miracle.  Left to figure this out on my own, I would have gunned it and raked the camper off or just laid down in front of one of those big tires and hoped that it would eventually roll over me.

In truth, I think engineers live for this kind of thing.  They love being the heroes; Daddy did.  And I think they love being able to laugh to each other about it and to tell the story over and over. (“You’re not gonna BELIEVE what that dumbass had done!”)  I don’t mind that.  After all, I have told the story over and over, as well.  And what I did was a dumbass thing to do.  This got me to thinking, though, about the people we call upon to solve problems facing this nation and, once again, I don’t think we are making proper use of our resources.  Our government isn’t a business and shouldn’t be run like one.  It is a giant entity, a wheel with many spokes, all of which have to be aligned and working properly in order for the whole thing to function efficiently.  Perhaps, rather than electing business men and women to public office and expecting them to “fix” whatever is broken about our government, we should be electing men and women whose brains work in a different way than those of most people.  We should be electing engineers.  I would vote for them, with their slide rules, mechanical pencils, graphs, work orders and computer printouts.  They are often shy, so I’d probably have to campaign for them, too, but I’m okay with that.  Engineers can get it done, whatever it is.  And, when I tune in to watch the State of the Union Address and see half of the Congress sitting there in shirtsleeves with what is no longer just a pocket protector but now a badge of honor, I’d feel like we were about to get this baby back on the track.  Another miracle. Engineers, workin’ it.  And makin’ it work.


Open-Hearted? It’s Your Choice.


Back when George W. Bush was at the helm, driving us toward bankruptcy and two endless wars, one of the bills in his energy policy spoke to the urgency of changing the efficiency of the lightbulbs we use in this country, encouraging us all to stop using the less expensive incandescent bulbs and opting for the much more expensive, albeit, much more efficient CFL bulbs.  Admittedly, as a screaming liberal, there was never much I liked about that administration but, still, this seemed like a good idea to me.  Besides, I’d heard Thom Hartman, a radio guy I admire who’s actually smart, (and not just a shrill bully) talk about this, too.  He said that if we all changed out just one lightbulb in our house to a CFL bulb, we could cut our oil imports in half.  Well.  Nobody in this country would love to thumb their nose at those greedy Saudi bastards more than I would, so my partner and I raced to Home Depot and bought enough CFL bulbs to last well into the next millenium.  We changed out every bulb in the house we could reach without a ladder, slapped each other a high-five, then sat around waiting for a nice letter from Congress or Thom Hartman, or, perhaps, even a snotty or desperate one from Saudi Arabia to arrive which, as you might imagine, never happened.  Still, in terms of patriotic self-esteem, we felt pretty good about ourselves.  We had done our part and somebody else’s, too.  Then, Congress changed its mind.

Apparently, just the other day, the Republicans in Congress decided that requiring US citizens to purchase a more efficient lightbulb, something that might well serve the common good of this nation, well, that was actually a really bad thing.  Want to know why?  BECAUSE IT TOOK AWAY OUR CITIZENS’ RIGHT TO CHOOSE – A LIGHT BULB!  So, that clunking sound you heard yesterday that you thought was a tractor tire being dropped from the top of someone’s barn?  It was my jaw slamming onto the keyboard of my computer when I read that.  Here’s why:  Because right now, in my beloved home state of Texas, there is a fight unlike any I have ever seen going on over a woman’s right to choose.  And that choice is an important one, because it is not mine, nor is it the choice to make of the Texas State Legislature.  It is the choice to be made by each woman faced with an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy.  Let me be clear about this, because I am not saying I am pro-abortion; I am pro-choice.  Women choose to terminate a pregnancy for a variety of reasons, none of which are my business.  Nor are they yours.  Or Rick Perry’s.

I watched a very disturbing video of a young woman being dragged away from the podium by Dept. of Public Safety officers because the lady with the gavel didn’t like what she was hearing.  Excuse me?  The right of the public to stand before their governing body and state their views in a civil way is part of our process in this nation.  Has the Texas State Legislature forgotten what democracy is all about?  I posted that video on Facebook in hopes that it will go viral.  It should.  It was shameful, like watching Nazi brownshirts in action.  The Texas State Legislature and that lady with the gavel should be ashamed.   

So, what I gleaned from reading about the lightbulbs and watching that disturbing video is this:  THE REPUBLICANS WANT TO MAKE SURE WE CAN ALL CHOOSE WHICH LIGHTBULBS WE WANT TO USE, BUT THEY DON’T WANT WOMEN TO BE ABLE TO CHOOSE TO END AN UNWANTED OR DANGEROUS PREGNANCY.  Somebody feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am wrong about this.  So, I had an idea.  I’m heading to Home Depot again this weekend and buying as many of those long, fluorescent bulbs as I can afford.  I’ll find out the names and addresses of every Republican state legislator in Austin and send them each a bulb, along with my compliments, encouraging them to stick these where the sun don’t shine.  I’ll remind them that their buddies in Congress have, once again, given me the choice of how best to use my lightbulb money and, so, I’ve chosen to send them a gift.  They can choose to be upset about it or not.  I’ll tell them where they can put this long, fluourescent tube, and I’ll tell them to just think of it as an ultrasound.  We know where their heads are.  We are just trying to find their hearts.


Accidental Daddy


Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about father figures in my life, various people who have come along to provide that strong Dad energy we all need from time to time as we stumble along, trying to make our way in this world.  By the time they married, my mother already had two small children from a previous marriage, so the man who became “Daddy” to my older brother and to me stepped into a ready-made family which, I’m sure, could not have been an easy choice, but he loved our mother enough to put up with a three year old boy and very stubborn two year old girl to make it happen. I was raised by my stepfather, an accidental Daddy, a good man who wrestled with alcoholism for a large portion of his life before quitting – without AA, without treatment of any sort, without anything other than the stamina and determination it took to turn his life around.  And he became a great guy; the great guy who’d been hiding out in there for all those years suddenly appeared.  He was funny and kind.  Available.  Present.  It was a joy to witness.  And it was easier to forgive him for the past than to shatter the goodness just lain at our feet by re-hashing it all, something I think that would have been so counter-productive it would have wrecked everything.  As a family, we all just seemed to say, without actually saying it, “Okay, a new road now.  And away we go.”  It was just so unlike us, really, but we did it.

My brother Pat never married, but became Uncle Pat to all of his nieces and nephews who adored him, another accidental Daddy. He could be blustery and gruff, but his heart was a tender one, and, if he could help out in any way, Uncle Pat was always there.  Any time I found a stray kitten, Pat was the one I called, simply because I knew he was too soft-hearted to say No and, at one point, I think he had 12 cats and an old deaf dog named Phyllis.  But my brother Pat left us too soon, dying in 2007 at age 54 of lung cancer.  One day at the hospital, I stuck my head in the door of his room, only to see his nieces and nephews all sitting around his bed, all of them crying.  They were saying good-bye to their favorite uncle; they were thanking him for entertwining his life with theirs, for being their Uncle Pat.  It was so tender and dear I thought my heart would crack in two. We all still miss him with a terrible ache, one I don’t think will ever go away.

Sam is my partner’s son, a handsome, kind, ex-Marine, a young man who can tell a great story, complete with lots of sound effects, so, of course, he won my heart right away.  Sam’s relationship with his biological father has not always been easy.  Nobody is blameless in this, which is true in most relationships; we are all prone to stupid choices and stubborn stances from time to time. It is interesting, though, to see who I have become in Sam’s life over the past 14 years.  Although I am female, I have become an accidental Daddy.  Actually, how I really think Sam sees me is as a hybrid of some sort, a cross between a soft, mooshy Dad and a big, mean sister.  I’m okay with that.  He is our boy. If he needs someone to talk to, I am right there.  If he needs a big hug, my arms are wide open.  Although I can’t imagine myself ever actually doing it, if Sam thinks I’m completely capable of kicking his ass if he needs it, I’m okay with that, too.  I just have to remember to get my other knee replaced before I do.   



The Heroes Who Only Pee Once a Day


Yesterday was Memorial Day and it was an easy day to think about heroes of the military variety, those brave souls who put on the uniform of our country and pick up a weapon to go do whatever we ask of them to help keep our nation safe.  But just a week ago or so, we saw heroes of another stripe, bloodied teachers corralling and comforting little kids who’d just gone through that roaring, screeching, blasting tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.  A picture I saw on the internet featured the lower leg of a young teacher with part of a desk piercing her calf.  It had happened, apparently, when she threw her body over those of her students, trying to protect them from the wind, trying to keep them from being sucked up into the vortex of this terrifying storm and whisked away to Kansas or to their deaths.

We should be getting used to seeing this kind of bravery from teachers.  We saw it happen at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children were murdered and six teachers and administrators, as well, including a beautiful, young teacher named Victoria Soto who hid her kids in cabinets, then lied to the murdering young man, saying her students were in the gymnasium.  Before heading to the gym, he shot and killed Victoria Soto, ending the young life of this new teacher who had done what she needed to do to protect her students.

This past year, bank-rolled by big, conservative money, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin set about dismantling the teacher’s union in that state.  Breaking the backs of worker’s unions in America is what the right-wing wants to do.  Funny, that’s exactly what Adolph Hitler wanted to do in Germany, too. Talk radio morons went on and on about teachers being overpaid, only having to work nine months out of the year, only having to work until 3:30pm each day, blah, blah, blah.  Clearly, these guys don’t know many teachers.  I do.

I know lots and lots of teachers. They all have Bachelor’s degrees; most have their Master’s degree; some have their doctorate. They go to work early and they get home late.  They grade papers at home, have conference calls between dinner and bedtime, put projects for their students together after work, and sometimes pluck troubled  students out of dangerous home situations.  Weekends are often taken up with some kind of school competition, Legos Robotics, Math Mania, or some such event.  Along in there, somewhere, they manage to mow the yard and walk the dog.  They meet with parents who are often angry or resentful and put up with student trouble-makers who manage to keep the rest of the class in some kind of turmoil so that nobody gets to learn. Some of the teachers I know have been hit, kicked, pinched, cursed out, spit on, and head-butted.  Lunch break, for them, is usually about 2pm, and right after that, they get to pee.  And, for most of them, that’s the only time for the whole day!  Sound like a job you’d like to have?

And still, through all of that, they love their students – are thrilled when all the gears grind a certain way until that CLICK! happens and they know their kids are learning.  My friend Sylvia taught biology in middle school.  Her first year was frustrating because there was so much to know and to do, plus, there were two boys she just couldn’t get to connect, no matter how appealing or interesting the subject matter was to the rest of the class.  Late one night, Sylvia slid on her butt down a hill behind her house and scooped creek water into a jar, which she then took with her to school the next day.  Carefully dragging out the microscopes, she paired the students up, smeared some creek water on slides and set up each pair of students so they could see just what was going into their mouths when they drank out of the creek their Mom told them not to. She put the two boys together and they took turns squinting into the microscope.  Walking down the aisle between the lab tables, Sylvia heard one of the boys whisper to his friend, “JESUS – LOOK AT ALL THOSE LITTLE BASTARDS IN THERE!”  It was at that moment that Sylvia knew she had two new students hooked on science and biology.  And she did.  She became their favorite teacher, and they became two of her best students.

It makes no sense to me that the people we entrust to teach our children should bear the scorn of the nation because they have the absurd notion that they deserve to make a living wage.  The crooks on Wall St. who drove our economy into a ditch make millions and millions using other people’s money and nobody seems to get bent out of shape over that.  And, if teacher’s unions are what we need to help bring about a fair wage, health insurance and a decent retirement for teachers, I’m all for it.  They deserve it.  MORE than deserve it.  Collective bargaining is better than no ability to bargain at all.  Indeed, if we really loved teachers like we like to say we do, we would double their salaries and halve their class sizes.

As I mentioned, I know lots and lots of teachers. My partner is one of them.  They are the heroes who only pee once a day.  When I think of the teachers I know, I don’t know a single one who would not have done what those lion-hearted young teachers did to save their kids from harm, whether it was taking a bullet to the heart or a spear through the leg.  God bless them all.






Educated Women Will Save This Place


It was hot and HUMID in southern Oregon yesterday. Horribly humid. Like Dallas. Or Houston. Or Tulsa. In the summer. Except that yesterday was May5th, a day usually sunny and bright and in the midi-70’s with a light breeze, perhaps.  Relatives of mine in Texas said it has been cold at night there recently.  Really cold.  It made me think, again, about this whole process of climate change and what we have been doing to our home, Mother Earth, for so long that now the wheels of nature have begun to grind in the other direction.  We have major hurricanes where we don’t expect them and are not prepared for.  Earthquakes in the middle of the nation.  Sinkholes swallowing up entire houses.  Drought and parched earth or flooding and homelessness.  It is hard to think that we don’t deserve some culpability in this, as we drill and drill and drill into the earth to extract whatever we can to build whatever we can or to go wherever we want to go whenever we feel like it.

Mitt Romney spoke at some college commencement the other day and, apparently, what he told them to do, to be successful adults, is to have as many children as they could as quickly as they could.  Really, Mitt?  REALLY?  Over 7 billion people already inhabit this planet, which is groaning under the weight of all of us and all of our stuff.  Aside from having to figure out how to keep everyone fed and clothed, what about clean water?  Education?  Healthcare?  Old age?  We are now living longer than ever, statistically.  Does it make sense that we should keep procreating just because we can?  It reminds me of what Ed Deever, our nextdoor neighbor from my childhood, said when their famiy got too big for their small house.  “Well, it appears that we have just screwed ourselves out of place to live.”  Indeed, they had.  And so have we, here on Planet Earth.

I get to talk to some really interesting people on my TV show, BACK PAGE.  A couple of years ago, I interviewed a brilliant woman named Robin Morris Collin who, along with her equally brilliant husband, Will, had put together a three-volume encyclopedia on sustainability.  Both of them are professors at Willamette University.  Toward the end of the interview, I asked Robin, “What’s the one thing that would turn it all around for all of us?”  I assumed I’d be hearing “Ride your bike,” or “Recycle your paper, cans and glass,” or, even, “Change out those lightbulbs.”  But I heard none of those.  Without hesitation, Robin looked at me and said, “The education of women.”  And she is right.  Educated women have more say in their lives, are curious about the world and how it works.  Educated women organize to make changes that need to happen.  And, most of all, educated women tend to give birth less often than uneducated women who become baby factories in some of our poorer nations.  Thus, we wind up with children who are starving or dying of disease because the uneducated woman figures she can’t so no to her husband who is her sole means of support.

And, even if all those children we produce manage to live until adulthood, what kind of world are we leaving to them?  A world with poisoned water?  Unsustainable crops because of the unpredictable weather?  Oil pipelines and gas wells leaking out all over the place, contaminating our land, rivers and oceans?  Water they can’t drink?  Genetically-modified food they can’t eat?  Is this really what we want for our future generations?

A few months ago, I sat next to a young man, an oil guy, on a plane from Tulsa.  “Tell me what you think of fracking,” I said to him.  “Absolutely safe,” he replied.  “Really?” I asked.  “Oh, yes,” he said, “100% safe.”  I leaned in a little closer.  “Would you drink water from a well close to where they were doing fracking yourself?” I asked.  “Absolutely,” he replied, “I’d have no qualms about drinking that water.  It’s 100% safe.  Absolutely.”  I leaned in even closer until my nose was just a few inches from his.  I looked him squarely in the face; I made him look at me.  “Would you feed it to your young children?” I asked.  He blinked.  Then he blinked again.  Sweat popped out on his forehead.  He didn’t give me an answer, but he didn’t need to.  His face told me what he couldn’t say.  I know I kind of bullied him, tricked him, even.  I feel a little bit bad about that. But not much.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely.  100%.




Twenty-seven years ago today, on 4/25/86, my mother left this life and moved on to the next great adventure.  It is so much easier to think of it that way, rather than mourning the loss of someone so dear to me for the rest of my life.  She would never have wanted any of us to be so sad all the time.  Not that she wouldn’t have been a little thrilled that we were all pretty wrecked when she left, but dragging the mourning on and on, ad infinitum, would have been, to her, a sure sign that somebody needed to get a different hobby.

My mother was one of those drop-dead gorgeous World War II babes, smoking those Pall Malls, which eventually became Tareytons when she decided using a cigarette with a filter might be a wiser idea.  Not wise enough, unfortunately, and the COPD smoking created, along with the resultant congestive heart failure, kept her tethered to an oxygen machine for the last years of her life.  I had seen it coming on years before, though.  In truth, I heard it.

My cousin Herbie and I used to play tennis at the junior high school up the street from our grandmother’s house.  We were 15, slamming the ball at each other as hard as we could, racing around like maniacs, sliding and stretching for every shot.  Mother and Aunt Edna had walked up to the school and said they’d like to play, too, so we agreed.  Mother had been quite an athlete in her day, playing golf, tennis, softball, bowling, gymnastics, and even basketball, amazing us all with her timing and accuracy. This was the same woman who taught me how to do a hook slide into the bottom of our mimosa tree, which doubled as third base in our front yard; the same woman who smacked a softball so hard it went across the street and crashed through Mrs. McKinnon’s bathroom window.  Then, Mother thrust the bat at me and ran into the house!  Just a few years later, when I heard her chugging across that tennis court, sounding like a tattered old bagpipe, i thought:  SHE’S ONLY 42 YEARS OLD – WHAT HAPPENED TO HER?

What, indeed.  COPD & CHF are two terrible ways to die, and two really terrible ways to live.  She gave up the smokes eventually, but not soon enough.  And, really, I think the only reason she didn’t smoke anymore was the fear that she’d blow the house up with a match struck in a room where oxygen was hissssssssssssing away.  The damage to her lungs and heart was already done, though,and what terrible damage it was.  Life can get intense and un-fun pretty quickly when you’re struggling for your next breath.

I know that none of us is getting out of here alive, and I know that we are all killing ourselves in one way or another every day.  I just wish her life had been easier, and I wish we’d gotten to keep her longer, to see her healthy and teaching her grandkids how to do a hook slide without breaking a hip.  That would have been fun to see.  And so, on this day, just like I do each year, just like I do each day, I think of her, remembering her as so beautiful and vibrant – the woman with the dimples and quite an arm, too, slinging that ball into third as I slide in right under the tag, just like she taught me.  Happy Heavenly Birthday, Mother.  I love you much as always, and I hope your day has been – well – just Heavenly.