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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.




I cry easily. And, this week, there have been many opportunities for the waterworks to start. First, for the senseless loss of life and maiming of people in Boston at what is, normally, a time of celebration. Then, tears of admiration for the first responders who were running in to help when everyone else, so terrified, was running away. Next, there were tears for the way our nation rallied around the hurt and the heroes as billboards and signs on social networking sites shouted out BOSTON STRONG reminding us that it’s not only a description but a way of life for our brothers and sisters on the east coast of this great land. There were tears when Neil Diamond showed up at the Red Sox game to lead the crowd in singing SWEET CAROLINE, his hit, which has become the ball team’s theme song. There were tears, too, for the relentless work of law enforcement officials who worked so quickly and so tirelessly to bring the perpetrators in and the bravery they showed in a shootout which left one young terrorist dead and his brother wounded and on the loose for awhile longer. But not much longer. And, finally, there were even tears for those two brothers whose young lives have shattered and ended amidst so much tragedy and pain. How could they have gotten to that place where they thought murdering and maiming people was a good idea? It is hard to wrap my brain around this. And their message was…WHAT? That the older one didn’t have any American friends? That the younger one was about to flunk out of college? I DON’T GET IT. We can call them Muslim terrorists but, in truth, they are two young men, two screwed up young men, who performed an act of terrorism and who also happen to be Muslim. I don’t know very many Muslim people, but the ones I know don’t hate Americans. They are peaceful people who just want to live their lives and practice the faith they grew up with. I think we are wrong in, once again, assigning blame to the people of the Muslim faith for the crappy actions of a few. I mean, haven’t we had a barrel full of bad apples from the Christian faith? Jewish faith? Hindu faith? Others?
Some years ago, I chatted with an Ethiopian-born cab driver in Dallas. I asked him why he had come to America and become a US citizen. He said, “Remember that song, ‘We Are the World’ which came out in 1984? The money raised by that song saved my village. I began to think about how, whenever there is a true need in the world, America always steps forward to help. Other wealthy nations do not do this. Saudi Arabia doesn’t; Germany doesn’t; France doesn’t; Japan doesn’t. America ALWAYS does. I decided I wanted to be one of those people who always steps forward to help. That is why I became an American.” I forgot to ask him about his faith, but it really doesn’t matter to me. He’s an American who loves his county. Like me.
Earlier in the week, right after the tragedy, when we were emerging from the smokey residue of two bombs and the bloody miasma of wounds and terror, I was half-listening to somebody from Boston talking on one of the news shows. When he said the words, “THEY HAVE MESSED WITH THE WRONG CITY,” tears exploded out of me and I sank into the couch, heaving big, snot-laden sobs, my heart, all at once, both heavy with sadness and soaring with pride. “Yes, indeed, ” I thought, “indeed they have.” What happened in Boston – what those two young men did – was evil. It was wicked. But, we all know for sure now, if we didn’t know it before, just as the signs people held up at the Red Sox game said: BOSTON STRONG. WICKED STRONG. Boston will get through this. And so will we all.


Married… to My Memories


The thought of a whole bunch of people, every few years, all getting together and voting on my life is odd. Really odd. And, yet, that’s what happens. For some people, defining marriage means they will have a “lock” on what it means to be married; that, if only people are like them, then they, too, will be able to make the union with the one they love a legal thing, with all of the benefits and, hopefully, responsibilities that go with it. This always strikes me as a little absurd and, even more absurd is the idea that a gay marriage is somehow threatening to a heterosexual one. How does that work, exactly? My partner and I like to ask our straight friends outright, “Do you feel threatened by our relationship?” They usually recoil at such a question, shocked that we’d even think to ask it. But we ask it for a reason, which is to point out the absurdity of such an argument. I have always said to people who feel threatened by the fact that we love each other: IF MY RELATIONSHIP IS MAKING A MESS OF YOUR MARRIAGE, MAYBE I DON’T HAVE A LOT TO DO WITH IT. IF MY RELATIONSHIP IS, SOMEHOW, MAKING A MESS OF YOUR MARRIAGE, I’D GUESS THAT YOU’VE GOT BIGGER PROBLEMS TO DEAL WITH THAN THE TWO OF US. YOU NEED A COUNSELOR, NOT A BALLOT MEASURE. And, so, now lawyers on both sides of the gay marriage issue, along with their supporters, are heading to the Supreme Court, the 9 Justices who are set to determine whether or not excluding an entire group of Americans from WE THE PEOPLE is Constitutional. I know what my vote would be. I watched, for the second time, THE HELP last night on TV. It rocks my mind to think of where we were as a nation,in terms of civil rights, just 50 years ago. It made me remember, with great fondness and tears, a wonderful, gentle, patient young black woman named Emma who took care of my brother and me when we were just babies so our mother could go to work. We were not wealthy people and Emma was not our maid. She was hired to look after two very active and stubborn little kids, to keep us fed and clean and to teach us right from wrong. She did all of that and we loved her with pure little hearts, both of us standing on the couch, peering through the venetian blinds, squealing with delight when we saw Emma come walking up from the street car lines just down the hill. We had no idea about Emma’s life or what she had to endure as a black woman considered as “domestic help” in Dallas, Texas in the 1950’s. We only knew that she loved us, and we were as devoted to her as was Mae Mobley to Aibileen in THE HELP. Would it ever occur to me to vote for Emma to have less rights than my own? No. Would it ever occur to Emma to vote against my life now? I can’t say for sure, because the last time I saw her was 1961 but, knowing Emma, my guess would be No. She knew the sting of that, the exclusion, the back-breaking power and humiliation of being voted against, the unspoken message, the aura that says YOU’RE NOT AS GOOD AS WE ARE. CHANGE TO BE LIKE WE ARE AND MAYBE WE’LL LET YOU INTO THE CLUB. For Emma, a black woman, there was no choice in changing her race or color. For me, I can no more change who I am than I could my eye color. I suppose I could wrestle some bright blue contact lenses onto my eyeballs, but that would be no more true than my trying and pretending to be heterosexual. I’ve done that, which was about as comfortable as wearing a long-line bra. Ugh. There are lots of things for our Supremes to consider in making their decision, I suppose, but the most important one, I think, is this: EQUAL HAS NEVER MEANT ANYTHING OTHER THAN EQUAL. Let’s hope they remember that on this call.