An Introduction and a Review

Posted on October 18, 2016

A long time ago a friend recommended to a woman from Hachette Book Group that I be sent a copy of Elizabeth Alexander’s book. I remember being so excited when it arrived in the mail, but as is often the case reading kept slipping off of my to-do (to-enjoy) list, replaced instead by laundry, work research, or sleep.

It sat on my nightstand as a beacon of my inability to end the day with time left for me, until my mom came to visit. She was barely in the door when I said, “Here, I want you to give this book a try, I think you might like it.” She smiled, tired from the cross-country trip, but always game for a book.

“Thanks,” she said before hugging me. The next morning she said, “That book. Oh, it’s such a gift. Thank you.” She posted about it on Facebook and carried it with her as she left for leaf-peeping trips in Maine and New Hampshire. One night I said, “Would you consider reviewing it, or at least writing a little something up so that I can share it on my blog?”

“Sure, give me a few days,” she said. About 24 hours later she sent me two emails, the first a short review, the second a classic example of my mom’s doodling. For as long as I can remember, she’s drawn on things and her way of lettering and coloring always feels like home to me.

Here, in her words and images, the experience of reading The Light of the World.


From the first words of The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander pulled me into her life, her home and the last day of magical Ficre Ghebreyesus’ life. To set the stage she describes two births, one in Eritrea, Africa and one in Harlem, his mother and hers, a few months apart in 1962. So begins what is less a memoir and more a rich cultural tale.

Certainly a beautiful love story, and an elegy of loss, it is far more a resounding celebration of life, and creativity, and the miracle of finding your person. The book is a marvel. A marvel of Alexander’s prowess with words as a poetess. Their colorful home, garden, reverence for friends, and love of food gives us intense visitation with Ficre, in his hot pink shirt, father, lover, friend, linguist. Making art with unending urgency (and utter disregard for selling them) and cooking with his soul his restaurant Caffe Adulis.

She reminds me to revisit the poet Rilke’s philosophy of “befriending death in order to live more fully.” She reminds me to read more Anne Lamott (Small Victories) and “spot improbable moments of Grace”.

A lovely companion to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Alexander quests, as I do, to find where the soul goes after death. One of my favorite (of many!) parts of this book is her son Simon’s offer to her to go with him to see dad, after his death. And this beautiful child’s description of heaven and how he gets there to see his beloved dad.

Her beautiful prose, loveliest read aloud, takes us on a journey of love and loss — an “exaltation and lamentation, simultaneous.”

Love story, memoir, cultural guide, cook book, “how-to-live guide” is a book to savor word by word.


Changing the Lens—Close Up at Home to Avoid Political Focus

Posted on October 14, 2016

I can’t remember a time, except maybe the year in college when I was singularly focused on making myself disappear one pound at a time, when I haven’t had fiery opinions about things. My emotions sometimes overstep and I worry about things that aren’t mine to fret over. Over the last few years I have been increasingly vocal about feminism, racism, and honesty in parenting. I haven’t wanted to create a false prop that I direct the girls to model after if it’s something I can’t even get close to myself.

I’ve started talking more about the election, rather than just tweeting during the debates I have been writing posts, sharing articles, and speaking up in day-to-day life. This last week has shifted things. I still very much believe that our country’s greatest hope is in Hillary Clinton becoming President, but the weight of the argument over sexual assault has got me stooped and staggering.

Yesterday I was spurred to Twitter after a friend texted saying that she was on a ledge. She literally needed a hand in the ether to manage the suffocating battering we are taking as survivors of sexual assault and simply as women. The arguments, largely orchestrated by men, over what is or isn’t acceptable, is deafening.

“He did worse…”

“He was only talking…”

“She is lying…”

I opened the window and began typing. It started here. No hashtags, no @ signs, just an impassioned plea that we be considered.

The women.

Not sisters, daughters, wives, or moms, but the people we are, and the feelings that are being stirred.

The broad statements that are being made that dismiss, diminish, or blanket discredit us.

I doubt it was read by anyone but people who already know my position, but it had to come out. Now that it’s out I need to step back. I need to change my perspective from all women in the world to this one. I need to take care of myself and the things and people who lift me up.



Last weekend Sean and I went on a hike, my parents took the girls. It was just us, though the girls were present in all of it. They’ve made us into what we are. Our fingers woven together at times, other times our shoulders touching, and then not. We talked and fell into silence. There were no heavy discussions, no plotting or speculating, it was just us slipping into the gauzy space that marriage allows. Thirteen years of building, rebuilding, reshaping, and working.

I let my focus come back to us, watching his hands as he drove, listening to him sing as he prepped vegetables. I watched him read an article, unprompted by me, that would help him understand what it’s like to be a woman right now. He’s really trying and it’s painful to watch rape culture come to life for someone, even if it’s something you want them to understand. I know that he wants to protect all of us, not because we are girls or women, but because we are precious. He would do it for other women too, but right now he is following me into the woods and holding me in the night.

Rest does not mean giving up, we can pause and heal ourselves.

I hope wherever you are, if  you are feeling a similar exhaustion, you can find your woods and your people.

Tiny Boosts—Finding Joy Anywhere

Posted on October 13, 2016

I read somewhere the other day that sadness is a part of the privilege of joy, it literally allows space for joy to breathe. That makes a lot of sense to me, maybe in part because I was raised to believe that sometimes you just need a really good cry. I remember letting myself go and falling into a pillow and unlocking the tears and worries of my younger self. I would cry until the pillow case was so wet I needed to flip it. Sometimes I’d throw in loud cleansing sobs.  As an adult I don’t do it quite as much, but I am trying to allow myself to get back to the practice of living unclenched.

The years we spend unafraid of our highs and lows are healthy—soaring delight at a dandelion ripe for wishing, inconsolable tears over a shattered LEGO kingdom, and back to glee at a double Wheat Thin in a snack bowl. It’s an emotional equalizer of sorts, which isn’t to say that there aren’t genuine issues of depression, rather the allowed intimacy between emotions throughout the day.

I was going about the usual morning blur the other day. The kitchen was messy, Avery was sick, and there were several piles of cat vomit. It was really tempting to catapult myself into a gloomy place, feet stuck by cement blocks of stubborn. I was trying to stay positive when Finley chirped, “Mom, mom look at this.” I almost sighed one of those awful mom sighs that signals how put out we are by yet another call of “Mom,” but I didn’t.

“What is it, sweets?” I asked evenly.

“Look! I finished the milk and it perfect. Absolutely perfect, Mom. Can you even believe it?” she said.

I turned and saw the empty milk container next to a tall glass filled to the very top with milk. She held a hand out like Vanna White and nodded at me.



I smiled at her and then laughed out loud. As she stood there with the perfect glass of milk I saw everything differently. The box that held Ave’s antibiotics went from clutter to proof I had taken her to the pediatrician and tended to what was wrong. The book that was on the counter wasn’t out of place, it was right at hand for all the reading we’d been doing together. The candles and Yahtzee taking up space on the counter were another mark of our having played together and my taking the time to light a candle for no reason but to enjoy the light.

“Finley, that is so cool. And you even put a straw in it.”

She beamed at me as I asked, “Can I snap a picture of you?”


Maybe you don’t drink milk, but I bet you can find your version of a little thing that you allow yourself to find pure joy in for at least a few minutes. Maybe if we all crack that door and get back in touch with happiness that does not rely on credit cards, weight loss, or booze, we can eclipse the anger and frustration that wears us down.

If you haven’t seen this Louis CK clip about embracing the waves of sadness that can hit, watch it. Happiness can be the same way. Let it in, let it all in and then out.


Let’s Do This #ImWithHer

Posted on October 8, 2016

I remember in high school I had two really close friends and a third who occasionally joined us in our shenanigans. The two I spent the most time with, Kristie and Rebecca, were both shorter than me. They also tended not to get as worked up about things as I did. I always felt kind of clunky and out of control by comparison. When there would be misunderstandings between us they would talk in back channels and often use our other friend as a way of talking with me. This of course only made me more frustrated. I look back on those years, awkward and tumultuous as they were, with great affection. These girls still cared for me in spite of how fiery I lived, we were able to turn to each other as boyfriends came and went, teachers annoyed us, or our parents grounded us.

As the girls are getting older I go back to those days and remember the intensity of the hurt and the excitement. I want to have a foothold for compassion and empathy. It’s also helpful to be able to shrug and say, “That’s the way it goes and it hurts” because all these years later not fitting in still hurts. People still judge even though we seem to promote the idea that it stops after middle school.

The hindsight of those relationships also helps me to understand the political cycle a bit better. We all process things differently, some of us having unshakeable beliefs that while never shared aloud are no less credible or worthwhile than those that get blasted in ALL CAPS insistence. We process in different ways. I have been guilty of getting snarky on twitter during debates, but I stop hard at the line of personal attacks.

Name-calling, sweeping generalizations, and attacks that veer off topic aren’t my bag. I’ve been called names as often as I’ve grit my teeth and flared my nostrils and thought mean thoughts. Every time that happens I try to redouble my efforts to understand and just maybe to find a tiny bit of common ground.

I’ve been characteristically vocal about my support of Hillary Clinton, but I haven’t said nearly as much as I have thought and felt. I am ashamed by that. I’m also genuinely angry about people who mock those of us who are speaking up. Facebook, the coffee shop, and Twitter are places where we talk about life. Sometimes it’s family, other times it’s work or the economy. I do not accept the idea that not talking about politics makes someone more dignified or proper than those of us who do.

I can sit down and discuss the merits of expanding beyond a two-party system, but I think that we have a more pressing issue right now, which is the very real prospect of having a man who hates women outside of our role as pleasure holes, who proudly views people of color as lesser humans, and who believes gaming the system is a sign of intelligence may take the helm of our country.

I can appreciate the uproar over the candidates that we have to choose from this year. Neither is without flaws, agreed, but they are the entire menu. It’s an either or scenario. Let’s elect the better candidate and then leverage all of our passion, frustration, and hope to influence that person to govern in the way we need.

Am I being naive? I don’t know. I know that when I think of where I am from I want it to be a country that makes living possible.
I want to welcome people who flee abuse, those who come in search of a better life.
I want women to have access to health care, safety from abuse, and opportunities to reach any rung on the corporate ladder.
I want law enforcement to feel that they are safe, encouraged, and supported in their guardianship of all people.
I want every kid to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I want education to be something open to everyone and I want all students to get the same treatment, whether it’s girls and boys being held to the same expectations of behavior and dress or black kids not being penalized more quickly and harshly than their white classmates.
I want bathrooms for humans.
I want humanity to be more important than religion.
I want fixing what’s broken with gun ownership to be a nationwide priority.

I know, I want, I want, I want.

Unlike Donald Trump I won’t just lean in and grab the pussy of whatever or whomever I want. I am speaking up, listening, speaking up some more, and really trying to keep my panic at bay. One of the things that confuses me is the way the attacks of Hillary Clinton so often veer of into the actions of her husband. I don’t see Melania Trump being vetted in the same way. Let’s be honest, we’ll never have another Michelle Obama. She set the bar high and we should all take a moment to reflect on the legacy she will leave of compassion and composure.

I believe that Hillary Clinton will do a better job of working toward the United States of America that I want to live in than Donald Trump. She has demonstrated that she learns from each experience. She listens. She cares. I don’t believe either of those things about him.

I am probably not attractive enough for Donald Trump to lunge at me, aiming for my mouth or my pussy. I think Hillary Clinton would listen to me and if she disagreed she would explain why. We would continue to talk.

Does it sound like I am living in a dream world? I think the greater issue is are we heading toward a nightmare?

If you are quietly harboring support of Hillary Clinton, thank you.

If you are speaking up for Hillary Clinton, thank you.

If you are on the fence, thank you for reading this and considering the United States I am hoping we can get to.

If you genuinely believe Donald Trump is viable as President can you explain it to me?

It’s time. We can’t be passive or uncertain. Let’s do this.



It’s You

Posted on September 23, 2016

Sometimes when I am driving by myself I turn the radio off to ride in silence. This morning as neighborhoods passed by in a blur I thought of how I told Finley after we straightened her hair that it “Looks so long!’ I said this because that’s what she wants, and it does actually look longer when it’s straightened.

A few blocks later it hit me that almost all compliments to people, women in particular, seem to be about how something about them is different.

“You look so skinny”

“You don’t look 40”

“You look taller”

It’s weird, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great if we said, “You. You are wonderful.” Are we only better when we change? I don’t have the answer, but as I wake up each day in my 40s I am struck by how often and how hard we work to get somewhere different than where we are, literally and figuratively.

One of the things I love most about witnessing my daughters growing up is the way that the infant and woman blend with the girl they are before my eyes.




Sometimes it’s a look in their eyes, other times it’s a gesture as they talk, their eyes and hands wildly expressive about something. I revel in their exploration and steely conviction. They are unafraid to feel and not yet muted by experience, judgement, or trepidation about taking a stand that might not be the most popular.




I have not been so bold. I find myself thinking I need those compliments that tell me that I am other than I am—younger, skinnier, tauter, more athletic. I’ve also stayed silent or tempered my opinion to not upset others. I have had people tell me recently that they are glad people are speaking up, that it’s important, but that they just can’t quite do it.

I can’t do that, just like I can’t tell people in my professional life to invest in something that they need and will be good for them, if I don’t do the same thing in my own life.

I have three daughters.

I had male high school teachers say inappropriate things to me.

I have survived sexual assault.

I have pumped milk in a work bathroom and been ridiculed for carrying breastmilk to a cooler.

I have witnessed hate.

I have been ogled, cat called, and then yelled at for not “politely accepting the compliments.”

When it comes to the 2016 Presidential Election, I bring all of these parts of my life and the years ahead for my daughters to the polling booth. I can appreciate people saying that neither of the candidates are perfect, but the reality is that none of us are perfect. I have heard the argument that just because there is no one better doesn’t mean that you should pick a bad candidate.

The way I see it, we are faced with a reality of two candidates. Donald Trump has demonstrated that he will lead the country with hate, anger, a short temper, and deaf ears.  Trump has deliberately refused to share his plans, explain his rationale, define how he would do things, or even commit to honoring anything that he says behind the podium.

Hillary Clinton has proven her mettle, in the workplace and beyond. She has a capacity for listening and compromise that is corroborated even by people who do not like her. Secretary Clinton has made adjustments in order to appeal to supporters of Bernie Sanders, she has allowed her view on gay marriage to evolve, and she has acknowledged that she has made mistakes and learned from them.

I know that Hillary Clinton has an awareness that the things I have experienced as a woman have really happened, that I’m not being difficult or bitchy, I’m not whining or faking. She is not distracted by the messiness of life, she works through it. More importantly, I believe that she genuinely wants to make life better for Americans. I am not voting for her because she has a vagina, I am voting for her because my daughters and I do, and that should not make us disgusting to our country’s leader.

I am investing in my daughters’ future by saying out loud that I cannot stand for hate. I am calling bullshit on the idea that Donald Trump, “shoots straight.” He is every weak punchline on a sitcom that you wouldn’t want anyone to know that you watch. I am donating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I am supporting the Democratic National Committee, and I owning that the outcome of the election is on all of us.
It’s you voting. It’s you not voting. It’s you speaking up. It’s you staying quiet.


I am emphatically with her.

%d bloggers like this: