currently … sunday randomness

My computer time is somewhat limited this weekend, thanks to a faulty laptop power cord. Yesterday I went to the local big box electronics store in search of a replacement; despite the 12 year old salesman’s assurances, the cord didn’t fit and back to the store I went. Another didn’t work, and after calling an incompetent individual at some affiliate of the big box store, we had an unpleasant conversation about why said person needed every iota of data I own before even checking to see if they had the right cord. I finally resorted to ordering one from Amazon which, thanks to a free trial of Amazon Prime, should be here tomorrow and let’s all pray it works.

First world problems in a country that’s on a fast-track to becoming part of the third world, I know. No doubt my curtailed computer access (and a migraine today that had me in bed for part of the afternoon) is the universe’s way of giving me a much-needed commercial break from the 24/7 reality show hosted by President Shit-gibbon. I do think I need to incorporate shit-gibbon into my vocabulary more frequently, don’t you? Perhaps I can work it in next time I tweet the newly-secretary of education Cruella DeVos, which I did in response to her dumb-ass comment the other day about not being able to find any pencils.

Don’t even get me started on that incompetent bitch’s bought cabinet position. This week I let my spineless piece of shit Senator know how I felt in my latest voice mail message, one that probably landed me on some watch list, assuming anyone in his office actually listened to it, which is doubtful.

Ironically, we had an IEP meeting the day after Cruella DeVos was confirmed, during which I asked one of our team members (The Boy’s autistic support teacher) if he anticipated staying in that capacity for next school year. He said he would and I replied, “If not, we can bribe you. We’ve heard that works well in some educational circles,” which brought down the house.

It was a really good IEP meeting. Really good. This is a wonderful team, and the outcome of that meeting was a major highlight of the past week and a much-needed pick me up.

Like almost everyone else I’m still on speaking terms with, it has been difficult during the past three weeks (Jesus God, how the hell has this only been three fucking weeks?!) to stay sane while speaking out against the danger this regime represents. At times, it’s difficult to focus and I’m more distracted than usual because so much is happening so quickly and as someone who finds it really hard to tune out from the news (not so much in a fear of missing out (FOMO) regard but in an oh-fuck-some-serious-shit-just-happened regard), it’s not a healthy way to be.

I’m trying to find some balance, though. I like the suggestion of focusing on a few key areas. (As you may have guessed, mine are disability rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ issues.) Everyone’s spouting the mantra of self-care these days, suddenly discovering the benefits of eating healthy and getting more sleep and exercise. As if these became new concepts on November 9. The irony is all this yoga-ing and social media fasting will make us the healthiest doomed society ever.

(That’s not to say I’m not doing or don’t support any of those sorts of things. I am and I do.)

What I haven’t been doing is much reading.  So far this year I’ve read three books. Three. All were review books, as is the one I’m reading now, so I can’t really say much about them until the reviews are published.

How about you? What are you reading, watching, doing?

 

bring to a boil

Worries go down better with soup.
~ Jewish proverb

Since the election, I’ve been attending our nearby UU church more regularly. (It’s helping.) The Girl also has been getting more involved with the teen youth group. For both of us, being among people who believe in the principles of acceptance, love, justice, equality, dignity and peace is providing some much needed sustenance during this tumultuous time.

On Sunday, The Girl and I helped out with a soup sale to raise money to support the youth group’s activities. That’s a picture of their efforts above: nearly a dozen slow cookers and stock pots simmering with Moroccan Chickpea Spinach soup, Potato Corn Chowder, a lentil soup and (our contribution) a gluten-free vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli.

The symbolism of many single ingredients commingled together to make this selection of delicious soups–ones based on ethnic flavors that are centuries old and that have been consumed by people throughout history and generations and under tyrants and dictators of their own–resonated with me on a weekend when the Celebrity President extinguished the lamp and slammed our country’s once-golden but now tarnished door on innocent people who had gone through the arduous legal process to come to America. Not to mention people living here legally and who happened to have the misfortune to be traveling home from visiting family or burying loved ones when they learned they were no longer welcome in the place they call home.

As I ate a nourishing bowl of vegetable soup and watched the teens serving the congregants steaming bowls of pasta, broth, chicken and beans, I thought of the analogy of the United States being a melting pot.  The teens are a composite of different life experiences and personal histories, of genders and of ethnic backgrounds. They themselves are a collective melting pot.

Barbara Mikulski, the former Senator from Maryland, once said that America isn’t a melting pot but a sizzling cauldron. She said those words in a speech about immigration in 1970. Almost half a century later, her words seem especially apt.

The funds the teens raised from their soup sale will support their participation in several activities–events for them to understand others’ stories and perspectives and to participate in social justice volunteer efforts to make our community stronger. Ingredients for a sizzling cauldron of a society at its boiling point and one where these kids are among our best hope and sustenance for the years ahead.

 

 

Review: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show A Classic (Encore Post)

In honor of the groundbreaking work of Mary Tyler Moore, who died today at age 80, here’s my book review of Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All The Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic. Originally written and posted on 3/4/2014.  

As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

There’s a good reason for that.  When this groundbreaking sitcom premiered in 1970, I was not quite 2 years old – not exactly the target audience. But I was a stubborn enough toddler (or so I’ve heard) that, had I understood what “MTM” was all about, I bet I could have made a pretty convincing case to my parents to let me watch it.

Instead, I saw it during its resurgence on Nick at Nite in 1992, when I – as someone with my first job out of college – could appreciate it much better. (Never mind that I usually watched Mary and Rhoda while my fiance watched sports with his best friend in the other room, but that’s besides the point. I was happy, he was happy, and we’ve been married ever since. We must be doing something right.)

It helps to have some knowledge of and appreciation of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” when reading Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, but this isn’t your usual television/celebrity retrospective. Sure, there’s a decent amount about the actors, which was interesting. But this is mostly about the women who wrote for the show and why having a team of female comedy writers was so groundbreaking in 1970.

In today’s anything-goes television environment, it’s almost quaint to remember just how revolutionary “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was. The idea of Mary being divorced and having a career was – to put it mildly – a hard sell to network executives. The CBS execs replied with, “American audiences won’t tolerate divorce in a series lead any more than they will tolerate Jews, people with mustaches, and people who live in New York.

Yeah. Those were the good old days, right?

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted explains how the writers and producers got around that (some reviews suggest that the book should be called “Jim and Treva and Allan and Susan,” for the writing and producing team that made the show happen). It also explains how having a female writing team significantly shaped the issues portrayed on the show – as well as the edgy ones on future shows produced by MTM Enterprises.

Ironically, my childhood dream was to grow up and be a screenwriter for “St. Elsewhere” – the critically-acclaimed medical drama that, like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” also saw its share of firsts and also was produced by Grant Tinker’s company MTM Enterprises, named for his then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore.

(In high school, I entertained the crazy idea of sending Mr. Tinker an unsolicited script. I talked about this a lot. Now, after reading the story about how superfan Joe Rainone would write detailed, weekly letters to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” cast analyzing each week’s show and how Marilyn Miller from Monroeville, PA (just outside of Pittsburgh) wrote a spec script for MTM and became a writer for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I kind of want to kick my own ass.)

Regardless of my lost dreams, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted was entertaining – and the audiobook proved to be a good choice as I lived vicariously through the characters on my way to and from my real life, slightly-less-exciting-than-a-scriptwriter-but-hey!-still-a-writer! job as I listened to this on my commute to work.  I enjoyed this for the inside stories and especially the focus and perspective on the writers. I was glad that they included what they – the writers and the actors – have done since “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” went off the air.

It was also so goddamn nostalgic, almost sad to a point. So many magnificent shows of television’s Golden Age of Comedy are referenced in this book as well as how the show that almost wasn’t going to be on the air wound up inspiring so many others.  The end of the book gives a nod to Mary Richards’ “cultural daughters” like Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon of “30 Rock” and “power ensembles” as found in “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “The Office.” Truly, Mary Richards’ influence and that of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is more far-reaching than anyone probably ever imagined.

Still, although we have indeed come a long way (baby) from the days when a writer couldn’t pen an episode about a New Yorker who was divorcing someone who was Jewish with a mustache, it makes one wonder if all the hard fought gains are truly appreciated by the talent we have today. Probably by some, yes. But I think the further we get away from television’s Golden Age, and the less communal our viewing experience becomes, the fuzzier those golden days will seem.

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic
by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong 
Simon and Schuster
2013 
298 pages
Narrated by Amy Landon 
11 hours, 22 minutes 

roar

That’s the cover of today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with a photo of thousands of people taking to the streets for the Women’s March on Pittsburgh. We actually had two marches yesterday in our fine city: the one above and the Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March.  (Virginia Alvino Young explains why Pittsburgh had two marches.)  Seeing the photos and posts from more than 600 marches across the globe–including Antarctica! — was so powerful and moving.

I didn’t attend either gathering because large crowds and me don’t always get along.  (Also, The Girl had Sibshop yesterday at the same time. It’s a support group for kids who have a brother or sister with a disability and we try not to miss these workshops.)

At first I felt a bit guilty about not going to the march, and while scrolling down my Facebook feed, I noticed several other friends voicing similar sentiments. It struck me how ironic this was; that on a day that was all about love, respect, power, value and dignity, we were so quick to diminish and invalidate ourselves. It’s so easy to feel like we’re not doing enough or participating in the right things.

But the reality of these times is that we will need all kinds of advocacy in all forms.  This resistance is only just beginning, and there are a lot of different ways to contribute and try to make a difference.  It’s impossible to do everything, but we can all do something.  My activism might take the form of a blog post protesting a woefully unqualified and dangerous nominee as secretary of education while yours might be to participate in a march. We all do what we can, in whatever ways we can.

And we will be called upon to do so, again and again and again. This revolution and resistance requires all of us and many individual actions that make a collective roar.

 

Hell, No, to Betsy DeVos (Said the Angry Mama Bear)


If one values sleep, it’s probably not a good idea to watch Senate confirmation hearings before going to bed. Certainly not ones like that which occurred Tuesday evening when Betsy DeVos, filthy obscenely rich nominee for secretary of education, told Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut (where Sandy Hook Elementary School happens to be located) that guns are a good idea in schools because, you know, bears.

It was laughable, the stuff of insta-memes, indistinguishable from The Onion fodder or an Andy Borowitz post. And part of me even wonders if there was some impetus from the power brokers-that-be, some nudge to say something kind of goofy that would prompt the Internet to lose its collective shit — all the better to distract from the real issues. Because that’s how this new regime operates.

Make no mistake: plenty more than bears are at stake here.

For me, the most egregious comment (and it is hard to choose just one) had to do with the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act, known as IDEA.  Clearly, Ms. DeVos didn’t have any idea what she was talking about when she told Senator Tim Kaine (a.k.a. The Man Who Should Be Vice President) that she would allow the states (or, in her high-falutin’ parlance, “locales”) to decide whether to implement the federal law mandating that children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Later, in an exchange with Senator Maggie Hassan, whose son has a disability, Ms. DeVos admitted she might have been “confused” about said law.

Confused, my ass. When it comes to this particular nominee, there’s no confusion. Through her prior actions and financial support of school choice, she represents a clear threat to the laws, standards, and policies that comprise public education in the United States of America. She puts us on a path to potentially dismantling the provisions that have guaranteed for four decades the same educational rights to every single child in this country.

Ever wonder what $200 million bucks can buy?  A hell of a trip back in time to when children with disabilities were forgotten and treated as less than by our government. We can’t afford to go back to those days. Our children deserve better than that. Now more than ever, they need us to be their advocates and their voice.

For weeks, my friends have been lighting up the phones–some every day–calling their elected representatives and others across the country. My Facebook feed has been full of daily actions, of phone numbers and sample scripts, of suggestions to put our representatives on speed dial.

And aside from banging out political social media and blog posts, I’ve stayed silent.  I’ve never, not once, called my elected officials despite being urged to do so. Mine were the usual bullshit reasons: I hate talking on the phone, my call won’t make a difference, blahdeblahdefuckingblah.

After watching Ms. DeVos’ utter ineptitude and lack of understanding, that changed.

By 7:15 a.m. this morning, I had left messages for my Senators, one of whom is Bob Casey, a member of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee faced with Ms. DeVos’ nomination. I didn’t have a script and I was less articulate than I would have liked. But you know what? I didn’t care.

I realized that by staying silent I am giving way too much power to the Betsy DeVos of the world. The people who think that their money and their privilege can buy them access and power and the ability to trample on the rights of those less fortunate. I know people like Betsy DeVos. I know Betsy DeVos doesn’t care about my child with autism or Maggie Hassan’s child with cerebral palsy or your child or any other child in this country who currently receives an education.  She doesn’t care about your daughter who was sexually assaulted on her college campus. She doesn’t care about making that college affordable. She doesn’t care about existing policies that help to protect kids from harassment and bullying and threats much more serious than one of Goldilocks’ three bears coming to life and walking into a classroom.

This angry mama bear is pissed as hell and speaking up for her cub and every other cub because it’s my responsibility as a parent and as a human being who cares about what’s right and what’s just to do so with every fiber of my being.  And while there are days when it is too much and too overwhelming and everything feels futile, that’s when I will try to speak up even louder.

Because the alternative is simply far too much to bear.

Two New Reviews: House of Silence, by Sarah Barthel and Nowhere Else I Want to Be, by Carol D. Marsh

Two new books to share with you, via my reviews in the 1/13/2017 issue of Shelf Awareness.

House of Silence by Sarah Barthel is “an engaging, fast-paced blend of historical fiction and suspense.” Before reading this, I didn’t know much about Mary Todd Lincoln’s stay at Bellevue Place, a sanitarium where her son Robert had her committed 10 years after President Lincoln’s assassination. This novel weaves Mary Todd Lincoln’s story with the fictional Isabelle Larkin, a socialite whose fiancé Gregory is a political hopeful and one of Chicago’s most eligible and attractive bachelors. When Isabelle catches Gregory committing a crime, she’s trapped … until being sent to Bellevue where she befriends — you guessed it, Mary Todd Lincoln. You can read more under the Fiction section in the Shelf Awareness issue.

Nowhere Else I Want to Be is Carol D. Marsh’s memoir of her 14 years as executive director of Miriam’s House, a community of women who are addicted to drugs and dying of AIDS. She lived on the premises with her husband Tim and together with their staff, provided the women with a home and cared for those forgotten by their families and society.  Along with the many heartbreaking stories of the women she came to know at Miriam’s House, Marsh shares her own story of growth in this role as she learned to confront her naiveté and false assumptions.

Although I didn’t work in a direct service capacity, a lot of this reminded me of my time working at a domestic violence shelter. More of my review in the Shelf Awareness issue, under the Social Science heading, as well as a review with Carol Marsh by my writing colleague Katie Noah Gibson, who blogs at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

 

 

Currently…Hibernation Sunday

Currently
It’s a day for staying indoors, given that it is all of 11 degrees outside as I write. Such is January in Pittsburgh. I skipped church because of the weather and a morning migraine that has, thankfully, subsided. We de-Christmased the house earlier, then I spent most of the day on the couch with a cup of rooibos tea with the Steelers-Miami game on as background (whooooo hoooo, Steelers!) while I caught up on some blog reading and perused Pinterest for some meal planning ideas. You know, the usual lazy Sunday.

The upcoming week will be busier than usual because I’m immersed in a big project at work. This will likely require a few later evenings, on top of several hours of work yesterday during a rare Saturday in the office to try and get ahead of the game.  I took today as a break from the work project which will wrap up this coming Friday the 13th … hopefully a luckier day than the date portends). The intensity is a short-term thing, but this has been in the works for a year, so it will be good to have some semblance of completion.

Reading …
I need to spend some time this evening with a new short story collection which I’m reviewing. (That deadline is Friday, too.) This one will be my first book of 2017, not to be confused with Sheila from Book Journey’s annual First Book of the Year project. I had all good intentions of participating in that but had to temporarily set aside my choice (The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes) to focus on the review book.

Watching…
I spent a good chunk of my two-week Christmas break binge-watching “This Is Us” and am completely hooked on this show. I don’t watch much TV to begin with and I certainly didn’t need a new obsession, but here it is.  I have two more episodes to watch, which I plan to do right after hitting publish on this. Perfect timing for the season premiere this Tuesday.

Blogging … 
I’m planning to participate in the Winter 2017 Mini-Bloggiesta, scheduled for Jan 14-15.  If you’re new to Bloggiesta, it is described as “a blogging marathon revolving around ticking off those items on your to-do list and improving your blog while in the good company of other awesome bloggers doing the same thing.”

The timing is great because I’ll have a four-day weekend, thanks to the MLK holiday and a vacation day that needs to be used this month. To-do’s for this Bloggiesta include updating my Book Review page (and revising some others) and writing some posts. If you missed it last week, I shared my selections for the Best Fiction books of 2016 (meaning, those I read in 2016, not necessarily ones published during the past year). Even though the window of time for 2016 wrap up posts has pretty much closed, I still want to finish my Best Nonfiction post. I read a lot of stellar nonfiction last year that I’d really like to share with all of you.

OK, I’m off to finish watching “This Is Us” with a case of Kleenex at the ready. Hope your Sunday is going well and that you have a great week.