truth

Spreading Love

May we all live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, and with ease. This is what I dream for, and this is why I resist. Happy birthday and thank you, Martin Luther King Jr!

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Stop This Tax Scam RIGHT NOW! Call, Email, and Tweet Your Senators!

unnamed.pngMany of you have been following the progress of this horrible tax bill. The vote is nearing, and we absolutely must put the pressure on Republican senators to not let this travesty pass. It’s not only a back-door ACA repeal but also a total scam, giving the uber rich a break while the working and middle class pay more. How long are we going to allow this corporatocracy to continue, at our expense no less??

Take five minutes right now, call 202-335-5529, and beg these Senators to VOTE NO on this tax bill! When your first call ends, press * to advance to the next call automatically.

I don’t agree with all of her views, but Senator Susan Collins has been a hero on the health care front so far. She has not confirmed her vote either way, but says she is hesitant because of the ACA repeal. Her vote is crucial, so CALL, EMAIL, TWEET HER RIGHT NOW! She knows what’s right, but her party is coming down hard on her. She needs our support. Thank her for supporting the ACA so far, and beg her to VOTE NO.

Senator Susan Collins
 – (207) 622-8414email contact form – Twitter: @SenatorCollins

Having trouble finding the energy to keep it up? From Senator Kamala Harris’s Twitter feed last night (Thurs, Nov 30): The Republicans had to delay votes on this tax bill until tomorrow. They’re rewriting it right now and we don’t even know what’s in it. This is no way to govern. We need you to keep up the pressure & keep up the calls.

Click here to tell your legislators, “Stop this devastating tax bill!”

Call 202-335-5529 and give your own explanation or use this sample script:

“Hello, my name is ____. This tax bill would repeal the ACA individual mandate and increase pressure to gut safety net programs like Ryan White in future budgets. I demand that you VOTE NO on this tax bill!”

It is on us to defend our country, and our work is paying off. Stay strong and pick up that phone RIGHT NOW! Resist!!

(Action alert courtesy of HIV Prevention Justice Alliance and AIDS Foundation of Chicago).

On Daughterhood

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As I drove the compact rental car from CVG to my hometown, I counted the ins and outs of my breath – a mostly useless effort to calm my anxiety. In just a few days, a surgeon I didn’t know would cut into my father’s chest, splay open his breastbone, attach a new valve to his heart, and then sew him back up. There was a small chance Dad wouldn’t wake up from it. I doubted my ability to fully support him, to give him what he needed from me, to stay patient enough to manage both his and my anxieties without exploding and yelling at him. I worried about seeing him knocked out on drugs and hooked up to tubes. I’d taken this trip by myself (because of logistical reasons, my husband and son weren’t able to come along), and I felt deeply alone. Legs shaking, heart racing, I sped down I-75 and lamented the reality of growing older, of how responsibilities seem to add up while carefreeness seems to vanish. And then, a momentous thought popped into my brain: Becky, be grateful. You GET to do this for your dad. You didn’t get to do this for your mom.

This thought not only dulled my anxiety but also allowed me to reframe the entire experience. Sure, Dad’s surgery was yet another difficult thing my family had to navigate, another obligation added to my already full plate, another anxious-making strain on my mind and body, but it was also an opportunity to demonstrate my love for him, to give back some of the support he gave me throughout the years, to show him how strong and capable I’ve become. I didn’t have this opportunity with my mother. I didn’t get to share in her old age and all the struggles that come along with that. You get to do this for him.

And really, shouldn’t we frame every experience like this? We get to do this life, all of it, the challenging parts, sad parts, light parts, confusing parts. It’s beautiful that we get to grow older. It’s beautiful that we get to take on responsibilities like being there for our parents as they age. It’s beautiful that we get to be alive.

These realizations enabled me to let go of the expectations I tend to bring to family visits and enter a place of peace and relaxation, a place that was absolutely necessary for achieving the Herculean task of keeping my cartoon character of a father from overtaxing his heart before surgery. And when I say cartoon character, I mean it; my dad is unique in the way unreal, animated people are unique. For example, the surgery was actually delayed by ten days because, even though he was blacking out from a lack of oxygen, he still continued his part-time yard work jobs in the hot Kentucky summer, decided to show a friend what a patch of poison ivy looks like, and ended up with the worst infection of his life. He went to a doctor who put him on steroids, and then the very next day, he climbed up a ladder to fix someone’s gutter and FELL OFF. So yeah, heart surgery was delayed.

This behavior isn’t unusual; my dad is absolutely the busiest person I’ve ever met. He also talks literally nonstop, even if the other person is vacuuming or on the phone or behind a closed door. While this level of vigor and chattiness can be fun and entertaining, it can also be draining. Add anxiety about open-heart surgery to the mix, and that shit got bonkers. We spent three days before the surgery together and by night one, I’d given up on telling him to sit down and let me take care of things and instead tried to preemptively guess what task he might set about completing and then beat him to it (this was fairly effective except for outliers like his scrubbing the inside of the oven at 9pm one night). I also definitely texted my friend on day three about how I was looking forward to his being on anesthesia. But still, we had fun. We haven’t had that much one-on-one time since at least a decade ago when I first started bringing Dave around, and while it was intense, it was truly wonderful. Reframing the visit through the perspective of just being grateful for the time I had with him, no matter what that time ended up being like, was a game-changer, and it actually brought a new sense of calmness that affected both of us. This perspective also created a necessary emotional distance for me; I didn’t take things as personally this visit, I didn’t get as bothered or upset as in the past. And it was absolutely fascinating to observe my dad from this space as opposed to the more sensitive spaces of before. Really, he and I are so similar. Through watching and listening to him without feeling so affected by everything, I gained such an interesting insight into myself and also into my son – we are all such Firesheets! Genetics is a strange and magical thing.

heart.pngAnyway, my brother came down for the surgery, and after nine hours of lying around the hospital in a weird, glazed-eyed, time/space warp, we got the news that everything had gone as smoothly as it possibly could have. That night, my brother and I ate pizza and drank beer and told stories, also the first time we’d been one-on-one in at least a decade, and I was reminded of all the lovely little things about him that I’ve adored since our childhood. The very next day, Dad was up and walking down the halls, to be released only four days later – his strength and motivation have been utterly impressive. I left Kentucky feeling proud of the three of us as a unit, happy to have come together like that, to have tackled this huge thing while also still genuinely enjoying each other. I also left with a lot of pride in myself; I think I’ve finally figured out how to be my dad’s daughter.

“We Can Find the Way” – New Song from The BPRS!

I’m so pissed that our Representatives voted to screw us all over, to take away our access to affordable maternity care, mental health services, prescription drugs and oh so much more, all so that they and their rich friends can get a tax break. These are the people who turned their backs on us – make sure you remember their names in 2018.

Yes, I understand that the AHCA bill has many steps and changes to go through before it takes effect, I get that the Senate is “going to fix it,” but none of this changes the fact that these assholes let it pass through the House. The greed and selfishness is SO SICKENING.

But more and more of us are paying attention now. More and more of us are fed up. And more and more of us are taking action. I actually wrote the words to this new BPRS song during the Obama years and sadly, the angry parts about our capitalist society run amuck are even truer than ever. But you know what? So are the hopeful parts. We’ve got this, ya’ll. Don’t let your anger/sadness/fear negatively affect your day-to-day. Smile at people. Hold doors for them. Tell your friends and family you love them. Remind yourself of all the things you’re grateful for. Spreading love and building community are two powerful ways to resist. Stay strong.

Check out The Brooklyn Players Reading Society’s Bandcamp page to hear more of our music.

solidarity“International Women’s Day, Solidarity” by Giulia Forsythe / Creative Commons

Brain-Picking Guest Spot: You Can’t Handle the Truth by M.M. De Voe

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You Can’t Handle the Truth
 M.M. De Voe

So I’m curious what will emerge in one hour of barely-edited thought process. Becky offered a guest-spot here, and I was intrigued. She told me that the blog idea came from her opinion that there isn’t enough truth in the world.

I agree.

Everyone seems to be lying, from memoirists (eye-roll, James Frey – but WTF? Go Ask Alice was also fake?? Horrible!) to politicians (insert any name). And from fake news (love the new huge disclaimer on the Borowitz Report) to real news (“It’s not fake! It’s just biased!”) –so where to do we turn when we really want the truth?

Or do we really want the truth at all?

I remember being a kid and telling my mother exactly what I thought she wanted to hear. I got very good at this. I didn’t lie, exactly, but I definitely omitted all the details that would upset her and focused only on those that would lead to a more peaceful existence for both of us. It was a decision born of a lot of strife – at first I naturally told her the exact truth with no filters – but it would lead to her telling me what to do, and then we would argue, and usually someone would cry. The next time a similar event rolled around, I would tell her a more modified truth, until finally the omissions outnumbered the facts. But here’s what’s remarkable: at this point, our relationship smoothed out entirely. She was able to accept me as the person I was presenting to her. I was able to live my life without feeling constantly criticized by the one person whose opinion (ridiculously) still mattered to me more than any other. I didn’t want to disappoint her. And she really didn’t want the truth – we both wanted reality to match our expectations of what reality should be: a decent mother/daughter relationship without too much arguing.

My mom’s name is Veronika – here’s a photo of her and me. Okay not really. But St. Veronica is a lot like how she always seemed to me.

A mother myself, I hope my kids find a more open mind in me than I did in my parents (though to be fair, I’m sure those opinions bent from whatever their initial standpoints were!) —but I am not sure anyone is ever cured of the desire to own a reality that matches their hopes and dreams. It is crushing to hear that someone you once idolized has done terrible things (thanks Bill Cosby).

But is it better not to know?

I don’t know. We want the pretty picture. We really do. We crave it. It hurts us to watch all our heroes get dragged through mud, either because someone else exposed them or because they themselves simply became too much of a mess to contain their own flaws.

The truth is that all humans are flawed. We mess up. We make ridiculous, horrible decisions. We have skeletons in our closets. We sometimes LIKE the skeletons we have in our closets. But all of us ultimately want to be good people, don’t we? No matter our flaws, we try to balance things out. We try to atone for our weakness in one area by being strong in another. Isn’t this what humans do instinctively? We discover that the nasty cashier has forgotten to charge us for the milk and instead of telling her, we give a dollar to the next homeless guy we see? We are constantly readjusting our karma.

skeletonBut this post is supposed to be about telling the truth, not behaving in an honest way. (This hour-long limit is madness! You try it!) We want the truth while at the same time, we want the world to be a better place than it is.

So how can we get there without lying all the time?

Curated news feeds are not the answer. Deleting every Facebook friend or Tweep who ever disagreed with you politically isn’t a better answer than sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting La La La. We have to be better than that. But also: they have to behave like adults.

We have lost the skill of argument without attack. At a recent party, many of my friends were in a discussion about compromise and how instead of celebrating a hard-fought compromise, everyone from parents to politicians to corporate watchdogs denigrate the very idea of it. For some reason, instead of evolving as thoughtful adults, we are spiraling back into dichotomous thinkers, where there is no cooperation, there is only a winner and a loser, and heaven help you if you are perceived to be the loser.

We need to reestablish the value of negotiation, to raise the value of compromise.

How? Is there a solution? I don’t know. I just read all seven of the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories to my kids and I was struck again and again by how stoic the parents are in those books. Nothing causes drama. Not when their daughter goes blind. Not when they lose the farm to locusts. Never. They face things practically and they don’t get hyper about it. They marry as early as in their teens, they move without transition into adulthood and responsibility, and then they deal with nature for the rest of their lives. They never indulge, but they also do not judge others. They live simply and are content with what they have. They celebrate success as humbly as they accept failure. I am smitten by this unflappable adulthood. Faced with images of one red-faced talking head after another, one screeching angry parent after another, I ache for a real adult. Someone who is a rock, that waves can crash upon and who will still be standing there. A Margaret Thatcher. Someone solid.

Is it our constant American ambitious dream to “have more” that fosters the dissatisfaction that leads to the constant lying? I am reading Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down and in it, he says that the downfall of our generation (and this was written decades ago and about Great Britain not America) is that it is no longer enough to make something or do something—we have to also BE someone. How do you “be someone” without gently reinventing yourself, the way I used to do for my mother? For generations, all of our celebrities were inventions. None of them was real. Natalie Wood? Marilyn Monroe? Elvis? Our graveyards are littered with people who tried to be perfect for the sake of society.

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The grave of the King – Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.

Didn’t work.

Humans are flawed. But humans also need heroes. A panicky thought: we as a culture have begun to celebrate flaws and horrifying actions and villainy, because there is no other way to find authentic heroes–? Is this possible?

Not only possible, but likely.

The truth is, we are all flawed and unless we celebrate the honest overcoming of those flaws, we will be duped into thinking that simply admitting those flaws is enough. I don’t think it is. Let’s look at children again. I want my children to trust me enough to tell me if they mess up, but I also then want them to be strong enough to try again, not just to wallow in their mess. I am there to support them in their attempts, and there for them when they fail. I would like our politicians to be equally honest: not to laugh off or celebrate their own wrongs, but to quietly face them and to actually try to be better next time. Carrie Fisher whose recent death hit so hard was a real hero: she never said overcoming her weaknesses was easy, but she did it anyway. And once done, she lived honestly both in and out of the spotlight.

At least as far as we know.

~

mmdevoeAbout the Author: M. M. De Voe’s short fiction has won or been shortlisted for more than 20 literary prizes including three Pushcart nominations and she has won multiple grants including the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, Fund for Creative Communities, Columbia Writing Fellowship, and an Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant for Historical Fiction with Gay Positive Characters. Founder and Executive Director of Pen Parentis, she holds a Columbia University MFA, and is the Lithuanian voice of OnStar.

~

Click here to learn more about this column and to read previous entries.

Good Grief, It’s Christmastime

xmaslightsI’ve come down with a common heart cold. Tis the season, I suppose. It’s hard when there’s so much holiday cheer everywhere; I want to be taken in by the bright lights and rosy cheeks and joy joy joy, and every now and then I can feel the magic of Christmas and it’s good, but mostly, this time of year depresses and stresses me. This was true before my mom died and is especially true now. Though honestly, it has gotten easier. This is Christmas #3 without her, and also Christmas Eve #3 without her, which just so happens to be her birthday. What a serious double-whammy, right? (Side note, she double-whammied me in a few ways: birthday/Christmas in the same two days, Mother’s Day/my wedding anniversary in the same few days, and back-to-school with new students/anniversary of her death in the same week. I swear that wherever she is, she laughs hard every December, May and September. Gotta love her dark sense of humor.)

Of course I’ve been sad today; tomorrow morning, my dudes, dogs and I embark on our holiday road trip to visit my family in Kentucky, and the packing and prepping have been endless reminders that she will not be there when we arrive. I’ve cried a lot. Not just a few tears but that horrible, throat-clenching, suffocating wail/moan that only grief can bring about. I described that feeling in the first piece I was able to pen (type?) after her death, and I have to say, while it doesn’t come nearly as often anymore nor last as long when it does come, it still sucks. But you know what? It doesn’t actually suffocate me. It feels like it will, it feels entirely possible to die from how hard it grips my throat and heart and guts and just all of me, but then it releases and I’m left with a lingering ache in my thyroid and a big, stinky Boxer dog licking snot and drool off my face. And I’m okay.

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So grief doesn’t kill us. That’s nice. And, as I said, it really does get easier. The most cliché phrase ever is also the truest: things do get better with time. Today I looked at a photo of Mom and Granny and me, and I felt happy inside. I also sang her favorite song to Lewis and we smiled together when I finished (I couldn’t even listen to that song for a year after she died, much less sing it to my son). I also told him about how we’ll bake her favorite cookie recipes on her birthday, how we’re bringing back stockings this year because she and I always loved them more than anyone else (still can’t believe my family just dropped that tradition after her death. Are you kidding me? Stockings are better than real presents!). And, instead of giving into my exhaustion and lying around my apartment in a grief bubble all day, I bundled us up and walked across the park for a date with two lovely writermama friends and their wonderful, crazy toddlers, and even though I spent most of the afternoon lying around my friend’s apartment in a grief bubble, I felt so grateful to have such wonderful people in my life who not only accepted the state I was in but offered me love and support to get through it. Plus, the babies! So in the end, the majority of this day was truly enjoyable, and that’s a HUGE improvement over days of Decembers past.

xmascarolsBut can I please complain about carols for a minute? I’m not a Grinch, I swear. I love Christmas lights, especially the big-bulbed retro kind, and trees and ornaments and I even like gift shopping, but what the hell is up with Christmas songs? They’re just awful. The music is terrible, so boring and repetitive, and the words beyond cheesy. Plus there are only like, five of them, and these same five songs are redone over and over in equally terrible ways, and when I walk into a Duane Reade to get some baby Advil because Lew’s cold just won’t go away and Holly Jolly Rudolph is blasting on the speakers, I want to vomit, scream, and break things. And do not tell me that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is at least one of the better songs because that shit is rapey. The only thing that makes Christmas carols okay is David Bowie.

Thank you for reading if you’ve made it this far. It does feel good to get that out of my system. And while I do harbor a completely reasonable amount of anger directed toward Christmas songs, sometimes I just need to rant about something trite instead of the fact that Mom always wanted grandkids and died when her first one was only a few months old, her second one (my baby) was conceived just ten months later, and her third one shortly after. I’m excited to see my son with his cousins – that kind of bond is so special – but it’s just fucking heartbreaking that Mom will never get to see it, to hear it, to hold them in her arms.

But I must stay present and fully experience this visit, to keep myself from falling into that dark hole of my past and also because she is not here to enjoy this time and how dare I waste the beautiful gift of life on crying about death? Yes, little Lew will learn that his mama feels sad this time of year, but he will also learn the value of grief, the power of mindfulness, and the joy of family, including his Grandma Sandy.

For more info on this column, please read Brain-Picking Becky: Intro.

Brain-Picking Becky: Intro

usflag.jpegThe weeks since the election have been hard for me. I’ve thought about so many things but have struggled with writing them out. I know and love people who believe our country needs Trump, and I want to understand their position. I want to feel good about the future of America. But right now, I’m feeling scared and sad. I’m hurting over the fact that we elected a president who has no political experience and openly encourages sexism, racism, xenophobia and homophobia. I get that Clinton was an imperfect candidate and that the working class has been ignored and underserved. God, do I get that; I grew up in Mt. Washington, KY, with a hardworking, underpaid mailman as my father, and a loving, mentally ill mother who had to declare bankruptcy because of her medical bills. The bank took our house when I was sixteen years old, and the only reason I went to college was because I got a full scholarship. So yeah, I agree that this country needs a change, that it needs a president who will stand up to Wall Street, who will fight to support working and middle class people. But I just don’t see how Trump, a millionaire businessman, is that person. And even if he is that person, I can’t swallow the level of oppression he supports.

My mind has been running wild, and I’ve made a serious effort to limit my news intake, to read only reliable sources (like The Guardian), and to read articles written by people of many viewpoints, not just my own. Throughout all of it, I keep coming back to four basic ideas that our country, our world, needs more of: love, kindness, honesty, and art (in my particular case, stories and music). I wrote about the first two concepts in an open letter to my son in MUTHA Magazine, and now here I am embracing the other two.

I’ve prided myself on being honest in my writings. But the honesty I’ve shown you, dear readers, is a polished and slaved-over honesty. Being a writer with OCD is a strange experience, a magical curse of sorts. I heavily debate individual words, replacing them over and over as I reread a hundred times. Commas and semi-colons, too. Sentences get moved around, put back in their original place, moved around again. This is normal writer’s work to an extent, but my brain takes it overboard. Detail-oriented doesn’t begin to describe it; I forget to eat, I neglect my friends, my brain often gets stuck in weird, repetitive thought loops that I struggle to turn off, and I lose a lot of sleep. But, I have a healthy list of publications in magazines that I’m thrilled to be a part of, and these publications have allowed me to connect and converse with people I would otherwise never have met. And this connection is what it’s all about. However, it’s time for me to be more honest with you, for my own personal sake and for community’s sake. This level of editing not only drives me crazy (I should certainly dedicate more time to meditating and petting my dogs, not to mention the fact that I’m a mom of a toddler), but it also puts up an unnecessary wall between you and me. So allow me to introduce you to my new series, Brain-Picking Becky.

The main idea behind Brain-Picking Becky is that each entry will keep honesty at the forefront. I will not slave over editing and polishing them but will put them out into the world even if I don’t feel ready. They may be diary-esque and personal, or perhaps cerebral and wandering. They might be connected to current events or totally in the clouds. Each one will revolve around a topic I believe we as Americans need to be talking about, and each will bare my truth.

This scares me. But it also excites me. I want to reach out to you. I want to understand you. Please comment, send me emails, find me on Facebook and Twitter (a name like mine is hard to miss). Tell me if you disagree with me or think I’m wrong, and tell me why. This country needs people who can honestly talk and honestly listen, and I want to be one of those people.