United States

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Babies

Sunrise, it’s beautiful until you face the news.

The truth is I started this post yesterday–and by started I mean I typed in the title, uploaded the most recent photos, and then was crushed by the weight of it all. When creating a new file and starting a new…novel, maybe? is easier than writing a blog post, yeah, it’s heavy.

Often the anticipation of a thing, something bad you know is coming, or even the unknown of waiting for medical test results, is worse than when that thing happens. I knew, and if you weren’t in denial you knew, this swift, systematic dismantling of America and American rights was going to happen as soon as 45 was elected. The worst is now happening, and it isn’t any better than waiting/not knowing. Is it worse? Yes, because as quickly as all this is happening, it feels like well more than half the country is still in denial–and not just the racist, homophobic, misogynist supporters on the Right, but too many on the Left with their “Mueller will fix everything, it won’t get that bad,” and my current favorite, “Senators Collins and Murkowski will do the right thing.” If they were going to do the right thing they would have disavowed the rest of the GOP two years ago. Unless something immediate, drastic, and miraculous occurs, Kavanaugh (45’s latest pick for the Supreme Court) will be confirmed, and Roe v Wade is going to be overturned.

Whether or not we can change this (and yes, we should continue doing everything in our power to try), every woman and every man who so much as nods to the idea of women’s rights and equality needs to acknowledge what this means, just how far back this clock is spinning. Because guess what? It isn’t about abortion. There have always been abortions, but not safe, legal, and affordable ones. It sure as shit isn’t about the sanctity of life. It’s about punishing the poor and people of color–because those who are wealthy and white will always be able to hop on a plane to somewhere it’s safe and legal when they need to. It’s about putting women in their place, taking away our freedom, our agency, our power, our right to life. It’s about punishing females for having a uterus, girls for developing breasts, women for believing we too should have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s about being told by men and wealthy corporations what we can or cannot do with our bodies, specifically our secondary sexual characteristics, to be used and abused only as these men and corporations deem appropriate and advantageous to them.

I know the popular stories from those on the right like to focus on the millions of imaginary evil wimminz who tempt men with their short skirts and girly bits, have unprotected sex while “taking” promotions in the workplace, and then skipping to their nearest Planned Parenthood for D&Cs. If you listen to these stories, these women choose to have abortions more regularly than most have menstrual cycles–yanno, when they’re bleeding from their wherever. There won’t be medical necessity exceptions, that’s been made very clear by those bullshit, alarmist campaigns against late term abortions–which are just about always performed because of medical necessity.

If and when this happens, I’m certain we can also look forward to the good old days where birth control was banned and illegal (since health care will be unaffordable, by that time birth control will also be a privilege for the wealthy). We’ll go back to the days of rape is impossible within a marriage–because there are plenty who still believe this–rape in general will be decriminalized and always the woman’s (girls, men, boys) fault. Hey, maybe they can start criminalizing and prosecuting women who have miscarriages. Don’t worry, there will be a natural limit to the cost of this, since a number of these women will die without the ability to have doctors perform D&Cs.

I thought I would go on and on with this post, detailing the history of abortion, birth control, and women’s rights, with a ton of links and photos, but no. I’m too tired, and I just can’t. Because those who are screaming that this is about criminalizing women’s sexuality are wrong. It’s about criminalizing women.

 

Between the Lines

Left side of Venus Kissed by Cupid, Michele Di Jacopo Tosini, 1555 Florence, after design by Michelangelo

To get through the hellscape that is life in America now, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and I know I’m not alone in this. Nonfiction can let us feel like everything isn’t completely out of control, there are extraordinary people out there to learn about, there’s historic/political precedent (even if not in this country), and fiction has always been and will always be the great escape. Let’s focus on fiction.

What constitutes escape is different for different people, and I’ve been fascinated reading comments on the web on what people are or are not able to swallow in these strange days. Some want the total escape of romance, and/or don’t want anything remotely dark, heavy, or political in front of them. That isn’t me, but it never was, so *shrug*.

I like dark, I like heavy, I like characters who feel realer than real and a message that makes me think–whether that message is about the human condition, climate change, or socioeconomics. It doesn’t have to be straight literary fiction; magical realism is my favorite to read as well as write. Yes, I honestly love Salman Rushdie’s work. It doesn’t always have to be heavy, I’ve long talked about my addiction to Stephen King, think Neil Gaiman is fabulous, last year I enjoyed The Magicians series (a bit too young adult for my taste, though it was marketed as adult fantasy) and yes, way back when I thought the Da Vinci Code was a fun read. I didn’t notice a difference in what I’ve been choosing and enjoying over the past year and a half, still a fairly broad mix in my Nook–other than not being able to plow through the nonfiction political books cover to cover. Small doses.

The other day I saw a tweet from someone saying they couldn’t handle dystopian fiction right now, too close to home. I don’t get it. For me, good dystopians (or near-future, or post-apocalyptic) are exactly what I want to read. Not the Hunger Games type where that special chosen sixteen-year-old saves everyone, but more along the lines of Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart, or American War, by Omar El Akkad. People living through the muck.

I just finished The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. It was my book club’s pick for the month, not my first choice but I wasn’t opposed, should be a reasonably fun read and I’m usually willing to read anything. I’m not a James Patterson fan, but I read a few of his (back when he wrote his own novels) and the novelty of him teaming up with Bill Clinton was a curiosity worth satisfying. Or not. If it weren’t for the book club obligation, I would have stopped reading. Not because it was poorly written or too slow–though come on, why oh why didn’t an editor knock off the first 50 pages–after that it picked up and kept moving. Not because the President had more than a bit of Gary Stu to him–handsome, brilliant, combat-tested veteran/POW; chose a female VP, Chief of Staff, and FBI director, devoted father, grieving widow, opposed to treason and true humanitarian. But because it was so fucking upsetting to read a contemporary political thriller where the main character is a POTUS who cared about this country and the people in it.  A POTUS who knew Russia isn’t this country’s friend or ally.

Last month the book club choice was Salvage the Bones, by Jessmyn Ward. I loved it, highly recommend, and know I would have loved it five years ago, too. I’m both insanely jealous of her magic with words and grateful for the beauty she’s able to produce from the ugliest of scenarios. But I’m realizing the novels that catch my eye and hold my interest are a little different than what they might have included a few years ago. Those light, fast-paced political thrillers? Right now, for me, more stomach churning than page turning. Anyone else finding their fiction choices are different these days?

 

 

New (ab)Normal

I probably shouldn’t blog when I’m pissed. I definitely shouldn’t blog with a large alcoholic drink at my side. I’m about to do both. Sorry, but I couldn’t edit my thoughts enough to limit to tweets. I am appalled and disgusted by how many people don’t want to understand just how deep a pile of shit this country is in right now, how deep it’s been since November 8, 2016. No, I’m not talking about 45 supporters, I’m talking democrats, those who consider themselves part of the resistance. Yes, they’re upset. Yes, they’re marching, they’re calling their representatives, they’re gasping at the thought of a hardline rightwing (and likely unqualified, given the other picks from this administration) Republican taking Justice Kennedy’s spot on the Supreme Court…and then they’re saying, well, midterm elections are only four months away. Well, at least we’re in a blue state.

Well, wake up, buttercup, all bets are off. Everyone knows by now this administration chose to separate and cage babies taken from their parents, who came to our borders because they were desperate, seeking refugee status in a nation that was, until recently, a reasonable shot at a reasonably safe life. Now we’re hearing about children as young as 3 years old in immigration court without their parents. 3. In court. Because if they deserve to live here, they’ll pull themselves up by their diaper tabs and orate like Atticus Finch? Stop for a second and think about how completely insane and evil that is. Now tell me how certain you are that living in a blue state, in a country that isn’t red, but black and blue, will keep you safe. If this government can decide to deny due process to refugees, they can decide to deny it to you.

Years ago I entered the world of being a medical needs parent. Not when kiddo was born, but a few years later. That’s when I learned, really learned, the idea of a new normal. Because at first, it’s natural, understandable, and probably healthy, to wait for and expect things to go back to normal. Surprise! That day doesn’t come. And you learn about the concept of new normal. And you think you will adjust. And then another medication fails, and another diagnosis is added, and then another diagnosis is questioned, expectations are adjusted, lather, rinse, repeat, ad infinitum. And then you reach a point where you understand new normal means constantly shifting. Along the way, you understand a lot of the old normal still applies. You still have to do laundry, make dinner, grocery shop, clean the toilet. Now you add more time in the pharmacy than you dreamed possible. Making sure all electronics are charged and ready to go at a moment’s notice becomes second nature. When things are bad, you make sure there are frozen dinners in the fridge in case of emergency, make sure there are always enough clean clothes in case that potential trip to the hospital has to happen right. now. You learn to be patient. You learn to wait-and-see without turning away. You learn how to argue, plead your case, and spend eleventy billion hours on the phone fighting with the health insurance company. Politely. And you learn polite doesn’t mean saying thank you and accepting when needed coverage is denied. You still get to laugh, enjoy good moments as they come along, treasure the people and friendships you make in this new abnormal world, and appreciate those friends from your old world who understand they cannot understand your new normal-abnormal, and hang in there anyway despite canceled plans because of illness, side effects, hospitalizations.

You know what you don’t get to do? Pretend that all this new abnormal is all going to disappear. Not only disappear, but leave no permanent scars on all involved. You don’t get to pretend that a momentary meltdown equals problem solved, or now you can ignore all the unpleasantness for the next month, or week. You don’t get to pretend, regardless of what gets worse or what gets better, that all involved aren’t irrevocably changed, shaped by these experiences, permanently on guard. You don’t get to pretend because this time it isn’t your kid hooked up to a gazillion tubes that the other kid who is there is purely theoretical. That is someone’s child. Maybe someone you know and care about, maybe not, but you know how easily that could be your child. As easily as the little one in a cage, in a strange country, climbing on a table in front of a judge when they’re too young to understand what a judge is, that child could be your child, whether you want to admit it or not.

America is sick. This is a chronic illness, that may or may not be fatal. We don’t get to pretend this illness isn’t insidious and progressive. Not even if neither you or none of those you care about have pre-existing conditions, or brown skin, or faith that isn’t Christian, or a uterus. None of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re appalled or offended. This is where we are, and we can’t possibly slow this descent into rotten banana republic if we’re still pretending the banana is just a little soft.

Squint and Look Sideways

Conch, eyes up and hoovering crap at the bottom of the tank.

Despite approaching each day’s news with a squinty side eye, I feel more like my conch, eyeballs overextended and exposed. Wishing I was more like him, and could go ahead and bury myself under the sand for weeks at a time. Did you think I was abandoning political discussion? Nope. I’m not sorry, either, and don’t understand how anyone can choose to ignore the news these days. I know some are doing so out of necessity, self-preservation bc of mental health needs. Part of me hopes they will be ready to take up the bullhorns when those who have been screaming for two years bottom out. The WH and Congress have been taken over by monsters, but for me, the biggest horror of this never-ending shitshow is the people who support them, and worse, those who just pretend it has nothing to do with them. Yes, I’ve said all this before, but it only gets worse as our elected monsters become more emboldened, and enact more and more inhumane policies. You know where I’m going with this.

Children. Children stolen from their parents and put in the equivalent of dog kennels in kill-shelters. Does that sound inflammatory? Good. We’re told those temporary shelters only hold the children for 72 hours, then they are transported to luxurious surroundings like this closed Walmart.  We’re told this is a necessary as a deterrent. These days we’re told a lot of things, most of which amounts to the static of doublespeak. This is what the United States has become. This is an embarrassment, this is certainly immoral, this should be criminal.  Parents undertake dangerous crossings and show up at the American borders with their children because they’re desperate. Teenagers leave their homes to try and gain entry because they’re hungry. These are refugees seeking asylum, and our country isn’t just denying them entry, our government is making the calculated decision to ruin thousands of lives by taking the most inhumane action and inflicting the most calculated, permanent damage possible. Yes, permanent damage. These children will not walk away unscathed. The psychological damage being inflicted is permanent, and I’m certain there is physical damage as well; I’m skeptical those patrolling these centers are coaxing the traumatized to eat, making sure any necessary medications are being administered on time, if at all, noticing a child who is ill before they are seriously ill, or one who is injured who is too afraid of what will be done to them if they complain.

America has a long, complicated, and contradictory history. “All men are created equal” is a battle cry sung while we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, yet disparage those all-too-few black citizens who have the wealth and platform (yet still not the security) to take a knee. We say women are equal, girls can do anything, yet cannot pass the ERA. We teach our children Rosa Parks was important because she was tired and wanted to sit. We watch Pocohontas while we build a pipeline on American Indian land. We tsk tsk about how wrong we were to build and implement Japanese internment camps during WWII, yet still allow openly racist, anti-Asian American candidates to run for office. We confuse the cross and the flag, while we reject the basic principles of Judeo-Christian ethics. We brag about freedom of religion while we make faces at a woman in a hijab. A woman in a hijab complains about the black woman next to her. A Haitian-American immigrant disparages the teenaged girl walking down the street carrying a Pride flag. We take to the streets to protest this turn towards isolationism and fascism, yet insist on Democratic candidates passing impossible purity tests. We pride ourselves on being a nation of immigrants as we make it as difficult as possible for the “wrong” immigrants, over and over again.

If you are reading this, or my Twitter feed, or used to be a friend and are now thinking, “wow, that Mrs Fringe is a feminazi libtard, a snowflake,” all I can say is this–yes, yes I am. And I’m fine with it, because the alternative is being someone who reduces desperate, hungry, vulnerable children to chattel. I am a parent, and the pain of trying to imagine being in the position of a desperate mother at our border having her child taken as that child screams in terror and confusion is unimaginable. I’m an adult with adult/almost adult children, who remembers and understands the long term effects of having been a child in a tenuous and terrifying non-home. So yes, I have to squint sideways as I watch these news segments, read the news articles and scroll through the Twitter feed. I can spend more than half my days reminding myself to breathe and keep my howling silent. What I cannot do, what I will not do, is look away. I will remember I am a human being, as are these “illegal” children.

People are Stupid. Love, Mom

Rodin at The Met

Every home, every family unit, has their own rules–what’s out of bounds to say or do, particularly when there are children in that unit.  For us, the absolute no-go was stupid. We never used the word to or about our kids, nope, not even kidding around, and there was a no-tolerance policy regarding them using the word about themselves, each other, or anyone else.

You won’t be surprised to learn that in our home, cursing (English, Spanish, or sorry to say, Spanglish) was not automatically against the rules. Yes, we wanted them to understand some words (ie, curse words) were offensive to some people, and wholly inappropriate in some settings, but we never pretended shock or offense on our own behalf.  Everyone’s got their own things, right? We were also ok with movies or video games that had some cursing/sexy scenes (no, I’m not talking about when they were toddlers here), but graphic violence was out. I don’t know if he remembers, but at the age of six my oldest, already reasonably well versed in museums and the nude art to be found on display, was traumatized when he was at a friend’s house and they had a sculpture from this biblical scene:

Judith with the Head of Holofernes, ca. 1530, Cranach

So, we tried to teach the kids that words are powerful and important, to be explored yet respected, but violence and harm to others was never, ever ok. For whatever reason, the idea that certain words were not to be used in certain settings, or in front of certain people, was more easily learned for the English curses than the Spanish ones. I may have told the following story before, if so and you’ve read it, sorry, I’ve been running Mrs Fringe a long time.

When Art Child was five, we experienced her first hospitalization, and after approximately 8,000,000 days in the PICU, she was doing much better and the team was deciding whether she could be discharged or sent to a step-down room. Her main nurse argued with the resident on the unit not to remove her IV yet in case bloodwork was needed for the decision (if you’re unfamiliar with this stuff, if the IV is in place they don’t have to do another “stick”, they can draw blood right from it), the resident insisted she remove the IV. Needless to say after it was removed the team said one last blood draw was required. I was pissed, the nurse was pissed. The resident said she’d do the draw herself so we didn’t have to wait for the phlebotomy team, and the girl was furious. She was a passionate kiddo to begin with, very verbal, and so she cursed the resident. Resident chuckled, “it’s ok, you can call me a dodo head, I’ve been called worse.” Nice, right? She was trying to atone, but clearly confused by the fact that the (Latina) nurse and I weren’t chuckling, we were downright cracking up. Because the girl hadn’t called her a dodo head, she called her a toto head (see the earlier apology for my home’s Spanish/English mixing). Toto is Spanish slang for–so as not to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities–girly bits.

She didn’t, however, call her stupid.

But, well, here we are, living in a time where misogyny, racial slurs and racist ideas/ideals are not only considered acceptable by the White House, but these ignorant slurs and ideas are being used to create racist policies. So no, the fact that our so-called President used the term shithole neither surprises nor offends me; but that it was used in reference to large swaths of the world, millions and millions of people because they have brown or black skin, offends me greatly. He knows what he meant, his supporters know what he meant. That shit isn’t a dog whistle it’s a shrieking tornado alarm, heard across the world.  This isn’t cursing, this is verbal violence.

His millions of supporters? And if you’re one who hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon to use slurs yourself, but are remaining silent, shrugging it off, you’re one of them–are stupid. Not merely stupid for spouting, believing, and/or accepting ignorant nonsense, but stupid because odds are you’re next. He didn’t say, “why can’t we have more immigrants from China, from Argentina, from Italy, from Israel, Japan, from Ireland, from Poland?” No. He said, “why can’t we have more immigrants from Norway?”  I haven’t met too many people from Norway and I’ve never been. The few I have met were only here temporarily for work or on vacation. I’m sure they’re a lovely people across the board, god knows I’d love their health care and if I had their social safety net I wouldn’t want to emigrate anywhere else, either. Norway. Whiter than white. Think about that, and think about who and how many ethnic groups are not part of that Aryan wet dream. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, if you’re American, odds are you/your ancestors are not all part of that purity test. I’ve been saying this for over two years now; it will not stop on it’s own. Ignorance feeds ignorance, and hatred feeds hatred. Once you say it’s ok to slander, take away rights, human dignity, to hate one group, it’s going to be ok to strip rights from the next group, and the next. And if you’re a woman, well, it doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is, if this continues unchecked and the GOP doesn’t find an actual ethics compass we’re fucked regardless.

For most of us, those of us born without millions of dollars at our disposal and/or the protection of aristocracy (real or implied) life is hard, and we face hardships that cannot be avoided. Some find their homes and communities lost to hurricanes or earthquakes, their life savings and opportunities stolen by corrupt officials, their loved ones and countries torn apart by wars, the victims of hundreds of years of systemic oppression; or some find themselves the victims of smaller, personal yet still devastating effects of catastrophic illness for themselves, or their children fighting incurable diseases, or an industry gone belly up so they can’t find a job that allows them to support themselves or their families, or the victims of random, violent crimes. These are the suck of life, things that are generally out of our control, yet we have the responsibilities inherent in figuring out how to make it through, or how to make it easier for our loved ones to make it through. But this? The position America is in now? This was in our control, and to some degree, it still is. This was a choice. A choice to make it harder, dangerous, impossible for millions and millions of human beings, a choice that purposefully ignored and distorted this concept of “other.”

So yeah, people aren’t just hateful, or racist, or toto heads. People are stupid.

Pilot Light and Irritation

Should have cleaned the stove this morning, oops.

If you’re young and/or never had a gas stove–or a professional gas range– let me explain. Before electronic ignition, in order to use the burners (or the oven) you had to start the flame yourself. (There were stoves in between that had pilot lights to avoid having to do this, but every so often the pilot light went out and you had to do it anyway. “Do I smell gas?!” was a common background chorus of my childhood, and one I sang myself in my first couple of apartments.)  You’d light a match, turn the dial corresponding with the burner you wanted to use and use the match to light the flame while cringing and bracing yourself to pull back in case of whoosh! and eyebrow singeing. More often than not, you’d burn your fingertips trying to get the damned thing to light long before flames were exploding in your face. This, the gut clenching expectation of scorched nose hairs and realization of singed fingers, was what I experienced reading Micheal Wolff’s Fire and Fury this weekend.

I haven’t read anyone else’s reviews, so it’s more than possible my thoughts aren’t in line with the majority. I’m also not a book reviewer, and I have a lot of thoughts, so even with limiting myself, this will run long.

I bought the book Friday afternoon. I tried to get the hardcopy in the morning at my local Barnes & Noble, but they didn’t have it in yet (snowstorm Thursday, everything still iced and approximately 1000° below zero) so I downloaded to my Nook. I really wanted to read this and I really, really wanted to support Wolff and Henry Holt & Co.  Much the way the first thing I did after the 2016 election results was to purchase subscriptions to the NY Times and The Washington Post, it felt important to use my wallet to support free speech and free press.  Trump using the office of the Presidency to bluster about forcing the publisher to stop publication/production? Fuck yes, I’m contributing to this legal defense fund. An in-depth look at the first 9 months of Trump’s tenure in the White House, written by someone who had spent considerable time interviewing people in the West Wing, someone who didn’t seem to be blindly aligned with this administration? Yeah, I’m in. Besides, with the excerpts coming across my twitter feed and just about every news article I read, a) how could I resist? and b) I wanted to be able to discuss the book with more understanding than choice quotes possibly pulled out of context. It took me all weekend to read it, a long time for me to plow through less than 330 pages. First it was slow going because I had to keep putting the book down. The first couple of chapters put me right back to the first days after the election; feeling nauseous, angry, betrayed, and helpless.

It continued to be slow going. Partially for the same reason as those first chapters. Much as nothing I read in Fire and Fury (I’d already seen the more shocking bits in excerpts online) felt truly new, having it all compiled into one book packs a hell of a psychological wallop. What a shitshow of an administration. If only half of what Wolff wrote is true, it confirms we are experiencing my worst case scenario (my vivid and dark imagination is long established). Some of it, though, was because I kept thinking the book would have benefited from holding off on the publication date while spending some more time with a content editor, a copyeditor, and then getting another once over from a proofreader. Separate from the subject matter, it didn’t read like smoothly crafted narrative nonfiction, yet it didn’t read like a compiled collection of essays/articles, either. I understand the need to strike while the iron is hot, and I kept reading until the end, but it was more put-downable than I had hoped. This is so important for all of us, collectively and individually that I wish the author and the publisher had taken the extra month or two to smooth it out, clean it up, and address what wasn’t in there.

Non-fiction or fiction, what an author leaves out is every bit as important as what gets put in. Some of what’s left in the author’s notes shouldn’t ever make it to the manuscript. Those decisions are shaped by the focus of the book, style of the author, and information available. The buffoonery and hubris of this administration is inherent in the very existence of this book, the author’s unbelievable access to the West Wing. But here I have to say I was expecting the author to address a few issues that he didn’t.

Given that much of Fire and Fury focused on the idea that this President takes everything personally and (it seems to me) many of his tweets and comments since winning the election have focused on Hillary Clinton, compounded by the above all threats pre-election of “lock her up,” I kept waiting for this to be addressed, and nope. This isn’t a matter of wanting a bit more juicy gossip. Threatening to jail opponents in what has until recently been a democracy is the mark of a dictator, not merely a bumbling, petulant fool. I understand that the revival of those threats didn’t hit the twitter feed and press until long after the book went to press, but hello?! That seems more than a bit important. Was/is this just a bit of political theater for his base, as unimportant as the other promises he made on the campaign trail that he can’t remember and doesn’t care about? Not understanding how our government works, admiring dictators because hey, they’ve got all the good bling AND good press, planting his equally unqualified family because of paranoia combined with a spectacular lack of comprehension  ≠ purposely, specifically wanting to create a dictatorship. That feels like a really important detail to leave out. Even if the author didn’t know if that is the President’s intention, how about the people around him and advising him? Was that purely Flynn, regurgitated now as a signal for him to stfu? A desperate attempt to distract from the Mueller investigation? A signal to the FBI that their silly laws and mores are passé? Intent matters. It matters for how wethepeople interpret his actions and statements and respond.

Healthcare. DACA. Freedom of religion. Gerrymandering. Separation of church and state. On reading the book, it seems that no one in the West Wing (or the barely mentioned but completely responsible and complicit GOP) addresses, acknowledges, or understands that these issues have tremendous impact on human beings. Does the author? These are issues that yes, are political hotbuttons, but literally have the power to destroy the lives of the vast majority of the American people. Wolff reminds us again and again that Jarvanka and several on “their” team are Democrats. Really? And none of them ever discusses the impact of repealing the ACA on little Johnny in Montana who needs his chemo?  If this is the case–it isn’t a stretch for me to believe it–how about a page, a paragraph, a nod from the author letting me know? The many meltdowns, tantrums, zillion instances of lack of attention to detail are important to the picture being painted, but I could have done with less description of who ate what and more meat.

Which leads me to Bannon, who was probably the one person portrayed in the book as coming closest to remembering these ideas and policies are more than theoretical–which of course, isn’t very close at all; he’s also the one with the closest to clear intent of dictatorship, and it’s Steve Bannon. Describing a conversation with him where he states he doesn’t believe Trump is anti-semitic but he isn’t sure about the “other” (insert dog whistle here) without restating this is Steve Fucking Bannon, master of the safe space for nazis, racists, homophobes and misogynists of all flavors feels like a glaring omission, no? Obviously, Bannon was the one who did the most talking to (at?) Wolff.  It isn’t a coincidence that the book ends with his dismissal. I wish I’d known going into it that this was more of a tell-all from Bannon’s perspective than a general “Inside the White House.” This, more than anything, is what kept my nausea going. I’m all in for an unlikeable and unreliable protagonist, but somehow, somewhere along the way, Wolff dropped the authorial hints and reminders that Bannon is Bannon, not a sympathetic character to hang your hat on. Yeah, I know, this isn’t fiction, and the characters at hand are all too real, but honestly, as it was written, it didn’t feel like clear and reliable journalism–neither investigative nor opinion. I’d still have purchased it, though maybe not rushed to read it, and my expectations would have been different.

As expected, Fire and Fury shows a disorganized, disinterested, and ruled by a brutal and unsupervised playground of a White House. I’m sick from spending the last year living under it, let alone the weekend immersed in it.

What about you, Fringelings? Have you read it, are you going to?

 

How Do You Measure a Year?

 

Seemed appropriate to keep the tree both small and bare this year.

Am I the only one who considers the soundtrack of Rent to be Christmas music? Seems more apt than ever this year, when marginalized people across America have been told they don’t count, and laws and policies are being put in place to ensure this. Like, yanno, women. And brown people. And poor people. And young people. And old people.  And the middle class. And the LGBTQ community. I’m not sure how all these people add up to a minority, but hey, math was never my strong point.

I hope everyone is finding some peace this season as we head into the new year. 2017 was one dumpster fire after another, wasn’t it? Plain old ugly. I’d like to believe 2018 will be different, but I’m not seeing anything to indicate that will be the case. Hell, as I was sitting and listening to Rent, I saw this bit in the news. Who needs to address HIV/AIDS? It isn’t like it impacts everyone, or matters for people to have access to healthcare. Yeah, I’m not expecting any miracles this year.

I’m not about beauty. Sure, I appreciate the look of a rose, but they make me sneeze, make my eyes water in ugly ways. I don’t like pretty poetry, don’t write beautiful characters, I can’t help it. It’s my nature to look at a scene–real or imagined–and be captured by what happened to create it; what went wrong, what’s about to go wrong, and find the scars and stretch marks we carry on the inside and out to be more interesting than a straight nose or flawless complexion.

I’ve always been about small moments, firmly believe these are what make a life; good, bad, or indifferent. A couple of weeks back, Art Child and I went to the Columbus Circle holiday market. We go every year, all kinds of local (and not so local) artists, artisans, and crafts. This year we weren’t shopping so much as just looking. This year more than ever the plan for gifts was about practicality and needs over anything else. It was freezing the day we went, and I wasn’t dressed for it because outdoor shopping hadn’t been the plan, so mostly I was breathing into the neck of my coat, trying to keep warm while hurrying the girl along. I paid attention to exactly one booth. I’m sure I must have seen them before, but this year it overrode the cold and made me stop. Peacebomb jewelry. Aluminum shrapnel from bombs dropped in Laos fifty years ago–by America during the Vietnam War, recast into bits of hope, bits of reclaiming what is ugly and destructive and turning them into beauty. I loved this.


Apparently I loved it so much Husband remembered. I can say without guilt or hesitation I didn’t ask or hint for him to go and get me something from them. Number 1, they’re out of budget. Number 2, we’re supposed to be focusing on the practical. I was so shocked, these were so the perfect gift to close this shitbomb of a year…it’s possible I scared our kids–I cried. I don’t think I’ve ever cried upon opening a gift before, and wouldn’t imagine ever doing so for any reason, but there you have it. Yes, I was surprised that Husband would remember me telling him about this organization and these artists. Yes, I was completely touched that he went down to the booths, searched out this one, and chose not only to purchase something from them, but a pair of earrings I would definitely choose for myself, but also something more. Dangling hope on hooks.

Not hope of magic rescue, or turning back the clock or turning over the election. That ship has sailed, and the damage is too real; ensconced in our government, new laws and overturning of regulations, sitting on judge’s benches for lifetime appointments. Frightening and most damaging of all, the realization and illustration of how vulnerable our democracy and democratic norms are. But hope that someday my children, your children, our collective grandchildren, will dig up these bombs and craft something beautiful out of them.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, I’m wishing all small moments of peace and hope in the New Year.

Her Lips Say No, but Her Eyes say Back Off, Maggot

Have a seat, ladies. We need to talk.

On my way to the girl’s school this morning, I received no less than three text alerts from various online news sources letting me know Doug Jones’ win in Alabama last night was a “devastating blow” for Republicans.

Fuck. That.

It’s a blow (and not a devastating one) to misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and transphobic bozos who don’t view anyone remotely different from them as worthy of life, rights, or representation in government. Am I glad Jones won? Of course I am, whispered a quiet yes! to myself when I first saw it looking this way at 1am–but didn’t trust it until I read it with my morning coffee at 5. Then I smiled, and ok, a bit less quiet woot! It’s good news for sure, a glimmer of hope I’m pleased to see, but don’t be so quick to celebrate.

Think about it. This was a really, really close call in a Senate race between a man who successfully fought against the KKK, prosecuted them, and believes in women’s rights and a maggot (who’s been suspended from the judicial bench twice) credibly accused by multiple women of having been harassed/assaulted by him when they were teens and he was a DA in his thirties. Someone who thought he’d prove his lack of prejudice by having his wife state “one of their attorneys is a Jew.” Someone who has said on record the country was better off without any of the amendments that came after the 10th.  If you’re unfamiliar, these amendments he doesn’t like include some I’m pretty fond of;  like abolishing slavery, the right to vote regardless of race/religion, women’s right to vote, yanno, little things like that. He’s also been loud and proud in his belief that “homosexual conduct” should be illegal, Muslims shouldn’t have the right to sit in Congress, etc. And we cannot forget that while a few members of the GOP spoke against him, the sitting President rallied for an accused child molester and the RNC gave money to his campaign.

More than anything, what has me sputtering into my tea as I type is the fact that 63% of the white women in Alabama who voted yesterday voted for Roy Moore. Sixty-three percent. One of them even sent her 12 year old daughter to interview him.

Wake up, women! Moore doesn’t believe women should hold office, doesn’t believe we’re equal to men, doesn’t believe we should have reproductive choices, he called the women who credibly accused him of sexual misconduct liars and “criminals.”

Why? Why do so many white women in America hate themselves and their daughters this much? More than anything, how do we change this? Because this is self hatred. Internalized misogyny and voluntary subjugation that is doing great damage to all of us.

I have seen and heard many say their vote for Moore (and let’s not forget the 53% of white women nationwide who voted for Trump, so don’t even start with well, it’s Alabama/the South) is because of religious beliefs. Huh. I am 100% for freedom of religion, and can’t/have no desire to get into whose interpretation of the various religious texts is the “correct” one (though how anyone can be 100% certain they’re speaking for their God, I don’t know), but I am 100% opposed to anyone who feels it is their right to impose their religious beliefs on others. I was not born into/raised in a theocracy and I never want to live in one. I don’t care what religion we’re talking about; the perverted interpretation of the Koran as practiced by the nut job who thought blowing his balls off in Times Square at rush hour the other day was a good idea,  people like Roy Moore, or people like the extremist Christians who are all for further destabilizing the Middle East because they’re impatient for Armageddon.

Several years ago I wrote a short story called “Yous Girls,” and the first line is “Yous girls fucked yourselves,” poking at the idea of what women didn’t gain from the women’s movement in the 70s. Never has that line reverberated more strongly than it has this year.

This isn’t “just” religion. Religion has a strong and significant role in the African-American community, yet 98% of Black women voted against Roy Moore yesterday–despite gerrymandering and widespread voter suppression.  As long as white women continue to view themselves by their romantic relationships, how they reflect men, accepting and even volunteering for the position of “less than,” we’re stuck.  Somehow, the majority of white women in the United States believe they don’t deserve respect or equality.  The MeToo movement (dominated by a very specific segment of white women) doesn’t just illustrate how widespread sexual assault and harassment are, how many men are guilty of inappropriate behavior; it illustrates how many women continue to support these behaviors, even as they whisper, me too.

 

Sex, Lies, and Assault

The full quote engraved above is, “For the Improvement of Social and Living Conditions”

This morning Al Franken will be making an announcement regarding the allegations against him. Many believe he will be stepping down, many believe he should step down. Maybe this post will be up before he does so, but know it was written prior. I hear/see a lot of people saying this is a watershed moment in American history for women and women’s rights. Time Magazine’s person of the year 2017 isn’t one person, it’s the #metoo movement, the “silence breakers.”

I don’t have answers in regards to Franken, and I’ve been finding it impossible to read every detail coming to light about all of these men. It’s all so, so much. Not just so much in terms of the volume of accusations against the ever-growing number of men, but so much when looking at the many, many terrors happening on a daily basis. There isn’t one area of our society that isn’t under attack from within right now. All this said, I have thoughts. I’ve been speaking up and out about women, sexual harassment, and assault for a long time, and I’ve used Mrs Fringe as a vehicle to do so for the past five years. I’m not so sure this is a watershed moment.

Yes, there is much awareness and many important, necessary conversations happening. Yes, we are seeing repercussions for men who abuse/have abused women and positions of power in a way we haven’t seen before. I just don’t know that we can see this as a definitive turning point. Do I want it to be? Yes! But can it be, and why not? Because we’re only seeing this in very limited arenas. I understand that any/every movement has to begin somewhere, and the highly visible and well documented eyes of Congress and Hollywood are excellent places to start. But nothing happens or exists in a vacuum, and while the Left is celebrating, the Right is working. (I’d say the Right Extremists, but at this point it’s safe to say those who were considered extremists on the fringe right twenty years ago are now mainstream.)  Our current President is a man credibly accused of both sexual harassment and assault by multiple women over the course of many years. Accounts of him wandering into the dressing room backstage of the Miss America contest–with underaged contestants–are also documented. This was all well known and well documented long before the 2016 election, an audio tape of him bragging about groping women released, and millions voted for him anyway.  You could and should argue that the current movement is a well deserved backlash because of this.

But these formerly extremist Right Wing politicians have all the power right now, and they’re using it to harm women for generations to come, regardless of who’s on the cover of Time Magazine this month or how many Democrats are called to task for inappropriate, immoral, and sometimes illegal behavior. Mitch McConnell and the GOP stole a pivotal Supreme Court seat after Scalia died by refusing to hold hearings and vote on President Obama’s pick for nominee. Do we think this won’t have repercussions for women’s rights, for Roe vs Wade? The current monstrosity of an administration is also busy stacking the federal courts with more extremist, right wing, appointed for life individuals. In another time in our history…say, 10 years ago, this might sound hysterical. They’re judges, they have to be impartial and qualified no matter who they vote for, the GOP cares about women and sexual predators, right? No. No they do not. Not anymore. This is how qualified you now have to be to qualify for a federal judgeship appointment, and this is how much the GOP cares about women. I’m sorry, did I say women? I should say women and girls, because those credibly accusing Roy Moore were most definitely not adult women at the time of these incidents.  I cannot say this loudly or frequently enough, the damage being done right now is generational.

And that’s not all. Yesterday the House–and by the House, I mean the GOP members, since they are in control–voted to pass a bill allowing concealed carry holders to legally bring their guns into states where they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed these concealed carry permits. Like, say, from states where domestic abusers are allowed to purchase and concealed carry guns into states that care about protecting their citizens. Oh yeah, this is going to be awesome for victims of domestic violence. So much caring about women and children.

Should the Hollywood and media men who have been fired/suspended/called out and shamed lost their careers? Absolutely. But given our quickly disappearing legal recourse and support from the government, I don’t see this helping Suzy Q Torres working in middle management, or Mary-Sue Regular Gal after she’s cornered by her sweating, piggish boss in the after-hours kitchen of the local fast food restaurant. So I don’t see how we can say, at this moment, that this is a turning point for women’s rights and safety in America. Celebrity cases often bring light and awareness to issues, a starting point. Without follow through for all, they stop there.

There are other aspects to this. Due process–I’ll leave that exploration to those more versed in the legal system, though I question some of these cases.  Not because I don’t believe women, not because I don’t want everyone to believe women, but because the stakes are high. Higher than they’ve ever been, in light of all recently discovered about the manipulability (is that a word?) of public opinion through the use of social media.

And then there’s the distinctions I see too many glossing over. A lot of men are assholes. They make unwanted comments, gestures, use a beer and a crowded bar as an excuse to make unwanted advances. Some men are predators. Some men prey on children. Some men are pushy, refusing to accept no thanks when asking for a phone number. Some men are stalkers.  There are assholes, there are sexual harassers, there are predators, there are rapists. These categories are all morally wrong, an affront to women’s intelligence, autonomy, and safety. But they aren’t equal.

I’m fairly safely invisible now, but let’s pretend I’m twenty years younger for a few subway scenarios. If a man on the subway asks for my phone number and tells me I should smile, I can tell him to fuck off and he can call me a feminazi bitch, I get off at the next stop. It’s yet another unpleasant incident that I shouldn’t have to deal with, and I do dream of a day when women won’t have to. If a man on the subway uses rush hour as an excuse to rub against me, or uses the longer time between stops when going through a tunnel to take out his junk and masturbate, I can get loud, tell him to fuck off, try to move away, stomp on his foot/offer a sharply placed elbow, get off and report him at the next stop. (I can’t, apparently, expect other passengers to help me, since the current PSAs on the subway tell people not to get directly involved with these types of incidents unless they’re certain it’s safe to do so, they should report it to the appropriate authorities when they can). I’m disgusted, I’m shaky, I’m pissed off that this is the world I live in. If a man on the subway traps me on an otherwise empty car when the train is moving through a tunnel, or follows me off the train and drags me to an unpopulated stairwell and assaults me, well, now we’re in completely different territory, with lifelong physical and emotional repercussions shaping every single choice I make for the rest of my life.

The fact that men like those in the second scenario exist doesn’t negate the wrongness of men in the first scenario, and those in the third don’t make those in the second acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

These were “easy” scenes, clearcut. They didn’t involve people who were known to the victim, dates, boyfriends, spouses, relatives, child predators, gang rapes, positions of financial power and employment repercussions, drugs/alcohol, or any of the million and three ways women find themselves being negated and disrespected, abused, assaulted. They are all unacceptable, and should all be addressed by our society with repercussions. But they aren’t all the same.  If we on the Left are in fact taking the moral high ground, that has to include looking at each case individually, or we run the risk of becoming the twenty-first century version of the 1980s false moral majority. While many of these scenarios grow from the same root problem, if we on the Left insist they are all the same, we make it that much easier for those on the Right to ignore these very real, pervasive, and damaging issues women deal with every day, the systemic degradation of women; paving the way for legal and sanctioned support of predators.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Unfortunately, our nation has jumped onto the tracks, and it seems we’ll be chunky pudding for the rats before that light helps us find our way.

I know I’m supposed to be positive and forward thinking, visualizing the world I want to live in, but I’m too busy gaping at the world I do live in. Every damned day feels like an assault, every news cycle (what are they, 11 seconds long now?) an emetic. Why does it feel this way? Because it is. An assault on our nation’s norms and values, an assault on our government, an assault on what could have been our future, an assault on the earth, an assault against people of color, and every day, new assaults against women–our rights, our autonomy, our bodies.  I didn’t participate in the #metoo campaign (on Twitter and Facebook) nor the #meat14. For some it made them feel empowered, more connected to share their stories and show the world exactly how widespread the issues of harassment and assault against women are. I know the stats, I know the stories, I know exactly how insidious and pervasive misogyny is. As long as we allow women to drive, keep their heads uncovered, and say that rape and assault are illegal, the powers that be can continue feeling superior to those other cultures. You know what else I know? This is a surprise to exactly no one, and is considered acceptable in our country.

Yes, that isn’t a typo, I said acceptable. Not to all, but to many. Too many. So acceptable that millions of citizens in the US decided to vote for a man accused of sexual assault multiple times by multiple women over many years– a man who we all heard discussing women as nothing more than toys and acquisitions in the basest possible terminology, bragging about predatory behavior, we heard this before the election–and still millions voted for him. Currently, Ray Moore is running for a Senate seat in Alabama. Ray Moore, such a fine and upstanding conservative with fine American values, well documented as saying homosexuality should be illegal, stating that there are communities in the US under Sharia law (I’d love to know exactly where), supporting transgender discrimination, and the old favorite of claiming Barack Obama isn’t an American citizen. Yes, that fine American was recently accused of preying on a 14 year old girl when he was a District Attorney in his thirties. And now more accusations from more women who say he molested/attempted to molest them when they were teenagers.

Am I shocked? Nope. Is there any woman in America who is shocked? I doubt it. So what’s the problem, you ask. The problem is there are still people supporting him, despite these now public and well supported allegations. Still elected officials supporting him. What’s a little molestation when tax cuts are within reach, right? And of course, we all know how 14 year old girls can be,nudgenudgewinkwink, it isn’t like anyone should reasonably expect an adult man to be an adult and keep his paws to himself.  There are not only constituents but elected officials literally saying they prefer an accused pedophile to a Democrat. His Democratic opponent, by the way, is Doug Jones. Jones is an attorney, and when he was a prosecutor, he successfully convicted 2 of the 4 Klu Klux Klan members responsible for the 1963 16th Street Church bombing. Such a moral dilemma there, eh?

Last night I watched an interview with another woman accusing Moore of having preyed on her as a teen. She was specific and credible, and made sure to say this had nothing to do with politics–she and her husband are Republicans who voted for Trump. My heart hurts for that young girl trapped in a car with a grown, predatory man, and for the woman who carries those memories and fears decades later. (Because that shit doesn’t go away.) But my heart hurts for all of us. My fear grows daily for all of us. This woman may believe she is rising above politics to speak up against a Republican politician, but apparently she was just fine with another accused predator sitting in the White House, because why? Because it wasn’t her? Or because fear and hatred of women, girls, and women’s sexuality is so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even know to protect each other?

Now, today, the number of credible accusers against Moore has grown to five, I believe. I guess five is the magic number for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. McConnell has stopped snickering, and they are finally calling for him to step down from the Senate race. The governor of Alabama is apparently experiencing no such conflicts, and she is still saying she will vote for him. The Alabama State Auditor even twisted this into a neat bible story, babbling that this makes Moore just like Joseph, and the violated 14 year old girl is just like Mary. Can’t wait to see the episode of Veggie Tales that covers this.

This should all do wonders for the safety of women and girls nationwide, don’t you think? That we have an administration in the White House and elected officials nationwide who place the value of tax cuts for the uber-wealthy, ability to appoint backwards and unqualified persons for federal judgeships, and of course the rights of men to put their hands wherever and however they damn well please over the rights and safety of women.

So, be positive, celebrate that we’re turning over rocks and all these abusive, predatory, powerful and corrupt men are coming to light? Excuse my pragmatism (yeah, I know, you can call it cynicism) but I’ve heard this before, when everyone talked about how wonderful it was that ubiquitous video phones and the internet were allowing us to see the racism living in the nooks and crannies of our country. The sunlight didn’t kill it. The light allowed that shit to photosynthesize into a rooted, giant weed controlling all branches of our government with racism, bigotry, and misogyny.

I’m fucking traumatized.