#IWD2017’s No Judgment Reminder of Our Privileges

IMG_1753There are plenty of lefty think pieces (is that what we’re calling them these days?) about how there are many women who aren’t able to strike today, the #DayWithoutAWoman. There are plenty of righty commentaries about how women who are striking today are just “taking a vacation” on the backs of hard-working conservatives. IMO, which you know I love to share, both of those attitudes miss the mark in much the same way.

Strikes are meant to be sacrifice. So claiming people “able” to strike are privileged dismisses the very real risks and hardships that some of the strike participants are making. Similar to this, viewing a strike as a vacation dismisses the everyday hardships and sacrifices to which the events are attempting to draw attention. Either way, it’s a judgment. And, no thank you; we have enough of that.

On the other hand, events like this provide a fantastic opportunity to recognize the many ways we are all privileged in one way or another. Am I able to strike from my job without worrying about losing wages or the job? Privilege! Am I able to afford bus or train fare to join a protest in NYC? Privilege! Can I wear a symbol of my religion without a constant worry that someone may attempt to remove it? Privilege! And on and on. FullSizeRender

What the recognition is meant to stimulate is gratitude, not defensiveness. Empathy, not resentment. A call to serve, amplify, and support with a hand up, not separation, shame, or turning away. And it’s not always easy to admit privilege, especially when someone has fought her own battles with society and hardship and discrimination. But admitting privilege doesn’t take away from your hard work and sacrifice; it simply acknowledges the advantages you have enjoyed because of gender, economy, being able-bodied, race, religion, sexual orientation, education, health, a nurturing childhood, access to reliable health care, geography. Again, on and on. We have all had some privileges, have we not?

Finally, I ask you to consider that what you may have considered GOOD LUCK in your life, career, or interactions with authority figures may actually be privilege. No judgment.

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Glad I Saw It: Peace and Love


Several years of walking in Brookdale Park, and I’ve never noticed this. Having a dog means meandering instead of power walking, and that means breathing deeply and seeing more. I highly recommend it.

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Evergreen: Authority Figures MUST Train to DeEscalate


Here, an off-duty police officer created a situation with his mouth that he then escalated to a point he felt the need to finish with his gun.

As I’ve written before, I get it. I really, really do. Being in a position of authority, especially with teens is a constant tension. All day you get pushback and challenges, some are good-natured, some are intensely hurtful and personal, some are threatening and potentially harmful. And yet, if you are in a position of authority (teacher, security, police officer, parent), it’s on you to deescalate a bad situation before it gets worse. Sorry, but that’s how it is.

This week there have been two situations that bring this into glaring focus: Anaheim and Baltimore.

First, Anaheim. An off-duty LAPD Officer said something obnoxious to a teenager and another teenager stuck up for her. This off-duty officer may well have misunderstood the teen (instead of “I’ll sue you” he may have heard “I’ll shoot you.”), and no matter what his reasons (bias, nerves, guilt for calling a teenager a disgusting word, ego, a need to make himself feel like a tough guy) for misunderstanding, his response was wrong and the opposite of de-escalation. Instead of ignoring the possibly misheard threat, walking into his house, calling 911, or asking for clarification, he decided to grab someone else’s 13-year old child and refuse to let him go. See the full video and aftermath here.  Read the story of this disturbing event here.

That would have been more than bad enough, but after continuing to drag the teen around and scratch him, drag him over a hedge, and verbally abuse him, when other teens came too close trying to help, this off-duty police officer pulled out his gun and fired a shot.


Just last night another video, this one from Baltimore, came to light detailing the arrest of a 16-year old boy who had just been threatened by another, knife-wielding teen. The video is disturbing not just for the violence (closed fist punches, choking, slamming of body and head to the ground), but also for the frightened cries from the teenager. See it and details of the event here.

Both of these horrendous, potentially tragic situations could have been de-escalated with a dose of humility, proper restraint techniques, and a full assessment of the situation. None of the (armed, trained, authority figure) adults in these situations behaved as they should have. And in one situation, an off-duty officer discharged his weapon into a crowd of teenagers.

Please don’t wait until a tragedy occurs in your area. Contact your police department and town government and urge them to strengthen and further develop deescalation techniques, especially when dealing with minors. Even PoliceOne.com has sections of deescalation, for crying out loud.


Spreading the word at the yeah write moonshine grid.

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Glad I Saw It: Creativity Caravan

1486085937371The Creativity Caravan, owned and operated by Amy Tingle and Maya Stein, has a new home at 28 South Fullerton Avenue in Montclair. With programs like a #SocialSketch, letter writing, and Retablo Workshops, there is something for everyone — no matter artistic ability or age.

I recently stopped in to a Happy Hour, complete with prosecco and art supplies galore. The space is a delight for the eyes. We had typewriters, pens, markers, crayons, rubber stamps, art paper, glue, scissors, Spirographs, and more at our disposal for an hour or so of unrestricted art-making. Maya’s clever, colorful artwork adorns the walls, Amy’s Retablos line up to tell tiny stories about moments in time, and there are notecards, crafty sets, and other wonderful items for purchase as well.

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Check out the continually updated calendar of events for upcoming activities and to check out what you missed. If you happen to be in the Montclair Center neighborhood, stop in to say hello. Chances are you’ll leave more artful and relaxed than when you arrived. And in case you didn’t know, The Creativity Caravan is the home of the Tiny Book Show and Tour!

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Positivity Quotient: Top Ten List

It’s been a long week of wacky, hasn’t it? Frankly, I’ve found political goings-on stultifying where writing is concerned. I can’t focus! I’ve decided to pull myself out of the funk as much as possible by focusing on ten things that made me happy this week…because they are out there!


10: The Self-Care Warriors series from Eloiza Jorge at Deepening Wisdom has been wonderful. This post about nourishing ourselves was particularly lovely. Check out the entire series for some encouragement to treat yourself.

9: Sharing photos of my chihuahua to help a friend’s daughter pass the time in MassGeneral Hospital for Children. Follow @DadoftheDecade on Twitter for updates.

8: This week has finally had consecutive days of SUNSHINE! And the weekend will be glorious! Vitamin D!

7: Together with other parents, I learned how to strip roses and prep bouquets for a successful fundraiser for my son’s grade. Check out RMerrittFlowers’ IG account here.

6: Valentine’s Day for me and my husband included an exchange of cards and nothing more. You have to know me to understand how that made me very happy. 🙂

5: My kids both had a No Cavity visit to the dentist! Woohoo!

4: I got back on track with the Whole Life Challenge. Now to work on more exercise.

3: I completed all the recommendation letters I owed to my graduate students.

2: I finished and turned in a book review I’d been holding off on. Now I’m giving myself a break by continuing to read Sady Doyle’s Trainwreck, which I’m really enjoying so far. And learning a lot about literary history AND pop culture.

1:  My son turned 10. (This is both something that made me happy and nostalgic.)

What are some things that made YOU happy this week? Try to find at least ten things — they’re there.

On the moonshine at yeah write.

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I Am Not Your Negro: James Baldwin’s Call to Action is On US

The Oscar-nominated I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, is a must-see. You can stop reading now and just get to the nearest theater today.


I was lucky to be at the Montclair Film Festival and Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence sponsored screening last night. Producer Hébert Peck (and brother of director Raoul Peck) was present to introduce the film and for a Q&A immediately following. MFF Executive Director Tom Hall introduced Mr. Peck saying that I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO was Hall’s favorite film at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s easy to see why the film attracted Hall. It is a powerfully told history with a direct and unapologetic stare down of today’s audience.

During the Q&A, Hébert Peck shared that James Baldwin’s sister, Gloria Karefa-Smart, who also serves as executor of the Baldwin Estate, gave director Raoul Peck 30 pages of notes and letters Baldwin had written in preparation for a book about the legacies of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and how they intersect. “You’ll know what to do with this,” she said. The resulting film, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, is at once a eulogy to three slain leaders, a painful and necessary reminder of where we’ve been (and are) as a country, and a call to action to confront and dissect the role racism, overt and covert, plays in our lives. That call to action is for white Americans, and it’s as true today as when James Baldwin said it on the Dick Cavett Show.

It is entirely up to the American People, whether or not they are going to find out in their own hearts, why it was necessary to have a N***er in the first place….If you think I’m a N***er, it means you need it. And you need to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. (link) (NSFW/language)

According to the Q&A following last night’s screening of the film, the filmmakers behind I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO wanted to make sure James Baldwin weighed in on current events. Even more than the wonderful PBS American Masters episode “The Price of the Ticket,” I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO forces its audience to confront the lack of difference between the racial divide of the 1950’s and 1960’s and today. The clips of Black Lives Matter marches and Ferguson, the reminders of Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and more are intercut with mobs of classmates spitting at and violently harassing Dorothy Counts as she walked to school, boys being searched while stripped down to their underwear, hateful crowds holding Nazi symbols and screaming racial slurs at Black demonstrations, and more.


Dorothy Counts, on her way to school. Seeing her experience prompted James Baldwin to return from Paris.

And more. There is much more.  A moving, but brief section about Lorraine Hansberry’s visit with Bobby Kennedy begs to be expanded in someone’s next film. This documentary includes clips and images from films, television shows, news shows, history. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO reminds those of us with the privilege to forget that we’ve seen this before. We’ve been here before. And it asks us all to stand up, find the strength and humility to confront our own conflicted morals, and fight as allies. It’s not pretty. And it won’t be easy. But the future of our country depends on it.

You can find showtimes here. The companion book edition, including never before published writing by James Baldwin, comes out on Tuesday.


Sharing on the moonshine grid at yeah write.

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Ivanka Trump needs to have a hard conversation with her father.

Several years ago, a year or so before my father’s illnesses kept him indoors, we went to pick up dinner for a family gathering. He drove. As we were leaving, he almost hit a pedestrian as he was pulling out of the parking lot. That’s what prompted me, the daughter who lived farther away and only saw him every two months or so, to have a supremely difficult conversation about whether he should be driving, especially at night.

Ivanka Trump needs to have a supremely difficult conversation with her father about his mental capacity, or lack thereof. Here is some reading for her to get started.


Exhibit 497,392

Even in a bubble of Yes Men and protective restricted social media use, some of the reality must seep in somewhere. There is nothing romantic or nostalgic about memories of Eva Braun, Imelda Marcos, Mirjana Markovic, or any other enablers and beneficiaries of leaders who abuse their power and humanity. Ivanka Trump still has a chance to redeem herself.

The task falls to Ivanka Trump* because she’s the only one he seems to pay attention to for more than 23 minutes. It won’t be easy. Many of us are having or have had these hard conversations with our aging parents.

The task also falls to Ivanka Trump because it’s in good part on her. She has to own the responsibility for what she has wrought.

* Do I think Ivanka Trump will actually do this? Probably not. So really, it’s up to anyone who gets Donald Trump’s ear for more than two seconds. Perhaps his daughters-in-law? Ben Carson? He used to deal with brains, right? I really don’t know.  Help.


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Donald Trump Doesn’t Know Who Frederick Douglass Is. Happy Black History Month!


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I’m not making this up. Click here.

Maybe our Electorally Elected POTUS without a mandate doesn’t know who Frederick Douglass is (or the other totally unknown and obscure people like Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks…) because Douglass dissented loudly and publicly, even when, importantly when, he was the guest of the POTUS. And our EEPwam doesn’t listen to dissent unless he wants to whine about it on Twitter.

So, since the text may be too long to hold his attention, here is a video of the Frederick Douglass speech: What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

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Glad I Saw It: Patriotic Pride


This is our new flag; it’s so new I haven’t even ironed it yet. I purchased this thinking I’d put it up on inauguration day, but I didn’t want to wait. It is a hopeful sight, and I need that as much as possible.

Since moving to the suburbs, we’ve always had different flags. American flags for Memorial Day through September 11th, Halloween flags, Thanksgiving flags, peace flags. And the day after the 2016 election I put out our Stars & Stripes upside down. It can be a little corny, but there you go.

This particular flag is because I believe this land is OUR land. This flag is because I believe in equality. This flag is because I believe in inclusiveness and intersectionality. This flag is because the person who will be sworn in as the Vice President of the United States of America doesn’t consider everyone equal. This flag is because I love my country and I pledge to work hard to make it a more perfect union.

Want your own Patriotic Pride flag? I got mine at Pride Shack.

Shared over at yeah write on the moonshine grid.

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Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

9780802125392_db20bShort Answer: Roxane Gay’s DIFFICULT WOMEN is a must-read. (You can read one of the stories here.) And it’s one you should invest in because you’ll want to read many of the 21 short stories more than once.

Long, General Answer: I loved this collection. Many of these stories have been available in some form since 2009, others for a few years, and I am mortified that I hadn’t come across them before. Each story is moving, discomfiting, thought-provoking, and painfully comforting. I wept after several stories. I recognized myself in several stories. I was angered and horrified and soothed during several stories. DIFFICULT WOMEN includes traditional prose, magical realism, flashback, internal subtitles, and more. An alert reader will notice repeated allusions to characters (perhaps in various evolutions) across the stories. And the themes of public and private mourning, loss, punishment, internal and external pain, self-acceptance, and finding home play peekaboo with the reader, making each story more layered as the collection is devoured.

Yes, I’m gushing.

Short, Specific Answer:

I deeply appreciated being challenged by the characters. The female characters aren’t only “difficult women” because of how they interact with their fellow characters, although they do make life complicated and sticky and difficult within their stories. The dozens of difficult women Gay has created are difficult because they don’t allow the reader to feel comfortably satisfied with their choices. THEIR choices.

Long, Specific Answer:

The characters in DIFFICULT WOMEN don’t do what the reader wants them to do. They don’t concern themselves with being inspiring or heroic. They make choices to survive, heal, move on that don’t fit into what we’ve been taught overcoming “bad stuff” looks like. They are much more real. Most of Gay’s characters have suffered deep trauma, painful loss, disappointment, betrayal, and each approaches getting through her private mourner, healing on her own terms. Each woman’s choice forces those observing (whether fellow characters or the reader) to confront the judgments connected to choices that aren’t easily swallowed or meme’d or understood.

Characters settle into disappointing lives that are good enough, are loyal to men who are adequate, depend on lovers and spouses who are sometimes exceptional, allow themselves to be beaten and bitten and broken, and refuse to stand up for themselves in ways that inspire movements. They survive.

For me, the most difficult stories were the ones that included characters who invited violence and abuse. As someone who works with those affected by domestic violence, it was tough to hold off on inserting my own experiences. The difference in these cases was the characters’ choices to use pain and physical pummeling, both sexual and fight-style violence, to work through their feelings of anger, guilt, and emotional pain in their journey towards healing. In one story, “Baby Arm,” it even brought the main character to an all female fight club where ribs are broken and spines are bruised and pain is reveled in. However, in no story does the physical punishment as healing become more clear than in “Break All the Way Down.”

A lot of people decided I went crazy after the accident. They kept waiting for me to strip naked in a shopping mall or eat a cat or something. When I took up with an asshole, they breathed a sigh of relief. “Your situation is still fixable,” my mother said when I was still taking her calls.

I am not crazy.

“Break All the Way Down” addresses mourning and sorrow and guilt after a very public tragedy. How can a woman mourn publicly in “acceptable” ways when a raw, shouted “Are you fucking kidding me?” is the only response that makes sense? It’s a beautiful, horrible, hopeful, fucked up story about survival. Don’t pass it by.

Some Things That Surprised Me, short answer: 

Roxane Gay employs elements of Magical Realism in several stories. “Water, All Its Weight,” “Requiem for a Glass Heart,” and “I Am a Knife” all create a context in which unbelievable realities are, indeed, the reality.  One woman’s baggage is the water (and the mold it creates) that follows her, and it repels everyone from her parents to lovers. Another woman, made of glass, is married to a stone thrower and they have a glass child. Their differences create tension borne of careful care and love. Heartbreaking. Another woman saves her sister’s life and later saves her sister’s child, both times by using her fingernail to perform surgery. She is a knife.


Some Things That Surprised Me, last answer:

The variety of the characters and storylines is magnificently balanced with the recurring themes of loss, sisterhood (in several forms), survival by any means necessary, and escape. The women portrayed survive by escaping their trauma, scandal, pain in socially unacceptable ways that make it difficult for their families and communities to support them wholeheartedly.

In the first story in this collection, “I Will Follow You,” the main character sets up the reader to understand the choices throughout the book when she finally understands why her sister stayed with a man who seems undeserving.

“North Country,” one of my favorite stories in DIFFICULT WOMEN, returns to mourning via isolation. The main character isolates herself in every way possible: she takes a job where she is the only woman and the only Black person; she lives in an apartment with no windows; her groceries even belie isolation in their condition and scarcity. Her loneliness on the inside demands to be balanced by her loneliness on the outside. And oh my the journey to accepting her sadness is beautiful.

Another of my favorite stories is “La Negra Blanca.” This story about Sarah, a high achieving college student who earns money in a strip club, addresses issues swirling around assumptions and identity and prejudice and expectations with a matter-of-fact, dry voice that leaves the reader unprepared for the story’s climax. The antagonist is caught in his own version of identity politics, which is juxtaposed with the foil of another male character. The main character’s decision not to report a rape is HER decision, no one else’s. And she’s tired, and she just wants quiet.  It was when I re-read this story that I started connecting the “difficult woman” web Gay has created. The reader wants punishment of some kind, any kind, for Sarah’s rapist, but instead he is rewarded with a “brave new world.” It’s a layered, angry story.

“Strange Gods” is painful and crazy-making, like much of the collection. Based on a personal experience of the author, it feels familiar and foreign all at once. It’s told in a journal-writing style first person, and I can’t really tell you more about it other than you must read it, and perhaps you should not read it. I recognized myself, and you may too. It’s beautiful and infuriating and frightening and sad. And, like many of the women in DIFFICULT WOMEN, it emphasizes that surviving something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re strong in the traditional sense — just that you survived.

DIFFICULT WOMEN is a collection you’re going to want to keep around for re-reads; don’t lend it to friends. Buy them their own copy.

Other, more professional, reviews of Roxane Gay’s DIFFICULT WOMEN

The Washington Post


The Guardian review

The Brock Press

Kirkus Reviews (why didn’t it get a starred review?)

Star Tribune review (IMO, it missed the mark)

Publisher’s Weekly


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