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Ann Patchett was sitting right in front of me last night at Parnassus Bookstore. We were listening to Meg Wolitzer read from her new book, “The Female Persuasion,” when Ann (I hope I can call her Ann since I see her so much around town) asked if the sum of a writer’s work isn’t simply an aria – one voice:

“aria, an elaborate accompanied song for solo voice from a cantata, opera, or oratorio.”

In other words, every book you write is saying something about you, about what’s really important to you. Your subjects may change, your place in time or your landscape may change, but your unique Voice, your Point of View comes through consistently, almost unwillingly.

And Wolitzer has written plenty of books, in fact this is her tenth novel. She notes that she actually started writing “The Female Persuasion” a few years before the #MeToo movement, but she has always been interested in female friendships, and the power dynamics in relationships. This book pivots around a college campus where a young female student, Greer with a streak of “electric blue hair,” is mentored by an older feminist writer, Faith Frank.

The audience last night was a mix of ages, young feminists with severely short hair, mixed in with my aging variety and a few men. One shop dog named Bear strolled around the room, while the smaller variety, Mary Todd Lincoln was cradled in a baby wrap on a bookseller’s hip. Wolitzer read from her opening chapter, where Greer is groped by an entitled frat boy at a party her freshman year. I wondered how many of us could relate to that!

I thought about a friend’s son, a quiet innocent boy, who went off to college only to be expelled after an episode with a girlfriend he dared to break up with – he was an unsuspecting sheep while she turned into a wolf. I thought about the UVA Lacrosse player who was killed in her dorm room by her off/and/on boyfriend. And that girl who was raped and left outside a garbage can at Stanford.

“Novels can be a snapshot of a moment in time, or several moments in time, and as a reader that’s what I really like, and as a writer, it’s what I’m drawn to also. It can’t be a polemic. I’m always saying, What is it like? That’s one of the mantras of writing novels for me. And then, in the game of musical chairs, the book is coming out now.”  

http://www.vulture.com/2018/04/meg-wolitzer-doesnt-want-to-be-tied-to-a-moment.html

Wolitzer would call her publisher and ask her assistant first, a millennial, “Before you put me through, tell me, what was it like being a feminist at your college?” 

And that was my question. At my Boston college in 1966 we didn’t have the word “feminism” yet. We couldn’t wear pants outside our dorm, we had to wear a dress or a skirt once we left the brownstone. We didn’t have birth control pills or roofies or mind-altering drugs, yet. There was obviously no social media, if a girl dropped out, you assumed she got pregnant. We didn’t wear bobby socks, we wore knee socks. We had no recourse, no defense; we huddled together and traded tricks sneaking into the Beacon Street residence after curfew.

We had a phone booth in the downstairs lobby!

Strangely enough, Wolitzer hits her mark writing about today’s college culture, about those times in our lives when we meet someone who will change our trajectory. Her generation is just behind mine, a decade younger – the second (or is it third) wave of feminism. And she mentioned that another Nashvillian, Nicole Kidman, has optioned the rights to play her character Faith in the movie.

My first thought was, so Kidman is playing a mid-60 year old woman? And I immediately slapped that thought away as too judgmental, the opposite of feminist, after all maybe Helen Mirren is unavailable!

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Who gets to define you? My first step into studying Buddhism asked this very question in a different way – how would you describe yourself? Easier maybe than a definition. I’m a nana and mother, a writer, a wife, stringer etc…easy. These are the simple ways, stating what you DO in the world rather than who you are!

An old friend from high school was visiting this weekend, and though our hair has turned a pale blondish white, we stood out in high school because we were both redheads. Being a “Redhead” has a certain cache. But when I was little I hated my hair, I wanted to be like everyone else, I wanted to fit in and belong. I wanted black hair like Snow White!

Edie and I were also both raised as the one and “Only” child in our families. Does that define us?

I woke up this morning to National Geographic’s special edition on Race through an Instagram video. They contend that science defines us by our DNA, but the environment, our culture defines us by the color of our skin. Their mission is to make us re-examine that paradigm; their example was a pair of fraternal twin girls, about ten years old.

The April edition of the magazine, The Race Issue, features a pair of black and white fraternal twin sisters from the United Kingdom, Marcia and Millie Biggs, on the cover (more here). The Biggs twins on the cover are a catalyst for readers to rethink what they know about race. The full issue is available now at natgeo.com/TheRaceIssue.

Now you know, and I know my DNA because I spit in a tube and sent my sample to Ancestry. Although I really didn’t need to know I was almost 100% Irish, because the priest at Sacred Heart School always told me I had the map of Ireland on my face! And I was mortified whenever he picked me out in class, although I’m sure it was meant as a compliment.

When our L’il Pumpkin was born with my exact shade of flaming strawberry blonde hair I was determined to help him feel proud about his carrot top. Well either that or ignore it altogether. But how will his ghostly white skin affect his journey through life? Will his schoolmates tease him when he’s putting on sunscreen before playing baseball? Will he yearn to have brown skin like some of his friends?

I remember when we visited Duke on the Bride’s college tour, and the Rocker, only 13 at the time, watched a group of African students walk by in colorful traditional dress. He thought it was so cool. Isn’t this what we want for our children, to enlarge their cultural influences, to expand their minds beyond a neighborhood of white privilege.

With our nation so divided – by political party, by religion, by geography – I wonder if we can turn inward to see what in fact we all share. Has Mr T unleashed this underbelly of white-neo-nazi terror in order to make us choose sides? Can we reject that? I choose to embrace our common sense of decency and civility, our humanity. We ALL want better schools for our children, schools without guns and active shooter drills. We ALL deserve comprehensive healthcare.

America, in our many shades of white/beige/brown/black, is at a tipping point. On the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s murder, I remember marching in the streets of Boston with my black armband. I was a college student then, and I would have defined myself as a “Dancer!”

Here is our superhero Spiderman. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to see Black Panther.

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Hallelujah! Star Wars the Last Jedi has finally opened on this side of the pond; Bob and I started our Friday morning by buying tickets online for the megaplex outside of town. Out of 21 theaters in the art deco masterpiece, 12 were featuring Star Wars! We opted to go after lunch, thinking other times might be sold out, plus first we had a date with the Little Pumpkin!

The Festival of Lights is in full swing and the Temple Preschool invited parents and grands to a Hanukkah Shabbat service. The sanctuary was shimmering in sunlight as the Rabbi strolled in wearing a dreidel on her head! Children played, the Cantor sang and we all laughed and watched an amazing juggler. Pop Bob even had a few latkes, with apple sauce. I remembered why I liked this religion so much.

As our tiny red head sat on the Bride’s lap, clapping and singing, time was suspended for a moment of pure joy.

Now I don’t want to ruin the new Star Wars movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but we all know it’s about an epic fight between good and evil – the Light Last Jedi side vs the Dark Conflicted Kylo Ren side. Returning to its existential roots, the latest film in the series does not disappoint, and seeing General Leia (always the princess to me) was bittersweet to the point of tears. I only wish the latest villain, General Hux, wasn’t a red head…

Returning to “reality-based” villains, maybe Alabama turning Blue was the last straw for Mr T? Because I awoke today to this little tidbit of news from the esteemed Washington Post on my phone:

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”  

The analysts were naturally skeptical, they thought maybe this was a joke? I thought it must be an Onion satire when I first read about our government banning words from official documents. After all, HHS has already archived information on LGBT rights; isn’t it better NOT to relay critical methods used to stop HIV infections in certain communities? It would seem we are slipping into the Dark Ages, where climate change is challenged, evolution can be debunked, creationism taught, and women senators humiliated via Twitter at the puny hands of our Groper-in-Chief.

After a thrilling Friday, my morning is sunny and bleak. We gave our Little Pumpkin a Star Wars super duper light saber kit for Hanukkah. His sister had painted his nails black and we sat outside looking for “mean guys.” We must do better with this next generation, and teach them to put the earth and science above myth and money. It’s time for every American to choose the Light or the Dark side.

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When the Rocker was in high school, he’d often say goodbye like this, “Peace out.” With his heavy/metal/grunge band in our garage, it really was peaceful when he left for school. And I’d remember the Flapper telling me that I will miss all that commotion when I’m old and grey. She was right.

Another catch phrase of the turn of the last century was, “Keeping it real.” It seemed to be the motto of his generation: be true to yourself, don’t be a poser, do the right thing. My son was voted the “Most Changed” in high school, probably because he started out looking like the rest of his class (beach/boy/prep) and ended up with dreads, on his way to rock stardom imho.

He was keeping it real, he was growing and changing. Some people I’ve found, never quite climb out of high school. Others learn to transcend its harrowing halls.

I listened to the podcast This American Life on the car ride to Nashville yesterday, titled “To Be Real.” It spanned a few topics, but the one I found most interesting was about North Korea – how we don’t seem to take Kim Jong-un seriously with his photoshopped ears and Russian hats. It links you to an informative podcast about nuclear proliferation  http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/podcast/ A nuclear physicist wants us to pay attention!

So what is real and what is superficial? Ira Glass explored magic and the bespoke porn business next. Yes, you heard me right, it seems that with all the free porn online, the film industry has adapted itself to create custom videos for its customers. Who knew?https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/620/to-be-real

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see

Tomorrow Queen, or whatever is left of the original band, will be playing in Nashville at the Bridgestone arena. American Idol alum Adam Lambert has replaced Freddie Mercury but nothing can replace his lyrics. He was an original.

And today is the Rocker’s birthday! Thank you for being in this world, for bringing us love and laughter, and music only you could see and play. For being a tolerant little brother and exceptional son. We hit a few speed bumps along the way to maturity, but you handled them with grace. I had an abiding trust in your character and your talent.

Marrying your beautiful bride this year was the icing on your birthday cake! You have always made me proud, and scoring the Dunkirk trailer, working for Christopher Nolan, made my heart explode exponentially. http://www.dunkirkmovie.com

Happy Birthday DJR, and thank you for always being real.  DAVECAITLY-056 2

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Today Republicans will be voting on healthcare. Apart from a last ditch effort to blame their inability to “repeal” OR “replace” the ACA on Democrats, at least one Congressman from Texas believes the gridlock is a “repugnant” result of his female colleagues.

“Some of the people that are opposed to this, they’re some female senators from the North East… If it was ‘a guy from south Texas’ who was generating so much discord in the party, I would ask them to settle their differences in a gun fight,”  Blake Farenthold said. One woman senator is from Alaska, but I guess if you count West Virginia with Maine that makes it 2 -1

So it’s High Noon on the Hill?

While it is true that three GOP women profess they will not vote on any bill they haven’t seen or don’t understand, they may also be slightly peeved that they were excluded from the bargaining table in an infamous photo of an all men panel. Or maybe their reticence indicates a deeper truth – that women and children will suffer if Medicaid is cut:

“According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about half of all births are now paid for by Medicaid, ranging from 72 percent in New Mexico in 2015 to 27 percent in New Hampshire.” Oh, and it also pays for about 62% of all nursing home residents, most of whom are women. So the party who calls itself the party for LIFE, would like to cut the life line of those women most in need of health insurance.

In fact, all their so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” will most likely have to close. The irony of it all…and since Planned Parenthood is under attack, your guess is as good as mine as to where our country will fall on the world’s Maternal Mortality Rates. Oh wait,

U.S. women are more likely to die during childbirth than women in any other developed country, leading the U.S. to be ranked 33rd among 179 countries on the health and well-being of women and children. Women in the U.S. face a 1-in-1,800 risk for maternal death, the worst among the developed nations surveyed in Save the Children’s 16th annual State of the World’s Mothers report http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150506/NEWS/150509941

In 1979 when the Bride was born, the entire hospital bill was $2,600. That included a day in the NICU, which I’d rather not explain since I’m sure that doctor would not like my story. We paid for that bill ourselves because we didn’t have insurance at the time. Due to an ancient and unheard of practice, all my pre-natal visits were free, ie “professional courtesy.” Today, the cost for a C-section (I had a breech birth) is most likely tens of thousands of dollars!

Sen McCain will be returning to vote on some form of a healthcare bill that would affect up to 69 million Medicaid patients – there was an increase in 11 million after the ACA passed. This means 15 million people may lose coverage by 2026. It would have a devastating effect on women, on the elderly and disabled, and patients undergoing opioid addiction services. Is that what the heartland wanted when they elected Mr T? http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/27/534436521/from-birth-to-death-medicaid-affects-the-lives-of-millions

I’d like to think that just like Gary Cooper, who played the marshal in High Noon, McCain will stand alone and face down evil. He will exhibit compassion by doing the right thing. The producers of the iconic western in 1952 were being pressured by McCarthy’s Red-baiting fears to fire the writer and blacklist Carl Foreman, who was Cooper’s friend. John Wayne was leading the charge against Foreman when Gary Cooper said, “If Foreman goes, Cooper goes.”

“They’re making me run, I’ve never run from anybody before,” Marshal Will Kane said to the neophyte Grace Kelly.

Today is the day to get up and move, to call your senators people. Here are my grandchildren under a wishing tree; what will these senators tell their grandchildren?

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Shaken or Stirred? Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Two cars or one?

Nelly Bly, my Foster Mother, didn’t drive. She was fifty when they “adopted” me and so my world was limited to her care on a hill in Victory Gardens, with the occasional sojourn to a swimming pond or a grocery store with Daddy Jim. And of course mass every Sunday followed by a sundae at Zanelli’s and later dinner at Dick’s Diner.

There were no after school activities for me, no Brownie troop. I know, cry me a river. But I didn’t miss what I didn’t know about because most moms didn’t drive. I was a pretty happy kid in this Leave it to Beaver black and white world. I would get on my bike and cruise the neighborhood. I learned how to stand up to bullies, how to navigate friendships, how to avoid peeping toms who would slow down in their cars, all by myself.

Still, somehow I knew Nell wasn’t happy being isolated so far from town and later I realized she actually suffered from agorophobia. Jim had never wanted her to work, and even at such a young age I understood an essential part of the 50s female experience. You did what you were told.  A paternalistic system needs to be fed, go along to get along… Today, I see how hard it is for Great Grandpa Hudson’s generation of men to stop driving. Taking the car keys away from an octogenarian+ can be an effort in futility.

FDR promised a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. One car.

And for the past month Bob and I have been living with just one car. We drove my CRV to Nashville, where Bob signed up for city bikes and used Uber if I was at the Bride’s house and he’d been waiting for a plumber at ours. No problem. We walked everywhere else, the walkability score for our area is in the 90s!

Then as soon as we got back to the Blue Ridge, his Acura with a hefty 300,000+ miles on it, had to see its trusty mechanic, again. So we’ve been a one car family in the country for the past week too, surprisingly without incident. Which is to say, we schedule my car individually when we have errands, and drive everywhere else together.

When Bob was working this didn’t always work out. I was once stranded here, on 14 acres in the forest, for over a week in a snowstorm; talk about cabin fever.

But for now, we’re actually considering having only one car. It’s better for our planet and for our budget. I’m all in, but Bob’s on the fence. Either he’s really attached to that old car of his, or he’s dreaming about a sport’s car in his future?

Last night we took my solo car for a spin to see Wonder Woman. When I heard her say the Amazons had figured out what men were useful for (procreation) I laughed and reached for Bob’s hand. We all know men are better drivers, right Danica Patrick?

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The Summer Solstice as we contemplate big changes.

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I know it sounds a bit bizarre, but we are home from the South of France by way of meeting an old high school friend in Heathrow Airport courtesy of Facebook. Edie and her husband Steve had been traveling around Great Britain and we’d been following each other’s exploits – she kissed the Blarney stone, I made a quiche. You know how these things go. Facebook envy, it attacks when we least expect it…it’s what started us out on this journey; my vicarious following of a Facebook friend and her buddies hunting for mushrooms in Italy!

After a grueling day of travel in three airports in three countries, covering about 4,500 miles and traveling through many time zones, I had to roll all over the floor with my deliriously happy dog…then I turned on the TV last night to watch Bill Murray receive the Mark Twain Prize for Humor on PBS. I figured it would be better than a jolt of CNN after such a long news-free sabbatical. I missed the run-up, but caught his surprisingly sentimental speech, which actually took place at the kennedy Center last October, before the election. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/watch-bill-murray-accept-mark-twain-prize-for-american-humor-w446373

Remember those happy Camelot days? Before Mr T (BT), when we thought anything was possible for our country, when we had a statesman, a gentleman for a President, and a First lady who actually lived with him and they seemed to love each other? Government may have been clunky at times, but it worked and was moving toward a brighter future for ALL Americans. After Macron’s victory in France, I was feeling pretty bleak about our state of affairs.

And on our last day in St Remy, I met a delightful, older (probably 80+) British woman who was traveling alone. I helped to translate a store clerk’s French for her – it seemed she had taken a bus to this town and the clerk thought that with the rain and the hills in the next town she should rest at the local cafe. It was too hilly and slippery the clerk said to this elegant, grey haired lady with a cane. Then my fellow traveler turned to me and asked, “Are you an American?”

“Unfortunately,” I replied, “I am.”

She looked me straight in the eye and wagged her finger at me and said in her proper British accent, “No, no, you must be proud to be an American! I am sure you are referring to Trump?” And I shook my head resolutely. In fact, I nearly cried. Some people you meet in passing bring out that Ann Tyler moment for each of us. Then she took my hand and told me that he will not last forever, that my people are smarter and stronger and there will be change. That everything changes.

So I sat with Bob at a cafe for an almond pastry and deux cappuccino and I told him her story. And we talked about how Europe takes the broad, balcony view; because of their history, maybe Brexit will be just a blip on the larger screen.

And as I was falling asleep in our own comfy bed, in that place between reality and dreams, I thought of meeting our friends at Heathrow, like the movie Love Actually. And I thought about Bill Murray’s speech, talking about the trampoline in his heart. That love is like that, it bounces out to touch others. People beyond continents and time.

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