Warren Buffett Says Elizabeth Warren’s “Too Angry.” We Say Rage On, Girl!

Do you know what pisses me off? Warren Buffett calling out Elizabeth Warren for being angry.

As I’ve grown older I do indeed try to temper my anger, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get mad; I just try to save my mad for the things which are really worth it. And injustice, inequity, power-grabbing one-percenters, those things are worth getting mad over. As are the banks and the banksters who seem to operate still—even after they helped crash our entire economy— with impunity.

There are many things worth getting angry about in the world today and Warren has pinpointed some of them for many Americans. She is the voice of those whose anger won’t make a lot of difference because she is in the public eye; she has the spotlight. And she is shining that spotlight on the sorts of things that should piss off the majority of us.

Now, uber-investor Buffet says, “”I think that [Warren] would do better if she was less angry and demonizing.”

Anger isn’t pretty. And women haven’t been encouraged to use it. Once upon a time, anger could get us locked up and out of the way. Not a hundred years ago women were still being institutionalized—against their will– for talking back to any male figure, for being too “hormonal,” or too sexy, or too emotional. Women, like children, were supposed to be seen and not heard. More recently, women’s anger has been the butt of jokes and not-so-subtle putdowns. How many of us have been told to “chill out” when we express displeasure at something? How many of us have been dismissed when we find something insulting rather than funny? Get a sense of humor! We are told. Calm down.

Men are strong when they’re angry. Women? We’re just being bitchy. Or maybe it’s our “time of the month.”

The New York Times recently published an article about the medication of women and how more women than men take anti-depressants and mood elevators. As writer Julie Holland so eloquently puts it: “[W]e are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives. We have been taught to apologize for our tears, to suppress our anger and to fear being called hysterical.”

Buffett, who is actually a pretty good guy in many respects, wants Warren to not “demonize” the banks and financial institutions she says need to be reined in. But what DO we call people who have robbed others of their homes, their livelihoods, their very lives? What do we say about the absolute power of those whose reign over the powerless is without check? It isn’t as if we don’t have proof in the ashes of foreclosed homes, ruined communities, destroyed families. Buffett’s money cushions him and so he asks for “compromise.” Warren, who also has money, doesn’t bask in the comfort of hers: instead she talks loudly and carries a big stick, all the better to protect those behind her who look to her protection.

Women have been asked to “compromise” forever. It’s one of the tenets of feminism that sometimes shouting more loudly than we want to is the only way to get heard. We hear Warren and we like what we hear. Rage on, Elizabeth.

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Reinvention Culture is Killing Me

I am feeling very inadequate. In the past year I finished a novel I have been working on for five years, began a new novel, contributed essays to two upcoming anthologies, and jettisoned some very toxic relationships. In the past three years I moved to a new city and a new house to start a new life. I also became an empty-nester. In the past five years I have begun a new relationship and published a huge number of essays and articles, sold a house and bought another and sold that one, too. In the past ten years I have dealt with nearly every family crisis one can think of.


I have not climbed a mountain alone, hiked a thousand-mile trail, started a cupcake business, left my job and devoted myself to volunteer work. Nor have I overcome a huge and debilitating illness. I have not moved to a foreign country, gone back for another degree or begun a clothing line. I haven’t even started making my own jewelry or knitting pet outfits.

Clearly, I am a failure.

I used to like More magazine. It had models over 40 on the cover (even if they were airbrushed) and it had a good amount of decent reading for those of us not permanently in our twenties or early thirties. But now I sigh every time I pick up that magazine. I’m not going to renew my subscription. It is constantly exhorting me to re-invent myself and, frankly, I am rather exhausted. This month’s More has a cover line about “real women” reinventing themselves. As opposed to fake women? And all the other women they have profiled over the years?

I know women’s magazines have no real relationship to life as most of us live it. I am aware that those tomes often give the most bizarre sex advice that we are supposed to try and take seriously (Nerve magazine does a superb job of skewering that sex advice). I realize women’s magazine editorial tries hard to take something ordinary and, well, turn it into a service piece (one article was on how to take a relaxing bath: apparently you dim the lights and use soothing bubble bath.) I am cognizant that everything that can be photo-shopped is photo-shopped. In fact, I am not quite sure what even draws me to those magazines, aside from the fact that, yes, I am always looking for anything that can make my skin look “younger.”


I am really weary of the constant push for us women to re-invent ourselves.

I am sick of the word “reinvention” itself.

I have a friend who is struggling to live with Stage 4 cancer. I have another who has married and inherited an instant family of two young children; still another woman I know left her marriage and her town and started a new job in a big city. Other friends are dealing with the issues inherent to long-term marriages and kids leaving home and unemployment and aging parents who need our care. I can’t think of a woman I know in her forties, fifties or sixties who isn’t overloaded with the stuff of ordinary life and, despite that, doing a bang-up job of coping and even thriving.

And yet we are still exhorted to re-invent our home décor, our relationships, our marriages, our work lives. We are supposed to re-think our hairstyles and makeup and even our purchases—combining inexpensive trendy pieces with the expensive long-term purchase so that our wardrobe can be re-invented. We are pushed to re-examine everything, all the time, each month, with new examples of women who have gone out on a very thin limb and survived to tell the tale.

Those women, while admirable, are as foreign to most of us as an alien landing would be. There is simply no way possible for most women I know to jettison their old lives and embark on a completely new one—not that most of us would really even want to.

I think that most women spend a lot of their lives re-inventing themselves every day: each new challenge, each new trauma, each new joy, each of those means that we have to re-think are values, our coping mechanisms, our reactions all the time. Feminism is still evolving, we are still evolving, and yet we are being pitted against each other for the decisions we make, the way we choose to live. Is it any wonder that we must confront our own selves on a regular basis? And is that any less transforming than those complete life reinventions profiled in magazines?

Women are amazingly flexible. We can take a licking and keep on ticking, as the old Timex commercial had it. We can bob and weave with every blow and still land a punch or two ourselves. And, most importantly, remain on our feet, as shaky as those feet may be sometimes. But this push to make us feel that what we are doing is never enough, that we must constantly re-invent ourselves and everything makes me nuts. For years we were not thin enough, not pretty enough, not pliable enough. And because of that, as we age, some of us remake ourselves physically with implants and liposuction and injections others (and I am one of them) try each and every face cream or serum that promises eternal youth. But still, as we grow ever older we are beset by examples of women who have chucked everything and gone for some or another gold; opened an inn, joined the Peace Corps, adopted a special needs child, changed gender.

None of the women I know are lazy in any description of the word, but the constant call to re-invent ourselves from top to bottom and inside and out can make us feel that no matter what we do it is never enough. What is enough, however, is the siren call to transform. I call for a moratorium on the word re-invention, especially for women. We are doing more than enough as it is.

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I Am Giving Up Hope for Lent

In the Christian tradition, Lent is a period of forty days, beginning Ash Wednesday, when the observant go into a period of denial, penance, and prayer, and, more commonly give up something important to them until Easter. While I as a Jew do not subscribe to the risen Christ — and can’t really reconcile giving over the suffering of someone else’s punishment as reparation for my own sins — it’s more than clear that the Catholic church in specific, with its direct lineage from Judaism, understands guilt and denial almost as well as we Jews do. So, in the spirit of ecumenical understanding, I hereby deny myself indulgence, for the next six weeks, in the most important thing in my life: Hope.

I give up Hope that the news will really be news instead of celebrity gossip, fashion, who is lying to whom, and all the other drivel that seems to populate the airwaves.

I give up Hope that the American public will actually educate themselves as to the issues facing our country today. I give up Hope that they will read a newspaper or two and do some of their own research, rather than just accept the inane meanderings of the mainstream electronic media.

I give up Hope that the anti-vaxxers will “get it” before an innocent child dies of a completely preventable disease.

I give up Hope that men will stop “mansplaining” everything and that male politicians will stop thinking that they can legislate what happens with women’s bodies.

I give up Hope that people will stop voting in politicians who continue to vote against their best interests and the Hope that Republicans will suddenly realize how idiotic it is just to say “No,” and will actually consider thinking before they don’t do anything.

I give up Hope that the American public will put the universal good before their own selfish needs.

I give up Hope that anything can change the national mindset about carbon emissions, big business, the banking cartels, the lobbyists, taxes, or anything else that adversely affects our country.

I give up Hope that corporations, national and internal, will take responsibility for the harm they do without regulation. And that politicians will stop trying to deregulate industries that don’t police themselves.

I give up Hope that the Corporate Destructive Officers will suddenly see the light and work for the better of their companies, rather than taking the money and run.

I give up Hope that people who comment on articles on the internet will actually stop and think before posting snark and cruelty. And I especially give up Hope that women will feel safe on the internet.

I give up Hope that the supporters of Fat Awareness will realize how silly their cause is and pause to consider that in this nation of obesity 47 million Americans are starving.

I give up Hope that fanatics will no longer feel the need to push their agenda on everyone who does not believe as they do. That includes ALL fanatics, at home and abroad.

I give up the Hope that reality television in the main will die a quick and painful death (with the exception of The Great British Baking Show).

I give up the Hope that people will actually choose substance over style.

I give up the Hope that people across the world will finally and unequivocally realize that war sucks and gets us nowhere.

I give up the Hope that we won’t have to personally donate to every disaster out of our pockets in order to save lives. And that the people in general will do the right thing before they are shamed on the Twitter.

I give up the Hope that parents who seem to mean well will actually raise their children to be decent, well-mannered, and thoughtful human beings, rather than pals who “like” them.

I give up the Hope that girl children will no longer be paraded in pageants. And I give up Hope that girls and women can dress as they wish without being slut-shamed.

I give up Hope that women will ever stop being scared of what a man can do to them.

I give up on the Hope that Americans will stop ignorantly disrespecting other countries’ health plans, culture, lifestyles and the rest, as distinctly inferior to our own.

I give up Hope that patriotism will get its good name back.

I give up the Hope that the huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor in this country will disappear and also the Hope that people will idolize capitalism as a false prophet.

I give up Hope that chick lit, vampire novels, ill-conceived “erotic” and the like will disappear, en masse, from bookstores. And I give up Hope that publishing will want interesting literary novels instead of the next big thing, whatever it is.

I give up the Hope that fame is the ultimate goal in life.

I give up Hope that fathers who actually take a day-to-day interest in their kids’ lives, and husbands who stay home with the kids will no longer be the subject of “trend” newspaper and magazine articles, but become, instead, part of the norm. And the Hope that men and women will stop circling each other like wrestlers and actually try to really get along.

I give up the Hope that we don’t have to all have Botox and plastic surgery to compete in the market, the Hope that good conversation hasn’t really died a hopeless death, the Hope that people will be nicer rather than meaner.

I give up Hope that examining one’s life will not be seen as a throwback and a weakness but as an important element to becoming a whole, functioning human being.

I give up the eternal Hope that most people won’t see life as drudgery but as journey, no matter how many bad things happen to them. And lastly, I give up Hope that people will no longer wallow in their victimhood but will grow courage and strength from their adversity.

This list of Hopes is a lot harder to give up than, say, eating chocolate or red meat, but my feeling is that if one is going to make the effort to give up something for Lent, it should be a biggee. So, in the next six weeks, every time I find myself Hoping that people will come to their senses and that the world really is on the road to better understanding and awareness; when I find myself Hoping that knowledge will triumph over ignorance, I’m going to stop myself. Quickly. And go and find a chocolate bar and a glass of vino as my penance.

(An earlier version of this essay originally appeared in the Huffington Post)

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This Is How You Die

The doctors want to know if my mother is on Coumadin. They want to know if she is in any pain. They ask her her name. She can answer none of these questions.

When she slipped out of her wheelchair and on to the floor the nurse who was with her left my mother where she was and called an ambulance. There was no one to accompany her to the hospital so my mother’s sister and brother-in-law, both well into their eighties, drove the 25 minutes from their house to be with her.

When the nurses and doctors asked my mother questions, my mother’s sister answered for her.

“She has advanced Alzheimer’s,” my aunt said, “She can’t answer questions.”

The doctors and nurses murmured like they understood, but for the next six hours, while my mother was examined, poked and prodded, sedated in order to be calm enough for an MRI and x-rays, the same questions were asked over and over.

Over and over questions were asked, the same questions about medications, how she was feeling, if anything hurt. My mother could answer none of them. Her chart was never examined.

“They should put a big red sticker that says ‘Alzheimer’s Patient’ on the top of her chart,” my aunt said to me, “So people would know.”

It wouldn’t matter, I knew, because no one looked at her chart anyway. And physical charts no longer hang at the foot of a patient’s bed; they are accessed by computer. This might seem like a time saver, a way to make sure everyone is on the same page. But no one looks at the charts. The doctors and nurses enter my mother’s room over and over and ask questions of her, as though she will finally have an answer.

In the ten years since her diagnosis, my mother has been hospitalized only once. For pain. But in the past month, she has been hospitalized twice: the first time for flu and pneumonia, the second most recently for slipping out of her wheelchair and onto the floor.

When I went to be with her in the hospital that first time, her flu and pneumonia were being treated with Tamiflu and antibiotics; she had an IV for hydration. Her arms from wrists to shoulders were black and blue from the combination of the IV’s insertion into her fragile skin and the restraints used to tie her to the bed so that she would not try and escape. The first night she was admitted the ER doctor talked to my aunt about my mother’s code, and whether she had a DNR. A day later my mother was trying to rush down the hall, dragging her IV. She was restrained and has since not walked without help again.

Days of sitting with my mother as she recovered from the flu and pneumonia meant trying to get her to eat, to leave the bed, to hobble down the hall. It meant feeding her as she would eat from no one’s hand but family. It meant trying to get her well enough to return to the memory unit of the assisted living home where she had been for a decade. The fifth day of her stay a doctor came in and examined her and then asked me if her current condition was normal.

“She has end stage Alzheimer’s,” I told him. He frowned. He hadn’t looked at her chart.

The next to the last day of her hospitalization my mother would not wake, she would not move, she would not eat or drink; she would not rouse at all. I kept trying to find nurses and doctors to help me wake her, to ask if she needed an IV put back in so that she would not get dehydrated. Everyone told me she was just having a bad day but I saw her dying in front of me, cured of the conditions which had brought her to the hospital but dying nonetheless.

But in the morning my mother was sitting up, shakily, on the side of the bed; she was sipping juice. An hour later, I asked some nurses to help me get her out of bed and walk her down the hall. In the afternoon, nurses from the memory unit were coming to assess her condition and determine if she could return. I wanted to show her at her best. But it wasn’t enough. That evening, New Year’s Eve, the hospital discharged her and we moved her, temporarily, we hoped, to a nursing home. There, we hoped, she would learn to eat and walk again, enough so that she could go “home.”

What happens to an Alzheimer’s patient who has no family? The patient who has no one who loves him or her? The patient who has outlived his or her family? The one who has no advocate to answer the questions the patient cannot? What happens to a patient won’t try and feed himself or even take nourishment from a nurse or aid? Who has nowhere to go? Who matters to no one? I shudder to think.

In the last decision my mother would ever make, she chose to go into assisted living in New England where she had lived for the past 26 years. Two of her daughters lived hundreds of miles away, the third nearly two hours away on an island. My mother’s elderly sister lived close by, and there were many friends and co-workers to whom my mother had become attached. She felt at home; she did not wish to leave. I might have been able to anticipate all that would come from that decision had I not been still reeling from her diagnosis. I asked her to come down close to me. She said no; she wished to stay where she was.

But friends and coworkers have fallen away or died or finally realized that my mother does not know them. My aunt has grown more frail; she does not drive. Her husband tends to my mother’s financial needs and drives his wife to see her. And they end up being called in emergencies, while I worry from a thousand miles away.

The Telegraph recently wrote about the British Medical journal report on “a checklist of 29 assessments (which) could spot which of the elderly are closest to death so costly treatments are not wasted on them.” Included in the “‘The Critera for Screening and Triaging to Appropriate aLternative care, or CriSTAL” are low systolic blood pressure, need for oxygen therapy, hypoglycemia, low urinary output, a personal history of active disease including dementia, previous hospitalization within one year, weight loss, weakness, evidence of frailty, inability for physical activity or new inability to stand, and being a nursing home resident.

My 86-year-old mother has all of those signs, although not others and no disease other than her dementia. She has a DNR; we have asked that she not be taken to the hospital unless absolutely necessary. We do not support long hospital stays or costly treatments. But what do you do when a person comes down with the flu and pneumonia or falls out of a wheelchair? Who makes that assessment? If my mother was at home we could have just made her “comfortable,” but would we have been comfortable with that? She is not ready for hospice, or at least we don’t think she is. Their guidelines include several of the same indicators as above but she is unable to make her own choice and we are not quite ready to make it for her. Besides, we have no idea whether she has a week, a month, or a year or more left. Aside from the dementia she is healthy; had she not come down with the flu and pneumonia (70% of the elderly who are hospitalized for pneumonia die), she might well have never had to leave the memory care unit. And as it turns out she did not break a hip (1 out of 5 patients with hip fractures die within a year) or any other bone when she fell out of her wheelchair.

I don’t want my mother to die. But I don’t want her to remain in a nursing home for the remainder of her life. My family and I fought hard against it, even though the facility she is now in is better than most. We had hoped against hope that her transition from assisted living to the memory unit in the same facility would be her last move. We are now confronted with what seem like new issues and concerns daily. We are not asking for extraordinary care; we have signed a waiver against feeding tubes or transport to the hospital for anything but the most extraordinary issue. But day to day my mother deteriorates: her recent hospital stays have sped up that deterioration. One day she could walk and feed herself and now she needs help. In October she knew me, in December she did not. I have really lost her.

In “The Fallacy of ‘Giving Up,‘” Atlantic Monthly writer James Hamblin discusses recent books by Atul Gawande, Sherwin Nuland, Angelo Volandes. These are books by doctors who reveal the ways in which the elderly are kept alive by physicians, the ways in which we can’t talk of death and dying.

Volandes, writes Hamblin, notes that “most doctors currently in practice graduated medical school before palliative care was ubiquitous, and before The Conversation (about end of life issues) was part of curricula.” And Volandes points out that while 80 percent of Americans wish to die at home close to 55 percent die in nursing homes or hospitals. This, is of course, assuming that they can make that request. My mother cannot.

Hamblin notes Atul Gawande’s statistic that in the 1940s, almost everyone died at home. “But by the last 1980s, a mere 17 percent of people did.” And so, says Hamblin, people today “died fighting. They died fighting even when the fight was futile. They died on sterile wards with electrodes taped to their chests and tubes in orifices both natural and manmade. They died deprived of sleep and good food and all things familiar….And worst, they died the way they most likely wouldn’t have wanted to die.” As Volandes stresses, much of this could have been avoided if doctors and patients could have had The Conversation.

My family and I have had The Conversation. We have talked about my mother’s death; we talk about it still. We have to; we have been living with it for years. Most recently we actually talked about the details of it: what will be done, where she will be buried, who will do her service. I lie in bed and mull over her eulogy.But there is such a fine line between major intervention and treating her for things that happen, things from which she may well recover, at least physically. And when my mother has no voice, when no conversation was had with her before she got ill, we are now torn between asking the doctors and nurses to make her comfortable and asking them to put in an IV because she will take fluids by mouth. As soon as my mother’s flu and pneumonia were “cured,” the hospital wanted her out. We had to find a place for her to go. To live or to die.

We aren’t giving up. But we aren’t fighting too hard, either. Except for comfort and safety. At this point all I want is for my mother to be at peace for the time she has left. I want her transported to no more hospitals in no more ambulances. I want her no longer sedated so that a test can be run or a line can be inserted. I want nothing to add to the agitation that seems already to permeate her day to day life. I want no more disruptions, no more interventions. But she cannot die at home or with me. That avenue is lost. So if she falls ill or slips from a chair she will most likely end up in a hospital again. And we will answer the doctor’s questions because my mother cannot.

So this is how you die. Not with a bang but a whimper. With a slow leaking of self, with a mind which no longer exists but is trapped in a body which won’t give up. This is how you die and how those who love you watch it happen, helpless.

(This essay originally appeared in The Broad Side)

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Fifty Shades of Grey: I Have Other Fantasies

With the release of the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m reminded that I have fantasies.

Oh, do I have fantasies. They wake me up in the middle of the night; they keep me from work; they interfere with my relationships. My longing is unending. It consumes me. Sometimes I stand, immobilized by my desires: So strong and overwhelming are they that I am unable even to make a step forward.

My fantasies are those of domination and submission but not in the bedroom: in the boardroom, where those in power turn over control to those who have none.

My fantasies involve our fearless leader standing in front of Congress and announcing loudly that they need to shit or get off the pot. The time for doing nothing is over, long over, and if legislation is not made to help the unemployed, students and the elderly, then they will all lose their jobs and their benefits immediately, perhaps retroactively. That taxes will be raised on the very rich, that the Social Security limit for taxation will be increased, that the citizens they purport to represent will have, at the least, the kind of benefits that they have. That control will be held by the people who elected them.

I imagine a scenario where the Supreme Court finally gets a clue and realizes Citizens United was a disaster of a ruling; where they revisit it and end the flow of huge and ugly money to our elections.

I fantasize about a world where we decide that our defense budget is large enough, too large, in fact, and that it will be drastically cut and those monies deflected elsewhere: towards education, single payer health care, the environment. A world in which we move to stop the destruction of our world, in which we no longer subsidize the oil companies, the larger agricultural companies, the pharmaceutical industry.

My longing is palpable for a world in which people actually think of the good of the whole before their own personal happiness. Where people do not selfishly imagine that they, too, will one day be rich and therefore can be selfish, but conjure instead a life with meaning instead of money. I desire a world where no one goes hungry at the same time someone else buys another mansion, another car, another handbag. Where no one is beaten or beaten down.

My fantasies are those of world peace, a place where countries can co-exist and not endlessly try and destroy each other, where stupid and misguided racism no longer overrides common sense; where there is a complete halt to ugly rhetoric, and lies are both caught and challenged by the media. I imagine a world, in fact, where black and white no longer exist but are overshadowed by nuance. Where there is not one God’s truth, but all mankind’s decency toward each other. I think about a world in which a billion dollars is not spent electing a president, but one in which that billion dollars is put to good and kind use.

In my fantasy world, bankers do not win the game by breaking all the rules while those of us who have been honest and played fair suffer deep and abiding losses. It is a world where those in power understand the responsibility that goes with it. A world in which we really do live by the late Rodney King’s words, in which Martin Luther King is not a relic, in which the programs of the New Deal and The Great Society are not relegated to history books and deemed uncool.

In the darkest hours of the night, I create a world where people march in the streets instead of playing computer games, going to the drive-through, watching reality television shows, sitting on their hands convinced that nothing they do matters.

Because I wonder: When will the world wake up and realize that we are all on a television reality show? That while we believe we are acting without a script, the truth is that it is only our minor moves and decisions (what to have for breakfast, what to wear) which are really ours; that the larger issues that consume us are being manipulated by the few and the powerful who fashion our direction, even as we delude ourselves into thinking we are in control.

This is not the benign world of The Truman Show and it is worse even than the Matrix meme that we are all part of someone’s game. Rather, we are all Pinocchio, held up by Geppetto’s strings and we live under the illusion that we finagle the tenuous threads that hold us up and keep us moving. We operate under the notion that our free will can overcome those who hold us in their thrall. While the darkest predictions of those who believe the world will end this year may not come true, still we are on a fast and furious collision course with ourselves because our short term memory is all we have left and so in the long haul we are all like Alzheimer’s patients who can only have the same conversation over and over again. Our condition is indeed approaching terminal.

But I have hallucinations, wet dreams, flights of fancy that we can change course and save ourselves from the inevitable, if slow and painful, decline that comes with our disease.

And so, I continue to think that there may yet be ways out of this mess.

My fantasy life does not jettison debate, difference, opinion or belief. It does not involve a world of sheep grazing the same grass. In fact, it wishes for just the opposite: a world in which people think before they talk, read outside their beliefs and operate with the overriding concern that everything they do has an impact on the planet and each other. It is a world in which we are all separated not by six, but by one degree of separation. Or perhaps just a world in which we wake up and the past 30 years have been a very bad dream and we get a do-over. And this time we get it right.

(This post originally appeared in The Broad Side and in an earlier version in The Huffington Post)

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Amy Poehler’s Honest Relationship Advice: Maintenance Sex is OK

Is “maintenance sex” any different than maintenance dish washing or yard mowing or watching the kids? Is it any different than maintenance listening or maintenance talking or maintenance going to the in-laws for Thanksgiving?

I don’t think so. Marriages and relationships take care and maintenance to make them work regardless of which aspect of a life together we’re talking about.

There are plenty of times no one really wants to clean the house or shop for groceries but we do it anyway. The same goes for sex. Sometimes all you really want to do is watch “Sons of Anarchy” in real time rather than DVR it and catch it two days from now but your husband asks you to come to bed. And you do. Or he is watching his umpteenth Sunday football game when he realizes (because you have made it obvious) that the two of you haven’t had sex in a couple of weeks and football comes around every Sunday but a moment for an hour in bed together might not.

Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship (which is anything over a year, after that heady sexual passion becomes slightly more … realistic) knows about maintenance everything, including maintenance sex. And yet, like badly behaved children or the way we stuff things in the closet when company comes, no one wants to talk about it. Because we are all perfect: our children are well-behaved, our houses are spotless and our sex lives are awesome.

Even with that reality, some feminists are up in arms over Amy Poehler’s list of sex advice in her new book, “Yes Please”, which includes this:

“You have to have sex with your husband occasionally, even though you’re exhausted. Sorry.”

Some women have suggested this sets up a possible rape scenario for later in the relationship or makes women feel as though they need to force themselves to have sex.

But Amy isn’t talking about rape or force. She’s talking about love. And maintenance. Like a furnace that needs a tune-up every year, a car that needs its oil changed every 5,000 miles or anything else which needs regular upkeep to stay in working order, long-term relationships are all about the day to day, the week to week, the year to year. And being realistic. It simply isn’t possible to keep up the captivating romance of those first few months (or years, if you are lucky) of overwhelming desire once a house is bought, jobs are won and lost, children arrive, illness sets in, parents sicken and die, and the world’s issues encroach no matter what you do to keep them out.

We are all exhausted. We are all spent. We are all ready to settle in to bed with Words With Friends or a good book or ten back issues of the New Yorker. But we can’t always do that if we wish to continue living with the person who climbs into bed next to us.

Sure, sometimes we head to the bedroom at 9 p.m. to stave off the amorous desires of our partner. Or we pretend to be asleep. Or we announce a headache or an early morning and a hellish day. We also overlook the dishes in the sink and the garbage sitting at the front door and the Legos on the floor. Life is all about selective ostrich mode. But it’s also about seeing what the other person needs, hearing what he or she is really saying, understanding what is wanted. That’s when maintenance sex can help, when we turn toward our partner instead of away when he/she places his/her hand on our leg. When we stop the flow of ‘to-do’ lists in our heads and go with another flow instead.

I was married for 20 years and frankly I would have loved a little more sex of any kind, even maintenance sex. Many months went by when I longed for a touch or a kiss or an embrace. Yeah, the dishes were washed, the yard was raked, and the kids were taken to school, but none of that was for me alone. And we went without so long it became impossible to get it back. By the time I left I had forgotten what sex, any kind, felt like. Discovering it again was like getting the most wondrous gift. But I have also learned that asking for what you need is imperative. If you can say: “Please do the dishes” you can also say “Please touch me. Please come to bed.” You can also see past your own exhaustion or indifference on any given day and focus on the desire in your mate’s eyes and just go for that. It doesn’t mean you are giving in or putting out or compromising yourself or setting yourself up for future violence. It just means “I love you and I hear you and I will have maintenance sex with you.”

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Yeah, But I Still Feel Bad About My Face

Some days I look in the mirror and I think: You look pretty good for a woman pushing 60. Other days I glance at myself and wonder: Who is that woman? She looks nothing like me. More than once I catch glimpses of my mother and my father in the way I look. And when I see photographs of my grandparents and parents when they were the age I am now I am both stunned and saddened. My parents look as I remember them, young and beautiful. My grandparents look like old people. Nice old people but old people nonetheless.

I am not sure what 59 is supposed to look like. That’s the number on my next birthday, upcoming in a few weeks. What I do know is that I do not have the face I had at 19, 29, 39 or even 49. It has thinned, it has wrinkled, it has…elongated. It resembles my other faces but it isn’t quite what I think it is when I don’t look at it. I have been looking at my face for more than half a century and I should be used to the changes. But I’m not.

Recently I asked my son if I looked like the mother he had as a child. He took the question seriously (I like that about him) and said, thoughtfully: I don’t know. I would have to look at photographs. You are not unfamiliar, he said.

I am not unfamiliar.


Part of the reason I feel bad about my face is that for too many years I did not accept that youth and heredity had been kind to me. I had no real idea. I know from memory and photographs that at 14 I changed quite dramatically: off came the braces and the glasses; I learned how to properly wear my hair; my body caught up to my boobs, and, perhaps most importantly, that small amount of confidence was just enough to propel me to expand my mind and my horizons rather than obsess about why I wasn’t a cool blonde cheerleader/homecoming queen. I was no longer homely. But I wish I had been slightly more grateful. Perhaps I would feel less bad about my face now had I been more aware then.

When my boyfriend tells me I am beautiful, I tell him: You should have seen me years ago. Apparently I really was beautiful then. In fact, a friend just sent me a photo of myself from 20 years ago. I recognize that woman but, boy, does she look young. The face my boyfriend knows is the face he met at 54: to him I will remain that face forever (or at least I can hope). He can never know me prettier. Or younger. But he also won’t know me far more insecure. This is, I suppose, not a bad thing.

It isn’t fashionable to admit to feeling bad about how you look because if you do and if you do anything about it (like surgery or fillers) people will mercilessly attack you for feeling bad about your face AND for doing something about it. Unless, of course, you’re Nora Ephron and you write your fear funny. And besides, I feel fine about my neck (although I do notice a recent crepeyness); it’s my face that has me in a sometimes tizzy.

And yes, I know beauty and the loss of it is a first-world problem, a supposed woman’s issue, nothing compared to the death of the environment or the end of the world or anything huge and really worrisome. I am supposed to be grateful I am aging at all and not, sick. Or dead. I need a disclaimer just to write this essay.

But I still feel bad about my face.


I have spent enough money on lotions and potions and tools and creams and make-up and serums and miracle wrinkle cures to feed a thousand people. I am sure of it. It isn’t as if I really believe the hype but I buy into it anyway; a good part of me is convinced that the relative smoothness of my skin is due to this or another cream, rather than genetics or luck. Or even delusion. It is entirely possible, probable even, that my looks don’t change at all day to day; what changes is only how I react to my face. If I’m busy and things are going well I feel pretty; if I am laid low by illness or something tough is going on then I might spend far too much time in self-examination. And no face, no matter how beautiful, can stand up to a 10X mirror and the critical eye of an unsettled beholder.

And as I have been trying to write about the losses my face has suffered I am keenly aware that there are lots of things I could do about those losses. The recent kerfuffle around a noted actress’s new face notwithstanding, plastic surgery has been around a long time. I can easily remember Elizabeth Taylor in Ash Wednesday, her gorgeous face wrapped in white gauze and her eyes hidden by huge dark glasses. I was 17 and contemptuous of women who would go to such lengths. What did I know? I still had years and years of youth on my side.

But while I am not averse to injections of all sorts, or peels or whatever else one can do without surgery, I am against surgery for myself because I am terrified of anesthesia, more terrified of the short term memory loss which accompanies it (and grows more prevalent with age) and the possibilities that something could go wrong than I am of the surgery itself. I am also against surgery for myself because surgery is permanent and if I wind up with a face which is not familiar then what do I do? It is hard enough living with the ‘naturally’ changing face I have without having to deal with one made by a doctor who is trying to turn me in something I thought I wanted but have no real idea of. On the other hand, Jane Fonda looks damned good and if she gave me the number of her surgeon and held my hand throughout the procedure I might reconsider.


My mother was a gorgeous woman with an arresting mien, more stunning than beautiful. Hard to look away from. Individually her features were gravely imperfect. But she was a looker. For the past ten years she has had little knowledge of how she looks or how badly she has aged, or how her face has collapsed in on itself. Alzheimer’s has taken over her mind and stolen her beauty. For the first couple of years she fought back: she wore lipstick and mascara, dressed elegantly, carried herself like a queen. But all that is gone. Now her hair is fixed against her desire. Her nails are painted shocking colors by a group of young volunteers who come to her in assisted living. She is dressed by aides. She is not familiar. She is not at all familiar. On the other side, my aunt, my mother’s sister, jokes that her own worsening macular degeneration has an upside: she can no longer see how old she looks: the wrinkles blurred, the age spots not visible in her blindness. For that tiny thing she remains grateful even of her loss of vision has rendered her far more helpless. But she can still see her own decline as it is mirrored in her sister’s face.

I neither wish to lose my mind nor my sight. So I supposed that if I am lucky enough to keep both then I will have to continue to confront my face. And sometimes feel bad about it.

Aging is a bitch. There isn’t a woman I know who doesn’t suffer from some vanity, no matter how ignoble we think it is. We may not color our hair but we fix our nails and our face; we may not wear makeup but we color our hair. We may not care much about shopping or clothes but we plunk down good money for skin care. And all of us have that moment when we pass by a mirror or a window and see ourselves and we are not familiar. Not familiar at all.

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The Problem with the ‘Mommy’ Problem May Be Mommies

Don’t you hate it when you get to the end of an article and the last line is “We’re still the same underneath it all?”

In a recent essay in the New York Times, Heather Havrilesky has some points to make and one of them is that moms don’t like being called moms by anyone else but their kids. She spends a lot of time complaining about this. Because becoming a mom, she says, doesn’t so much change you as “refurbish” you, but only on the outside where other people can see and call you mommy against your will: on the inside…well, see above. She then goes on to cite Mommy and Me classes as part of the name issue and then talks about helicopter parenting and the way that some moms devote their entire lives to their kids as it she had suddenly discovered something new.

I have news for her. Twenty-seven years ago when I became a mom the same thing happened. And 27 years before that when other moms became moms they experienced many of the same things, too. There might not have been mommy “bloggers” back in the dark old days before the internet, but the pull between devotion to child and devotion to something else: job, self, outside interests, has been with us for a while now. Many of the writers and marchers and protesters of Second Wave Feminism are still around to prove it, as are those who came after and had their own struggles with what kind of mothers we wanted to be, had to be, should be. This is not new. This is not news. This is not a trend. (Note to readers: if something appears in the New York Times as a trend it is like a stock tip appearing on CNBC.) And being called ‘’mommy” by relative strangers is the least of the struggle.

What is behind each generation of mothers failing to recognize any sense of anyone having done anything like it before them? Isn’t part of the point of becoming a mother that we discover sympathy for our own moms? We finally get it? And why is it not possible to talk about motherhood without resorting to the resilient and wearying clichés of too much dirty laundry and the desire not to teach one’s child a foreign language in the womb as harbingers of our losing our identity? Is it impossible to discuss how complex motherhood is in the modern age (an age which did not begin in the 21st century) without pitting tiger moms against mothers who completely neglect their children–illustrating polar opposites just to make a point? Apparently not.

I get it. I do. Motherhood can be eye opening and I may have been a bit flummoxed myself when one mother confided in me that she never made her son eat vegetables because she was afraid if she did he wouldn’t like her. I was slightly unprepared when another mother fed my son and her daughter white bread with grape jelly and Kool-Aid because that was all her kid would eat. I may have even felt a tiny bit superior when, while I was preparing for a sabbatical year abroad in the UK with my husband, six-month-old baby and six-year-old son, a woman whose children played with my son told me, with a visible shudder, that she wouldn’t take her children to the supermarket never mind England. It is just the way of things that the frisson of competitiveness is always with us: we need it to assure ourselves that we and only we are doing things the right way. Even if we often have no idea what it is we are doing. And that is the part Havrilesky gets right when she slides those tales of rivalry into her essay. She might do well, however, to have read some older writers whose struggles were exactly the same. But when she insists that what is most important is the idea that motherhood is so all-encompassing that everyone calls you “mom” she loses the thread. Her essay isn’t really about being called “mom” at all; it is about feeling the need to give into and fighting against, at the same time, the expectations of modern motherhood that we perceive society is forcing us into. But that isn’t new either. And it isn’t going to be solved by getting our names back and asking people to stop calling us “mom.”

In fact, were one really to write an essay about motherhood in the 21st century one might do better to reflect on the underlying violence Havrilesky’s essay alludes to: When describing the need to be “all in, all the time,” the author talks about her sister-in-law, who, incensed by a mother who turned a school T-shirt into a craft project, wished to “teach a few people the artisanal craft of rearranging someone’s face using only your bare hands.” Bump that sentence up against the recent Huffington Post essay “To The Furious Mom in the Target Parking Lot,” in which the writer commiserates with another mother who is having a seriously terrible, really awful, horrible bad day; and the big story in the news about the mother who punched out a woman who dared to ask her to quiet her baby in a department store, and what you see is a far larger and scarier story than juggling soccer and ballet with one’s own personal and professional needs. Even though Havrilesky insists that every woman she knows loves motherhood, clearly there are many who do not or do not on any given day, for sure. And the reason for that may well be our own internally competitive natures which can be far more crippling than the competition we see from others. You get that pissed off over a craft project or a shopping trip and something larger is going on.

Obviously it is more than “the reigning cultural narrative (which) tells us that we are no longer lively, inspired women with our own ideas and emotions so much as facilitators mean to employ the calm, helpful tones of diplomats,” that causes such fury. The fact is that when women are mothers they are mothers first, and that is simply not news. It’s that that we need to know before we make the decision to have a child. And every woman needs to make the choice herself and not have that choice taken away from her. My mom had children as much because she was supposed to as she wanted to, and she told me so. Societal norms pressured her to marry and have a family when she wasn’t entirely sure that was what she wanted. I get that. My decision to have a child, then another, was made consciously, with the knowledge that my life would change completely and I would become a different person. I was okay with that then and I am okay with it now. Twenty-five years ago I was also okay with a little boy tugging at his mother’s hand and yelling out in the supermarket: “That’s Philip’s mom!” as though “Philip’s mom” were my only name. In fact, some of the dearest friends I have made in my life came simply because I was my children’s mother and bumped up against women I might not have met. Being called “mom” by people other than my own kids is certainly the least of the things that ever bothered me about motherhood.

Mommy isn’t a bad word. It isn’t an epithet. It isn’t name-calling. It isn’t demeaning. It may not be all of who we are but it is a huge part and I, for one, embrace it. It isn’t the word that is the issue, it isn’t even the expectations behind the word that is the issue. It is accepting ourselves as the flawed, sometimes pissed off but hopefully not pathologically violent women we are. It’s cutting ourselves a break and it’s sweating the big stuff. The huge stuff. Not what other people call us but what we call ourselves.

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Hidden: My Life in Anti-Semitism

With the current conflict in Israel, and the seemingly non-stop coverage of back and forth bombings and cease fires between Israel and Gaza, suddenly anti-Semitism is all the rage, popping up in places I thought I would never see it again. With everyone, even people not involved in the conflict, picking sides, it seems fashionable to hate the Jews again. That hatred seems to be disguised in the uniting behind a common enemy (the Israelis) around whom even the left can rally. And it is further disguised, disingenuously, by the argument that those who criticize the Israelis are not really criticizing the Jews as a whole.

Those rationales might sound logical; they might be true in the sense of the individual. But the climate surrounding all Jews as the latest villain (you do remember that just a few short years ago it was all Muslims) perpetuates the kind of stereotyping and violent prejudice that is now littering the airwaves and the internet. Where once you had to go looking for it on insane websites, it is now obvious and front page news.

These events make me remember earlier times, another war, and other small personal betrayals, which all make today’s no-longer-under-the-radar anti-Semitism particularly disturbing.

Some years ago, as the new wife of a new faculty member I attended a dinner party during which the hostess used the word “nigger.” Ten years later at a different dinner party a hostess used the word “wetback.” These words were used casually and as if they were acceptable. I was nearly speechless. I say nearly because I managed to speak. I managed to tell the gathered that those words were unacceptable. And I made sure to decline further invitations to those houses. But recently it seems as though certain ways of speaking about minorities have become once again both casual and acceptable.

As a Jew, although I may be able to “pass” in a way that other minorities may not, I have, since I reached adulthood, somehow managed to slip that part of my identity into most conversations as much to avoid my own pain as to save others from embarrassment. I suppose that, in a passive aggressive kind of way, it worked; on the other hand I was never able to tease out what people might have really wished to say: I was not privy to the sorts of statements made about me which were made about others at those two dinner parties. Those, of course, were not unique events.

I think I simply did not wish to keep discovering that people I knew could be ugly. And I recognized that I took my cues early on from witnessing the end of segregation. When black children first turned up in my 4th grade class, they were obvious, of course, but also unapologetic. That seemed a good thing. But for too long I was neither. I wanted to believe the best. Yet I know that I was fooling only myself.

Recently acquaintances and friends of acquaintances on Facebook in particular have told me not use the “Holocaust card” in talking about Israel. Others have said, quite sincerely as though it were fact, that the Jews run Hollywood and will brook no disagreement from those who do not support Israel. Several people who I presumed had more sense tried to defend Jews by saying that that old Hollywood thing was what used to be, not what is now, as though the Jews had given up a power they had actually had. Old myths die hard and sometimes not at all.

I have tried to withdraw from the public conflict the most recent war in Israel has stirred up but suddenly anti-Semitism is all the rage, popping up in places I thought I might not see it again. It once again seems fashionable to hate the Jews. It is disguised in the uniting behind a common enemy (the Israelis) around whom even the left can rally. And it is further disguised, disingenuously, by the argument that those who criticize the Israelis are not really criticizing the Jews as a whole. That statement might be logical; it might be true in the sense of an individual. But the climate surrounding who is the latest villain (you do remember that just a few short years ago it was all Muslims) perpetuates the kind of stereotyping and violent prejudice that is now littering the airwaves and the internet. Where once you had to go looking for it on insane websites, it is now obvious and front page news. And I remember an earlier time, another war, and another small betrayal.


On September 11, 2001, I was standing in a papeterie in Paris’s 15 Arrondissement trying to finish my children’s school shopping list. The day before I had lugged home on the bus two tied packages of notebooks, fountain pens, folders and all the assorted things the school required and then the kids had come home with another list.

We had been living in Paris just under a month; my language skills were minimal. My then husband was in Tours with 25 college students whom he was in charge of for their junior year abroad. They took intensive language classes in Tours and then headed back to Paris to live with families and attend French universities.

The woman behind the corner rang up my order and then said, noticing my clear American accent and the fact that I had just handed the list to her with a shrug and a s’il vous plait?: “An airplane just flew into your Empire State Building.” Then she paused and cocked her head to listen to the radio again. “I think. I am not sure. There has been something big.”

I hurried out of the store and to the school a block away to pick up my children. It was three in the afternoon there. Everyone, American expats and people from half a dozen countries who had children at the bilingual school, had a mobile phone glued to the side of their face. People from other countries were asking “What? What?”

We soon found out what. And like the rest of the people at the school I stood in shock, holding my kids hands and wondering what on earth I was going to do next. That is when Sylvia, a Brazilian woman I’d met at orientation and with whom I’d had coffee a couple of times, came up to me and asked if there was anyone I needed to call. I couldn’t think of anything at that moment, other than the fact that my husband was hours away and the French bureaucracy had prevented us from getting phones or satellite television until we had a month’s apartment bills to show. When Sylvia next offered her lovely home, close to mine, and CNN International, my children and I followed her and her daughters down the street and to the metro and we rode back to the 16th together. There the six of us sat transfixed for hours as we watched the horror, still not quite believing it.

At some point I headed up the road to get takeaway pizza for all of us and the man who took my order said: “You are American, yes?” When I nodded he came around from the back of the counter and hugged me, hard, and said: “I am so sorry. We are all Americans today.”

I never grew terribly close to Sylvia as my kids made friends in their own grades and the mothers of those friends often became my friends. People with whom I had more in common became my close friends there, but Sylvia had thrown me a lifeline on a terrible day and my husband and I had her and her American husband and children over for dinner a few times. We went to their house several times. I helped her shop for draperies for her flat.

In the spring of 2003, Sylvia asked me if I wished to take a porcelain painting class with her. I did. I had painted as a young woman and wanted to get back to it. I was intrigued by the idea of panting on porcelain and was happy in the class of four French women, Sylvia and me. The meticulousness of the art was a tiny Zen retreat from a world caught up in war and the fact that Europe, with the U.S. intervention in Iraq, no longer supported Americans in the same way they had immediately after 9/11. But a couple of months into the class, Sylvia sighed, put down her brush, sipped some tea and said casually to the group of us: “Oh this awful war. I don’t know why we are in Iraq anyway. You French (she said to the other women) were smart to stay out of it. We never would have been over there if the Jews hadn’t pushed it.”

I took a deep breath and said, as calmly as I could, in French, “What did you say?”

She shrugged. “The Jews. You know. I mean YOU know. There are those who think you are responsible for the whole towers thing, too. But for sure you talked us into this other war. You run government. You run banking. And now look what you have gotten us into.”

I kept calm but my hands were shaking: “Sylvia,” I said, switching to English, a language the other women did not speak. “That isn’t true.”

“What do you mean? Of course it is. Don’t get so upset. You guys always get so upset over everything.” The hostess asked brightly: Everything okay?

I assured her it was. But it wasn’t. Not at all. I never spoke to Sylvia again other than a polite hello. I made my way to the class on the other side of the city alone, rather than with her. I could have said more but what good would it have done? I had encountered this sort of thing many times before but never, after childhood, from someone I thought I knew.


The age of five is not an age where one expects to have a life-altering experience. But I did. In kindergarten one day a girl came up to me and told me I was going to hell. I had no idea what hell was, but rather than ask her I just said what a child would say: I am not! She argued back that I was. Because I did not believe in Christ. I was not a Christian, she said. I had not been saved. I was a Jew.

I went home and accosted my mother: “Am I going to hell? I asked. Am I?”

My mother listened to my story and then shook her head and smiled. In a moment of pure reason and kindness, two things I would seldom get from her, she said: “Well, if you are you should not be afraid. We will all be there with you. Your father and I, your sisters, your grandparents, your cousins. All of us are Jews and so we will all be there. And what kind of awful place could it be if everyone you loved was there?” She laughed. “Don’t worry. It will be fine.”

That was the beginning of my self. The way I thought of me, who I was, what I was, what I would do and how I would do it. That tiny moment, as a child, when I knew that I was an Other, part of a group of Others. A very small group in the quite small town I grew up in.

A year later in temple I would see films of the liberation of the concentration camps, and while the emaciated bodies of those who were freed disturbed me I did not see them as victims. I did not see myself as a victim. I saw us all as survivors. I read the Ann Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” for the first time in second grade. That was the same year that my teacher, an otherwise decent and loving woman, denied me a gold star for Sunday school attendance, even though, each Sunday morning, I traveled an hour each way to Knoxville for three hours of Hebrew instruction and Jewish education. My five-hour day in my own house of God didn’t count, according to the teacher, because it wasn’t a church. I was the only child in class without a row of at least a few stars after her name.

A couple of years later I drove with my father out of town to collect payment from one of his clients. My father was an old-fashioned salesman and business owner in a time when that counted. He established relationships and made personal visits to the people who bought from him. Occasionally he took my sisters or me. On that day, as I sat in another man’s office bouncing back and forth in chair, the man held out the check to my father and then quickly pulled it away. He cocked an eyebrow and said, “Now you aren’t Jewing me down, are you Jay.”

A look of fury mixed with pain ran across the normally cheerful face of my father. Almost nothing fazed him and I had never seen this look before. He took a deep breath and then looked the man in the eye. “Don’t say things like that, Bob, please,” my father said. “Ah, Jay, I was just kidding,” the man replied, his face flushed red. In the car my father explained what the man had meant. “He’s been a customer for years,” my father said, angry again. “Years! What would make him say a thing like that?” At 10 I had no answer.

That same year I came home and asked my mother if we were rich. If all Jews were rich. This was another thing I had heard in school, a sage pronouncement that was spoken as if it were real. The same look that had crossed my father’s face crossed hers. She gathered my sisters and me up and we went visiting: an elderly couple, Holocaust survivors, who live on the largess of the small Jewish community, who were taken in and taken care of by a half-dozen families. We took them soup and challah. I found out my mother visited them regularly.


My 18 years in east Tennessee were, despite the wonderful friends I made (friends I have to this day), marred by incidents like the ones I have described. My 8th grade homeroom teacher (homeroom is a concept that no longer exists. In my day it was a ‘class’ of a half hour in which roll was taken and the day was started), a former Baptist minister, insisted we all pray to Jesus, eyes closed, devout. Until my mother came in and spoke to the principal and asked that I be allowed to step outside the room until the prayer was over. My teacher liked me even less after that. I sat in a chair outside the door and wondered really which was worse: talking to God silently and apologizing for the Jesus thing or just being quiet with myself for five minutes. Everyone who wandered by wanted to know what I was doing out in the hall. How had I misbehaved? How had I indeed?

There were a few other Jewish kids scattered about the public school system, including two girls of my exact age, one of whom became my best friend and still is the person who knows me best; the other was a woman with whom I was friendly for many years basically because our parents were. She and I had little in common but circumstances kept us in each others’ orbit until about ten years ago. My best friend’s father had been a Jewish gangster and was shot to death in his home in St. Louis. But no one but me knew that. Her mother had remarried a non-Jew and what my friend knew about Judaism I could fit into a thimble. She also had the kind of sunny personality where bad stuff just slid off her. My other friend’s mother had been born and raised in our little town, her uncle ran the shoe store in town; being a native seemed to carry more weight than being Jewish. She was very pretty and very popular and things went fairly smoothly for her, too. Although the truth was she never wanted to talk about the serious stuff, never about anti-Semitism.

My family consisted of a bunch of troublemakers, especially my mother and me. My parents were essentially carpetbaggers, my father was a business owner, they were exotic and ethnic looking even if I wasn’t, even if I could have passed had I wanted and had I been prettier. But my mother was the one always dragging the menorahs and Passover plates to school to explain “our” holidays. She was the one who went to the principal and got me out of praying; she was the one who fought with the administration when they wanted to count the High Holidays as days absent (not that I ever was even close to perfect attendance). My mother wrote a column for the newspaper. She said political stuff. She was involved. Therefore I was visible whether I wanted to be or not.

And from the age of five, so was I.

With each traveling tent revival (and there were many back in the day) one or another Christian at my school would invite me to go. I heard they got extra points for saving a Jew along with getting saved themselves. That may have been as false as the things they said about me. But as I had already attended a half a dozen churches of a half a dozen different Christian denominations with my Girl Scout troop as part of the religion badge, I didn’t bite.

A very cute boy told me he wanted to ask me out but he didn’t date Jews. His mother wouldn’t let him.

My mother insisted I join B’nai Brith, an organization of Jewish boys and girls. This meant even more trips to Knoxville after my Sunday school years were over but I also went to conferences in Nashville, Biloxi, Birmingham and other large cities where there were tons of kids just like me. I felt sometimes that I lived a double life: the small town me who acted like everyone else. Mostly. And the other me, the Jewish me. I felt that I needed to arm myself with information, with knowledge, so that when kids in my town asked to see my horns (they did, honest) or if the holiday I was celebrating was the one in which we killed baby boys and drank their blood (real question) I could answer, well, reasonably. Even if the questions were unreasonable.
The questions did not end. Years and years later as a grown woman and mother of two, I was sitting in the dentist chair in yet another small Southern town in which I lived, when the hygienist who had known me for a long time, asked me if we Jews still made sacrifices.

My first thought was to tell her that, yes, it was indeed a sacrifice to live in a town without a Bloomingdale’s, but I knew that was a smart ass remark and that she wouldn’t get it and I would not have accomplished anything. So, patiently, in between pokes and prods and rinsing and spitting, I told her that that sort of thing had gone out of fashion thousands of years ago. She looked at me and said, “You know I don’t know anything about being Jewish. Would you come and talk to the women at my church about it?”

My mother, who had done that sort of thing all of her life, would have been proud of me for saying yes. I put on my nicest churchgoing clothes and went deep into the country to a small primitive church where I spoke, dispassionately and informatively, to 30 women about the history of Judaism. After my talk, one of the older women came up and touched me gently on the arm and told me I was the first Jew she had ever met. She also said that I seemed quite nice. That was right after the turn of this century. The 21st.

All this is by way of saying that the current climate, while terrifying and disturbing for so many reasons, is not surprising. Sadly. And my experiences, past and present, are small compared to the physical brutality of past events. But I have been saying for years that anti-Semitism, like racism, has just gone underground for a while, become less “acceptable” in polite society. People continue to pretend we are all decent people. We aren’t. Too many of us are not. Anti-Semitism is always there, hidden and not so hidden, underneath polite discourse. It is there. It is and has been and always will be.

Small moments for me: yesterday’s, last week’s, last year’s, when I was a child. Small incidents piling on to many, many other small moments. But those moments sit atop not only my history but the entire history of the Jews. Those moments sit atop marches and protests and banishment and extermination. People actually feel comfortable calling Jews the new Nazis. And there are once again too many people who conflate Jews with Israelis and Zionists, who lack both education and subtlety and the deep-seated knowledge that that kind of conflation, anyone can tell you, only leads to more violence.

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8 Things Middle-Aged Women Think About Far More Than Whether They’re Still F*ckable by Middle-Aged Men

(This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post)

Tom Junod’s recent Esquire article on the sexual viability of 42-year-old women would be just silly if it weren’t for it being part and parcel of the “new” misogyny taking hold in both American culture and American politics. When white men still make the rules, get pissed off when they can’t make the rules and punish women for wanting to make their own rules, well, Houston, we have a problem. The GOP denies a war on women at the same time it pushes for legislation on women’s reproductive rights that would take us back to the ’50s. Then they insult women who push back. Rush Limbaugh says we are all sluts because we want the same sexual freedom he (and other men) enjoys and Fox News mostly wants us to sit down and shut up, if we aren’t one of their interchangeable blonde talking heads.

And yet what Junod wants us to be concerned with is whether men like him want to sleep with women over 40. He’s a 55-year-old man who deigns to consider bedding some famous 42-year-old women, but only if they are movie stars and have been doing their pilates. And he clearly feels bad not just about our necks, but about our whole fading beauty. So he’s willing to f*ck us one last time before we disappear.

But here’s the thing. We don’t give a sh*t about Tom Junod. We don’t give a sh*t about Rush Limbaugh. We DO give a sh*t about the legislators who are trying mightily to take back what small rights we have won, but we don’t care a whit if those legislators like us. Or if they think we are too loud or aggressive or even just downright bitchy.

Sure, we pass by a mirror and sometimes don’t recognize ourselves. Yes, time is flying; it is fleeting and yes, our youth is long behind us. And, yes, many of us still work out and try and eat right and put on mascara before we leave the house. But what really concerns us? Lots of things that have nothing to do with men or whether they continue to desire us.

If we have children, we care about getting them grown; if they are already grown, we care about keeping them safe. We care about our grandchildren born and the ones we wish for. We wonder what kind of world they will grow up in and when we look 100 years into the future we are terrified: by climate change and war, by famine and oppression, by injustice and inequality.

If we have girls we worry about their safety. We wonder how much to teach them about the ugliness of the world, the cruelty of men and boys. We worry about how to protect them and arm them to protect themselves — without scaring them to death. If we have boys, we struggle with how to teach them respect and kindness and decency toward their own sex and the opposite one. We fear for the violence that is under the surface of all our children and we think about ways to tamp it down and give it constructive outlet.

We care about our parents and how they are aging. We struggle with how to take care of them, if we can pay for their care, if they can live with us and not drive us crazy. We worry about their health and their meds. Some of us continue to try and make peace with our parents despite years of abuse or neglect.

We worry about our old age. Will we have enough money to provide for us if we live another 30 or 40 years? Where would we like to live and how? Who, if anyone, will take care of us? If we are sick we wonder: will our family be able to go on without us? What joys will we miss by dying? How can we go with as little pain as possible. Will we inherit Alzheimer’s or heart disease or something else?

We wonder about our partners. If they will live as long as we do. If we can sustain love and kindness for that long, if those partners will be there for us. Some of us are trying to leave old or tired or abusive relationships and we wonder: Can we make it alone at this age? What are our chances of finding companionship again? Or love? Or even one last grand passion? And if we find that grand last passion we will, yes, worry about how our bodies measure up; we will obsess, if only for a few weeks, about the way we may have aged. But then we will remember (our friends will remind us) that no one gets to be 42 or 52 or 62 without scars and bumps and wrinkles and lumps and stretch marks and age spots and that that person in bed next to us has the same fears and the same imperfections.

We think about our friends and how much we love them, how much we need them, how much we want to be there for them as they travel through middle age. We hope we can give them something of ourselves without using ourselves up. We hope they can cheerfully and kindly listen to us b*tch about our children and our parents and our partners and money and time and the world and that we can do the same for them. We worry about them getting sick and dying because we have been through that before, already, and it’s hard and sad and ugly.

We wonder if we will have enough time to do the things we want to do, if we should change jobs or careers, start a business, or stay home and take care of our children and our parents. We think about books we would like to read and places we would like to see.

And we worry about nameless, faceless fears, the ones that keep us up at night: the sudden storm or car accident or disease or attack which could in one fell swoop changes our lives overnight and forever.

And those are only the worries of the middle-class. Add to those worries poverty, prejudice, and wondering where our next meal might come from. How to pay the bills, who will take care of our kids when we go to work, if we can make that old car last a few more months or year. If we can see a doctor and pay for it.

So. Women worry about the future, money, children, friends, parents, work and life.

Women don’t worry about being f*ckable. We worry about being loveable: able to be loved, able to give love, able to maneuver in a world so lacking in it. Unless we are quite mad, we do not compare ourselves to movie stars or models. We do not care if middle-aged male white writers do not wish to include us in their list of f*ckable women. Unlike men like Junod, we women know full well what is fantasy and what is real. We see it every day when we head out into the world.

Posted in Personal Essays, Women and Feminism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment