Ever had a vacation plan come unhinged? You get to the hotel and the reservation was made for last week? The great aunt brings two cousins who don’t get along? Intestinal flu joins the party on the second day?
This writer’s recent vacation, a visit with friends and family in Georgia and North Carolina, was not like that; but it had elements of challenge. Primarily because I am too compulsively news-addicted and task-oriented for a quick transition into vacation mode. Everyone should have a vacation mode button. A switch that goes from On!: World hunger. Gaza v Israel v Syria v Egypt. Reproductive justice. – to – Off!: Vacation.
And right above the vacation-mode button, a plan-and-preparation dial.
For openers, a vacationer arriving on the east coast fresh from parched-dry California can face a tiny injustice: heavy rains, flash flooding and pea-soup fog throughout agonizing hours of driving continuous-corkscrew two-lane mountain roads. And for travel entertainment there is news of the day delivered by high-stress radio commentators with conspiracy theories, and constant replay of Luke Bryan offering this response to pain and loss:
“I’m gonna set right here. On the edge of this pier. Watch the sunset disappear. (Pause.) And drink a beer.” It does not help to learn, on arrival, that every other person on the planet knows Luke and his plaintive song; and perhaps, if one were not driving an unfamiliar rental car on an unfamiliar rain-slicked two-lane mountain road it wouldn’t seem designed to drive one to drink. (Speaking of which, you might enjoy this recent commentary on driving sober.)
The plan-and-preparation dial could avoid this. NPR exists in North Carolina. Weather reports – handy for leading one to pack boots and sweaters rather than white shorts and bathing suits – can also indicate that mountain driving is not advised for the faint hearted. (On mountain roads, turnouts are our friends. Monster trucks driving at high speeds regularly, mysteriously appear just behind the faint hearted driver; a preparation dial would plot the nearest turnout.)
But it is the vacation mode button that’s most urgently needed. Some of us, habitually immersed in jobs, tasks, world news, causes and self-perceived saving of the planet, do not slip easily into vacation mode. How, for example, can you be on a conference call about reproductive justice or cycles of poverty on Tuesday night, and blissfully oblivious to everything but the sand castle you’re building Wednesday morning? People do this all the time, but some of us simply do not get it. Everybody else is fluent in Vacation Speak while our brains are stuck on WordPress.
Ours not to reason why. Maybe it’s not all that super cool to be able to talk roadside antiques and croquet games and beach cabanas in a steady, sophisticated stream, but it seems so to the disoriented new vacationer. Surely – because this is definitely uncool – the new vacationer can shut up about military incursions in the Middle East and think of something appropriate to moonlit seashores. Or at the least, make the transition before it’s time to go back home.
Couldn’t someone invent a little half-moon Vacation Mode icon to tattoo on the forehead?
I’m just askin’.
I am, among other things, an alcoholic.
When describing myself list-wise, alcoholic would probably come after writer, wife, activist, mom etc; but I am still, and in a very public way, an alcoholic. It’s the business of being public that puts me at odds with a lot of my fellow alcoholics. But I haven’t had anyone complain, and I am increasingly certain that going public isn’t such a bad idea.
Most alcoholics have very good reasons for keeping their anonymity. Outside of AA meetings their addiction — conquered or not — could cost them jobs, friendships, reputations. I lost some of all the above in my drinking days, but letting people know that those days are behind me poses no identifiable risks.
At six years alcohol-free, I moved to San Francisco in 1992 to marry the old friend known ever since as my Final Husband. I had to make a choice: Spend the rest of my life saying “No, thanks, I don’t care for one right now,” or, “You know, I’m an alcoholic. I can’t handle the stuff.” If I chose the latter, I figured I would soon not have to say it very often, if at all. I chose the latter, and never looked back.
The Final Husband, a man who does love his cocktail hour martini (gin, of course, up with a twist) and a good wine with dinner, bought into the plan. He would have far preferred a wife who would join him in wine appreciation, but took my word for the fact that I am an addict and vowed to support me. For the first several years of our alcohol-bifurcated union, he quietly took a bottle of non-alcoholic wine to cocktail parties so I could be comfortably unobtrusive. (This led to one rather hilarious episode that has become a favorite family story: From across the room in a crowded party thrown by one of San Francisco’s impeccably elegant hostesses, I once spotted a gentleman filling his lady friend’s glass from my non-alcoholic wine bottle. Unable to dive over the crowd to intercept, I watched as her pleasant smile turned to a disbelieving grimace and she set the glass down rather abruptly on a nearby table. We have imagined all manner of repercussions from this incident, but thought better of telling the hostess.)
From the beginning, I worked hard to craft comments that would not come across as judgmental or argumentative. Those were mild-mannered remarks like “I was a ‘social drinker’ for a long time but my drinking changed and became very bad for me.” Or, “Some of us can handle alcohol and some can’t. I really can’t.”
But I also fought hard against the common, almost reflexive attitude that being alcohol-free must leave my life barren and deprived, supremely dull. So I tried to say things like, “Whoa. I hated feeling like my words and thoughts were not super-sharp.” Or, “I really love waking up in the morning without feeling blurry, let alone hung over.” In the land of perpetual cocktail events, wine etiquette and Nectar-of-the-Gods believers, living outside that culture is generally assumed to be the worst of all worlds. I took the attitude that I’m delighted to see others enjoy themselves with alcohol, but for me, being without it is far more of a delight. Unadulterated joy, as a matter of fact. My comments at least carried the weight of demonstrated truth.
After the first few responses of shock and disbelief, my new friends on the Left Coast fairly quickly adapted to this strange situation and joined me in laughing about it all… or soon, ignoring the issue completely. I never imagined that it mattered to anyone but me. But here is why I suspect being public about being alcohol-free does indeed matter, and perhaps more of us should consider doing that.
One day I received a Valentine that reinforced my conviction about having taken the right course. It was from a woman I had known, though not intimately, for several years; we had frequently been together at concerts and parties. She is bright, pretty, accomplished in many areas, widely admired and respected. If anyone had ever suggested to me that she had an issue with alcohol I would have scoffed in utter disbelief.
The Valentine included several brief lines. She said she was sober now. She said I had influenced her to try that route to new life. Over the years I’ve gotten several other notes, like the email that just came, wanting to make sure I saw John Skoyles’ essay in the New York Times Sunday Review “about his coming of age with the bottle. I am 14 years plus now,” she wrote. “I have you to thank.”
It may be mid-summer, but that’s the best Valentine’s gift I’ve ever received.
This first appeared on Huffington Post
Beware the Rare-word.
Many of us — fiercely pro-women, fiercely pro-choice — bought into the “keep abortion safe, legal and rare” mantra of several decades back. It was, in fact, a useful mantra — until it was sunk by the potential anti-women interpretation of the word “rare.” The endless focus on the ‘rare’ word at times approaches the “it-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-the-word-‘is’-is” hubbub.
In defense of both sides:
Make abortion rare! By supporting universal contraceptive coverage. By supporting Planned Parenthood. By expanding education. By reducing unplanned pregnancies in all ways that empower women and reduce violence against women.
But get rid of the ‘rare’ word. It is, apparently, sending the wrong message. Jessica Valenti covered the issue well in a recent piece in The Guardian, citing two leaders in the area of women’s reproductive justice. One is Dr Tracy Weitz, co-founder and former Director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, San Francisco. In a paper published in 2010, Weitz wrote that “rare suggests that abortion is happening more than it should, and that there are some conditions for which abortions should and should not occur. It separates ‘good’ abortions from ‘bad’ abortions.”
None of this — ‘good’ abortions, ‘bad’ abortions, whether or when there should be abortions — is anybody’s business but the woman involved. Only she and her physician can know the circumstances, and the circumstances of no two women are the same. So if the ‘rare’ word is clouding the issue, let’s dump the rare word.
Valenti also quotes Steph Herold, Deputy Director of the Sea Change program, who says abortion needing to be rare “implies that abortion is somehow different than other parts of healthcare. We don’t say that any other medical procedure should be rare.” Sea Change is working to remove the stigma attached to abortion and other reproductive issues, a laudable, and monumental task. More than a few of the women who share their stories in Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade speak of suffering almost as much from the stigma attached to this most personal of women’s issues as from any physical harm, real or feared. While breast implants, sex-change details and erectile implantation (among other personal decisions) are fair game for cocktail party conversations, when is the last time you heard anyone volunteer information about her abortion? One in three women have an abortion; we Do Not Talk About It.
But here is the fact: There are bad abortions. They happened before 1973; they are happening today.
A mother of two physically challenged toddlers, pregnant with a third in 2014, unable to get to the nearest clinic — which is hundreds of miles away and impossible to access (despite the famous comment made by Texas Judge Edith Jones that it’s easy to go 75 mph on those flat roads) — punctures an interior organ trying to self-abort the old-fashioned way. She lives, but this is a bad abortion.
A desperate teenager in the rural midwest manages to get what she hopes is the right abortifacient through an internet site. Wrong drug, wrong instructions, wrong outcome. She gets to an ER before she bleeds to death. She lives, but this is a bad abortion.
This writer, pregnant from a workplace rape, overcome with shame and sheer terror, managed to find a kitchen-table abortionist in 1956. It was a bad abortion. We thought those stories were ended in 1973 when abortion was made legal and safe. But they are being repeated daily in this country, the land of the free; every one of them speaks of a bad abortion.
Women are suffering and dying again today from bad abortions, or because they are being denied access to safe, legal care. Whatever it takes, whatever words we use, the lives of those women are worth fighting for.
(This first appeared on Huffington Post)
It is hard not to despair.
A woman entering a clinic for personal healthcare now must wade through potential hordes of obnoxious strangers getting in her face with stuff – often angry stuff, often misinformed and always unrequested. Where is the right to privacy, to lead one’s own life without the interference of obnoxious strangers?
And now, a woman working for Hobby Lobby, or for that matter any other corporation headed by a religious fanatic who believes his employees must submit to his beliefs, can be denied healthcare coverage for the most basic, most personal reasons: the need to control her own body, to make her own reproductive choices and family decisions.
Following the Supreme Court these days is hazardous to one’s health.
But let’s hear it for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ginsburg read the riot act to the five men – surprise, surprise, all of them were men – who dealt this latest blow to the women of America.
Saying that religious freedom demands “accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith,” Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, is likely to wreak havoc. The havoc is only beginning. And only a small part of it will be the suffering of Hobby Lobby employees. No contraceptive coverage, no abortion coverage, no options, and – because we are not talking about rich people here – no justice.
One wonders. Are mandatory burqas next? Stranger things have happened than corporate CEOs whose religious sensibilities are offended by women’s uncovered heads. There are serious concerns that the ruling could lead to other corporations denying coverage for things that bother other religious groups – blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians Scientists), psychiatric treatment (Scientologists) for example.
Freedom of religion? Bah, humbug, Ginsburg says in so many words. “(Y)our right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” She might more properly have said, “where the woman’s uterus begins;” because indeed the religion-guarding gentlemen are swinging directly at women’s guts.
Call it what you will – religious freedom, protecting the unborn, freedom of expression, social conservatism – the denial of women’s rights will always, eventually run up against the voices of women who will not be denied.
Thanks, Justice Ginsburg
What do New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and writer Anais Nin have in common? Not a whole lot, Christie would probably say. But a case can be made for their similar positions on one major issue: the importance of motherhood.
Christie has been everywhere in the news since his speech to the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition, in which he drew loud applause when explaining his anti-abortion stance. Christie, like Mitt Romney and assorted other deft politicians, was pro-choice for a while. But he reportedly changed his mind when his wife was pregnant and he heard a heartbeat.
The way this works, for Christie, Romney and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, is that life in utero becomes sanctified to the exclusion of its carrier. The woman becomes simply that, a fetus-carrier, until she delivers a baby. And there it is: Motherhood.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition, along with Christie, Romney and conservatives everywhere, promotes the notion that once conception occurs motherhood must be enforced, and the fetus protected. This creates the noble, if tragically erroneous, belief that if abortion is banned it will simply never happen. But forced motherhood is not always possible.
This writer claims no insight into Gov. Christie’s soul, or expertise on Anais Nin, but I do know a lot about illegal abortion. If you tell women with unintended pregnancies that they may not terminate those pregnancies, they won’t listen. They will simply do desperate things to end their pregnancies, and unfortunately a lot of them will die trying. This is already happening in the U.S., thanks to conservatives’ success in denying access to safe abortion: poor women desperate to terminate unwanted pregnancies are again facing suffering and possible death.
Knowing of my interest in preventing more unnecessary deaths, a friend recently forwarded this comment made by Anais Nin in a 1940 diary recounting her abortion experience:
“Motherhood is a vocation like any other.”
Gov. Christie would agree, or proclaim it more exalted than others – except, perhaps, politics. But he and the Faith & Freedom folks would doubtless take umbrage with Nin’s following line:
“It should be freely chosen, not imposed upon women.”
Alas, Musco the Mountain Lake Muscovy duck seems destined to a life of bachelorhood. (Or spinsterhood, as the case may be.) And all things considered, it could be worse. As Muscovies are known to be particularly tasty (a fact I did not feel called upon to point out earlier in The Musco Saga) one likely explanation for his appearance on Mountain Lake is that he was pardoned from someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.
Jason Lisenby, Biological Science Technician of the Presidio Trust, would never be called anti-duck, but he is decidedly anti-non-native species. And for all his charm, Musco is an interloper. Lisenby gently explained that my burgeoning campaign to find him a mate is, therefore, a seriously bad idea.
(Some fascinating information about Musco’s extended family is offered by reader Doug, in the Comments section of the earlier post about my feathered friend, but for purposes of brevity here I am sticking with the local authorities.)
The unfortunate facts are that given a chance – and the potential, with an agreeable Musco Mom — to launch a tribe of baby Muscovites, Musco could soon upset the ecological balance of flora and fauna. For besides being tasty, Muscovies are both prolific and sizable, and could send the more delicate others packing. In some of the linked articles Lisenby forwarded to this writer, there are phrases like “invasive species,” “degradation of water quality” and “disease carriers.” Horrors. Friendly little Musco would do such a thing as degrade the water quality and carry disease? With an expanded family on his non-native lake, it is, unfortunately, possible.
I tried to explain all this to Musco recently (as noted that day on my Facebook page,) and he seemed unimpressed. One desultory peck on the finger, a placid, beady-eyed stare, and after a while he ambled back into the water and paddled away. To what Lisenby proposes is a life of dandy bachelorhood.
Plenty of sunshine. Not a care in the world. Increasingly sparkling waters. Leafy growth for offshore napping. Duck food (Not people food! Don’t feed the wild creatures!) everywhere, free. Admiring children on the beach. And one nutty lady who shows up to sit on the rock and discuss the problems of the universe. Which are of absolutely no concern to a solitary Muscovy duck on Mountain Lake
Who needs romance?
Working with Women on Waves – the organization determined to make safe abortion available around the globe – is not for the faint of heart.
Vessel, a new documentary currently being shown around the U.S., traces the progress of Women on Waves from its beginning more than a decade ago and through its now sister organization Women on the Web. That progress winds through angry protest mobs pushing, shoving, shouting “Murderer!” “Go Away!” and worse, and throwing eggs (and worse.) The women of WoW, mild-mannered though they may appear, retaliate by cutting the ropes of police boats attempting to tow them away, going nose-to-nose with burly guys on protest lines and breaking the seals of locks placed on their supply cabinets.
Meanwhile, the movement steadily grows.
Women on Waves was founded in 1999 by Rebecca Gomperts, MD, MPP, who was trained in both medicine and visual arts in her native Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (It doesn’t hurt, for the film, that Gomperts is also attractive, articulate in several languages and highly photogenic.) As a young Ob/Gyn Gomperts traveled – one might say trained – with the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior as its doctor and an environmental activist. While sailing in South America she was struck by the numbers of women suffering from lack of access to reproductive health services and safe, legal abortions – and inspired by their stories to start Women on Waves.
The group built a clinic-in-a-box, loaded it onto a ship and sailed into such unwelcoming ports as Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Poland and eventually scattered cities around Africa, Central and South America. The strategy was to anchor 12 miles offshore in international waters, where local authorities had no jurisdiction. Local authorities were seldom pleased. Gomperts was often on land, hanging banners announcing the phone number for pregnant women to call, drumming up press – usually unfriendly press – agitating the authorities and spreading the word, smiling pleasantly in the face of incredibly hostile opposition.
Once the medical abortion procedure using misoprostol became widely available and safe, if used as directed, Women on the Web began its own ambitious program of making the procedure available through the internet. And safe abortion slowly gained through changing laws.
The movement has one simple goal: to reduce the number of deaths from unsafe abortion. It is the same goal that motivates every other reproductive justice organization, from the Center for Reproductive Rights to ACCESS: Women’s Health Justice to NARAL Pro-Choice America.
But the film ends with a litany of places where poor women (if you’ve got money, you can manage to find a safe abortion somewhere) remain at risk for lack of access to safe abortion, notably including much of the U.S. Watching it in the U.S., where abortion has been legal since 1973, and being reminded again that women here are suffering and dying today, is sobering, and indescribably sad.
The sadness comes from hearing the same, tragic stories that first inspired Rebecca Gompers, and some years ago inspired this writer to create the book you see at the right. They come through the voices in the film:
“I’m scared to death.”
“I tried hitting myself in the stomach…”
“My family would disown me if they found out.”
“Can you help me?”
How can we be ignoring these voices in the United States today?
Musco the duck is in existential pain.
I know this from the way he rolls his beady eye away from me, not that long after he has ambled over for a visit, briefly offering a ruffle of his topnotch feathers. Musco faithfully ambles over, despite the fact that I have repeatedly explained to him people food is not good for waterfowl, and we do not feed the ducks at Mountain Lake. Nevertheless, if he’s in the area when I come sit on the rocks, Musco ambles over, and we commune blissfully with nature, in a sort of duck-to-human relaxation therapy session.
But duck does not live by bread alone. Duck should not, in fact and in the natural state of things, live alone. And Musco is all alone. I am on a one-woman campaign to find him a Muscovy mate.
Just to clear things up: Musco may not be his proper name. He may even be a she, what do I know? All I know is this: among the coots and Mallards and miscellaneous waterfowl that have returned to Mountain Lake since the Presidio Trust (thank you, taxpayers!) undertook the monumental job of rescuing it from centuries of neglect and abuse, there is only one Muscovy duck. A lovely, friendly, peace-loving duck, but all alone.
Could we please find him (or her, as the case may be) a mate?
I first met Musco a few months ago on one of my regular visits to Mountain Lake Park, a lakeside San Francisco park with a Parcourse fitness trail which functions as my personal outdoor gymnasium. Wondering who this strange new creature might be, I posted his photo on my Facebook page with a comment that I had spotted a turducky on the lake.
Not so, immediately replied my far-flung Facebook friend (that’s another story) in Sarawak, Borneo. “It’s a Muscovy. In Sarawak we call it a Serati.” Turns out, a lot of people call it an ugly duckling, and worse. Florida has more of them than they want in some spots, elsewhere cross-breeding has created strange water-fellows.
Musco, however, seems quite beautiful to me, and here he is all alone. He swims on the periphery of the coots, ducks and assorted seabirds. He is, happily, not the least interested in the pigeons on the beach. What’s to be done?
An eminent visiting biologist friend pooh-poohed Musco’s singularity. Muscovy’s are all around California in ponds large and small, he said. If this is the case – and who’s going to dispute a distinguished Professor Emeritus? – then surely there is a mate for Musco. Surely some nearby pond owner would like to make such a match and surely the Presidio Trust wouldn’t mind?
The incredible, beautifully restored Mountain Lake might even be home to a family of little Muscovites.
I’m just sayin’.