ICYMI – Recap of MOTHER/DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS: What Are They? (June 21, 2015)

“She died right after I left. I laughed and cried. Mom had gotten the last word.”

Julie Roberts

“She was depressed at home, but otherwise the life of the party.”

— Carla Nigl

“I didn’t think of her as a woman. Her fuss was understated – and ignored by me.”

— Elizabeth Marsh

“I understood more of what she went through when I had my own kids.”

— Elizabeth Gomez

Stories of daughterhood were as paradoxically unique, yet universal, as the women who shared them onstage on Tuesday, June 16. Part of the ABOUT WOMEN conversation considering what it means to be a woman shaped by the influence and love (or lack thereof) of another woman, the evening offered an open, judgment-free forum for reflection on the complexities – the joys, sorrows, pain and pleasure – of the mother/daughter relationship.

Although the vignettes shared by Carla Nigl (who also happens to be ABOUT WOMEN founder Nikki Nigl’s beloved mother), Eli Marsh, Julie Roberts and Elizabeth Gomez differed in geography, ethnic culture, socioeconomics and other variables, it was a truth universally acknowledged by the women in attendance that there is no size fits all interpretation of the bond. Although Roberts acknowledged, “Our mothers are often the first loves of our lives,” several of the speakers spoke of the scars the manifold experience can leave behind. As Roberts continued, “You never forget watching your father cry.”

Sometimes, as Nigl and Roberts attested, a daughter is prematurely forced into a parent role by the ravages of mental illness. In other cases, girlhood serves as rigid and mystifying experience. Gomez was raised by an immigrant mother “who worked hard but shared little.” Yet what struck me about the stories was the unifying lack of bitterness. To a woman, the speakers confessed gratitude for the challenges they endured as a part of their upbringing. As Marsh said, “Even if the experience was terrifying, preparing for tonight was an exercise in healing.”

Despite the unique features of each speaker’s reality, the event’s attendees found much solace in shared experience. One of the strongest messages from the ABOUT WOMEN community has always been this: “You are not alone. We are not alone.” That truth was reinforced by the mother/daughter relationship conversation. Nigl offered an appropriate summation: “I wanted a mom like my friends had, but I found out later that no one’s family is perfect. No one’s mother was perfect.” Echoed Gomez, “She did what she thought was right. How can you be perfect when you’re always learning?”

As is completely appropriate with relationships so layered and diverse, there was no resolution. The vibrant dialogue about mothers, daughters and the personal implications of that bond is as old as womanhood itself. Yes engage it we must, in order to learn grow, and as ABOUT WOMEN founder Nikki Nigl proudly asserts, “Prepare to take over the world.”


Live from Hotlanta! It’s Becky Boop! (February 2, 2009)

From time to time, my job as a Manager of Dental Material Standards at the ADA (is everyone still awake?) affords me a travel opportunity. To say that my work is Dullsville is an insult to the residents of that fictional town, but I do try and make the most out of these mini-excursions. Once I went to New York City for a two-day training session on American National Standards: Administration, Publication and Accreditation. I did my best not to stab myself right through the retina with a pen during the course of meetings, and this work was made easier by what I have come to refer to as my favorite solo date: a walk to Times Square where I treated little old me to dinner at one of many local diners, a cocktail or three at a sexy lounge, and a showing of Hairspray featuring enough gay 80s and 90s icons to make one’s head explode – Jim J. Bullock, Lance Bass and Tevin Campbell in one shot? I waited only for a walk-on by RuPaul to make my fantasy complete.

Today I find myself in Atlanta. Or not so much Atlanta as a suburb. Or not so much a suburb as an industrial park in the middle of nowhere, where I am esconced in a Courtyard Marriott until 9:15 AM tomorrow morning. That’s when my shuttle bus will pick me up and whisk me away to the glamorous ANSI ISO Member Forum! (shouted like Rod Roddy unveiling a pop-up camper to a Showcase Showdown contestant). At this point, it appears that my dinner options consist of the bags of peanuts I swiped from the first class cabin of my American Airlines flight, or something called Order Inn Hospitality Services. In addition to loathing this vendor for the cutesiness of their name, I resent any attempt to sell me bar food and call it cuisine. But that’s the South for you (as well as the Courtyard Marriott).

It would seem I am in for a dull night, but at least I am consoled my own state of Tears on the way here (a term originally coined by my sister, but in 2000, carrying a negative connotation). A state of Tears is achieved when one is so taken aback by their own fabulousness that the shock can only be expressed through the release of a good crying fit. Without a violent outburst of emotion, when one is in a state of Tears, there is liable to be some form of tectonic shift, resulting in a tsunamni or hurricane situation heaped upon an unsuspecting villager. Therefore, one must pause to recognize these little situations where one’s own chutzpah and personality transcends the genric nature of a situation. Such a moment occurred for me today as I reached O’Hare airport in Yellow Cab.

It is a sign of these troubling economic times that I left for the aiport at 9:00 AM and had the highway to myself. The airport had the foot traffic level of a Sunday afternoon, and my 11:40 AM flight had plenty of room. I was so early for my flight that I was offerred the chance to upgrade to first class for a mere $90. Score! They were going to charge me $15 to check my bag anyway, so I looked at the additional $75 as an investment in a better nap, the possibility of real food and best of all….liquor. I believe at this point it is a well-known fact that the generally accepted “blue law” of not drinking before noon is comfortably waived in the following circumstances: St. Patty’s Day, one’s birthday, a bikini wax appointment, and all activities related to air travel.

My seat was now 6F, a window in the back of the first class cabin. I was snuggled under a fluffly red blankie and waited for the free swag! To my utter disappointment, my fellow first class travelers appeared unaware of the waiving of the blue law. When offerred pre-flight beverages, they chose the mundane coffee, soda, etc. Not wanting to boldly advertise my own shameless air drunkeness, I compromised with a mimosa (Hey! There’s orange juice right?). I resented the inclusion of any liquid I could have gotten in coach for free, but I was not about to let a little bit of teetotaling by my seatmates ruin my party. Once we were safely in air, the air hostess brought me my first huge glass of red wine, and thankfully, kept them coming.

I passed out, er fell asleep, about 30 minutes before we landed. I woke up right around the time we touched the runway in Atlanta, nearly sleeping through an opportunity to wipe a small amount of red colored drool from my cheek. I called my husband, as promised, the moment I landed and deplaned. As I raced around for the nearest hole in the ground where I could vacate my wine soaked bladder, I dialed with the free hand that wasn’t clutching futilely at my lower abdomen. My husband listened to the first few syllables of out of breath slurring before correctly concluding, “You got first class? Oh baby!”

Is it any wonder I married this man?

The Worst Week Ever? (January 24, 2009)

Jen and I promised a weekly point/counterpoint feature for our readers, “My End or Yours?” It was with 100% good faith that we made the commitment to deliver the piece every Friday. However, it has become clear that 2009 is slated to be a most unpredictable year, rarely in the positive sense.
On Jen’s side (I am speaking for her since she has more important business to  address), her littlest munchkin has contracted Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Thankfully, it appears the baby, with any luck, will not contract pneumonia or worse, but I’d appreciate the good wishes and prayers of you fine people anyhow.

On my side, where to start? Insomnia, an odd falling out with my personal trainer, a husband who continues to be beaten by a stagnant job market, a nearly untenable office environment at my own job. And then folks, the icing on the cake…

I dosed myself with Nyquil last night in an effort to achieve something more than four hours of sleep. Miraculously, this finally worked, where wine, sleeping pills and sex had failed me earlier. Now perhaps my body had simply hit the wall, but I am choosing to view the good people at Vick’s as angels of mercy. I was zonked out from 10:00 PM until 8:00 AM this morning. I woke up, finally feeling refreshed. It is brutally cold in Chicago, but the sun is shining and I was ready to embrace the day.

I had a 9:00 AM appointment with my new personal trainer (the former one is dead to me – another story for another time), and made my way to our car to make the short drive to the gym. The last thought I remember having before my mind went blank is” “Damn it Eddie! Why did you have to park in such deep snow?” As it turned out, this question was superfluous. Why, you may ask? Because I can’t very well drive anywhere without a full set of tires can I? I worked my way toward the driver side door only to notice a broken jack burrowed beneath a thick layer of ice at my feet. My eyes continued to move Southward and this is when I noticed the rear tire was gone. For some reason, I stared dumbly for what felt like hours before my mind was able to process that I had been vandalized.

Now readers, I live right in the middle of an affluent City neighborhood, on a street that is simultaneously well lit, well traveled and well patrolled by the Federales (that is the cops for you you non-Spanish speakers). Before I could realize the emotional fallout of this violation, I adopted a thoroughly scientific approach to sussing it out. How could someone jack up my car, steal a tire and simply walk away unnoticed? Acquaintances of mine have since theorized that the broken jack left behind, as well as the fact that I continue to have three good tires, suggests a crime interrupted. Normally I am empathetic to those who have had their work disrupted, but in this case I am counting my blessings.

My favorite part (I say this with obvious sarcasm) of having your car vandalized is that you are the one who has to make all the phone calls and fork over the $500 deductable. The cretin who committed this act dropped our car, as it appears, rather hard on the ground as they made their getaway, and it’s more than possible the axle, or some other part of the vehicle, has sustained damage. I guess I’ll know more on Monday when the State Farm adjuster comes to have a look. As I have alluded, my husband is presently out of work and this is just one more thing to deal with that wasn’t needed.

My insurance agent says that in times of depression, crimes such as these become more prevalent. He says he is getting 3-5 calls a day from people who suddenly find themselvs without tires. Really? What about Americans coming together in times of crisis? Must we all go Lord of the Flies on each other?

The reason I have put a question mark beside the title of my post is that I am loathe to say the worst is over. It seems that when I make these assumptions, the Karma Genie pops up out his hiding place to remind me that things can, and will be worse yet. Case in point: I have a meeting with the tax man later today.

Is anyone else having a hideous week like Jen and I? Lie to me people. Tell me that things are going to get better. I typically thrive on brutal truth, but for the moment, reality is just a bit too rough for my stomach.

Inaugural Musings (January 21, 2009)

Undoubtedly, yesterday was a majestic day in America. After eight long years of war, divisive politics, religious agendas applied to the public sphere, economic crises, torture, Katrina, and a backward “War on Terror,” it was refreshing to almost a suprising degree to realize the Bush years were truly over. America is back, better than ever, with Captain Obama at the helm. But aside from the more obvious chatter about what the day meant for African Americans in particular, critiques of Michelle Obama’s fashion choices, and who did or did not gum up the oath of office, I noticed a few tidbits that our readers may have blinked and missed. These little moments reflect the lighter side of the day, the details that we may forget in time as we recall what January 20, 2009 meant to us. So here, for your reading pleasure, are some of these vignettes:

    • For those of you, like me, who regularly view CNN and have long believed that Anderson Cooper (or “AC” as the kids like to call him) was the resident rock star, think again. AC was relegated to flunky status next to the domineering Wolf Blitzer. Welcome to “The Situation Room” bitch!
    • Could Joe Biden be any happier to be Vice-President? So many of us are cynical when it comes to politicans and the way they view their offices: little more than a post that legalizes theft and other criminal behavior. How invigorating to see Biden with the enthusiam of a child standing in front of a stack of presents on Christmas morning. Way to go Joe!
    • Obama is clearly the most gracious man on the planet, thanking W for his “years of service” during his speech and such. But did anyone notice that Bush seemed to slink down a little further in his seat each time Obama drew a distinction between the dogma that has driven the last eight years, and our new President’s vision for the next four? I always assumed that Bush was either unaware or unconcerned with his status as a personified wrecking ball, but perhaps he is more in tune than we thought.
    • Cheney injured his back and spent the day in a wheelchair pushed by his slave, er wife, Lynne. Fine, there is a warm spot in hell with my name on it, but I couldn’t stop laughing at the irony. Mr. Big Shot leaving the White House in much the same condition as his policies have left America: crippled, weak and pathetic looking.
    • There was Roland Burris, seated right behind Obama, smiling almost as wide as Biden. At least Blago has made someone happy.
    • Who the heck was sporting that sweet red pimp hat about three chairs behind Obama?
    • I’ll say it if no one else will. Aretha Franklin is a legend, but her “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” roundly sucked. That bow hat was something fierce though. Work it!
    • The media was wild with news of the collapse of Senators Byrd and Kennedy at the luncheon following the swearing in. Kennedy, praise God, appears to be fine. But um, Robert Byrd just left to go to his office. Can’t a 91 year-old leave a room without someone proclaiming his imminent death? This proves that the members of Congress are no better than a gossipy sewing circle. Oddly, I find this comforting.
    • All that fuss and hoopla, anger and excitement and Rev. Rick Warren gives the most lame and boring invocation ever. Where’s Jeremiah Wright when you need him?

When KJs Don’t Do Their Jobs (January 18, 2009)

Taking a break from politics for a moment, which I admit, occupies way too much of my free time and brain power, allow me to vent Andy Rooney-style for a moment against a phenomenon that threatens to overtake one of the few mindlessly enjoyable and affordable outings left to us in these rough economic times. Yes my friends, I refer to karaoke night at the neighborhood pub, sabotaged by a karaoke DJ who gets drunk (I mean this in both the literal and figurative senses) with power.

The night started promisingly enough. I met my friends Gary, Chad, Ed and Romana, along with some of Ed’s pals to celebrate Ed’s attainment of a new job. Clearly with a job market this hobbled, anyone finding employment has every right to call for a night of drunken celebration, accompanied of course with song. We all sipped cocktails, and the crowd was thick and enthusiastic. After a few drinks, Gary gave our table its first taste of the limelight with a rousing rendition of “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls, complete with a sultry finale of spoken flirting. As the great Paula Abdul might have said, Gary made it his own and the night was on. My husband chipped in a typical Eddie Bon Jovi showstopping performance of “Always.” Another gal at our table did Dolly Parton proud with “9 to 5.” Even I added what I thought was a warm-up lark: my own rendition of “It’s Not Over” by Daughtry. Hey, one has to keep the repertoire from becoming stale, and think outside the box.

Our group sang along with everyone else’s songs, liquored up and feeling fine. We booed (Ok, I did that) when someone made what I considered to be a poor song choice, for example say, anything by Mary Chapin Carpenter. But we also whooped it up when someone either had actual talent, or performed a song so fabulous in nature, like the short gentleman who Rick Rolled us, that singing ability mattered not. And then….

Nothing. For nearly 3 sad hours we sat waiting for our table’s rotation to begin again. Though the place was crowded, any good karaoke DJ knows that you must intermingle the incoming would be singers with those who have been there all night, drinking, tipping and raring with liquid courage to display their talents. Not so, Mr. I Am Short, Bald, Powerless and Unnoticed In My Day Job, Therefore I Must Lord It Over The Whitetrash Crowd At Freaking Gio’s On A Saturday Night. He kept putting all the newbies at the front of the line, and even went so far as to assemble an ill-advised string of duets, before promising to get us back to our second songs by 1:00 AM. Now those of you who regularly karoke get what I am about to say. When you have been sitting on a bar stool drinking since 9:30, had your first adrenaline rush with your warm-up piece at 10:15, and have continued to booze and shout for the next two hours, you are angry, hoarse and exhausted by the time 1:00 AM rolls around. Worse, the energy of your friends has flagged as well, lending the whole evening a decidedly depressed feeling.

 Well I decided this was unfair. We had all been so high. Pleas to the by now totally inebriated KJ went unheeded. I will not, repeat, will not give a performance that is beneath the expectation and deserving of my audience. So, before Eddie could treat the crowd to the much-anticipated “Livin’ on a Prayer” and before I could debut my Taylor Swift (I will not tell you gentle readers which chart topper of the teen’s I was set to perform. I leave you in suspense for another time!), Eddie and I united in walking out of Gio’s in a grand huff. We are seriously holding a grudge this time, and may yet decide to find another drinking establishment that respects our celebrity status. While we mull it over, Mr. KJ better not think he is getting any more friendly waves from me on the Metra (yes, ironic and odd to see your KJ as a normal commuter). Nope, no siree.

It’s Official: God Hates Chicago (January 15, 2009)

I am reminded of the words of Minnie Driver’s character, Benny, from Circle of Friends, a cute Irish film from the 1990s. Now I am paraphrasing here because it’s been awhile since I last saw the picture. Her character, an overweight but lovable girl, comments on the unlikelihood of finding love with her longtime crush, a svelte hunk played by Chris O’Donnell. Through her tears, Benny castigates herself for self-delusion, the belief that her fella could ever return her adoration. In one pivotal moment, she reflects that it is in fact not better to have loved than lost. She says (and again, I paraphrase), “It’s like being marched up to the top of a mountain, shown all the beauty that can’t be yours, and then promptly marching back down.”

These words come to mind as I consider the present state of affairs in my beloved hometown of Chicago. Am I dreaming that on an unseasonably warm November 5, 2008 evening, Chicago displayed itself at Grant Park, for all the world to see, as a beautiful City, a beacon of hope and change – “Yes we can” and all that good stuff? I stood on my tiptoes, wearing nothing heavier than a sweatshirt, part of the largest multi-ethnic and multi-cultural crowd I have ever witnessed. We were united in hope, in celebration, in the belief that Chicago was ready to assume its place on the universal stage as a place of forward thinking. Ah what a difference a mere two months can make.

Fast forward to January 15, 2009. Its is colder than the North Pole outside, and Mother Nature shows no sign of lifting her curse. It is -9 F, even before factoring in the wind chill. However the frostiness of the weather pales in comparison to the economic and political stagnation experienced by our denizens. Layoffs are coming in left and right, from all sectors of the corporate world, at all levels of seniority. It seems each day brings the news of a good friend, loved one or family member that is taking their spot on the bread line. We all hope that Obama’s ascension to the throne on January 20th will bring some sort of relief. Hope may foster a lot of things, but it doesn’t keep you warm or fill your belly as you lay awake at night wondering what in the world can go wrong next?

And any good discussion of Chicago’s current state cannot overlook the manic depression of our politics. From the mania of Obama’s historic victory to the hopelessness following the wrecking ball that is Blago. For those of us, me for certain, who celebrated along with Oprah, the corner turned by historically corrupt Illinois politics, there can be no crueller punishment than watching ‘the hairball” (aptly named by my good friend Tim) gleefully engage in his governatorial game of cat and mouse, at a local as well as national level. We have done corruption many times before in my own lifetime (ah Carol Moseley Braun, we hardly knew ye!), and yet, the most jaded among us have yet to pick our jaws off the floor.

I reach out to our still-developing readership to ask you to throw me a lifeline. Any chance we can conjure some spell to persuade God, or whichever powers-that-be, to please stop raining humiliation and misery upon Chi-town? November 5th, with the warmth of the air and the pride of success, cannot be an illusion after all, can it? Will we, my fellow Chicagoans, ever be warm (literally and metaphorically) again?

What Spain’s Populist, Gender-Neutral Mayoral Shift Could Mean for America in 2016 (June 17, 2015)

spanish pop

Last weekend, the Spanish cities of Madrid and Barcelona put the official celebratory touches on a revolutionary transition that occurred during May’s municipal elections. In Madrid, 71 year-old retired judge Manuela Carmena’s supporters leveraged a bit of the Obama slogan magic (“Yes We Can!”) in a jubilant mayoral oath of office ceremony that promised real populist change for the third largest city in the European Union.

Throughout her campaign, Carmena warned both supporters and detractors that she and her team “want to lead by listening to people who don’t use fancy titles to address us…We’re creating a new kind of politics that doesn’t fit within the conventions…Get ready.”

621 kilometers away, housing market reform champion Ada Colau, 41, became the first-ever female mayor of Barcelona, claiming victory with a platform that includes an anti-eviction approach for struggling homeowners. The rise to power of the two women in two different Spanish cities is striking for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Spain’s conservative Popular Party, which currently runs the national government, has struggled mightily to reverse the country’s losses in the wake of the Great Recession. This party ruled Madrid for 24 years prior to Carmena’s win at the polls. Not any longer.  And in a commitment to fellow Barcelonians which demonstrates that change begins with the executive office, a June 14 report from RT.com states that Colau’s “administration will now draft a list of 30 measures aimed at creating jobs and fighting corruption. Along with her colleague in Madrid, Colau announced that she will slash her salary from €140,000, down to €35,000.”

Beyond the profound shift in political party loyalty among voters in the EU’s fifth-largest economy, where the unemployment rate hovers around 24 percent, the disparate ages of the new mayors is also significant. In a 2016 American Presidential primary contest where GOP candidates such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio are looking to frame the election as a “generational choice,” the voters of Madrid and Barcelona sent a very different message. Age? Not important as long as you’re willing to make a profound break with the status quo.

Lastly, beyond casual mention of the genders of Carmena and Colau, and the historical note of Colau’s demographic singularity as the new mayor of Barcelona, the story is not of two women in a still male-dominated political landscape. The narrative thread, rather, is exactly what it should be. As Colau put it, “In Barcelona…a bet was made for change.”

So what do these international events portend for the 2016 general Presidential election?  Beginning with the 2013 referendum in New York City that saw liberal Democrat Bill DeBlasio ride a populist wave of Occupy Wall Street sentiment to the mayor’s residence, the country’s urban left has been louder and more demonstrative. One need only listen to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s Roosevelt Island speech to understand the powerful effect vocal liberal heroes such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have had on moving the candidate’s platform sharply to the left. And as our own Jason Easley reported on May 22, self-reported liberals now outnumber conservatives.

It may have taken a decade longer than we can rightfully spare with such a lengthy and challenging list of obstacles standing between us and a return to the nation’s middle class solvency, but the growing consensus at home and overseas is clear. If ignorance is the greatest tool of oppression, the right is running out of arrows. The 99 percent knows it’s getting a raw deal, has in fact been receiving one for decades. During each post- Bush 44 election cycle, repudiation of the conservative economic “plan” grows stronger. If we move the conversation away from the age, gender and race of the 2016 candidates (an admittedly tall order), we are left with more than 80 percent of the electorate residing in urban, liberal-skewing hubs waiting for their Spanish moment.