Passion is One Determined Bitch

This post is featured on as part of her #WordsByWomenWednesday blog series. 

My name is Becky Sarwate and I am a writer with an entrepreneurial, personal flair for the dramatic arts.

At two years of age, I stood on a theater seat and invented sing-a-long Xanadu long before crowd participation movie screening was a thing.

At age four, I produced my own version of the 95 Theses – a compelling treatise listing the reasons why I should no longer have to share a room with my slob of a little sister. While my case was ultimately dismissed, the panel of jurors, i.e. my parents did commend my creative and persistent effort.

At 14, I began documenting my life in diary, the analog blog if you will. In addition to chronicling my crushes, academic and social successes and failures, I also found a safe haven to tell the story of my family – an abusive, addictive, truth distorting narrative that required children to serve as brainwashed co-conspirators in their own deprivation. The journals where a safe space for keeping reality in play. I write almost daily in these private pages still, 23 years later. Dozens of books illustrating my inner life…and evolution from a large scrawling, exclamation point loving, scared little thing into a woman who’s taking her stories to the public.

This wasn’t how my life was supposed to go, according to society’s rules, and reinforced by the sociofamilial culture in which I was raised. I’ve already mentioned trouble at home – a bipolar, hoarding father and a soulless mother who literally and figuratively ashed four packs of cigarettes a day on top of the pile of neuroses that drove my immediate family to the fringes of society. Add nine years of repressive Protestant primary education, depression and the urgency to survive and get out of my home into the mix, and I set my career sights on a different path.

I needed money and stability. I was never having the IRS seize my bank account again, as they had in 1992 after my eighth grade graduation. My parents had stopped paying their taxes for 10 years and I was a minor. When I was 22 years old, my mother committed massive identity fraud against me and fled after I worked up the courage to file police reports. I found myself in bankruptcy court, $23,000 in debt at the ripe old age of 23, on my own finally and completely from that point forward. I couldn’t afford poetry, journalism and the luxury of my own creativity. That’s what I believed.





I spent 10 years after earning a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Illinois trying desperately not to tell my stories. I wanted to change the arc altogether. Through two failed marriages and a progressively soul crushing career in corporate operations (as the daughter of a hoarder, I turned out to be great at organizing and project management), I stopped listening my own voice altogether, let alone writing down anything it had to say. I wanted to be the perfect wife, the well-paid corporate ladder climber, everyone’s favorite party guest. I wanted, at long last just to fit in.

But here’s the problem – I didn’t fit in at all. And I knew it. That job made it hard to imagine getting up every morning with anything approaching inspiration. The same applied to the confining second marriage in which I placed myself, an entanglement I only realized after years of individual and group therapy was perfectly designed to duplicate the familiar dynamic I had with my parents. Dominate me, make me feel small. In silent martyrdom, at least I know who I am. I never had the chance growing up to figure out who I was if not nailed to the cross of some familial cause. I wasn’t sure I had the courage to try as an adult.

September 2015



BUT. But. But. That voice. The one I tried so hard to choke, that instinct that told me I was on all the wrong paths when I well knew what the right ones were. If only I’d channel that toddler Xanadu singalong star. That voice was always there. And it wasn’t always very quiet. In fact it was often so loud that I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t focus, couldn’t feel anything but that panicked animal escape instinct I felt as a kid. Weary of captivity, my gut instincts refused to go back into the cage in which I’d shut them. Very inconvenient at the time, but enlightenment doesn’t always arrive when we’re looking. I underwent a personal revolution brought about by a resurgent roar of the voice, and four different, but equally important influences:

ONE: A big push from my younger sister who was a constant, positive thorn in my side after I earned a Master’s in English Lit in 2007. She knew all about my secret dreams – and wouldn’t let me forget them (even if I could). This woman was in the trenches with me, every painful step of the way. No one knew my shortcomings, fears and hang-ups better. Yet she believed in me and lifted my passion as high up as she could to help me start to view it as something possible.

TWO: The death of my best friend from ovarian cancer in April of 2009. Jesika was a woman who always pushed me. I didn’t think we could fake ID our way into the Esquire movie theater in 1992 to catch the weekend premiere of the R-rated Whitney Houston classic, The Bodyguard. But she looked me in the eye and said, “You’re as mature as you think you are.” This was the second sister who sighed before asking me if she had to start trolling for homeless people. She wanted to be first to buy the issue when I proudly announced my first feature in StreetWise newspaper. Then she handed me a cosmo and told me to drink up. And this was the woman who died after a tragically brief 17-day battle with ovarian cancer at the age of 30. Before she got to practice law, her own career passion, or marry her longtime boyfriend Kevin, the love of her life. I owed it to this agitator, rebel and unfailing supporter to take advantage of the life I still had.

THREE: A painful divorce from my second husband, a man from a conservative Hindu family. Among many wrenching decisions, he asked me to choose between our union and my fledging authorial aspirations. I chose the latter. Sometimes I still can’t believe I did it. But I had to make that decision mean something. I had to prove those retreating taunts that I would fail, wrong – to myself and to him.

FOUR: The discovery of mentors, mostly female, who could shine some guiding light upon the new path I was walking. Such as Suzanne Hanney, the Editor in Chief of StreetWise, who gave a novice, 30-year old writer with no journalism degree, experience or bylines a shot at six cover stories in 2009. Just because she emailed and asked for a chance, and that email was well-written.

And you know what? It turned out that I could write freelance for publications and causes close to my heart – politics and media criticism for Contemptor, theater reviews for EDGE Media Networkmy own personal branded website and blog – without giving up that stability I once treasured above all else. I just had to stretch my mind a little bit. It was women who taught me this, offering different models of success that allowed them to have their own version of It ALL.

Real estate and personal finance expert Ilyce Glink hired me as a web content writer for her brand and small digital publishing company in 2011. She achieved the work/life balance by having her husband (an attorney) handle the legal stuff while she was the face and brains of the business. I have a great female mentor at my current day job. While I blog, write emails, web content and sales materials about the complicated and serious world of credit, anyone who comes across my work still finds my voice. I have a paycheck, health insurance and stability but I lean in my own way – writing about challenges and solutions I once desperately sought answers for myself – identity protection and credit health.

I do not have JK Rowling’s money, David Sedaris’ fame or even the journalistic reputation of Gail Collins. But in finally standing still long enough to listen to and heed the voices in my head, in finding a way to pursue my gifts in a way that satisfies all of my needs, I am following my passion.

What I have learned – at a painful and exhilarating cost – is that we almost always know what the answers are. We really do. But our upbringing, society’s presumed laws, individual experiences and deprivations, education and self-esteem – all of these forces interact to build soundproofing of various thickness between ourselves and our truth. After all, we wouldn’t get much done if we were always off chasing the whims of the id. But a little id goes a long way ladies. Don’t fear it.


Ben Carson and the Alan Keyes Cautionary Tale

Ben Carson

In February of 2013, author and retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson gave President Barack Obama a piece of his mind on issues ranging from health care to political correctness, during the National Prayer Breakfast. And a Republican star was born. Earlier this month in a column entitled The Soft Bigotry of Ben Carson, New York Times Op-Ed writer Charles Blow offered this assessment of the confrontation:

“It’s not that others have not criticized the president before or since, but it was the particularity of the racial imagery of Carson’s critique — one smart, accomplished black man undressing another in public — that gave it particular power. It insulated the attack from racial characterization. He said things from the lips of a black conservative that roiled the minds of white ones. And it represented a prominent breaking of ranks, a slicing off of black solidarity from not only Democratic loyalty but also from fidelity with this president.”

The accomplished, soft-spoken Carson currently sits just five points below 2016 Republican front-runner Donald Trump in a recent release from Public Policy Polling. That is a sentence I’d never thought I’d write in my lifetime, but I digress. Carson may be a brilliant physician but as my sister Jennifer recently and astutely observed, he’s also “frankly, one of the smartest dumb dudes alive.”

In a 2016 Republican primary campaign depressingly rife with distortions, inflammatory hate speech and blatant cynicism, Carson has not been the voice of class and reason for which many undecideds hoped. No matter how accomplished his resume or soft his tenor, the good doctor has disqualified himself over and again for the nation’s highest office – even as “progressive” Republicans and conservative media pundits enjoy their latest mainstream alienating love affair.

I’m quite sure the party’s base would love him to go on talking. Because no matter how outrageous the right has grown in its free political ignorance, as Blow highlights, there are still things white candidates (Donald Trump notwithstanding) can’t allow themselves to say. Such as these gems from the Sunday, September 20 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press:

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

“Congress is a different story, but it depends on who that Muslim is and what their policies are, just like it depends on what anybody else is. If there’s somebody who is of any faith but they say things and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed and bring peace and harmony, then I’m with them.”

To quote Bart Simpson, Ay caramba. This was not gotcha journalism (my thoughts on the investigative dereliction of Meet the Pressmoderator Chuck Todd will be happily shared another time). This is an unqualified, racist crackpot speaking with the authority and support (silent or otherwise) of his partymates, trying to convince the rest of us that he is wizened and thoughtful enough to lead a nation of disparate peoples.

23 percent of Muslim Americans identify as black. Most of the remainder are other persons of color. Carson is a person of color, therefore untouchable no matter how hurtful and discriminatory his statements. An ironic carte blanche. See Carson shoot up the polls.

The only qualification Ben Carson seems to possess as a legitimate politician is the ability to talk (or mumble) out of both sides of his mouth. He wants everyone to succeed, peace and harmony for all, but he also wants to exclude an entire group of citizens from the White House against explicit Constitutional decree. Because 9/11 y’all. MD and skin color aside, Carson’s neck is just as red as Mike Huckabee’s.

As a longtime Illinois resident, the Republican and mainstream media’s pathetically forced Carson/Obama symmetry brings to mind the 2004 Senate contest between the future president and political activist, author and former diplomat Alan Keyes. Keyes, an African-American, demonstrated to his party’s caucus that being educated and black was far from enough to counteract Obama’s stride to Washington. The Free Republic reported at the time:

“He’s alienated almost all of the Republican party operatives throughout the state, starting with his wild-eyed rhetoric about Barack Obama’s pro-abortion stance (the ‘slaveholders’ position, similar to a terrorist, etc) and his attack on Dick Cheney’s gay daughter (Keyes called Mary Cheney a ‘selfish hedonist’).”

One has to talk a lot of crazy to alienate the Cheney family. 11 years later, Keyes exists as a frightening, if somewhat humorous political footnote. I eagerly await Carson’s similar recession from the public consciousness.

Rahm the Edible (February 25, 2015)

Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote a piece for the now-defunct online magazine RootSpeak entitled, Rahm the Inevitable. The column was published just before Chicago’s general Mayoral election that year, a time when Rahm Emanuel’s march to City Hall had the pre-ordained feel of a Hillary Clinton 2008 – without the Barack Obama spoiler. Here’s a snippet of my February ‘11 observations:

“Now that the wide variety of political shenanigans that have come to exemplify the 2011 Chicago mayoral race have been exhausted, it seems there’s nothing left to do but wait for Tuesday’s electoral returns. At that point we may stop referring to former U.S. Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as the ‘presumed favorite,’ move beyond his Goliath campaign and start seeing the new CEO of Chi-town in action.

After all, there’s no way anyone could take him at this point, right? Rahmbo has five times more campaign funds at his disposal than nearest fiscal competitor, Gery Chico. His slick print ads and television spots depict the handsome, well-dressed former ballet dancer as a family man who cares about the middle class, ready to make the ‘tough choices’ that will put Chicago back on the fast track to claiming its status as an affordable, world class city. A few of his TV plugs contain public endorsements from not one but two U.S. Presidents, current POTUS Barack Obama, as well as immediate predecessor William Jefferson Clinton.”

Back in 2011, Emanuel emerged as the Windy City’s clear victor, logging 55.35 percent of the total vote count, compared with Gery Chico’s limp 23.97.

Well kids, what a difference a leap year makes, eh? Over the course of his first term, “the ‘tough choices’ that will put Chicago back on the fast track to claiming its status as an affordable, world class city” turned out to be a complete gutting of the Chicago Public School system, while siphoning funds to promote North Side charter schools for the elite. South Side children that were redistricted without their consent have been forced to hoof it through dangerous gang territory.

Another of those “tough choices” was the privatization of the Chicago Transit Authority’s payment operations, with the 2013 debut of the Ventra card system. I think Rick Perlstein of The Nation spoke for many of us when he observed:

“The problem is not just the profusion of private contractors who do the public’s business so poorly; it’s the fact that the public’s business is being so relentlessly privatized by the government executives in charge. Slowly, the perceived imperative to privatize has become the political tail that wags the policy dog. The results are before us. Why, indeed, was this massive change in how Chicagoans pay for their bus and train fares initiated in the first place?”

Coming off predecessor Mayor Daley’s absurd parking meter lease “deal” which screwed Chicago for 75 years, a repeat of this type of performance wasn’t interpreted as very populist of Rahm. But if the ravaging of public education and the city’s transit system were not enough, there was plenty else about Emanuel to rankle Chicago’s largely blue color spirit: the close ties with new Republican Governor and enemy of organized labor, Bruce Rauner, the arrogance, the bullying, the closed door meetings. The antithetical “man of the people” conduct that exemplified the Mayor’s first term finally led Rolling Stone to declare, Rahm Emanuel Has a Problem with Democracy.

Well after yesterday’s general re-election performance, in which Rahmbo was forced into a surprising April runoff against second place finisher, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, he certainly has a bigger problem with democracy now.

Here’s the pesky thing about voters. Sometimes no matter how hard you try to persuade them that you’re in their corner, they take a look at your record and decide not to believe you. The tide of public sentiment was running against Emanuel before the first polling place ever opened its doors. And here’s what else changed since I wrote about Rahm’s first Mayoral run in 2011.

  1. This round, Emanuel had THIRTY times more campaign funds at his disposal than his nearest fiscal competitor.
  2. He is the sitting CEO of Chicago, and incumbents are generally considered the electoral favorite with few exceptions.
  3. It seems unbelievable even as I type, but Garcia entered the race a mere four months ago. Rising from relative obscurity as a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, he took an astounding 33.9 percent of the popular vote compared with Rahm’s 45.4.

    That last number is the most important one. Because having failed to secure the required 50 percent plus one vote, the former Rahm the Inevitable must now face an April 7 runoff against Garcia in which nothing is certain. All that money. All that love from the political elite. And yet it’s more than possible that Emanuel could be out of a job in six weeks.

The people spoke yesterday and I suspect they’ll raise their voices even louder in the coming days. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Tuesday’s near record-low turnout was a combination of bad weather and voter apathy. When folks stop believing they can change anything, they tend to stay home.

By any measure Rahm Emanuel already lost on February 24, 2015. A megawatt celebrity sitting Mayor with 30 times the budget, and infinity political supporters (including the POTUS), is back shilling for votes today. But he’s been wounded. The previously scared but hungry can smell his blood. I relish the pile-on, not out of spite or schadenfreude, but because like most citizens, I understand that what’s good for the Windy City is good for me. And another four years of Rahm is a bad deal. I’m grateful that my fellow Chicagoans finally feel empowered to reject it.

Trolling with the Homies (February 21, 2015)

This week I read Anne Thériault’s piece for the website Vice, Let’s Call Female Online Harassment What It Really Is: Terrorism. Thériault, a frequent speaker and writer on issues surrounding sexual assault and violence against women, discussed her personal experience with the “pile on” effect ye olde Internet unleashes upon female voices. Those who dare to have an articulate opinion on issues that have plagued our gender since we began walking upright. Maybe before then. Thériault’s story of prolonged psychological torture at the hands of misogynist Internet trolls is very familiar to any woman who earns her bread and her soul’s sustenance by the keystroke. She says of a response to a piece she wrote about rape culture:

“The first comment was a man saying that I deserved to be raped.

I wish I would tell you that this comment was some kind of anomaly, but of course it wasn’t. Rape threats, death threats, and general threats of violence populate my inbox, Twitter mentions, and blog comments. I’ve had people target my family—one popular tactic is to threaten to report me to Children’s Aid as an abusive parent.

What makes these incidents even worse is just how common they are, not only for me, but for any woman who speaks out or takes up space, especially on the Internet.”

I can certainly relate to Thériault’s familiarity with online harassment, though I am nowhere near as famous, nor do I have an immediate family endangered by it. There are unfortunately a plethora of vignettes I could offer, but I think one will suffice. In January 2013 I wrote a piece for PoliticusUSA entitled, Wayne LaPierre and NRA Directly Responsible for Ricin Letters to Gun Control Leaders. Admittedly the headline is incendiary. It was meant to be. The more nuanced arguments contained in the column are based upon well-informed frustration with radical gun owners and the violence they incite.


In response, an NRA fansite called The Truth About Guns plastered a big picture of my face on its blog, “The Daily Digest.” In the body of the post, they asked the philosophical question on everybody’s mind: “If someone is killed in a home invasion or raped because they can’t own the arms they need to protect themselves properly, can we haul the Becky and the other gun control lemmings in and treat them the same way?” There’s nothing like reasoned intellectual debate, is there?


And if you can stomach a lower denominator of discourse, please have a gander at the comments section. Allow me to share just a few brief highlights:

“‘That [manjaw] should be powdered with a Ball-Peen Hammer. Stupid, evil libtards.’ I’ll wager dollars against donuts that if someone assaulted her with a ball-peen hammer, she’d like to have a .45 cal ACP at hand.'”

“Her chin looks like a golf tee, for some reason.”

“And that isn’t even why I want to smack it with a five-iron.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire was more attractive, not to mention more intelligent.”

“Becky Sarwate is proof that for every stupid position, there’s a stupid ho to advocate for it.”

“[She should be] feeding raw chicken to starved alligators by hand.”

Have we had enough yet?

Frankly speaking, this bullshit is more upsetting for the people who love me. As for myself, I’ve developed a rather thick skin over the years and am well equipped to hum along as I go. In fact, the venom I encounter as a woman with a voice and unafraid to use it only encourages. It is precisely because of this demented, perverted groupthink and the way it’s driven smart, strong women into the shadows or out of their minds for centuries (or longer) that it’s imperative to take a stand.

I am 36 years-old, twice divorced with an autoimmune disease, alopecia and a sprained left ankle. I have survived cancer, bleeding joints as a toddler, having most of my teeth knocked out, a crushed lower vertebrae, the death of my best friend, jail and two concussions. And most harrowingly of all, I made it through a childhood and two parents with more addictions and mental illnesses that a full cell block of Oz inmates. I have reinvented myself more times than Madonna and have a thick candy shell to show for it – hard but sweet.

Really Internet pigs, you think I went through all of that just to run away from the computer because I’m scared of you? Let me tell you something. You don’t know me. You don’t know my sisters-in-arms, my fellow poetesses, authors, journalists, artists, dancers and thinkers. The mothers, wives and aunts who grow a little taller everytime they create something special out of your opposition.

The cause of turning the shame right back on the dudes (yes, yes #notallmen) who use fear and violence to try to silence us is furthered everytime a professional like Anne Thériault shines a spotlight on its pervasiveness. I’d like to try to make a small contribution with my own work. So I wrote this. And I’ll keep writing. Bring it bullies.

About Women (February 6, 2014)

“She’s got daddy issues.”

As defined by Urban Dictionary: “Whenever a female has a fucked up relationship with her father, or absence of a father figure during her childhood, it tends to spill into any adult relationship they embark on, usually to the chagrin of any poor male in their life.”

There’s a brief summation of my “damage,” as put forth by a number of former lovers. The easy resolution offered by the branding is understandably appealing to some men. Rather than wrestle with the notion that I find him an objectionable partner for whatever reason(s), it’s far simpler to head off introspection at the pass. So it follows that it’s not personal. I just have a problem with mankind, and it started with my father.

As the offspring of two profoundly disturbed parents, it’s without question that I have my daddy issues. My father was a volatile manic depressive and during the course of riding his mood swings for 18 years, I became fearful, paranoid and untrusting. A hard won peace certainly but over the ensuing decades, with the assist of lots of therapy sessions, I learned to use those defaults to occasional advantage. My gut and I have a pretty trusting relationship. She senses danger at a dog whistle frequency. I’ve learned to control the panic that used to ensue at the first sign of a threat, and now make what I like to think are more deliberate decisions. Because I’m not doing myself much good if I fall and break a leg while fleeing a burning building, right?

So sure, I’ve got dad hangover. But I had two messed up adults in my young world. And for many years, I most assuredly, definitively and absolutely had mommy issues. And for too long, this meant I had significant challenges bonding with women at all. I never felt I understood them and what they wanted from me. It was somehow infinitely more complicated than relating to the superficial banter of men. Part of the isolation I felt for most of my life came from feeling something like a third gender. I was alien to trust and peace with anybody of either sex, but somehow felt more threatened by the female. Is this because my mother was a pathological liar who always made it known that somehow she felt threatened by me as well? Definitely.

But this post isn’t about Freudian angst over parental relationships that ceased to be a part of my day to day life years ago. That story has been told in fits and starts. It has been explored in group and individual therapy, in long cathartic discussions with my younger sister, and on the web pages of this blog. This vignette is about the joy that comes after all that introspective torture and pain, the lightness and air that is mine in greater abundance everyday because of the good women in my life. The ones I finally let in because I felt more secure with myself and my femininity. The ones who have become a second network of sisters, mother figures, professional colleagues and judgment-free confidantes. The ladies who have encouraged my voice, who’ve beckoned me out from the shadows of shame and isolation. The ones who have no agenda except to celebrate who I am – and who I am with them.