Stepping Out

This is going to be my last post on BeckySarwate.com for a few months. As readers who know me offline are aware, I’ve been contracted to write my first non-fiction book with friend, colleague and Lost in the Ivy author, Randy Richardson. We’re headed into the intensive drafting phase (at least I am – the always on top of things Randy is already six chapters in), so I have to step back from my baby here for a bit.

The book, with a working title of Cubservations, will be a collection of perspectives from high-profile fans about what it means to bleed Cubby blue. Naturally, the work was greenlit because in November 2016, the team permanently shed the Lovable Losers mantle and millions of long-suffering fans were granted a dream fervently nurtured, but scarcely imagined. When Randy, who has published multiple novels in his career, first told me about the project, I thought myself audacious in volunteering to serve as a reader. The moment I comprehended his offer to co-write remains frozen in time, an unbelievable, overwhelming flash of unreality.

Since April, supported by the solid research and detection skills of our own Brian Walsh, I have interviewed a collection of talents and personalities admired, in many cases, for decades. How is it possible that the weird, snaggle-toothed nerd who pored over fantasy league stat sheets with her father throughout the 1980s and 90s, a young girl who wept openly over Cub heartbreaks in 1984, ’89, ’98, 2003, ‘08 and ’09, would get to discuss 2016’s unbridled joy with the legendary Bob Newhart?  A combination of amazing fortune and most excellent taste in friends and collaborators.

The time for conversation with Mr. Newhart and others with whom I never imagined corresponding, is winding down. Now I must start organizing all of this rich material to tell the stories of these successful Cub fans – locals and transplants, genetic die-hards and rebels, believers and skeptics. It will be hard, rewarding work and I look forward to resurfacing when the book is ready for primetime.

In addition to expressing my gratitude to Randy and Brian for opportunities and support already amply given, it would be an egregious oversight not to recognize my fiancé. I said at the beginning of this post that it would be my last for a while. But I haven’t published to the blog section of this website since October 2016, not for lack of anything to say.

Today is Bob’s 37th birthday. And in just 17 more turns of the sun, the love of my life and I will marry in front of 32 of our dearest ones. For years I bled my feelings, struggles, tragedies and triumphs all over the Internet. I had to in order to survive. Writing my life was more than therapy. It was a guarantee that the story would be told and recorded, that I would not be forgotten across almost a decade of lost isolation. With word and reflection, I looked for the escape hatch from a vortex of bad decisions, health struggles and a continually shattered heart.

I’m not finished searching. I am not done with blogging. And those who know me away from the screen can confirm I’ll never have surfeit of oversharing. But I’m evolving, growing into a better woman and hopefully, a more stable, confident creative.

Nearly a year ago, Bob and I began intensive discussions about our future, our home and our time together. In tandem, I made an unconscious decision to reclaim a complicated, messy, busy and satisfying analog life. I continued writing about politics, sports and the Chicago theater scene. But it no longer felt necessary to process my relationships and trajectory via the World Wide Web. Instead I can turn around and talk to a smart, loving and loyal friend, who’s also, I might add, pretty to behold. The computer can’t compete with that.

Anyway, I’ll still publish the occasional theater review even as I shut down for what is certain to be a novice author’s anxious and exhilarating writing, editing and publishing process. And I’ll still have plenty of succinct commentary to share on Twitter and Facebook. In the meantime, Brian will keep the lights on here with regular Missing in Action updates.

I appreciate your constant support of this website and my journey as a writer. See you soon.

Cubs Post All-Star Hot Streak: Welcome, but Weird

“How about 9-2 since July 11? Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Looks and feels different too. Our cross-town rivals, The White Sox, were kind enough to part with starting pitcher Jose Quintana on July 13, and Q has quickly proven a valuable addition to the Cubbies’ bruised staff of hurlers. His July 16 debut at Camden Yards was verifiably historic, with Quintana fanning 12 batters over seven innings – without allowing a run. Holy Cow! A commanding announcement that the Epstein administration’s eye for the right talent at the right time remains unclouded.

The batting averages clearly have room for growth but Kris Bryant is leading the pack at a respectable .278 (at the time of publication). Wilson Contreras is the best catcher in baseball and in the middle of a red-hot hitting streak. Fan favorite Kyle Schwarber is back from a stint in the minors and crawling from the bottom. And the outfield is much better with a healthy Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.

Yes indeed Wrigleyville Nation. Things are looking up. The Cubs remain a half-game behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers, but have widened the gap considerably between themselves and the rest of the NL Central. Can we all just take a moment to savor a fourth-place Cardinals club (with all-due love to Dexter Fowler)?

As I mentioned in a Facebook post yesterday, I’m always elated to #FlyTheW. I’m certainly not looking for trouble. That said, and despite all the winning, there’s a few…curious variables at play. Some strange things are afoot with some of our key players that could impact current momentum. As wizened, sober residents of Wrigleyville Nation, we need to keep our eyes on the following…”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

The Spice Girls

Yesterday, as news broke regarding the resignation of Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary, I immediately contacted a fellow Washington vigilant – my younger sister Jenny. Since our earliest childhood days, we’ve been news and politics aware (I’ll hardly regret a ballot more than one cast for Reagan in a 1984 kindergarten mock election). But ever since the post-9/11, Fox News-aided ascendancy of modern-day Republican ideology, neither one of us has been able to relax for a moment.

Wound tightly by patriotic and personal concerns involving the war on terrorism, protracted assaults on woman’s reproductive health, the social safety net, voting rights, immigration and rational gun policy, we’ve been busy worrying. The Obama years brought some comfort in the form of a decent, rational if imperfect leader. But even then the Tea Party and other self-styled citizens of the “real America” talked endless, incendiary shit about the President, immigrants, the LGBTIQ and a long-settled woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.

Some of it was more than talk. Jenny and I have paid attention to what’s gone down in the states, including our own. Budget impasses, government shutdowns, disgustingly offensive bathroom laws, innocent citizens of color gunned down by local police. Elections matter and the right has been gaining the macro and micro majorities required to transform America into something less free for “those people” (most of us) – for decades.

My second favorite pundit and I are especially alert, exhausted and afraid for our country in the Trump era. The international shame, ridicule and danger. The proud, illiterate ignorance of our President, the moral and ethical stench wafting from every corner of the White House. But every now and then we’re given a gift of comic absurdity, a small moment of levity that transcends danger into the mere comically sad. So many of those moments have been offered by Sean Spicer these last, harrowing six months. Bless him.

It’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. Writers such as Erin Gloria Ryan have pointed out that Spicey came out swinging for the unintentionally humorous fences:

“Mr. Spicer’s relationship with the press got off to a bad start. Just one day after President Trump’s inauguration, our boy Sean issued a bizarre statement claiming the crowd was the biggest ever. His sagging suit indicated that perhaps he was not the greatest at gauging the sizes of things.”

Her piece in The New York Times yesterday ends with an endearment I burningly wish I’d written first: “Goodnight, sweet wince.”

No matter how insane Spicer’s behavior grew in defense of his probably-bankrupt-in-every-sense boss and the Trump administration, it was a mostly harmless show. We (and here I mean the larger “we,” not just Jenny and I) have long expected slanted spin from the Press Secretary’s podium. Spicey added that special mix of pitiful audaciousness that made his briefings among the highest-rated programs on daytime television. The man hid from the press in the bushes. This is a thing that actually happened. Under the direst circumstances – the running aground of America by a circus clown and his enablers – we need the occasional laugh to keep us going.

What are we to do now? Basically, this was my question to Jenny when I messaged her late yesterday morning. I sent her a link to the Times’ breaking news item about Spicer’s decision to walk away from the madness. She’s a mother of two girls married to a wonderful Muslim-American man. As many readers know, Jenny’s had to take vigilance a step further than some (me) when it comes to protecting her family from rhetorical and legislative threats. Thus she was predictably less flapped than I:

“This should surprise no one.”

Point taken, and yet somehow I was blindsided by Spicer’s move. I assumed that a man who’d spent six months and a day eating shit in front of America on behalf of Donald Trump could survive anything – especially a new supervisor. The moment when one is lulled into the belief that a head can’t be further scratched, The Donald and his team offer a new itch.

In reply to Jenny’s resigned assessment of the latest Friday news twist in Washington, I offered this. Maybe a sign of obscured, but persistent optimism.

“We must be ready for anything and yet because absurdity continues every day, any sort of end of it is still a jolt.”

Spicey was easy to dismiss. A fool who earnestly wanted respect, even if he had no idea how to gain it.  As Forrest Gump said, “Good, that’s one less thing.” Scaramucci, Sanders and their soulless sleaze on the other hand? No more laughing. Just more worrying.

HIR

Amy Morton (Paige) and Em Grosland (Max)

Described in press materials as “a subversive comedy by celebrated playwright, actor, singer-songwriter and performance artist Taylor Mac,” I must own to feeling rather humorless as I exited the Chicago premiere of “HIR” this week. The original, 21st Century take on the dysfunctional family trope offers a realistic emotional experience for Steppenwolf Theater audiences. The trials of a household are usually hilarious, and heartbreaking, in(un)equal portions.

As the curtain rises, we meet Paige (Amy Morton). At first blush she seems to embrace a “woke,” flexible and free approach to marital relations, housekeeping and child rearing. Rules are made to be broken. In fact they must be in order to counteract a stultifying, regressive patriarchal society that values order and ownership above expression. Paige’s home is full of costumes, culture, whimsy and loving chaos.

Or is it?

Paige’s pseudo-liberation from the tyranny of a brutal marriage is gained not through determined agency or death. Rather her new world order is brought about by a simple quirk of destiny that sets off a linear regression for Paige and her husband Arnold (the monumentally talented Francis Guinan). They are a couple of children — Arnold in a cognitive and motor skill sense, Paige in a bitter, retributive and controlling expression of shifting power dynamics.

Into this landscape walks Isaac (Ty Olwin), a dishonorably discharged Afghanistan vet whose issues both predate, and are simultaneously exacerbated by a three-year absence from his family. Broken communication on both sides have left the family’s troubled history frozen in time for the PTSD-afflicted Isaac. His father is a bully. His mother is a work hausfrau and his sister looks to him for leadership. These truths and the horrors of the battlefield are what he knows. There is predictability in familiar discomfort.

The physical timeline of the production’s two hour and 15-minute run (with one intermission) spans one very long day. One in which a newly returned Isaac must adjust to a stroke-addled father, drugged into further decommission by a mother who disguises revenge as a form of experimental enlightenment. Isaac’s sister is now Max (Em Grosland), a precocious, transgendered teen who also serves as the namesake of “HIR.”

The dialogue includes a running discussion, replete with helpful chalkboard diagramming, of gender fluidity. “HIR” is the pronoun that bridges the male/female gap, welcoming and including everyone occupying space outside of staid, heteronormative boxes. The education is held up by Paige as detached and redemptive, and yet her rules for living 2.0 are perversely rigid and uncompromising. Where once Arnold represented the excesses of a fragile, yet dominantly violent male ego, Paige is the id run amok in one lane. Cleanliness, ownership and categories must be rejected wholesale.

What exactly either ideology has to do with the living, growing Max, searching for himself and establishing principles amidst psychological warfare is deliberately unclear. At one point, Isaac asks his sibling (insensitively) if his gender transition is driven by Paige’s anarchy. A more prescient question for all of the central characters, as well as the audience: Are any of our values and belief systems the product of enlightened free will? Or are they driven by history, environment and rebellion?

There are laughs aplenty sprinkled throughout the script. The different challenges confronting each character offer fertile ground for absurdity. All four performances are nuanced, complicated and fully formed work that defy categorization.

Yet I suspect few audience members will be chuckling during and after the production’s final scene. Mild spoiler alert: Max is the only one left standing. We’re left with the impression that Paige, Arnold and Isaac’s stories could only ever have ended one way. “HIR” journey has just begun — and is likely to be endured alone.

“HIR” runs through August 20 at the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-335-1650 or visit the Steppenwolf Theatre website.

Misogynist-in-Chief

Nine months ago, after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood “grab ‘em by the pussy” audio footage that got Billy Bush sacked from The Today Show, my brave younger sister Jennifer wrote I Am You: An Open Letter to Trump’s Accusers and Promoters of Rape Culture. Both of these events suggested the promise of an honest conversation about the country’s regressive and damaging gender politics.

With Trump’s exposure (word deliberately chosen) as a misogynist pig of the highest magnitude, it seemed impossible that his presidential campaign could continue. After all, 51 percent of the American voting population?  Female. And for one beautiful moment, our male allies on both sides of the ideological spectrum united in rebuke at the notion of mothers, sisters, friends, wives and daughters seized by the genitals. Some of the language used to condemn Trump smacked of patriarchal appropriation (cough, Mitt Romney) but there was a brief, national consensus that a sexual predator ought not to be Leader of the Free World.

At the same time, women like my sister – a suburban wife, mother and broadcast journalism professional – seemed to reach a breaking point. Jenny’s long radio career makes her no stranger to working in a male-dominated field and the public and private discrimination and harassment that come with it. She’s tough, hardworking and certainly not a snowflake. But to read her story is to absorb the traumas of millions of American women who stopped feeling safe in their own bodies, and became aware of unequal opportunity, shortly after hitting puberty. We were tired of staying silent and refused to let Trump’s behavior become normalized for our sons and daughters. Pussygate was ugly. It was dehumanizing. It was painful. But if ever there was that overused trope, the old teachable moment, we were there.

Yet on November 8, 2016 the Misogynist won the election. The Electoral College perversity was more than an affront to a popular vote that overwhelmingly favored Trump’s opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  It was more than the selection of an inexperienced, proudly unread corporate grifter over the most qualified candidate to ever run for President. The real punch to the vagina was the clear opinion, articulated at the ballot box by voters of both genders, that the possession of lady parts is the ultimate leadership disqualifier.

How else to explain why white women in every demographic pulled the metaphorical lever for Trump more often than Clinton? Slate’s L.V. Anderson bespoke the November 9 anguish of the sane, Caucasian female minority and gave voice to the anger of intersectional voters: “What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman?…Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.”

The months following the election – the effectual end of Hillary Clinton’s long career of public service, the elevation of a clownish, perverted reality television personality to the nation’s highest office, and above all, the undeniable truth that the climb from the pit of social, economic and political misogyny has barely begun – were so difficult. I stopped writing altogether. I avoided media – social and traditional – of every kind. Existential depression and disappointment. The knowledge that the country was under the executorship of a gaudy, classless and ignorant shithead who may or may not be in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. It was all too much.

But like many other Americans, male and female, I found my voice again. I stood with my Midwestern sisters at the January 21 Chicago chapter of the Women’s Marches. With renewed determination, I picked up a keyboard to critique a Trump administration that poses a cornucopia of threats to peace, security, freedom of speech and social morality.

The current occupant of the White House has brought a dizzying amount of shame and scandal upon the office and the country – in a very short time. Hateful immigration policies, withdrawals from international agreements, an illiteracy so appalling that complete sentences and a basic familiarity with American history prove too much to ask. Frederick Douglass deserves every moment of his surprising 2017 resurgence but come on…

And last week’s Twitter war between President Trump and the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe is a stark reminder that Access Hollywood is no regrettable fluke of early Aughts “boys will be boys” braggadocio. America’s leader is an active and determined misogynist. He will not be educated. He will not apologize. He will not even be discreet. However, could this ultimately work to the pissed off poon advantage?

Peter Beinart of The Atlantic writes:

“Hostile sexism seems to motivate women even when they merely observe it happening to others…There’s some evidence that Trump’s hostile sexism, as evidenced most infamously in the Access Hollywood tape released last October, has had exactly that result…”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s current approval rating with women is just 28 percent. Yes, #AllWomen. Even the white ones who’ve finally figured out that placing patriotism – and pussy – in this POTUS’ care is an act of self-annihilation.

Two Weeks Before 2017 All-Star Break, Injury-Plagued Cubs Look to Second Half

“Happ’s fresh face, enthusiasm and strong performance serve as potent reminders that the Cubs are a young team with crazy potential only just tapped. They may be down, but there’s no reason to call them out with half a season left to play.

And we conclude our survey of great doings in Wrigleyville Nation with a public service reminder that Javy Baez is featured in ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue 2017. At the risk of objectifying a talented athlete, the visuals are stunning. I may be happily engaged to a wonderful, smart and funny man, but it’s not as though I’ve lost my sight. I recall well the furor over Jake Arrieta’s similarly uncovered show of athleticism, but was not nearly….shall we say….affected by it.

I believe I speak for many fans of the human physique when I say: Go, Cubs Go!”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Second Amendment Trumps All Other Constitutional Rights…Again

I want to preface this post by admitting that the attempt to articulate a deep, impotent sadness over the country’s bizarre and dangerous permissiveness of mass casualty gun violence will pale in comparison to the genius of Esquire’s Charles Pierce. Both of these pieces are worth a full read, but the titles alone suggest the feelings of many exhausted warriors in the battle to secure a right to life above the right to unload magazine clips on one’s fellow Americans:

Nothing Really Changed on That Ballfield Yesterday

When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent

In the former post, Pierce writes:

“If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, Simpson Field is not likely to be, either. Until there’s no profit in hatred, until civility proves to be a ratings juggernaut, nothing will change. Until the instruments of mass killing are regulated as stringently as we regulate automobiles, nothing will change. Until we have as serious a conversation about the actual misuse of the Second Amendment as we are currently having about the alleged misuse of the First, nothing will change.”

In the second musing, Pierce says of Thursday night’s Congressional Baseball Game telecast on C-SPAN:

“The broadcast crew, from a Washington radio station, kept up the patter and there was a lot of talk about unity and civility, because that was the order of the day. And I continued to wonder where it was that all these people grew up.”

I have a close friend, Beth, who introduced me to the concept of losing one’s bones several years ago. You know that condition when a situation is so frustrating and hopeless, there’s just nowhere to put your feelings? So metaphorically, and oftentimes physically, the body cannot remain upright and hold its shape. The skeleton and soul collapse in on themselves, landing a person in a fetal crouch – without the reassuring comfort.

Many of us have lost our bones this week, simultaneously grappling with cognitive-dissonance inducing gratefulness that we still have cartilage left to shed. 51 year-old House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will survive his injuries with luck and quality medical care (a luxury available to members of Congress that Republican policy puts out of most Americans’ reach), but Wayne Chan ‘s life is over.

Who is Wayne Chan, you ask? A 56 year-old man murdered in a mass casualty event on the same day that Scalise was shot on an Alexandria, Virginia ballfield. Chan was an employee of a UPS facility in San Francisco, killed along with 50 year-old Bensen Louie and Michael Lefiti, 46. The names of these men deserve as much press as Scalise, not the least because none of them publicly carried water for the National Rifle Association. Earlier this week, New York Daily News writers Meera Jagannathan and Leonard Greene observed:

“In May 2015, he introduced the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, legislation that aimed to modify the criminal code to relax restrictions on cross-state gun sales — or, as he put it, eliminate ‘archaic red tape burdening gun owners who legally purchase firearms across the nation…’

‘The NRA thanks Rep. Scalise for his leadership in this important effort,’ the gun group said in a statement.”

Whenever the NRA expresses gratitude to loyal ambassadors of Second Amendment regulatory annihilation, you can be sure dead people will follow. All in the name of freedom (profits). In 2016, gun sales broke an 18-year record, with 28 million firearms purchased. That number does not encompass weapons acquired through theft or other illegal means. Although the list of verboten procurement methods grows ever smaller owning to the NRA’s wildly successful lobbying efforts.

It may be tempting to indulge the fantasy of chastened Republican (and Democrats) lawmakers currently in the pocket of Wayne LaPierre, undergoing a spiritual awakening in light of Scalise’s critical condition. But as another close friend of mine likes to advise with regard to magical thinking, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one gets full first.”

The false narrative doggedly peddled by LaPierre and his ilk remains unchanged in the wake of this week’s events – the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy packing equal or greater heat. Evidence to the contrary be damned. Alabama Congressmen Mo Brooks, just hours removed from nearly meeting his Maker in Alexandria, said this to CNN:

“It’s never easy to take when you see people around you getting shot and you don’t have a weapon yourself so you are not in a position where you can help defend.”

There it is. The usual cynicism, impervious to reality. The answer is ALWAYS more guns.