The Best Blog in America? (June 4, 2013)

The Best Blog in America

Four and a half years ago, in the middle of January 2009, I began my blogging career with these words:

“I’d like to thank my dear younger sister for letting me in on this action. I don’t know about all that ‘smart one’ stuff since she is the one who got something off the ground that I have only talked ad nauseum about doing myself. I may have the Master’s in English Lit., but sometimes we overeducated end up being the most stagnant.”

And it’s true, without that first push toward online confession from my younger sister Jennifer, I have good reason to doubt that I would have let a closet writer’s burning ambition see the light of day. I earned a comfortable living in those days as a manager of corporate standards, and came home each evening to make dinner for my then-husband. I had a clearly defined purpose that hid rather well some painful internal chafing. I was not! (screamed my buried soul) cut out for paperwork, motherhood and meal planning. There is nothing inherently wrong with those roles and for many women, filling them provides intense personal satisfaction, but the farther I traveled down the path of rote domesticity, the closer I moved to its expected tollgates, the more certain I became that I was lost.

Jenny knew it. And she wouldn’t let me pretend otherwise. If I were lacking in personal bravery, well then she’d start the blog, give it a name and a theme and set me up as an administrator. No slouch a communicator herself, she produced the first few posts – in the voice of a harried, swamped suburban career woman, wife and mother – and challenged me to set myself apart.

That original blog, Which End is Up!?, “An in-depth look at the life of two very different Chicago sisters as it happens,” evolved over time, eventually becoming the one-voice forum that I secretly believe Jenny always intended it to be. Months passed and as I gained a following, confidence and a certain amount of prolificacy, I migrated over to the Open Salon platform where Contemplating the U.S. Navel was born.

Through practice and self-discovery, I discovered a genuine passion for deconstructing our nation’s increasingly fractured and broken political system. A long series of posts examining these themes led to professional recruitment from RootSpeak magazine in the form of a weekly column. When RootSpeak went on hiatus, I landed at PoliticusUSA where I’ve enjoyed my largest readership to date. That first push toward blogging from my baby sister has led to a diverse and satisfying professional writing career that includes national awards for journalism (the explosion of urban agriculture), newsletter editing (PenPoints, the quarterly communication of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association) and theater criticism.

And now it is in June 2013 that I have a sense of a fledgling communications career (because a writer can never be too comfortable or established) coming full circle. For it is this year that the contest judges of National Federation of Press Women have deemed this very blog the best in the nation.

I still can’t quite process and accept the mind-bending honor. For writing without varnish (and some in my life might argue, too nakedly) about the triple challenges of alopeciacancer and divorce in 2012, I will travel to Salt Lake City to receive a honor the Becky of January 2009 could only experience as a daydream.

It’s beautiful and satisfying whenever one’s work is recognized by an esteemed body, but when that work is the very lifeblood and selfhood capsized across the screen, the victory becomes so much more gratifying – and humbling. The award I will collect from the NFPW at the end of August is not just a celebration of my words, it’s a vindication of my voice, my experience. The emotions and thoughts I vomit onto the keyboard nearly every week are my most authentic self and somehow, a conglomerate of respected peers have deemed that worthy of consumption and acknowledgment.

I never got into blogging with ideas of grandeur. I always assumed that if anyone outside my immediate family read the words, I’d already won. Blogging was therapy, a way of wondering aloud on so many topics: “If this is how it’s supposed to be, then how come…?”

But it now appears that the attempt to make sense of my self and the world around me has spoken to others. When I read this judge’s feedback, I cried for that young, inexperienced 2009 self who had no idea she could use prose to speak to faceless others, badly inept at self-expression as she’d been to that point:

“This writer has no problem tapping a vein and bleeding onto the page, but she does so with humor and style. My kind of writing! Definitely worth the prize.””


Fiscal Sniff (January 8, 2013)

Fiscal Sniff



Last year I began writing a weekly political column for online liberal magazine, Given the gift of a regular outlet for Washington thoughts and musings, I began to recast the mission of this blog as a means of sharing my personal story, a story in which I figure as a central character but am by no means mistress of ceremony. In the process of deconstructing and examining personal foibles, tics and trials, the goal is to arrive at a more holistic understanding of the self, with a loftier promise of making educated, well-considered moves that will sustain or augment mental, physical and spiritual health.

This self-involved introduction is offered by way of placing a forthcoming rant into context.

Though I strenuously seek to separate roles and personalities that are best kept compartmentalized in the interest of efficiency, life, as we all know, has a habit of defying our attempts at organization. And so it is that until this morning, my political self was left completely paralyzed by the disgusting gamesmanship and ultimately pathetic resolution to the year-end “fiscal cliff” crisis. For two full weeks, I was rendered unable to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard if you will), to produce thoughts – coherent or otherwise.

Allow me to quote some of my own Facebook comments, dated January 2, 2013 in an attempt to account for this malaise:

“I loathe the treasonous House Republicans. I loathe that Congress manufactured this crisis in the first place 18 months ago, then waited until the last possible second to reach a deal that does nothing to solve our long-term financial problems. I loathe that for all intents and purposes, the Bush tax cuts have been codified for all eternity. I loathe that the wealthy class has been redefined and insulated while regular stiffs like you and I will lose more take home pay. I don’t care that the House GOP ‘looks bad’ in all of this. I am approaching a resentment level that demands nothing short of a public hanging for the way this half-wit, wackadoo minority has been able to hold every initiative, so matter how small or crucial, hostage. General public opinion and the voice of the electorate has been silenced. Our process is a mockery and it’s hard to envision a real way out at this point.

If we had done nothing at all, the threshold for tax increases on the wealthiest Americans would have stayed at $250,000, rather than the final $400,000. But the tradeoff would have been deep and immediate spending cuts that would undoubtedly have plunged this still wobbly recession back in the direction from which it’s struggling to escape. The House GOP knew this and in the end, strong-armed the 400k mark, at which I must add, they remain dissatisfied (because nothing short of 0 taxes assuages this nutty group). These ‘concerned citizens’ were so worried about our long-term fiscal health that they were willing, for the second time in two years, to display us to the world as a nation that does not know how to address its own problems. They win. Again. Meanwhile discussions about spending cuts are temporarily off the table, but I will be the unpopular liberal who actually admits that we need structural solutions to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security and a realignment of our defense budget. But do you think this group of charlatans is going to be able to come up with anything like a sensible plan? I do not lay the blame at Obama’s feet. He is not able to pass legislation singlehandedly. The hypocrisy is fucking disgusting, pardon my French. These clowns didn’t veto a single spending bill under Dubya, a huge part of why we’re here (the other part being the economic meltdown that Dubya’s policies wrought) and yet somehow we and the media have allowed this to be framed as the inevitable outcome of tax and spend liberal policy. It’s truly sickening.”

I can’t say that my sentiments differ substantially today than they did when I wrote those words a week ago. And I find myself wondering: if Congressional games have the comprehensive power to disgust and disillusion writers like myself, who follow political developments for a living and nurture a genuine passion for American democracy, what is the effect on those outside the political circle, particularly individuals and families struggling to hold onto homes and jobs, terribly concerned with immediate survival and the future solvency? Have they, out of necessity, long ago relegated the lethargic legislative process of our leaders to white noise? Or perhaps a more pertinent question might be: is this exactly what today’s elected officials are counting on?