I reject the notion that the incoming presidential administration represents a new normal we must “get over”, accept and even (fuck, no!) embrace. Absolutely not. Absolutely not, because I refuse to be gaslighted. I refuse to allow a person or group shape my reality in order to elicit my consent in an attempt to hold absolute authority over me. No. I refuse to allow a person or group to distort the truth to their own ends, in their quest for unlimited success, power and ideal love. No. I refuse to allow a person or group to attempt to manipulate our common understanding of reality in an attempt to meld it to their will and pleasure. No. I refuse to allow a person or group’s desperate need to be right, to have the last word to superceed the needs of the common masses. If we can come to a common understanding of gaslighting, to recognize it, challenge it and root it out, we will have a shot at avoiding a dystopian nightmare. Continue reading
It was a desperate, confusing time. I’d hitched my wagon to a star, uprooted my life to chase my dreams back to my hometown. I had seen a shimmering (if rain-soaked) post-graduate school future of career fulfillment, rich sociability, fascinating interests, and wealth (of course). I saw this vision with such clarity I believed all I had to do was go home and the pieces would fall into place. In fact, I remember journaling something along the lines of “this new life is something I feel I can just relax into”, so certain was my hope.
The brilliant sunlight glinting off the Columbia River, the water teeming with people recreating, the golden plains stretching to the horizon seemed to foreshadow the bright future that lay ahead as my boyfriend and I drove west on I-90. We were going home.
Just a couple of hours later the shade of the Cascade Mountains enveloped us as we curved our way through Snoqualmie Pass. We drove across the bottom of a tunnel of Evergreen trees, dense and dark. A deep sense of dread began to spread through me, disguising itself as a stomach ache. I was so out of touch with my feelings in those days, the emotional usually expressed itself physically. I felt off. The glory of my triumphant return home was draining out of me and soon I was on edge. Had I been able to peer into the future at that moment I would have insisted we turn the car right back around for Arizona. Continue reading
My mom and I were kicking back in the grass of Sheep Meadow in Central Park last summer when it hit me–we needed to write the manual on positive body image in the context of the mother-daughter relationship. We are exceptional in that we share a positive image of our respective bodies. I learned it from her, and she learns it from me. We understand we are lucky, and we are grateful. We talk a lot about what holds women back in society, and we’re convinced that struggle with body image is one of the major culprits. The pressure comes from the culture, it comes from the family, from friend groups, the media, ourselves. Disliking, hating, and shaming our bodies, our desperation to change them to an unattainable ideal all take valuable energy we could be using for gender-advancement purposes. We have to do something. Continue reading
I had a chance to catch up with the subject of this interview, whose life has changed rather dramatically since this piece was first published in January 2015. Revisit her story about being barred access to sex ed in school by her parents, and check back Thursday for a new interview about her sexual awakening.
“I was one of those kids you wrote about,” she commented, after reading about the pregnant virgin I counseled at Planned Parenthood, “and you probably want to interview me for your blog.” I leapt at the opportunity she was offering to capture a first-person narrative about the experience of being opted out of school sex ed and how it affects adult sexuality. Continue reading
I’d heard this one before. Several times, in fact, and so had the rest of my fellow acolytes who were fanned out around the oversized oak table in the dusky Irish tavern we frequented almost daily back then.
The story about the Academy Award winner who tried to seduce him at an Oscar party twenty-five years ago.
It didn’t matter if we were one drink in or nine, the punchline never failed to amaze, entertain and enlighten all of us. This is how we should be living our lives. This is life.
There was the oft-repeated tale about the awkward coworker who got duped into thinking that the attractive waitress at a seedier neighborhood watering hole had agreed to go out with him. Only when he showed up at the appointed restaurant for their rendezvous he discovered that he’d been set up in a different way. A few dozen of his colleagues enjoyed their elaborate hoax and shared a great big laugh at his expense.
The stories would always elicit the same collective chortling, brazenly reverberating throughout the bar and capturing the attention of the rest of the clientele. No matter how loud the rest of the patrons may have been they soon became our audience.
And we were his.
I often write about being a lawyer because that’s who I have been for nearly a decade. But that wasn’t always the case and after scratching together a living as a nine-dollar-an-hour bookstore clerk for fifteen months after law school, desperately lying to myself that I was better off than my former classmates because I wasn’t poisoning myself in that toxic profession, I finally found a job as an attorney. And I wasn’t afraid it would leech my soul through my pores in the process.
But I found so much more than that.
I found an identity.
I found home.
And it all started with him.
He wasn’t a father figure to me. I had that taken care of and was never in need of a surrogate. Rather, he was the superhero movie star I’d been missing my whole life, a larger than life archetype of charisma wrapped in a perfect tan year round. Always in a good mood, he was entirely unfamiliar with the negativity associated with stress or pressure and approached life as if the world and all of its pleasures were designed specifically for him.
Whenever he told the stories about his amorous conquests or winning the ’68 Barracuda by guessing the right number of gumballs in the five-hundred gallon globe at Disneyworld, or the constant parade of topless women at his house, who wouldn’t believe his life was a fairytale? Who could doubt that he deserved to have a following? A following I wholeheartedly joined the moment I was hired.
It all felt so good, the endless laughter, the bottomless drinks, the collective mentality that we were all part of the same unit. That we were one of his guys, or girls; gender was immaterial to the groupthink. He embraced you and made you feel like you were one of his, that he would look out for you and protect you when needed, he would guarantee a steady stream of entertainment and guarantee that as long as you stayed close by you would always have front row seats to the life of the party. Occasionally you’d get to play a feature role in his grand show.
All he asked for in return was, well…
He was self-possessed and never appeared to require even minimal external validation. That made his appeal that much stronger, that much broader, and it’s what led us all to spend hours at a time just listening to him recount the adventures of his life, over and over and over again.
Like the time he took the yacht he co-owned with a cousin up to Alaska and just missed getting eaten by a bear on a quick stop to the shore. Or the time he poured beer on the governor’s head.
He was my boss, but was he a good lawyer? I don’t know, honestly, but that’s less a reflection of the quality of his advocacy skills than it is on the fact that it just didn’t matter. All that mattered was that you wanted to be near him, with him, in his office, or the Thai place for lunch, or the bar after work, or his house.
My god, his magnificent house. The view of the Sound, the expansive, single story floor plan that had wings.
There we had numerous ‘offsite staff meetings’ during the workday, usually involving Bocce and Coors Light, and barbecues celebrating a promotion or wishing someone well as they moved away. The later the hour, the greater the crowds that would show up for these events and when they were in full swing there was nowhere you’d rather be.
The group made sure of that.
The hierarchy and social order that his disciples created dictated that if you were not present then you were fair game to be openly mocked. If you chose to act out of accordance with the mood of the group you were browbeaten into submission, made to feel a fool for wanting anything less than to be part of what the group had created for you.
Don’t you want to be a part of this?
Can you actually do any better?
Aren’t you grateful?
These aren’t questions that he would pose, generally, because he was too far above that. Without ever having to provide directives, he had his most senior apostles available as enforcers in case anyone drifted outside of the historically accepted dynamic. Sit, listen, drink, laugh, listen. But that didn’t mean he avoided putting his hands on the wheel altogether if the ship needed to be straightened out and put back on course.
I had, for example, one co-worker who presented himself as a straight man. That’s a fact. The group, however, saw him as effeminate and did not think he had ever demonstrated sufficient heterosexual masculinity to ever put his sexual orientation beyond doubt. Never mind that this was a man in his late thirties, a seasoned attorney who was good at his job and was loyal to the office. Never mind the fact that his sexuality was nobody’s business and any open speculation in the office, behind his back, was grossly inappropriate, deplorably unprofessional and unequivocally homophobic.
That never mattered.
Instead, whenever the group got together, be it in the office or after hours, the conversation always made its way to the ‘trial’ that would settle once and for all whether or not this gentleman was gay. Another senior attorney, a woman, in fact, was cast in the role of prosecutor in the case, charged with establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not straight. Our leader bore the heavy burden of defending our colleague in this kangaroo court, if it ever actually materialized, and persuading the jury of his peers that despite all evidence to the contrary, he was as straight as he claimed to be.
Yeah, it makes me feel as sick to write this as you must feel reading it. And it’s not like this was 1950.
The group discussed this ‘trial’ countless times. Dozens, at least. And whenever someone uncovered a new fresh piece of evidence it would be analyzed and reviewed and all would agree that our leader’s case was just hopeless and it was all accompanied with laughter so uproarious and out of control everyone got high from the sheer exertion of it. It was infectious and I don’t mean that in a friendly, positive way. I mean that it was viral and contagious. It was sick. And nobody ever had the nerve to mention that this took place to our coworker. Ever. There reached a point that when this took place I would leave and hide in my office out of embarrassment and disgust. But I can’t recall ever actually trying to stop it.
That would have been unacceptable. To do so would have resulted in a degree of ostracism that I wasn’t willing to accept. I feel like a weasel at Nuremberg taking that position but it’s the truth. You didn’t challenge the leader or you risked losing all status. In that office, in that role, in that city and that organization, status as one of his guys mattered more than anything else. Or so I thought.
Four years after I arrived he retired and a coworker of ours replaced him. Our leader’s influence lingered for a while – it’s hard for something that powerful to just disappear overnight – but it waned over time and pretty soon it became clear that he wasn’t bigger than the organization. He wasn’t larger than life or a savior from on high who was to be worshiped and exalted. He was just a guy who retired early to go and enjoy his fabulous life.
After he left I took a look around and realized that my career was stunted. I was in the same government job for four years without any advancement, promotion, professional development or increase in salary. I had been content with scraps for the entire time I worked there and was satisfied to walk in the great man’s vast shadow. To be clear, he always thought I could do better and encouraged me to look up and elsewhere for better work as I gained maturity and experience. I just didn’t. That’s on me, not him.
A few more years passed before I finally spread my wings a little bit and left the organization, city and state. As I look back I think of all the time I spent, some would say wasted, just sitting and basking in his glow, waiting for the next time he repeated a story, or the next time he threw a raging kegger, or the next time we could all collectively make fun of someone. I think about all the time I could have spent honing my craft and growing as a person and a professional, carving a career for myself that was built on more than just the reputation as one of many sidekicks to a man in the late twilight of his career. I think about all of that and have a hard time not resenting the culture he created and cultivated, wishing better for the young attorney who let his career lapse to be part of the popular kids club.
I think about all of that and one other thing.
I really miss him.
Is anybody out there? Continue reading
Reading the news today about convicted rapist Brock Turner, the accounts of his crime, and the extraordinary lenience of his (six month!) sentence have me reaching for my throat. My gag reflex activated by another miscarriage of justice, I stand here staring at the screen wondering if women have any value in society at all. Continue reading
She’d given birth to her first child–a daughter–the year before, and I wanted to take an intergenerational look at the conflict and difficulty that seems to exist in the mother-daughter dynamic. I’d been privy to her struggles in her relationship with her mother, the pain and angst it caused her, and hoped she’d be willing to have a conversation about how she grew up, and what she’d like to do differently with her daughter.
Perhaps the most verbose, rapidly-speaking person I know (a court reporter once asked her to slow down during a testimony), we joked that I was lucky to be getting our interview in after she’d been down with the flu and bronchitis for a week. She began to take me through her early childhood, leading me from the picture of an idyllic family toward the tense, guilt-ridden, sometimes self-esteem-crippling snapshot of today’s relationship with her mother. Continue reading
It wasn’t unusual for respondents to disappear into seeming thin air. You’d check the jail and prison records, search for social media accounts, call any number you could get your hands on, knock on the door at any related address. A different respondent had disconnected phone numbers and when I went to her address a toothless young woman sat in the window, looking out at the day. She spoke with me through her perch in the open front window, explaining that the respondent was her cousin, but that she had no way to reach her. An elderly woman moved around inside the living room, disengaged from our exchange. I sensed the cousin had information she wasn’t giving up, which meant I would have to come by the address a second time. Two weeks later I returned, finding the house abandoned. Peering through the front window I could see that every stick of furniture, every possession, had been removed, leaving the place bare. It was an odd sensation, and I wondered if perhaps the “cousin” had been the respondent. No way to find out now. The respondent’s file went to the back of the stack, right on top of Jane Doe. Continue reading
Continued from Tuesday…
But what were the options in that moment? I couldn’t very well snatch the offer of fifty bucks away, I’m sorry, but I can tell you’re not into this even though you said yes, and in order to preserve your dignity I’m going to make your choices for you? Run out and hope she’d go permanently under the radar so QC could never reach her? I struck a deal with myself, do the interview but pay close attention for signs of discomfort and remind, in such a situation, of the respondent’s ability to skip questions or stop the interview at any time. It never felt like a convenient time to tell the respondent that if they answered fewer than sixty percent of the questions they didn’t get the cash. That wasn’t exactly in the consent form, but that was the expectation.
I dove in, starting at the beginning, questions I knew almost by heart at this point, what services have you been offered by DSHS? What services are you utilizing? And on into questions about ages and special needs of children in the home? What about the children not in the home? What disorders did they have?
She sat on the bed, fixing me with an intent stare that communicated in no uncertain terms, “I resent you for taking me through this.” Continue reading