Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Love Letter to the United States

Today is Valentine's Day - a day to celebrate true love. It seems my country deserves a lot of love right about now. None of us are having an easy time of it and isn't that exactly when we should remind ourselves why we choose to be in this relationship?

USA:

I love you because you push me. As soon as I get complacent and think there's no reason to work hard, you remind me that I owe it to myself, my family and complete strangers to dig deeper. You're not going to let me sit on my butt and watch the world go by.

I  love you because you are beautifully imperfect. You came into being from the minds of men and women who disagreed (often violently) and kept fighting with each other long after the Revolution was in our history books. You pushed your way onto this continent, sometimes destructively, and continued to redefine yourself. You know democracy is a journey, not a destination, so you're only strengthened by imperfection.

I love you because you survived the trauma of a civil war. I love the fact that, even when you try to solve problems, you sometimes make them worse. I love you because when you mess up, you tend to mess up dramatically. When the pendulum swings the other way and you bring justice forward, that justice is so dramatic that it's louder than any other voice in the room. Drama is painful but you always bring forth new growth after pain.

I love you because you are confusing and messy. I love you because you're home to so many different kinds of people I don't understand and will probably never understand. I love you because you're complicated and I love you because you sometimes make life terribly hard, then give me the opportunity to find wild success.

True love is never easy. A life surrounded by others who think just like me might be easy and (seemingly) peaceful, but it would be a boring, pointless existence.

I love my country, and I'll never give up on it.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Requiem for Carrie & The Letter I Never Sent

Noon, CST. December 27, 2016.

This was the moment I learned that 2016 stole Carrie Fisher from the world. For days, I’ve lived in fear of losing her because 2016 already ravaged our world almost beyond recognition. We lost great artists (Alan Rickman, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen) and great minds (Gwen Ifill, John Glenn, Harper Lee). These deaths are a drop in the bucket of what 2016 brought and all of them pale in comparison to the horror so many Americans felt as we watched discrimination and nationalism sweep through the world, culminating in public displays of neo-naziism and unrestrained hatred in our own country.


It’s true that, as I sit alone in my house today, my time and energy would arguably be best spent on critical human rights issues or (at the very least) working my way through the pile of legislative summaries and other work I must complete before the close of this appalling year. But I have to pause because I’d intended to write Carrie Fisher a letter before the end of the year and now it’s too late. Before the sun sets, I at least want to send these words out into the universe to honor her memory.


I’m going to write this letter in present tense, as if I hadn’t missed the opportunity to send it to Carrie in time.


Carrie,

Beginning with the 1977 release of Star Wars, I adored you and wanted to be just like you. This is, of course, unsurprising as my adoration was matched by almost every other girl born in 1971 (of which an ungodly number of us shared the name “Jennifer”). Hollywood always put heroines in movies, but Leia represented an important shift. Our young eyes saw, for the first time, a princess who was notable for her bad-assery and snarky comebacks, not for her (undeniable) beauty. I was a very small, very shy first-grade girl who quietly hid some very painful secrets from my parents. Because of those secrets, I’d already accepted the “truth” that I was only valuable if men found me attractive. I didn’t have the words to express that painful belief as a six-year-old, but it was there and had been eating away at my soul for as long as I could remember.


Leia planted a seed in my heart that didn’t truly start to bear fruit until just a few years ago when I started to value myself (just a little bit) beyond what I saw in the mirror. Leia’s toughness nudged me towards sanity before I even knew I was ensconced in craziness. Was Star Wars ideally egalitarian and was Leia perfectly powerful and feminist in every way? No and no. Neither am I. As a very young child who truly thought victimhood was my only option, I reveled in your portrayal of Leia. I imagined finding opportunities to toss out Leia’s brilliant one-liners. (Re: “Will somebody get this walking carpet out of my way?” and “That doesn’t sound too hard” as a response to an egotistical man bragging that he sometimes even impresses himself.)


Although my adoration started with the way you brought Leia to life, that’s just the beginning. Every time I came across your distinctive intelligence and humor, it felt like I’d found a special golden prize. As I grew up with the rest of the Jennifers-of-1971, we were thrilled with your role in When Harry Met Sally and practically squealed with glee when we saw your cameos on the TV series that defined our generation (Friends, Sex and the City, The Big Bang Theory).


It’s pretty obvious that I’ve always put you on a pedestal, but I never considered writing you a letter until last week, when I finally took the time to watch videos of your recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Those clips led me on a classic YouTube hunt for more Carrie interviews, stretching all the way back to a 1983 David Letterman interview on Late Night. For the first time ever, it seemed to me that you were struggling with a fair amount of self-doubt and a belief that you weren’t beautiful. Maybe I’m just projecting my own insecurities onto you. If so, I do apologize, but I’m not going to stop writing this letter.


My heart broke as I listened to you because, even in the 1983 clip,  it seems so obvious that you were saddled with the same crappy “I’m only worth something if I attract men” baggage that wore me down for decades. I always saw you as this amazing, confident, talented and BRILLIANT human (because...you know...you are amazing, talented and brilliant) but as you spoke, I realized fame didn’t inspire confidence. Quite the contrary, I suspect.


Do you know what a gift it was for me when you told us about your relationship with Harrison Ford? In 1977, you were still a kid (19 years old), at your first big adult job, working with a crapload of guys who were DECADES older than you and holding your own like the boss actor you are. Everyone was working hard, you’re trying to prove yourself and then you get involved with a married guy who’s about twenty years older than you. During a recent interview, someone asked if you were in love with him during Star Wars and it seemed a certain sadness flashed quickly over your features before you said: “It was infatuation.”


Allow me to project my own perceptions on you one more time as I interpret what I think I saw on your wise and beautiful face.


Carrie, infatuation probably played a part but I suspect it was also love - at least as you understood it at the time, which (news flash) means it was love for you. I also suspect that when it ended and you saw him and practically every other man in your universe move on to younger women, a piece of your soul was torn away. Not because he was the perfect guy for you or because you wanted to marry him, but because he represented society’s ugly but false “truth” that men determine our ultimate value. I’m afraid that at some level, you might have accepted some of that false “truth.” I hope you didn’t, but I suspect your reaction mirrored that of the young women in my generation as we tried to make our way in the grown-up world.


We 1971-Jennifers know where you’re coming from. After all, society ended up using our name as a freaking symbol of how older men wanted to hook up with much younger women. If you google “Jennifer Syndrome” you’ll see what I mean.  (See Jennifer Fever by Barbara Gordon. A book published the month I turned 19 and began college, about why older men prefer to hook up with much younger women. Thanks, society. That was an AWESOME image for me as I tried to imagine myself succeeding in business someday.)


We all have our demons and you’re no exception. But you did a lot more than entertain us. You generously shared your struggles with family, addiction and identity as you helped all of us laugh at our imperfections.


I’m just another regular woman who’s a huge fan of your acting, writing and all-around hilariously intelligent existence, so you might never see this letter. (I’m guessing you probably get a fair bit of fan mail.) Regardless, I hope you know what a difference you’ve made in my life. When I hear your voice and read your words, I laugh, smile and still see you as one of the most beautiful and inspiring women around. Since 1st grade, you’ve represented someone I want to emulate.  By the way, guess what? Your positive influence extends far beyond my generation. My daughter (a few months shy of her 18th birthday) watched all those interviews right by my side, laughed with me and gushed about how you are one of the most fabulous women around.


You are fabulous, Carrie. You're beautiful inside and out and you’ve done great things. Thank you.

With undying admiration,


Jennifer


Friday, July 29, 2016

Marginal Haiku

I may or may not have previously mentioned that my best long-term friend (Megan Willome) is an incredible poet and recently published a book which makes poetry compelling and accessible to all of us. (Joy of Poetry - check it out.)

At any rate, I credit Megan with creating a buzz in the back of my head so that I now see poetry as a constant presence. Fast forward to today's plane trip, when my 13-year-old son fell asleep on my arm and I was pretty much stuck in my seat with the Southwest Airlines magazine and a pen. (The crossword was crazy easy, so it only took a few minutes.)

I didn't have access to the typical electronic distractions so haiku bubbled forth from my head onto the margins of p. 98. (I've always loved haiku - it's like a puzzle to me.) Wonder what might happen if I put down my electronic distractions more often? Hmm.

For your amusement, here are my nine haiku poems presented in the order they jumped onto the page. They start out obviously smarmy/corny but become more real as I relax a bit (or at least that's my interpretation of it). At any rate, I highly recommend this as an exercise in stream of consciousness writing. I go from motherhood to political conventions during the course of about 20 minutes (maybe less). It sort of makes me wonder why.

Flying with my kids
They sleep throughout the whole ride
My joy is complete

Babies remind me 
To cherish each adventure
Although life is hard

We always forget 
To bring jackets on airplanes
AC freezes us

My dog shows her love
By crying for me each time
I leave her alone

Busy moms and dads
Look for snacks and read to kids
As my teens sleep on

The space for haiku
Is now very limited
So my writing shrinks

Almost forty-five
My ankle objects each day
But my smile is strong

Friends are always there
But they can't be everything
I give myself strength

Watching Conventions
Is like watching a family
Have holiday fights