Me & Lorelai Gilmore

“In the parade of stupid and dumb, I’m the one twirling the flaming baton.”
-Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore

When I first learned I was pregnant, I was with a friend who had raised four boys, both with her partner and alone, after they divorced. I remember sitting in a coffee shop across from her, drinking tea, my eyes rimmed with tears, asking her, “What should I do?” I was not married and the father of my dividing cells lived in a foreign country. I wasn’t sixteen like Lorelai Gilmore but I had no idea how to take the next step.

“I can’t answer that,” my friend said. “But you definitely have a great support system around you, and if there is anyone who can be a single parent, it’s you.” She was right. Twenty years later, through the efforts of pretty much everyone who loved us, that cell explosion is freestanding  and in college.

Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls, got that community right in Stars Hollow. Yes, she made it a whole lot more quirky than my burg of South Austin (although I bet I could exaggerate a few of my neighbors on the page and give Stars Hollow a run for its money) but she wove that world of Stars Hollow characters around this single mom Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory so they could stretch and grow over seven seasons. In her weaving, Sherman-Palladino did a very smart thing: She made the big moments small and the small moments big. That’s how life is. We create over-the-top birthday parties for our one and only beloved child but what touches us is the birthday candlelight on her face.

My daughter and I came to G2 after it had been on for a while. We rented the early seasons from Vulcan Video and then watched the seventh and last season live during her last year of elementary school. Both of us loved the rapid fire, funny dialogue (scripts for most TV shows of that length are 40 – 50 pages long, Gilmore Girls scripts were known to hit 80 pages). I loved how the writers laced the script with cultural references–1552 over the seven seasons–from books, songs, movies and tv shows. This clip shows all the references from the first season alone:

Come on don’t you feel wittier and culturally smarter? And holy crap, that’s just Season One. Of course, I did the mom thing of asking my daughter if she understood a reference: “Honey, do you know who David Foster Wallace is?” TV as teaching moments.

Plus, I ascribed a whole lot of personal significance to the show. What could be better than having your daughter watch a college bound, pro/con list maker like Rory whose heroine (besides her mother) is Christiane Amanpour?

Wait, I know. Having her watch a single mother like Lorelai who flails in her romantic life yet manages to keep her priorities of raising her child and achieving her dream of owning and running an inn straight. Forgive me my missteps in love. I managed to never abandon my child and keep writing and publishing. If my daughter understands me a little better after watching the Girls, thank you, Amy Sherman-Palladino.

In short, these two women became very real to us. This weekend, my daughter and I will be tucked in together watching this other mom and daughter in the four-episode conclusion. In a weird way, watching will be like remembering where we were when we met these characters. Their memories are our memories. I suspect there might be some maudlin, sentimental moments in the forthcoming 360 minutes. I’m good with that. We get to linger in the goodbye. It’s a luxury we aren’t often afforded.

At the launch of Evidence

Me and my girl at the launch of Evidence of Things Not Seen

Of Women and Elephants

chained-elephant-e1395907988420A primer on internalized oppression

How do you hold a woman captive with a kite string? The same way you hold an elephant captive with a kite string.

First you start with a chain. A huge chain with links so big they would crush small children. Then you attach that chain from the elephant’s ankle to a giant iron pole drilled deep into the earth. At first the elephant struggles mightily. She pulls and pulls at the chain until her ankle is bleeding. The pole doesn’t budge. It mocks her pain in silence. Days and days pass. Her ankle heals and she pulls again. It bleeds again. She stops pulling. Each day, she pulls less. For every day that she doesn’t pull on the chain or bellow in sadness, a man brings her water and hay. The days twist from pulling on the chain to waiting for the sweet green hay and fresh clear water. One day the man changes the chain to one with links that would smash a mouse. The elephant likes the new chain. It is lighter. It doesn’t drag on her ankle. She doesn’t notice that if she were pull on this chain very hard, as hard as she was pulling before, it might break. Instead, she waits for the sweet hay and clear water. Decades pass. Each time the chain gets smaller, the elephant is happier. She barely notices that the hay is drier and the water is no longer as clear and fresh. A hundred years go by, the man ties her ankle to the iron pole with a kite string. The hay is moldy. The water is brackish. The elephant barely notices. She waits for the man by the pole. She forgets about walking around free.

I heard this fable about internalized oppression many years ago when I was trying to understand how I allowed my own oppression as a woman to take place on a landscape of seeming equal rights. Being polite. Not speaking up because I didn’t have it all figured out. Silently abandoning myself in my confusion. Not resisting the oh so attractive dinner invitations from rich and powerful men because I was hungry, because it felt good being wanted, because it seemed okay to trade my beauty for dinner. To this day, I don’t eat desserts.

Fables rarely touch on the inner world of their characters. They paint the world in graphic metaphors. This fable doesn’t tell about the shame that seeps into the bloodstream of the elephant every time she eats the hay and drinks the water. It doesn’t say anything about how that shame eats her muscle fibers and stills her powerful heart from trying to get away. It doesn’t speak about that moment when the elephant feels pride that this man loves so much he keeps her all to himself. By the time the kite string is attached to her ankle, she feels like she abandoned herself long, long ago. Where would she go anyway? She no longer belongs to her tribe of strong powerful elephants. She is all alone.

I tell myself this story again a week after we elected a man who pulled on all the kite strings that tether us to beliefs that we aren’t safe, that we don’t have enough, that we aren’t great if we aren’t the greatest.

I tell myself this story to remember my clear-eyed compassion for every one who voted for this man.

I tell myself this story to gather my strength and remember who I am.

Awake and Devastated-The Morning After

In the kitchen, the animals are eating. I can hear crunching and nibbling sounds from where I sit. Small puffs of steam, barely visible, curl up from my cup of tea. My computer screen casts a white light on my fingers as they tap on the keyboard.

Everything is exactly the same as it was yesterday.

Except it’s not.

Today I am out of step with the most of America. Today I wake up to an America that voted for a candidate I do not believe will lead the country in a humanitarian way. Today I am looking at myself and asking, “How did I contribute to this reality?”

As I watched the returns last night, I was struck by “the numbers” and how they were being counted. It looked as if strategists and wonks had taken a map and figured out, county by county, how to change the election. “If we go give a speech here, we can make inroads and shift the electoral college.” It felt like I was at a table and the cards that were being played weren’t the ones that I had been dealt. I wasn’t a part of the game that was being played because my cards had already been counted. I had been lulled into a sense of safety because I was insulated on my blue island. And because I felt safe and insulated, I didn’t feel like I needed to wade into the red sea and play cards at their table. This was my mistake. I discounted them as much as I had been discounted by the strategists and wonks.

My facebook feed reads like a bomb has gone off in the middle of it. Every one of my friends is devastated. We are walking around in the rubble of hopes dashed. On the one hand, I am so proud and glad that these are my people. On the other hand, I feel insulated and stupid for not reaching out to people in the red sea, for not doing anything to allay their fears about the world, for not building an alliance, for not asking the most basic question in the world: what is enough? If you don’t ask this most basic question of yourself, you will be run by scarcity and fear and greed. And if you are run by scarcity and fear and greed, your bank of compassion and kindness and belief in humanity is empty.

I do not believe the Republican line that they want smaller government. I believe they want government their way: with less oversight so they can do what is best for the few and not the many.

I had a conversation yesterday about the Proposition 60 on the California ballot which would require condoms be used in the making of pornographic films. A good proposition, right? It protects the sex workers from disease. Like requiring safety glasses in labs to protect workers’ eyes. You would think the people who run labs and make pornographic films would require these protections as a matter of course. But that’s not the case, is it? Why? What I’ve always heard is that these safety requirements cost time and money and, if you are in the business of making money, you want to dispense with these requirements. That’s the story, which is told over and over. Is it true?

Did my father pay his workers a fair wage and install safety precautions? I don’t know. I bet he let the workers decide for themselves what was safe and let the chips fall where they may. I know I heard him say, “Do the job right.” I never asked him what ‘right’ meant. I know he didn’t like someone coming in and telling him how to run his business even if it was a simple safety step. I wonder what he would have done if a worker had said, “I think we need to do XYZ before we do ABC because if we don’t, the oil tanks we are installing will blow up.” I like to think he would have listened and not fired the worker for speaking up but I honestly don’t know.

I like to think that sex workers in California would be respected if they said “I would like all my partners on this film to wear condoms.” I like to think they wouldn’t be fired for asking to be kept safe. I like to think that stocking a box of condoms in the supply closet wouldn’t have hurt the porn industry’s bottom line. But I know that these propositions get on the ballots because workers’ rights aren’t respected.

I confided to this person yesterday that I had a hesitation before I voted in favor of the no smoking ordinance in Austin several years ago. Even though I hate cigarette smoke, even though I believed that creating an ordinance against smoking was best for all, I hesitated because the ordinance would tamp our voices. The ordinance would speak for us. We would be on the side of right but we would also diminish our ability to say to the person smoking, “Hey, please stop. That smoke is making my eyes water. That smoke is making my child cough. Could you please step outside to smoke?” We need to use that voice. Even though I support these ordinances wholeheartedly, I have let them speak for me and, and in doing so, my own voice has been diminished.

How ironic that these ordinances, so hated by corporate America, have helped created a more silent electorate. That is how I contributed to this reality. I insulated myself. I let ordinances speak for me. I have not practiced speaking up and reaching out. Enough.

By the way, Proposition 60 was defeated. Adult film workers will not be protected from disease. We will need to keep speaking up.

The Thing About Teaching


True story: When the clock ticked to seven pm on October 27 last fall, I looked at the roomful of writers at the Writing Barn and thought, “It’s time to start the class. Who’s the teacher?”


I was the teacher.


I looked over at Shelli Cornelison, my co teacher for the next six weeks. She was smiling at me, waiting, too, because this class of writing short fiction was my idea. As I often do when I’m a little nervous, I laughed. Then I said, “Okay, let’s get started…”

And we did.

The class, which began with a snort of laughter, ended with one of the attendee’s stories receiving an honorable mention in the Austin Chronicle’s Short Story Contest. In between, the class wrote, critiqued and revised their own short fiction as well as read published short stories by other writers. Each class member’s craft toolbox grew. They understood how important revision is in the writing process. These writers and their stories grew over the six weeks. That’s the thing about teaching writing. It’s not a top down process. Every time I sit in front of the blank page, I become a student of that story. Yes, I have an MFA. Yes, I’ve been writing for decades. Yes, I may be less awkward with some of the craft tools. But we all begin with the blank page. My job is to provide a supportive and challenging environment for you to grow as a writer.

I am excited to be joining forces with Shelli Cornelison again this fall and teaching another six week short fiction class at the Writing Barn (September 20-November15). In addition to lots of critique time for our own work, we will also read a few selected short stories for discussion. We have stretched the six-week class over nine weeks to allow for revision and pushed back the starting time to 730 to allow for traffic to abate. Each class member will receive a comprehensive list of short fiction outlets to submit their work. We will support, cheer one another on and write. Write. Write. That’s what writers do.

I will start the class.

Register here.

April 30

The last day of poetry month and my observance of it through a haiku a day. I love the practice. The mindfulness. I feel bittersweet. Even more so because I visited my high school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Except it is no longer my high school. A freak tornado hit the campus in 2007. It looks completely different. Naked. Forlorn. Not what it was. Not yet become something else. So strange. I could see the ghost of myself there. Wandering. Remembering.

IMG_1195after the wind left
one tree, one kiss beneath it
one sweet memory