National Geographic: Ms Christine Goes To Washington

Ten years ago I took a vacation to a National Geographic Photography class in DC. I had a great time. I realize as I’m cooped up now that I stopped taking pictures soon after this post from 2009. What a great time to start taking them again. I’m going to go out tomorrow and renew my love of taking pictures and see if I can capture some of what we are now seeing on our daily travels … short as they might be. Here is the post from April 2019… 

I haven’t taken vacation in close to three years. It’s clear I have trouble relaxing. I decide in this Obama mania of Change, Change, Change that I will take five days off. What to do? What to do? I receive my National Geographic Expeditions catalog in the mail and decide to sign up for the DC four day photo-journalism expedition.

First, I can add simple numbers. It’s not four days. It starts Thursday night at 5:30 PM and ends Sunday at noon. That’s two and a half days. Duh. Ok, rise above accuracy in logistics and get with the program.

I tell my friend Paula about the trip, and she decides to join me. I love Paula because she always reads everything associated with anything she does, and I know she will have the whole thing figured out by the time we get there.

One Month Before My Vacation Expedition

“You have to get a Mac and download Lightroom.” Paula is on the phone after having received her kit in the mail that I received weeks earlier and haven’t read.

“Huh? It’s a photography class.”

“Yes it is, and you need Lightroom which costs three hundred dollars, and you should be on a Mac.”

I always follow Paula’s directions and order one Mac laptop, one major screen, one cordless mouse and keypad. I buy Lightroom and add $5,000 to the $2,000 cost of the trip. Well, I needed to move to Mac anyway; everyone who is really creative uses a Mac and after the class that will include me.

One Week Before the Class

I put my camera in the car and take it with me to be ready for a few practice shots on the days before the trip begins. You never know when the next Katrina can hit when you are driving to and from work the week before your first photo journalism class. My camera is stolen from the back seat of my car two days before we are heading to Washington.

I go to the camera store and buy a new camera and lens that will serve as my “sure I know what I’m doing” calling card. $1,500. We are up to $8,000 for the trip. I’m realizing that perhaps there is a reason I never take vacation.

I’m ready to go. Bags packed. Check. New camera. Check. Batteries charged and ready to go. Check. DC here I come. On the way to meet Paula at the train station I make a mental note that I could be sent to Africa shortly after being discovered in DC as the best photo journalist discovered in a two and a half day class that so far costs $8,000.

Night One — Dinner with the Group

We head down to registration, drinks and dinner right on time and start to meet the group. No one talks about photography much, but instead get acquainted with where we are all from and what we do outside this trip. I look for those with indented shoulders thinking the professional photographers are worn from carrying bags, etc around the globe in their amazing assignments. Not too many are admitting they are photographers professionally. I start to relax.

We eat and then see a presentation by our PPL (Professional Photographer Leader), Mark Thiessen. He presents his work on fires and as he speaks I look around a bit wondering if anyone has the same thoughts as I do about how pyromaniacs love fires and perhaps the fact that for six years he pursued his fire story should be a tip off to the feds. That, of course, makes me wonder if we are going to shoot any FBI stuff and so the evening went.

Day Two: Really Day One After Night One

Everyone is stoked. We head over to National Geographic Offices. (Who knew they have three buildings and call Alexander Graham Bell their founder? Turns out that Bell left them a ton of telephone stock, and so they have plenty of real estate to call their own. I wonder what I will leave them when I win the Pulitzer for a shot I take after learning everything I need to know in the next four days, or two and a half depending on whether you are the payee or the payor.)

After breakfast we head up to the editing classroom we will be using. They tell us in the elevator that we are assigned seats. I say out loud, “Please let me be in the back row. Please let me be in the back row.” Everyone laughs but I know two things. You have to say what you want in life, and being in the back row means you can see what everyone else is doing on their laptops and know whether you should check out or not. We arrive, and no surprise to me I’m in the back row with some fabulous people.

backrowalley2-150x150Jack on the left, Martha, Kate and Paula who visited our row often.

Kate on my right and Martha on my left. Jack sits next to Kate, and they happen to have the same last name. We later dub our back row, Back Room Alley, and we know that we are the finest in the land for sure and support each other better than my Playtex bra in 1993 when I went through menopause and my breasts fell to my knees.

The morning is a presentation by Todd James, one of the editors at National Geographic. I’m sure he’s a very very nice man to have as a father. That said, his presentation was more a review of his favorite National Geographic stories over the past years (not sure but could be quite a few years).

He offered the following elements of editing:

Know your subject. Research Up; edit down. That was interesting. I’m not a strong researcher, but it makes sense. Learn about where you are going before going and then you will know the shot.

Find Meaningful Surprises. Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, “Make a lot of money,” or “Eat well and you will be thin.” How to find meaningful surprises would have been nice. Some examples of meaningful surprises would have been nice and how it wasn’t dumb luck (or was) would have been nice.

See what others miss. He’s kidding right? Todd, again, how does one see what others miss? How do you even know if others missed it?

Photograph what you feel. I have spent thirteen years in therapy trying to figure out what I feel. By the time I figure out what I feel darkness has set in and the shot is lost. But I know what he means. I do. I know that I need to shoot people not places because I feel people. M on my left who aspires to be a photographer and is one already shows me a shot on day two where there is a line of WWII vets lined up at the memorial, and I start to cry as she remarks, “You know they won’t be around much longer.”

Use photography as a language to tell your story. I like that one. I try it on, “I speak English and photography.” Yes, that’s it for sure. I realize it was worth the morning just for that. And, there were some shots over the weekend that did just that. One in particular was a line from the military at Arlington taken by John I think (will try and get it to upload). The soldier on one side is barking out an order and his mouth is in a perfect O that reminds me of the carolers that I put out at Christmas. I know he means that order big time, and I can hear the picture. I can hear it.

So, I’m glad that Todd, the picture editor who still prefers film rather than digital, spoke to us. I learned a lot and also I know I want to subscribe again to National Geographic.

We have lunch and head off to our first assignment. We are split into two groups; one goes to Dupont Circle and the other, including Back Row Alley, heads to Adams Morgan neighborhood. We are told to capture the culture of the neighborhood. The only thing I remember about Dupont Circle is in the movie An American President, when she keeps getting stuck in Dupont Circle, and I never heard of Adams Morgan. We are told that they are culturally diverse and that’s it. Now, I am a learner, and we were just told that we should research up and edit down, so I know this is not going to go well but I decide it’s all in the attitude. I put on my Geo hat (that’s what all the cool people at National Geographic call the company, and since I’m a photo away from my African assignment, I’m sure it’s ok to join them), hop in a cab with Y whose bag weighed more than I do and head out. I leave her at destination Adams Morgan Neighborhood so I can hear my feelings and stand on a corner for awhile waiting for my feelings to hit me. “Shoot what you feel. I speak Photographer. Editing down from researching up (liar!).” That goes on for quite awhile and I am starting to panic.


I see it. Four thug young boys walking down the street. They turn the corner away from me. I’m desperate. I call after them “Hey tough boys, walk toward me. You can kill me when you get here.” I swear to God. Desperation does something to a person. They turn. I start clicking. And, it worked. One of the four kept walking the other way, but the other three turn and start walking toward me with a mixture of tough and fun on their faces. I love them and will pay for their college education. Now we are up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for this vacation depending on whether or not they choose Ivy institutions.

I spent some time talking to them. It was great. Promised I’d send the shot which I will do shortly.

We arrive back for the editing process and everyone is shaky – wanting like Sally Fields to really have their shots be liked. It was all very touchy feely during the review process and no real input from the professionals on what should have been done or what makes a good picture etc. I realize that two hours to edit (really meaning pick out four pictures to show the class) borders on a new level of narcissism. We in back room alley finish up in a half an hour and chat amongst ourselves as others painfully look at each of their shots over and over and over again to figure out which one pops. Truth is I only have one worth showing – my boys in the hood –  but I feel good about it. Quality over quantity if you ask me.

Kate starts doing some work on her laptop, and I see she is in pharmaceuticals. I tell her I’m all about the drugs, and she doesn’t offer anything under the table. Martha and I talk about her sherpa husband and the class.

We see each other’s images, and the next day’s assignment presented. We are to go to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, shoot in the new light and then get shots of tourists and meet back for “editing” after lunch.

A group of us walk to a nearby place for dinner and decide to meet in the lobby at six to head over to the Memorial. I take to heart the research first editing remarks and Google Lincoln Memorial at dawn images and see that the light appears to come from the left hand side. I tell everyone that the next morning. Turns out it doesn’t come from the left, but no one suggests that I was sending them astray on purpose.

shapeimage_1My shots of the memorial are not memorable. Martha, however, nails it with a shot of the Memorial with a man mopping the area. Kate and I compliment her shot, and we all marvel at Kate’s shots too. I have asked her to send me some to show.

I am grateful for the morning and my encounter with Reginald in the park. Paula and I go into the park near National Geo after the Lincoln Memorial, and Reggie is sitting on a bench. I know he’s not all ‘there’ but there was something about his face. I sit down next to him and realize that part of being a photographer is that you are not really you. You can do things like sit next to a schizophrenic on a bench and feel like you have something to say to him.

I hand him my large lens as I’m switching to something smaller, and he and I become friends. Reggie is trying to stay in the real world and in his mind is a great basketball player. He demonstrates his techniques which if I’d read the directions on how to work my camera I could have shot with repeat shutter controls, but of course I haven’t and so I am stuck with Reggie in one still.

p10102352-225x300I give Reggie twenty dollars. I tell him he earned it for helping me with my lenses He was so happy that he gave me a hug and a kiss. I won’t forget him.

When we got back to the editing room, our leader Mark gave a lecture on elements of good picture taking. It strikes me that having it at the END of the expedition was sort of strange, but whatever. he also shows us pictures from his personal collection. They are awesome. Kate notes that the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are all about the candles in them. The birthday cake picture is also all about the fire. She is so smart that Kate, and I tell her so, but she still doesn’t offer me any free drug samples.

We have our wrap up dinner and the helpers put together a video presentation (they are sending it to us and I’ll upload it when they do). I realize that we all learned a lot. I took my first vaca in years, and I realized that it’s about getting out of the house, away from technology. I intend to do it more often.

Paula and I skip the last morning tour of Mark’s lab; I doubt we will be using it in the future. We have a nice leisurely breakfast and talk about our favorite shots from the group. Great wrap. Great weekend with my friend. I will research applying for Pulitzers when I get hope. Research up. Edit down.

Government History Politics

Stoicism in the Time of the CoronaVirus

Yesterday was a rough day for me. Not sure why. In general, this solitary-type of life is not something I find anxiety provoking, but I think that it was about reading three articles in a row that did me in. I now believe that it’s not just Trump that is breaking things, that the divide between the rich and the poor is now irreversibly cemented for a future of being relegated to where you were born and lastly, that the virus itself is taking a toll on those in the medical field that is heartbreaking. And, and, and.

Then I came across an article in The Guardian by Donald Robertsonimages that I have to read a few more times to know how it can replant my mental positivity, but I know it has something that can… Who knew Marcus Aurelius could help me through my funk? And the really good news is that I have The Meditations in my library! I think I bought it last year when I was pretending that I was going to be a smart girl.

Here is the article…

Stoicism in a time of pandemic: how Marcus Aurelius can help

The Meditations, by a Roman emperor who died in a plague named after him, has much to say about how to face fear, pain, anxiety and loss

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the last famous Stoic philosopher of antiquity. During the last 14 years of his life he faced one of the worst plagues in European history. The Antonine Plague, named after him, was probably caused by a strain of the smallpox virus. It’s estimated to have killed up to 5 million people, possibly including Marcus himself.

From AD166 to around AD180, repeated outbreaks occurred throughout the known world. Roman historians describe the legions being devastated, and entire towns and villages being depopulated and going to ruin. Rome itself was particularly badly affected, carts leaving the city each day piled high with dead bodies.

In the middle of this plague, Marcus wrote a book, known as The Meditations, which records the moral and psychological advice he gave himself at this time. He frequently applies Stoic philosophy to the challenges of coping with pain, illness, anxiety and loss. It’s no stretch of the imagination to view The Meditations as a manual for developing precisely the mental resilience skills required to cope with a pandemic.

First of all, because Stoics believe that our true good resides in our own character and actions, they would frequently remind themselves to distinguish between what’s “up to us” and what isn’t. Modern Stoics tend to call this “the dichotomy of control” and many people find this distinction alone helpful in alleviating stress. What happens to me is never directly under my control, never completely up to me, but my own thoughts and actions are – at least the voluntary ones. The pandemic isn’t really under my control but the way I behave in response to it is.

Much, if not all, of our thinking is also up to us. Hence, “It’s not events that upset us but rather our opinions about them.” More specifically, our judgment that something is really bad, awful or even catastrophic, causes our distress.

This is one of the basic psychological principles of Stoicism. It’s also the basic premise of modern cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the leading evidence-based form of psychotherapy. The pioneers of CBT, Albert Ellis and Aaron T Beck, both describe Stoicism as the philosophical inspiration for their approach. It’s not the virus that makes us afraid but rather our opinions about it. Nor is it the inconsiderate actions of others, those ignoring social distancing recommendations, that make us angry so much as our opinions about them.

Many people are struck, on reading The Meditations, by the fact that it opens with a chapter in which Marcus lists the qualities he most admires in other individuals, about 17 friends, members of his family and teachers. This is an extended example of one of the central practices of Stoicism.

Marcus likes to ask himself, “What virtue has nature given me to deal with this situation?” That naturally leads to the question: “How do other people cope with similar challenges?” Stoics reflect on character strengths such as wisdom, patience and self-discipline, which potentially make them more resilient in the face of adversity. They try to exemplify these virtues and bring them to bear on the challenges they face in daily life, during a crisis like the pandemic. They learn from how other people cope. Even historical figures or fictional characters can serve as role models.

With all of this in mind, it’s easier to understand another common slogan of Stoicism: fear does us more harm than the things of which we’re afraid. This applies to unhealthy emotions in general, which the Stoics term “passions” – from pathos, the source of our word “pathological”. It’s true, first of all, in a superficial sense. Even if you have a 99% chance, or more, of surviving the pandemic, worry and anxiety may be ruining your life and driving you crazy. In extreme cases some people may even take their own lives.

In that respect, it’s easy to see how fear can do us more harm than the things of which we’re afraid because it can impinge on our physical health and quality of life. However, this saying also has a deeper meaning for Stoics. The virus can only harm your body – the worst it can do is kill you. However, fear penetrates into the moral core of our being. It can destroy your humanity if you let it. For the Stoics that’s a fate worse than death.

Finally, during a pandemic, you may have to confront the risk, the possibility, of your own death. Since the day you were born, that’s always been on the cards. Most of us find it easier to bury our heads in the sand. Avoidance is the No1 most popular coping strategy in the world. We live in denial of the self-evident fact that we all die eventually. The Stoics believed that when we’re confronted with our own mortality, and grasp its implications, that can change our perspective on life quite dramatically. Any one of us could die at any moment. Life doesn’t go on forever.

We’re told this was what Marcus was thinking about on his deathbed. According to one historian, his circle of friends were distraught. Marcus calmly asked why they were weeping for him when, in fact, they should accept both sickness and death as inevitable, part of nature and the common lot of mankind. He returns to this theme many times throughout The Meditations.

“All that comes to pass”, he tells himself, even illness and death, should be as “familiar as the rose in spring and the fruit in autumn”. Marcus Aurelius, through decades of training in Stoicism, in other words, had taught himself to face death with the steady calm of someone who has done so countless times already in the past.

Donald Robertson is cognitive behavioural therapist and the author of several books on philosophy and psychotherapy, including Stoicism and the Art of Happiness and How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Government Politics

Walls & Corona-19

breaking-down-wallsThere has always been a divide between the rich and the poor. Some say that it was easier in the past to cross the divide, and others say it’s not any harder now than it was before. I have always believed the divide was more than just cultural or political. It wasn’t just that you were born in the poor section of the Bronx, but also which first-grade teacher you got, or whether one parent liked you better than your siblings, or even if your siblings were too involved in your life — or not involved enough. Or you moved too much as a child. (Have I ever mentioned the fact that I moved 15 times by the time I was 16 and that they taught multiplication tables in the third grade in Cleveland and in the second grade in Pennsylvania, so I was screwed?) I have always believed that whether we were to the manor born, or birthed in the basement of an apartment building in the Bronx, we all had walls that surrounded and squelched our ability to be our best selves. We either tore down those walls through our own strength, determination, and, of course, luck, or they became cemented by some moment in time or a series of moments. Cement walls never break down, and you can’t alter them once the cement is dry. At that point, one becomes stuck behind them, like the Jews were in the Warsaw Ghetto.

My real fear at this moment in history is that COVID-19 is cementing those walls for so many Americans and that they will never be able to break them down. Think, for example, about a kid in the Bronx, whose parents don’t have Wi-Fi or understand that classes are being taught online. Even if they did have Wi-Fi and their child had a computer (God bless those who are trying to make that happen), the environment in their home would not support the learning that must take place to continue breaking down the walls that surrounded that wonderful child at birth. Think about a young man who was attending Trinity in New York City, learning without disruption, who is now moving further and further away from the child who lives in poverty from public school who will now never break down the walls of his birth. Think about a woman who will now never leave her abusive partner because she has lost her job and her savings are gone, gone, gone. Think about a depressed, isolated teenager who was trying to make a friend at school, but who now is cemented in her aloneness and will never find the light of day.

My fear is that this virus is drying the cement that could have been removed, and there is no time to finish the job started by so many people who have now been rendered immobile. Immobility is not just in the home confinement; it’s in the lack of resources that help the most helpless to travel their roads to success without the walls closing in on them along the way. Are we doing enough to keep the cement from setting during this time? What else can we do, not just to protect against the virus shutting down our hearts, but also to ensure it doesn’t shut down the dreams of those less fortunate?

Government Politics World

Citizen of the World

downloadOn Saturday night, at the conclusion of Lady Gaga’s “One World Together at Home” concert, I wept as she and a host of brilliantly talented musicians ended with “The Prayer.” Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, John Legend, Lang Lang on the piano, and Gaga herself stunned us all, stopped us in our tracks as they gave us a vehicle for our grief as well as a path to the hope we must have to continue in this moment in history. She said we are all citizens of the globe.

It made me realize that we are all citizens of the globe. Those in Africa and Europe and everywhere else are just like you and me. They are trying to find their place, as we all are. How can I be of use? How can I protect those whom I love when I am so far away from them? And, most importantly for me right now, how can I let go of the hatred that wells inside me toward our president and the millions who mirror him. The day after he was elected in 2016, I couldn’t imagine the blanket of uninterrupted corruption and lack of humanity that he would bring about. But last night, in that moment at the end of the program, I had a flash of being a proud citizen of the world regardless of the actions of some of my fellow global citizens.

I have always cherished my American citizenship. I have felt a strong obligation to it ever since my grandfather spoke to me of our great fortune and our resultant responsibility to others. I tried very hard to instill in my child and those within my sphere of influence my belief in our responsibility to our country. I have given my time, my thoughts, and my money to furthering that which matters to our country. I shed tears over the assassination of President Kennedy and when flag-draped coffins returned from Vietnam. I just cried a few weeks ago when two soldiers came back from Afghanistan in boxes. I have been both proud and ashamed. I stood in the back of a resort in the Catskills, right out of “Dirty Dancing,” watching Nixon resign on television. While others cheered, I sat in the back, filled with shame that our president was having to leave office in disgrace. I felt it was my disgrace. Then years later, I proudly voted for our first black president, believing we had come so far from the racial division of the 1960s. The highs and lows of citizenship.

After college, I moved to New York City and became her citizen. I went to the Simon and Garfunkel concert in the park and took a moment in the dark to consider that nowhere else in our country could one attend something like this both for free and with such a scenic backdrop. On Christmas morning, I went to Dunkin Donuts and loaded up the car to deliver 200 donuts and 100 cups of coffee to the homeless at NYC’s bus terminal. I wanted my daughter to give back on Christmas, before she opened all her gifts. I watched my 7-year-old daughter Sarah as she passed out the donuts and hugged a homeless man who told her he would only take one because he was afraid there wouldn’t be enough for everyone. Sarah has chosen a life of service in the law. I am in awe of her citizenship and her commitment to her work in government, prison reform and women’s issues.

Then there was 9/11, which was a personal shock. I watched the second plane go into the towers. I lost people I knew and cared about. I went to funerals for the police and firefighters at St. Pat’s because my mayor asked me to serve in that way. I took such pride in our response as citizens of this city. I have traveled the world. There is no other New York City. Over the years, as 9/11 faded into the background of more current events, I have continued to take such great pride in our response to the events of that day.

Today, I look at my beloved New York City and those who are risking their lives — and losing them — to save the lives of other New Yorkers they don’t even know but love and cry for all the same. I watch the citizens of my city (how lucky am I to call her my city?) sheltering in place while I see those in other cities that have suffered nowhere near the amount we have, who can’t seem to understand that strapping on guns and storming the capitol steps because they don’t want to stay inside to save others shows that they have no understanding of what citizenship means. I am so proud — so very proud — to be a New Yorker right now.

This morning I woke up still thinking about citizenship, and I realized that I am also a citizen of myself. I am master of my beliefs and my vision and my morals and my ethics. It occurred to me that perhaps the kind of citizen I am to myself bleeds into all the other passports of citizenship I hold. I also get to decide who benefits from having me as their citizen and how I will honor that responsibility. I take a moment this Sunday morning to thank my grandfather John Hinckley (descendent of Thomas Hinckley, the first governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), who instilled in a 5-year-old me the understanding of where I belong in the world and my responsibilities as a citizen.

Government Health Politics

More of Ourselves in the Time of Corona

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 7.44.13 AMWe are so disquieted, my fellow Americans and I. Even if we don’t realize it, we are uncomfortable. Some say, “I’m fine,” but they are baking like they’re a corner bakery, or they aren’t sleeping well, or they’re arguing with friends and family. One friend said to me, “I am not having any issues at all,” but she “for some reason” can no longer sleep through the night. Then there are others who have retreated further inside themselves, totally focused on how this all affects them and believing that it is a bigger hardship for them than for others. So, if you were self-focused before, you now think this is all about you. If you have always been more nurturing of others, you may now be consumed with making or distributing masks or calling people to make sure they are OK. Whatever you were before, you are more of that now.

As for me, I’m very happy at home — just me and my dog, Bayley. The other day, I was returning from a walk on the beach by myself and realized how excited I was to get home. Of course, I then worried that my desire to arrive back at my home wasn’t healthy. Why wasn’t I yearning to get dinner with friends? Or go to a movie theater by myself, which I love to do? Am I on my way to becoming a recluse like my aunt was, or my older sister, who, in the end, passed away from self-neglect? What is there in my DNA that makes this moment in time so comfortable for me?

I don’t really feel disconnected. I feel connected through social media and Zoom (Zoom has become a verb, just as Xerox did in the ’80s; how did that happen so fast?). I have weeded out some people who when their true natures became magnified allowed me to see how unhappy I felt when dealing with them. And others to whom I was less connected have become more day-to-day companions, whom I cherish so much more deeply. Is it possible this reboot has made my life better in the long run? I think it might be so.

Don’t get me wrong; there are some people I long to see — truly yearn to see — but I know that they will be there on the other side of this pandemic. I can’t wait for the moment when we can hug and just take in the sight of one another. Yes, I have those to whom I will run, not walk, toward when all this lifts. But for right now, at this moment in history, when I have to really focus on what is happening in my beloved country, I remind myself that every minute matters – and is a gift that might not keep giving – and I need to spend them on productive endeavors to help create a better future for all who are in my sphere of influence. Or at least that is my daily intention.

Photo by Lucia Buricelli

Fashion Health

Cutting My Own Hair

bad-haircutI woke up this morning and cut my own hair. I’m not really sure why I did it, but I wanted to have short hair right now, so I got my kitchen scissors, watched a You Tube video (Liar!!!!) and cut it.

I told my daughter last night on the phone that I was going to do it and she immediately went to one of my felonies from her childhood. “Remember when you cut my hair and I looked like Jeremy Thomas and was traumatized for years!?” Whatever. Where is Jeremy Thomas now, I ask, and you worked on the Impeachment hearings for the United States of America. Who cares about your hair?!

So, I looked at the haircut in the mirror just now, which I have to say is truly awful, and I realized that one side is not the same length as the other. I looked in the mirror and said, “Look, life is not fair. Get over it.”

So, my hair will grow back, and the real question of the morning is how will our country grow back?

Books Government History Politics

Anne Frank and The CaronaVirus

lebo-room3-06012017-e1496928208671-1024x640When my daughter, about whom I am not allowed to blog, was in the eighth grade, she played Anne Frank at the Nightingale-Bamford School. Her father and I, already divorced for years, went together to opening night. I knew it would be especially poignant for him. He’d escaped the Nazis in Paris during the start of WWII. I wished his mother, who was a mentor of mine and a strong woman who lived in a time that didn’t nurture that, could have been there.

We were mesmerized. I had never seen the play but had devoured the book. At the end, all the lights went out, and our daughter’s voice penetrated the darkness with the following lines:

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals; they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

He wept openly, and I sobbed. It became a memory from our parenthood that didn’t fade with time.

A friend of mine was recently complaining about having to stay inside and going stir crazy as a result. I texted her, “I have two words: Anne Frank.” I didn’t hear from her again for a while.

Sure, this is like Anne Frank’s situation. Only not.

If Anne Frank were to be found by the Nazi “virus,” it was certain curtains — not just 2% certain.

Anne Frank had no communication with anyone other than the people who were smothering her space, and she wasn’t all that fond of most of them. Eight people. Two years. Try to imagine that.

Anne Frank couldn’t move from six o’clock in the morning until six o’clock at night — every day for two years. No earbuds. No TV. Just a few books and her thoughts, which still move me. I am grateful she wrote them down.

Anne Frank couldn’t flush the toilet. Ever.

Anne Frank didn’t have enough to eat, let alone 642 rolls of toilet paper stashed away in the basement.

Anne Frank wrote a few hundred pages in her journal. Very few of them contained complaints. And when she did complain, she expressed regret for doing so.

Here is the 411: We have to stay inside to save others’ lives, not just our own. When you break the rules because you just can’t stand it anymore, the chance that you will need to be taken care of by the health-care workers rises exponentially. Anne spent much of her time worrying about Miep Gies, the woman who was risking her life to keep Anne and her family alive. We have Mieps. The doctors and hospital workers and store workers. We need to do right by them now.

Here are some of Anne’s quotes that move me on this sunny morning in the Hamptons where I am safe and able to walk outside and see the budding spring:

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

Thank you Anne Frank. We will do better.

Food Personal Essays

Candy & The CaronaVirus

unnamedMy dear friend C. and I used to go to the candy floor at Gimbels on 86th Street once a week. Actually, the whole store was filled with candy — more candy than one could imagine. We bought it and ate it during the week and went back for more the next week. We were in our early twenties, each running around at our first job and living together in an apartment. We painted our living room Grecian Rose, which was great until we saw it from the street at night and realized our apartment looked like a bordello. Life was good.

Over the years, C continued on the candy quest and never gained weight, which is really not a very BFF thing to do, but we still talk “candy,” especially in times of trouble. When I lived on the Cape, she would come once a year to go to Chatham Candy Manor in Chatham to stock up. Sometimes I would make a run for her and then meet her in New York City.

We have discussed old age together, and one of her criteria is that we must live near a good candy store. I don’t think that’s unusual at all, although I need an indoor pool that isn’t at the YMCA, and I still weigh dozens of pounds more than she does. Life is many things; unfair is one of them.

WWII_imageI sent her the article this morning that said that people are not buying kale and quinoa anymore; they are buying Oreos and chips. And in return, she sent me the announcement from See’s Candies in Los Angeles that they are closing all their stores. I would challenge her notion that See’s is on par with Chatham Candy Manor, but we are trying not to argue during this stressful time. Perspective. Anyway, See’s is 99 years old and has never before closed except during WWII, when they would shutter their doors only if they didn’t have the ingredients they needed.

Here is our back-and-forth:

C: So, even health nuts have moved to junk?

Me: Finally, they’ve become our people.

C: Kale and quinoa have always been questionable. I have a bag of Oreos in the freezer for emergencies.

Me: I feel strongly that Hydrox are infinitely better than Oreos. I have no sweets here. (This is true.)

C: I agree, but they are hard to find. Birthday Cake Oreos are fantastic!

She went on to assure me she’d stocked up last week. She went to See’s and wore her face mask. We determined that perhaps candy is an essential need, and the candy stores should be open, like pharmacies. While we do recognize that they aren’t truly “essential,” we will always appreciate that candy is part of our 45-year shared history. Cathryn’s husband, Victor, holds our obsession against us, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the prenup that he can’t say anything about it. And we are both grateful that he has no interest in our candy, which makes us like him all the more.

P.S. You remember C.; she is the one who keeps real maple syrup in her car in case she decides to stop at IHOP, where they don’t always have it. She is very organized.


Politics Women

Harvey Weinstein: Accomplices and Accessories

9BF30C04-9BC5-460C-9661-1A339F2164C3-7018-000004ECB368A550I realize that we should take a moment to pause and recognize that twenty years ago, Harvey Weinstein would not have been given a sentence of 23 years — no way, no how. We can do that, sit and marvel at the new world of appreciation for what countless women must have gone through, more women than we will ever know. And I want to do that. I want to think about the fact that he, a man who clearly, based on his statement in court, still doesn’t get what he did or how very evil it (and he) was (and is). My mind, however, wanders to something I think is much larger than Harvey: the evil titular head of the pyramid scheme he had of preying on women and taking their souls, not their money, like Maddoff, but their joy and their future and their sense of well-being — which, in my mind, is worth more than all the gold in the land anyway.

If you know someone is planning a murder, and they go through with it, you go on trial too. It’s called being an accomplice. The word accomplice has a short, simple definition per Merriam-Webster: Accomplice: noun, “one associated with another, especially in wrongdoing.” Cornell Law School defines what the courts look at around accomplices and their liability: “A person who knowingly, voluntarily, or intentionally gives assistance to another in (or in some cases, fails to prevent another from) the commission of a crime. An accomplice is criminally liable to the same extent as the principal. An accomplice, unlike an accessory, is typically present when the crime is committed.”

If they were not accomplices, were they accessories? The definition of accessory per Cornell Law School is as follows: “Someone aiding in or contributing to the commission or concealment of a felony, e.g., by assisting in planning or encouraging another to commit a crime (an accessory before the fact) or by helping another escape arrest or punishment (an accessory after the fact).”

So, since Weinstein was found guilty, I think there are others who need to be arrested, others who helped him carry out his crime wave of tearing apart the fiber of my gender sisters. 

Let’s take a look.

There are the male and female assistants who knew exactly what happened when they told people Harvey wanted to meet with them about a film. They led the women to the slaughter and shut the door after letting them in. They knew. They admit that they knew. They were accomplices.

There is the board, and particularly Harvey’s brother, Bob, who knew that they were paying out millions of dollars to cover up and intimate those who he preyed upon. They knew. They OK’d the money, and they looked the other way. They were accomplices/accessories. 

There was also the PR/investigative companies he used to gather dirt on those women who he betrayed and attacked, and they knew why they were doing what they were doing. They were accomplices/accessories. 

If we are to truly change the culture we have fed for generations, we must hold the accomplices/accessories accountable for their actions. They all took action to aid and abet Harvey. (I have a feeling no one will be naming their son Harvey for a while. Note to self: Check and see how many Harveys enter the world over the coming decade.) They need to be charged. 

A man was put to death last week for being present when his fellow robber shot a police officer. He didn’t pull the trigger; he was just there, present, when it happened. If he received the punishment of death for his complicity in the event, it seems to me that those who helped Harvey do this heinous thing over and over and over again for decades should also be held accountable. 

So, sisters and fellow citizens, the job is not done. The push is now on. 

Movies & TV Women

Favorite Feminist Disney Character: Cruella De Vil

2015-02-03-Cruella6-thumbWhenever I’m asked my favorite feminist Disney character, I don’t waver. “Why, it’s Cruella de Vil,” I reply without hesitation.

I was 8 years old when “101 Dalmatians” was released. I felt relief when I saw her on the screen.

Cinderella made me anxious. I couldn’t see an ounce of myself in her. Why would she not fight back? Why was she so nice to such awful people? And Bambi? Let’s not even go there. Snow White? How come she had to do all the work for so many of them? And her hair? It wasn’t like mine — perfectly coiffed even after she had been struggling in the woods all that time? Those female characters didn’t reflect my sense of self at all, and if anything, they made me doubt myself.

I stood up to the boys in the playground and insisted they let me play dodgeball with them. My hair had cowlicks in a few unfortunate places, and I had blue glasses with rhinestones, which seemed like a good choice in the store, but not so much when I hit the playground. I had skinned knees and eczema, which I am convinced was caused by my anxiety based on the female characters that stared me down from the enormous cinema screens and made me feel bad about myself. And let’s not even speak about the ridiculous Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”! Seriously?!

So imagine my surprise when Cruella de Vil came to me in “101 Dalmatians”: disheveled hair flying out behind her, careening this side of out of control through the streets with a cigarette hanging from her mouth, furious when she didn’t get her way. I loved her. My friends and I were talking about what we would name our daughters when we had them after marrying some “Prince Charming” or another (I think we can all agree on the misnomer of that myth), and I said, “Cruella. I will name my daughter Cruella.” They thought I was nuts, and clearly, I came to my senses years later when I named my daughter Sarah, but I really liked that she was authentically herself. She made me less ashamed of whom I sometimes felt I was inside. And she was funny; at least, I thought she was. And I never believed she would have all those puppies killed for a coat, and frankly, with the number of fur coats on the women who came to our house for Saturday night dinner parties, I wasn’t really aware that it was an issue.

But the history of the creation of Cruella is what is important too. She was a real character, unlike Snow White or Cinderella.

“Cruella was the creation of Marc Davis. Davis wanted her to be a contemporary woman, and he began searching for someone in the real world whom he could then use as the model for this fiendish fashion maven. And he eventually found her at a cocktail party that he and his wife Alice attended in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Now, because this woman was a family acquaintance (and, more importantly, because her children are still alive, and let’s face it, no one would ever want to hear that their mother’s awful behavior at a cocktail party over 50 years ago served as the inspiration for the way Cruella de Vil moves and behaves), the Davises have never revealed the name of this woman. However, given that Davis’ original concept sketches for Cruella showed her to be a far more attractive woman … it’s often been suggested that Davis was inspired by one of the wives of the other artists and animators he worked directly with at Disney. But the inspiration for Cruella came from within the Davis family’s very small circle of friends.

That said, in order to further obscure the identity of the acquaintance who inspired the flamboyant way that Cruella moves and acts, Davis had veteran character actress Mary Wickes come in to shoot some live-action reference footage for the film. And a lot of the comic choices that Wickes made Davis then incorporated in Cruella.

But as to who the family friend was who served as the inspiration for this Disney villain, Davis took this secret to the grave when he passed in January 2000. And while his wife Alice is still with us, she honors her husband’s wishes and, to this day, has not revealed who the real-life inspiration for Cruella de Vil is or was.” Excerpt from Huffington Post.

Let’s face it, ladies; we all work hard to overcome that which is inside us that doesn’t sing to our better angels. I remember my therapist (I’ve mentioned him before; he was blind and I realize now that seeing a blind therapist to see yourself more clearly has some real roadblocks) asking me, “When are you going to start behaving the way you want to be remembered?” It was a pivotal moment in my personal quest for greatness, although not particularly helpful in unraveling the complexity of the family in which I grew up and their effect on my personality.

I try every day to behave the way I want to be remembered. But it was Cruella that enabled me to look in the mirror and see that we all have the “bad girl” inside us — or at least Ido, and I will own her. I will apologize when she is unchecked and shows me my worst self. I will see her coming to the doorway of my life, and shut the door in her face when I can. And, I get to control her as long as I don’t pretend she isn’t there. So here’s to Cruella de Vil, my first heroine. And as for Cinderella and Snow White? Bite me, ladies.