Storytelling as a Salve

For a while now (November 2016 perhaps?) this country has been a difficult place to be. And this summer, politics has reached a crisis level. The news is very very very difficult to contend with. Daily, gruesome cruelty towards people trying to enter this country, and the near constant gun violence, due to the fear, racism and the misogyny of those who support this administration, have been a terrible, dull, drumbeat. For a person like me, a woman who lives in a very comfortable world for the most part, this is such a heartbreaking and confusing time to be an American. I’m very anxious, like so many are, about where we are careening with this dangerous administration at the helm. It can be hard to just keep doing your regular thing, doing your best to parent and work and live with joy. I say this as a reminder to myself, when things I’m doing or thinking about seem futile and self-serving. It’s really just hard sometimes to exist in both places. My life is actually good and lucky right now, and yet more people are openly suffering and struggling than I’ve ever been aware of.

There is no snappy thing to say here, no immediate answers, other than that I am doing what I can to make sense of this moment. We have lost our way, but we all have to keep going, listening, learning the truths, amplifying the good, and hopefully we will get through this terrible time. 

This connects to my work on MILK. Though I’m taking a selective look at loss, through the guests and ideas and stories that are available to me, I’ve realized the transformational power of writing and talking through pain and grief, and creating narratives that are ours. The last several episodes of MILK have focused on storytelling and how writing or telling another person about your loss can help not only you, but offer a salve to others.

An organization like The Moth, a revered, powerful live storytelling organization, is run by artistic director Catherine Burns, and does such wonderful work. I was so happy to talk with her about working in a  space where she can coax healing stories out of people, and watch them transform a live crowd, and later, offer those stories more widely to people listening intimately to The Moth’s amazing podcast. Catherine has been through her own losses and shares her beautiful, optimistic take on her community and the joy she takes in her job.   

Molly Rosen Guy is a writer/editor/teacher/ who is using Instagram as a forum to write about her father’s illness and death, the end of her marriage and of her very popular wedding business. She is unflinching in her sharing, and tells the truths that she needs to tell. I loved talking to her about books, leading workshops, her own writing, about mothering two daughters, and about her dad, Robert. She is working on a memoir about him, and I look forward to reading it.

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Nadine Haruni has taken her experiences and used them to write books that help kids deal with transition and loss.  Her Freeda the Frog books help families deal with divorce, with blending families, moving houses and schools, and losing a loved one or pet. Nadine had always wanted to write books for kids, and worked hard to do so while practicing law full time, and raising two children after her divorce. She’s a force!

 

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Speaking of loss, I left my little boy in New Hampshire last weekend at overnight camp with his sister, who is there for her 5th year. It is the weirdest feeling, knowing that your kids exist in the world without you. This too, is of course a type of loss – from the time they are born, every phase and stage that helps them find their independence and move away from us is truly that. I miss them, but know the experiences away from us are important for us and them.

So, I’m connecting dots with this Loss Season and the other work I’m doing. Having the kids out of sight for the few weeks is helping me to do that.  Kids are distracting! But, we can learn so much from them! I recently hosted a new, wonderful podcast series called “How to Raise a Parent.” It’s a branded project from Slate Studios and Dairy Pure. I interview experts about how we can get back in touch with the purity and innocence of our own childhood, and what we can learn from our kids in the process. I got to work with my kids on some of the promos for the podcast, you can hear one here: 

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It was a blast and I’m proud of the series. You can see and hear the podcast here:

 Also, In case you missed it, my episode of ZigZag Podcast with Manoush Zomorodi ties together a lot of the topics I’m thinking on, and interviewing MILKs about this summer. The episode is about commodifying motherhood and what success means to me, the loss of certain media industries and how I’m personally pivoting. Its very open and honest and it made me think and make connections.

 Yours, in loss, love, success, honesty and parenting.

MILK Podcast Holiday Gift Guide

We gathered some of our powerhouse guests from 2018 to put together a list of holiday gifts to give (or treat yourself to) in celebration of a year of inspiring, creative MILKs who are making art, helping us heal, and creating stronger communities. Cheers!

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WELLNESS AND HEALING

What Would Virginia Woolf Do: And Other Questions I Ask Myself as I Attempt to Age Without Apology

This funny and informative book by MILK Podcast guest Nina Lorez Collins grew out of her popular Facebook Group of the same name, where women – with strong opinions and humor – share their private selves with bravery and most of all, humor.

Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy

MILK Podcast guest Angela Garbes wrote this beautiful book based on an article she wrote for Seattle's alt-weekly, The Stranger, called “The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am.” The story became the publication’s most read piece in its twenty-four year history, and the inspiration for Like A Mother, an essential read for all new moms.

If You Knew Suzy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Reporter’s Notebook

Written by MILK Podcast guest and New York Times writer Katie Rosman, this memoir marries a daughter's quest to truly know her late mother, with a reporter’s attention to detail, humor, and pathos.

Modern Loss: Candid conversations about grief. Beginners welcome

Co-authored by MILK podcast guest Rebecca Soffer the Modern Loss book has been blurbed by everyone from Mindy Kaling to Stephen Colbert to Anna Sale. It is practical, surprising, and filled with the darkly humorous and tender details of death's inevitability.

And check out the Modern Loss community's Holiday Gift Guide for more thoughtful - and fun - holiday gift ideas.

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VOTING AND RESISTING

Vote Like a Mother

Rock your Vote Like a Mother shirt and buy a tote bag for a friend who wants to spread the word about this organization, founded by MILK Podcast guest Sara Berliner.

Vote Like a Mother sells ethically sustainable merch with a wink, benefits mom run organizations, and acts as a filter for activism.

Signs of Resistance

MILK Podcast Bonnie Siegler, who runs the award-winning design studio Eight and a Half, was voted one of the fifty most influential designers working today by Graphic Design USA. Her book is a visual history of protest in America, perfect for this holiday season.

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GIVING BACK

Consider donating to these female-founded start-ups and progressive causes championed by MILK Podcast guest Carley Roney: Power of Two, Project Entrepreneur, and Brooklyn Community Foundation, Motivote and Sister District.

Donate in a friend’s name to support the Higher Heights Foundation, co-founded by MILK Podcast guest Kimberly Peeler-Allen. Higher Heights is a national organization that builds the political power and leadership of Black women from the voting booth to elected office. Talk about getting the new year off to a good start!

MARRIAGE, PARENTING & TWEENS

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids

MILK Podcast guest Jancee Dunn's fabulous book is now out in paperback!

Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give

Another excellent book about marriage and parenting, MILK Podcast guest Ada Calhoun's book is out in paperback in time for the holidays.

TBH #2: 12 Before 13 and TBH #3: TBH, Too Much Drama

For the tweens on your list, or anyone who appreciates great YA, MILk Podcast guest Lisa Greenwald Rosenberg writes for tween girls and I love her books. Her new middle grade book, all told in text message, is the third in the TBH series, and due out in January. TBH #2: 12 Before 13, debuted this fall.

MILK is Filling Me Up

We are living in crazy ass times, obviously. The tireless outrages of a reckless and racist Administration, sickening abuses exposed every damn day by men in every field, and the isolation of our own minds and anxieties as we sort through the data, trying to put one foot in front of the other. Plus tending to our relationships and families with normal stuff like groceries and viruses and parent teacher conferences and marriage. It’s a lot to manage.  

I cope by laughing with friends on text and sometimes in real life, hugging and squishing my kids as much as they will allow, and with my clichéd, beloved yoga. And MILK, this podcast I’ve been building, has been giving me life in these dark days since just before #prezvoldemort came to reign.

During each interview I record and edit, I learn something new and nuanced about motherhood, about ambition, about creativity, and about how damn competent we are as moms and humans.  I love meeting people I’ve admired from afar, and getting to spend that time in the studio with accomplished authors, activists, and artists is so fulfilling.

me and  MILK episode 3  Novelist Amy Shearn

me and MILK episode 3 Novelist Amy Shearn

It’s also exciting that my audience is growing, and more people are listening. One of the best things about technology is the ease with which content can be now be created and shared. It’s thrilling to record and get these conversations out to you guys right away. The sharing is easy, and the way I hope to grow it further.

When I interviewed Manoush Zomorodi, from the WNYC “Podcast Note to Self” back in October, she asked me if I knew the “other” podcasting mom in our school. No, I did not know Sally Hubbard of “Women Killing It,” but that was easy to remedy. Sally and I had a lunch, made a plan to be on each other’s podcasts, and this week you can hear Sally on MILK HERE.

Sally’s podcast, “Women Killing It,” is Sally interviewing women who are rock stars in their careers, asking them how they got there, and what they do to adapt and grow. An attorney, journalist, expert networker, and all around cool chick, Sally is smart, accomplished and busy as hell and she still makes an episode each week. It is instructive and motivating! Please listen to her interview of me on Women Killing It HERE, and share if you like it.     

Sally, and Manoush, and all of the MILKs so far, have shown me that we need to help each other and build each other up, us women. It’s what we do best, and we do many things well.

I know this little show I make in my apartment isn’t changing things for most, and that most of my guests come from a privileged place, relatively. Most of my guests believe that satisfaction in life and work is attainable because their basic needs are met – and this is not lost on me. But I find it stirring that there are so many stories and people to listen to and learn from, and that when I feel like I’m paralyzed with worry about the state of this planet, I can look to neighbors and friends and friends of friends to see how other women find strength.

Thanks for listening! And please share the MILK.

day after

This past Sunday was the NYC marathon. Feeling a bit on edge because of the election, I took the kids to cheer on some runner friends with homemade signs, and to high five strangers. I knew the kids would love watching people of all shapes, sizes and colors running through our imperfect but diverse city. The music, the energy of the crowds, the volunteers and inspiring people blazing past. And they loved it, and it buoyed me and it made me hopeful, and gave me the feeling I crave, that one I’m addicted to living here – the one where I absorb the stories, the connections, the pathos and the beauty of so many backgrounds rubbing up against each other. Sunday was really a great day.

Monday, my ten year old and I went to the Hillary’s Brooklyn Field Office to make some calls. We had a script and we called Hillary supporters in Florida to encourage them to vote, ask them if they knew where to go. Zoe was a star, everyone looked over and smiled at her sweet voice and her determination. She was so proud of herself for volunteering and I felt righteous and right on and like a good mom. Monday was also a really great day.

Online, late Monday night, obsessing over the people of Pantsuit Nation, the secret Facebook group where people felt safe to discuss Hillary. The mostly women and men sharing and lifting each other up, telling their stories of overcoming adversity gave me a similar feeling to the marathon, and the fact that I was again seeking out that metaphor was not lost on me. Emotionally building up to a victory for Hillary after the cumulative horror of this terrible election season, trying not to let my doubt seep in. Like all of us, I was looking around to reinforce my own values.

Tuesday we went to vote at the community center in a housing project adjacent to our neighborhood. After the kids helped me fill out the ballot and scan it in, got their stickers and fist bumped the other Hillary supporters, they wanted to play in the complex’s playground, where we had never played before. They met a bunch of kids and played tag happily for a few hours while I posted pictures of us in our “I’m With Her” buttons and pantsuits. I spoke to a friendly mom named Nikki about her neighborhood school and ours. We talked about article that came out in The New York Times this year about school re-zoning in our neighboring, yet very different socio-economic communities and about her experiences living in the housing project. Her daughter’s name is Chloe, and my daughter’s name is Zoe.

I left the playground feeling pretty good. I’m not gonna say smug, because I don’t think I am, but I felt something along the lines of: We’re ok. I can reach outside of myself and talk to people who aren’t exactly like me. I have empathy and compassion and want to understand people, and my kids hopefully do too. I felt hopeful that Tuesday would be a really good day as well.

Obviously today we know that is not the case. Today, Wednesday, I feel sick and sad and numbed to the concept that Hillary lost last night, and that the majority of our country chose fear and hate over love and hope. I’m embarrassed that I live in such a bubble that I am so shocked today. Thinking back over the past few days, the cautious optimism I felt and the personalized self congratulation I allowed for helping to elect a woman, talking her up to my kids, “liking” and loving every inclusive and inspiring post I read on the Pantsuit Nation, thinking we were ok because my kids can play with other kids in a playgound. I feel so bad today, and so stupid and so angry, and so foolish. I’m just here, soaking in it.

I was mostly honest with the kids this morning. I told them that bad things happen. That we will be ok and they are safe. That we will need to fight for those more vulnerable than themselves. I will teach them to speak out, as I have, and to be a good person and a good New Yorker and a good American. I won’t tell them to be afraid, even though I am.

Today we grieve and tomorrow we figure out how to move forward.

pantsuits

My mom, Judi, died in 2013 from lymphoma. She was 67. In her eulogy, I talked about her well meaning, but occasionally forceful practicality and how it could bump up against my more emotional responses to life.

“Buy a suit” was one of those bits of advice she threw out when I directly asked for her thoughts on what kind of life I should pursue. That phrase came up a few times, at various career and identity crossroads in my 20’s and 30’s.

When I graduated from college with an English Literature degree and a vague concept of careers in publishing and media, Mom took me to Benetton in Pittsburgh, and she bought me a navy blue wool pantsuit. I left shortly afterwards for New York City.

I remember being aware, brand new to it, how the city was a giant theater with actors moving through life in their daily performances. I was struggling to figure out what part I would play. What would I wear in that role? Would I be a television production assistant with a walkie-talkie? Would I work in publishing? Advertising? Radio? Which costume would fit me best?

At 22, I was trying to figure out how to live a creative adjacent life and how that would manifest. Mom wanted to help, but had her own way of working though a puzzle. She could offer her credit card and advice on how to look like the person who was interviewing for a job, but not much more then that. And selfishly, I wanted more.

It used to annoy me that she’d say something so simplistic like “Buy a suit.” I felt frustrated with her inability to understand what I was asking: “I’m afraid of the future. I don’t know how to make things happen. I don’t necessarily know what my strengths are. Can you remind me?”

Now, that she’s gone, of course I get it. Nobody actually knows what they are doing and we all have a limited amount of control. Parents especially, are fudging that confidence. So Mom was trying to teach me to fake it, because that’s what gets you the opportunities: the showing up, feeling good in your suit, and looking people in the eye. The rest is how your treat people, and how you use your perspective and your character to connect with others and learn from them.

My mom was fantastic. She worked as a teacher and reading specialist after marrying my dad at 21 and supporting him while he was in medical school. She stopped working to take care of my sisters and I, and then later, became an advocate for women and children through a local women’s organization. In her mid 50’s, she fulfilled a lifelong dream and went to law school. She worked as a public defender before she got sick.

I see my mom, her friends, and the women of her generation, in Hillary’s suits. Those caftan style jackets, the mandarin collars, those confident jewel tones. I see my mom in Hillary’s incredible steely gaze and in her warmth. In her paradoxes. In her ability to compromise. I see my mom when I watch Hill withstand certain men and their egos and their sexism, and still manage to stay cool.

There have been so many times I’ve wanted Mom’s take on this election. When I voted in the primary, I wore Mom’s raincoat and felt her with me. When I saw Hill accept the nomination in Brooklyn in May, Mom was in the room, giving a fist pump to her pro-feminist/humanist remarks and fabulous white pantsuit. I felt a pang when Hillary hugged her poised and accomplished daughter onstage, proud and beaming in her own navy blue suit.

What you wear is, as RuPaul says, your drag. It’s your stay at home mom drag, your businesswoman drag, or your President of the United States drag.

I’ve given away most of my suits, but I will pull one out next Tuesday in honor of my mom, and I will rock that shit.