The Bouncing Balls of Eunuchs

Sex and the American Nazi

Ballsy. This is a product (one of a number of other such actual products in 2022 America) being hawked on television commercials for the shaving of men’s ball sacks. And the mechanism doesn’t leave a “ball smell.” Huh? “Save Your Sack from Summer.” (Whatever happened to, I don’t know, bathing?)

It’s not that I’m squeamish. A child of the 70s, I spent my youth being bombarded with ads for Massengill Disposable Douche (a useless product designed to dupe women into thinking they can simply rinse out semen to prevent pregnancy; as well as for men who fear the smell of menses) and Kotex (a very necessary product). But ads for Venus by Gillette, now showing women, quite graphically on television commercials, using a razor to shave their pubic hair (another purely cosmetic thing), is really troubling me. Oh, and Bush Balm. So I sat down to write to figure out why. 

Here it is: It’s 2022 and a 10-year-old rape victim in the Midwest cannot legally obtain an abortion since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And child marriage is back on the table. Child labor, too. See also, the other extreme: The forcing of the aged back to work and the ending of retirement thanks to “Sen.” Rick Scott (R-FL).

The United States in 2022

Note to readers: It’s gonna get really ugly now.

Follow Middle Age Riot on Instagram and Twitter, if you want.

The end of Roe v. Wade is another “beginning of the end” situation in the U.S., sure. And the smoothest sacks and pubes in the world won’t change that. But that’s not totally what’s eating at me, not just the power over women and the hygiene distractors. There’s a larger, deeper sickness happening. The other week “Rep.” Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said that ugly women don’t have to worry about abortions. Hearing that brought up in me tears of rage—that level of open misogyny from a man accused of child rape who has yet to be indicted for it, though is wingman has taken a plea and gone to prison (and when called out on it the next day, he doubled down).

“Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl, is under fire on social media after making fat-phobic and misogynist remarks about abortion rights activists to an audience of college students on Saturday, calling people protesting in support of abortion “disgusting.”

“’Have you watched these pro-abortion, pro-murder rallies?” the Florida congressman asked the teenagers gathered at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida.

“’The people are just disgusting. Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb,” Gaetz commented.

“’These people are odious from the inside out. They’re like 5′ 2″, 350 pounds, and they’re like, “Give me my abortions or I’ll get up and march and protest.” And I’m thinking —march? You look like you got ankles weaker than the legal reasoning behind Roe v. Wade,’ he said to a cheering crowd.”

This is a U.S. Statesman of the Republican Party in 2022.
New motto: “Odious from the inside out.”

Speaking of insecure male U.S. Republican statesmen: Back in the spring, “Sen.” Josh “Runs with Fist” Hawley (R-MO) denounced child pornographers so vociferously and so weirdly out of context and proportion during the Judge Ketanji Brown hearings, that it caused Miss O’ to wonder when Anonymous will hack into Hawley’s home computer.

Runs with Fist
Shits with Bricks (seen on the internet)

Meanwhile, Ghislaine Maxwell, a convicted sex trafficker, is moved to a cushy minimum-security prison with yoga. Because otherwise I guess she releases the names of all those powerful white, male johns.

New Republican Motto: Men gotta be MEN, and real men can only get it up for trafficked young girls, ammirite?

And all of this hateful humping hubbub is from a bunch of schoolyard bullies who don’t feel “manly.” Who see everything as a threat to their “masculinity,” from balls that aren’t smooth and tan, to erections they can’t hold, to games they never understood and couldn’t play.  

But indoctrinating actual armies of white supremacists is not the actual problem.

And it only gets creepier every day.

Poke Her with the Soft Cushions

I awoke this morning remembering a summer day when my parents repurposed the feather-stuffed cushions on my mom’s fancy sofa—this light sort of champagne brocade-upholstered sleeper in the upstairs living room of our small split-level house with no real room for romping, so that room was sort of the place to do Play-Doh and draw on the walls (which we also had to help scrub), so naturally that fancy sofa from my mom’s days as a single naval officer got ruined in pretty short order; but rather than throw out the whole thing, my parents figured they could buy those zippered pillow cases made of striped ticking and stuff them (they went on to use these pillows for probably 20 years, by the way). I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, when they laid out old sheets in the backyard, my dad split the cushions with a knife, and they tried to figure out how to transfer the feathers—millions of teeny tiny gray feathers—into the ticking. We kids chased the feathers that flew, but impressively most of them made it into stuffing, enough for four pillows, I think. 

I don’t recall my dad wondering aloud if this activity—or for that matter, diapering his babies, cooking family meals, or reading the paper—supported and even glorified his “masculinity.” I feel confident, too, that my dad, who worked six days a week, sometimes two jobs, and yet always made time to make popcorn and play with his kids, had no time for shaving his balls or worrying about their smell. He’d have to wonder about men who had that kind of time on their hands.

That feather pillow stuff was around the time my mom got into decoupage, making all kinds of projects, burning edges of paper prints, gluing and varnishing them onto prepared painted and antiqued wood plaques or stools. It was really nice. And I remember a lot of felt crafts for Halloween, too, and making Christmas ornaments (at school and at home). My dad, a meat cutter (there’s your masculinity, Tucker), got into making his own sausage (!) and used to bring casings home from work (he could buy them wholesale), and we’d do that once a month or so. 

So at age 10 I remember going to a lot of local carnivals, fort-building, making a treehouse; all us trying out being tough with toy cowboy guns and holsters; Malibu Barbie vans and building blocks, and Tonka trucks in the dirt, while my parents made food for cookouts in the backyard or a Prince William National Forest; neighbors coming over. Beer and soda. Good Humor Ice Cream treats.

I don’t remember getting raped, is what I’m saying. I don’t remember people getting shot all the time, and never entire classrooms full of children. Sex, rape, semi-automatic slayings—even when reported, none of this was remotely normalized for casual conversation among our elected leaders in the 1970s. I’m not saying bad things didn’t happen. I’m aware that my white parents worked hard to make the shift from working class to middle class in America and faced fewer obstacles doing it than their black and brown counterparts; and I’m also aware that plenty of my classmates grew up in trailer parks or in otherwise reduced circumstances. I was often shocked by white porcelains toilets the bowls of which were stained brown; layers of dust on the white oak floors, grease and grime on all the surfaces in the kitchen. And you heard about things, you know; you heard yelling, you had to wonder.

A girl relative of mine, who was white, was raped at the age of 9 back in the 1960s; being prepubescent, the perpetrator had to split her with a knife to enter her. She told her mom, “A man peed in me.” The police didn’t put much effort into looking for the man, who was most certainly a white school janitor, so no one was prosecuted; her family moved instead. Girls have never been valued much, unless their victimhood could serve as an excuse to lynch a Black man or shoot someone. (Men are so emotional, you know. Is that masculine? I think it’s shit.)

So I don’t want to sound absurdly naïve. When we look at the historical Republican Party (and forget Dixie-crats, who only went Democrat to veer away from Republican Lincoln), they totally and loudly advocated for the mass murder of Black children; the mass rape and murder of Black women; the mass lynching or incarceration of Black men to use as legalized slave labor.

See its present spokesman, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)

Lately, however, these same Republicans have upped the stakes. We now have an entire political party, on TV and in the newspapers in 2022, pushing for the normalization of child rape (er, marriage), child sex trafficking, child labor. I can’t recall an elected representative in my childhood defending child mass murder, but that’s the case now. It’s not as if I didn’t see violence on TV, but the violence was often righteous, however a news anchor framed it: Black people tired of being targets, being kept down or segregated into project housing, being kept out of power; hippies protesting the war in Viet Nam; workers striking for fair wages; women out in force demanding equal rights; gays demanding to be seen in Pride parades.

The work never stops.

But here was a turning point: I remember when the “anti-abortion movement” started, ca. 1977 or so, and young Catholic school friends went to march on Washington, girls all, girls who’d never even been kissed. They’d cry abstractedly about unborn babies, these girls who were barely of age to babysit. I found it baffling.

Found on the internet; sorry I can’t credit the meme genius.

And that “pro-life” movement, I’ve come to believe, moved the idea of sexualized children (and not the prosecuting of Catholic priests for the molesting of boys; because it’s never been about what they did to the girls, even though the kids I knew who were molested by their priests were girls, but girls don’t count, see), rape, incest, and the oppression of women front and center in the news, and began normalizing the fucking of children and girls and women of childbearing years as both something of prurient interest and something to punish through forced birth; while simultaneously othering the sex of consenting adults of whatever gender.

So. Sick. Of. Male. “Leadership.” So over it.

When I was 10 years old, I played with dolls, acted out my own versions of I Dream of Jeannie and The Brady Bunch; had a crush on David Cassidy; ran barefoot all summer jumping off swings; when my arms and legs got sticky it was from melting popsicles rather than a man’s semen. And I know this kind of growing up is still possible. About the best parents I know are two gay men who limit their kids’ access to television, social media, video games, and sitting around. Their kids play. I texted them to say hi and see what was up. The boy, in middle school, was devastated because his favorite frozen treat, Choco Taco, had been discontinued. (Meanwhile Greta Thunberg gave up her childhood to protest the inaction of governments to stem global heating.) If it were up to Republicans, this sweet kid wouldn’t exist at all.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee was CANCELLED suddenly
by TBS under new management.
That’s the price of being a popular woman with a strong voice in America.
WOMEN: Start your own networks. OTHER WOMEN: Support them.

Why do Republicans want our women to have no autonomy? Our kids to have no childhoods? Our citizens no vote? Our people no freedom? Why do they want America to be a hellscape of mass murder and rape; floods and wildfires? Why do Republicans mock the very real problems and those who wish to solve them? I think they are diseased. They need help. But first, like any addicts, they need to admit they have a problem. We all know that men who have to pay for sex most likely aren’t any good at it; they know nothing of love, of intimacy, of seduction. They want to “take” a woman, rape a woman, and it makes them feel “powerful.” (Matt Gaetz, an alleged predator of teen girls, seeks children, doesn’t he, because they won’t know how bad he is at sex? Do all these Republican men have to use Nazism to rule because they are really bad at leading?)

Fascists pretend and propagate their inflated, insane idea of “masculinity” because they have no idea of the work it takes to be fully human. It’s not about masculine and feminine, guys. It’s about being a connected human being. It’s about leaving eighth grade, about growing up.

It’s at times like this that I want, at the age of 58, to be able to cross my arms out in front of me, flick my head, and blink all the toxicity away. Instead, I’ll be seeing you out on the streets and at the polls. Because that’s what adults should be doing, when they aren’t, you know, too busy shaving their balls and pubes for the sex they aren’t having. 

From Instagram.

Word Clouds

A commercial for an orange tube-y snack food shows a hip hop artist waving his fingers across bricks in an urban landscape and a colorful mural appears; he passes a child playing plastic buckets and the boy is now sitting at a red and chrome full drum kit. The plain glass buildings all begin shimmering in color. 

Because in America, at least, you can’t enjoy anything, not even a junk food treat, unless you are changing the world. And it’s not enough to have a tasty bite. You have to gorge on a whole fucking bloomin’ onion, loaded nachos, and whipped cream on the dessert, with a table filled with family or friends, or why did you bother to go out? 

And it’s not enough to enjoy the 4th of July with a sparkler; you need to listen to the incessant sounds of explosions all over Queens and watch the aftermath of a mass shooting of 30 spectators watching a parade in a small town in Illinois.

Art by Rebecca Morgan, as seen on Instagram

And I don’t know about you, but this kind of “go big or go home” bullshit is starting to give Miss O’ more than hives.

What’s the Meaning of All This?

Back in 1964, philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said: 

“The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

Fifty-eight years ago, McLuhan also said, “Ours is a brand-new world of all-at-onceness.” Director Mike Nichols, in an interview in the 1990s, talks about how much McLuhan got right, though McLuhan seemed to be dropped from our consciousness. (I say “to be dropped” because we live in a disposable culture.) People used to receive information at different times, Nichols noted, and in different forms—newspapers, letters, magazines, telegraph, newsreels. News used to reach people weeks or months, or years, after an event occurred. The Emancipation Proclamation, signed in 1863, did not reach enslaved people in Texas until June 19, 1865, and deliberately so—the goal being to keep this from them for as long as possible so the farmers could get another harvest out of the enslaved for free.

With TV, we all saw the Kennedy assassination aftermath play out immediately, for example. Nichols, speaking of the challenges of directing new scripts, pointed out that because exciting real events—from assassinations to the moon landing to wars—come to us in real time, fiction just can’t measure up. And so now instead of deep, simple human stories to sell tickets, we reach for Superheroes and Armageddon for entertainment.

Nothing seems to be enough to sate us. The news media and its audience now hear of mass shootings and barely register an “oh, god,” just before the yawn; you see that it’s getting increasingly harder to satisfy our sensory desires. Overloading on porn and all its vulgar unrealism is why all those Incels (involuntary celibates) can get no pleasure from sex with women. The medium is the message: sex isn’t about intimacy, but rather gratification and power.

“We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”

~ Marshall McLuhan

Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man 1964

Miss O’ Wonders

Query: What message are Americans told, by one another, is the message of America?

Response: Freedom.

Query: If your culture’s primary tools (or mediums) are guns, unmediated information highways, evangelical Christianity, and self-proclaimed “influencers,” what is the actual message?

Miss O’s Current Response: The message is that one ideology pushed by a lone individual’s power to kill or influence others is the single most valued aspect of the culture.

It’s a question of lenses.

A philosophy professor of mine once taught about hedonism. He said people misunderstand it, thinking a hedonist is someone who debauches and can’t get enough of pleasure. In fact, Prof. Smith said, “A hedonist is supposed to get an orgasm from bread and water.” Hedonists in fact set up a philosophy with forced, unsustainable expectations for actual humans. Bread and water will never be orgasmic, however nourishing, unless you are first dying of starvation and thirst. 

From Instagram

In its latest attempt at a national philosophy, America has set up a forced, unsustainable set of messages for Americans through the medium of video, meaning we all see and hear these messages. 

  • First, we are supposed to place the needs and desires of the individual above society, unless that individual is Black/brown, poor, and/or a woman. 
  • Next, we must yield to the power of guns and ones who wield them over any individual’s freedom to speak, assemble, worship, or report news, unless that person is a white male with shit tons of money. 

If the medium is an unmediated Medium, is the message that we are living in Babel?

I often spend whole mornings just deleting email junk so I can free up my email storage for more junk.

If the medium is an unstoppable garbage bin of random communications, is the message that there will be respite from the noise of humans and technology?

I have seen tweets of mine go mini-viral and had panic attacks.

I have tweeted, blogged, or posted on my wall things that I find vitally important and not one person agrees with me in even the form of a like.

I begin to value myself based on the mediums.

Which medium are we going to amplify? Which message will sound off and win in the end? Is there an end?

Is there anything duller and less surprising, however continually shocking, than American politics? Republicans can only stay on brand by grabbing power and rejecting anything democratic; the Democrats can only stay on brand by rejecting revolutionary progress and staying steady. 

If the medium is the message, what is the proper medium for politics? What is the MESSAGE of our political life?

I keep getting stuck on these questions. “Stalemate” comes to mind. “Bartleby the Scrivener,” too.

Because a stable democracy is dull copy for our hundreds of 24-hour cycle “news” outlets, whether on a cable network, local television, or a newspaper, the Big Stories I see are almost never to do with public good so much as public titillation for ratings or sales. (And now this commercial message.)

The collective message is what exactly? Consume mass quantities and die already?

I awoke this morning, the Fourth of July, 2022, as I have every morning for months, in a pit of despair. Between the climate crisis-induced collapse of an Italian glacier and the invasion of Ukraine, along with the naked Republican attempt at every level of government over the past three years to end our constitutional democracy—and a press that does little more than pass the popcorn—it’s hard to write anything, create anything, feel there’s any point. And as I stood in my hallway after the coffee, half naked, holding a bra, vacillating between putting on real clothes to leave my apartment so as not to listen to the lone skateboarder on the asphalt playground who decided to practice his tricks right next to my little abutting porch (knowing that will also be in for an endless night of illegal fireworks); and falling into a ball of lonely weeping, as I do rather a lot these days; I mercifully remembered I have friends. I texted everyone I love and care about that piece of art by Rebecca Morgan, up there, because they all would instantly get it, and they did. And they answered.

My friends Carl and Mark, buddies of mine since 2nd grade wrote back too. Both of them are gay. Carl lives in our home town; Mark lives in Delaware with this husband. In response to our group, Carl said, “Not feeling celebratory. Low key chill here. Cleaning and organizing.” Mark said, “America doesn’t deserve a birthday celebration this year 😤.” I said, “I’m writing a blog.” Carl said, “Excellent.  I hope you include my disappointment.” Mark sent his love, calling us, “MY FAMILY.” And that just broke me up. You know? That sudden burst or wave of love. And if I hadn’t broken the grip of depression, pushed past the despair by becoming outer directed, I suppose I would have started drinking wine at 10:30 AM and not really looked back.

And wine is a lousy medium for any message. Here are some better ones:

  1. Honeysuckle
Photos by Miss O’
  • Postcards to SCOTUS
Miss O’ uses up some postcards.

Most of our important commentary anymore comes through in the medium of satire, including comics, cartoons, and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and TBS’s Full Frontal. The medium is the message: We treat our existential truths like jokes. The “breaking news” of the NYT is often the equivalent of “What happens to Jolly Ranchers when they stay all day in a hot car?” The medium—the paper of record—is the message, and that message is “accentuate the trivial and don’t mess with existential truth in between.”

Like millions in the world, I write what’s on my mind and post these ideas for free for all to see. I have no mediators. No one, not a partner or friend and certainly not a paid editor, is around to read behind me, suggest where I might improve, strengthen, or refocus. Nor does any publisher or advertiser pay me for my thoughts. 

And it’s still only one voice trying to mediate all the other voices and create a message that is coherent and true.

I still don’t know how to do it. Nevertheless I persist.

Miss O’ Makes a Word Cloud

This Is the Real Story

Featured on my kitchen wall is a framed series of five photos, one under the other, that depict me and two other women rolling down a green grassy hill. My friend, Patty, a professional framer, matted and framed this series for me many years ago, though why I wanted it, no one understood. I knew why, so really that’s all that mattered. And though it’s framed nicely, each time I look at it, I get stuck at the last two pictures. To me they are in the wrong order. The second to last one in the frame shows me and Roller No. 2 sitting up, my fists raised in triumph, my legs up, ready to do it again. The last one in the frame shows the Rollers 1, 2, and 3, passed out blissfully on the grass. The trouble is, the action happened in reverse of the order: We were passed out blissfully, and then we popped up and went back for one more roll. However, as Patty pointed out, anyone looking at the series would be aesthetically unsatisfied with that—she insisted that the three of us collapsed at the bottom of the hill was the right feeling of “this is the end.” I didn’t agree, but she was a terrific artist and very sure, and I just wanted to hold the memory, so I let her tell the story her way. It’s a story that, if you weren’t there, maybe made more sense.

Here is the real story: They were middle aged, these three women, and I had just turned 30, and we were teachers in graduate school for the summer. Three of us were housed in a large mansion-style dorm atop a big hill, and I had remarked on the day of our arrival, “This is a perfect hill for rolling.” I was wistful. The two women on my floor whom I mentioned up there, Anna (the photographer) and Suzanne (Roller No. 3), had no idea what I was talking about. Anna had grown up in California where there were no green rolling hills, and the same was true for Suzanne, whose landscape was Midwestern, up northern way. That very same evening—our first of the summer—Annie from Mississippi came up to the house on the hill, and from upstairs I heard her say, “This is a perfect hill for rolling!”

I flew through the door to the upper porch, where my room was set, leaned over the balustrade, and called, “Annie! Will you roll with me?”

Anna, from across the hall, called, “Wait for me!” and came out of her room with her camera.

Suzanne, next door, said, “You mean I get to SEE this?”

I said, “You have to DO it,” and we three raced down the stairs with that child-like rush of feelingas if, if you don’t hurry, your chance will be gone forever—and outside, where Annie and I taught Suzanne her options: either arms crossed over your chest, or arms outstretched over your head. We spread out. And…GO! Somehow in that flash of chaos, Anna had managed to capture, 1) me rolling alone; 2) a shot of Annie and Suzanne rolling; 3) all three of us from a crotch view, slightly blurred; 4) us three flopped on the ground, three pairs of jeans and shirts of pink (me), lavender (Annie) and purple tie-dye (Suzanne) all against that deep, luscious green; and 5) me bent in a V from my butt, arms and legs up, and Annie, sitting with arms back, her face in a smile, and we’re ready to go.

That is the real story, the real sequence, but because it doesn’t read as the usual narrative, or the most tightly constructed or aesthetically pleasing narrative, I’m the only one who would look at the series and be dissatisfied. Or would I? In truth, I don’t think anyone has really ever looked at it outside of me, because it’s not exactly a universal story, or even a “lovely” portrait of any person, or of nature.

So what does it mean to tell a story “the real” way? And does it even matter?

When I was in college studying to be a teacher—which is as antithetical as it sounds, for as every professor of “education” will acknowledge, nothing they are teaching will be useful for at least three years into teaching, when experience would make it make sense; and my own view is that what they should be teaching is how to write a bathroom pass and not lose your train of thought in an instructional moment—I was fortunate, and I mean beyond lucky, to have two guest professors when I took Psychology of Education I and II in summer school. I’ll call them Ms. Lettuce and Ms. Lovage (with apologies to Terrance McNally). Both teachers were invaluable to me, but Mrs. Lettuce was the person who got me thinking about the “real” story.

As a first-year teacher in a coal-mining town in West Virginia—a town and culture she’d never before encountered—and on her first day teaching first grade, Miss Lettuce decided to start off by reading to her students “The Story of the Three Little Pigs.” When she got to the first instance where the wolf “huffed and he puffed and blew the house down”—the house of straw—a little boy in the front row said, “That son of a bitch.”

Mrs. Lettuce turned to the class, most of us either gasping or giggling, and asked, “What do you think I should have done?”

You know what’s great about her question? THIS moment is exactly the thing that university departments of education never teach you, the kind of thing that will happen to every new teacher in every new school on every single new first day of school in America, now and then and forever: the kind of moment that makes you quit by the end of the first year, after day after day of these moments, with no story to guide you.

Several of us teachers-in-potential raised our little hands, either pontificating on why he needed a stern punishment and a meeting with his parents, or gently suggesting that the teacher rephrase the remark to something more appropriate and speak to him in private later. Mrs. Lettuce said, “Why didn’t any of you ask how the other children reacted? Did you assume they laughed or gasped, too?” And it made me think: Why don’t we ever stop to ask something as basic as that, about context, to step back and look at the whole picture? She continued, “When that little boy said, ‘That son of a bitch,’ all the other children nodded,” and here she mimicked their very solemn nods. “Now what do I do?” No one in my class said anything. “Because you see what’s going on here, don’t you?” she asked. And we didn’t. “If he said that, and the children agreed and accepted it, that tells me that everyone in this community, in this culture, talks that way, that all their parents talk that way. I saw immediately that if I corrected him, I’d be correcting all these people I didn’t know. And I am the outsider, remember.”

So what did she do?

“I said, ‘Would you excuse me for a moment?’ and I went out into the hall, closed the door, and laughed. When I got myself together, I went back in, and I said, ‘I’m sorry I had to step out,’ and finished reading the story. That’s all.”

What Mrs. Lettuce realized was that the story of this culture was not her story, and so not her story to alter. It was her story to learn. And she passed that story onto us. (And this story helped me stay for three years in an alien rural school system where, in the view of many, I had no business to be.)

And as to the reaction that the child back there expressed about the wolf, “That son of a bitch,” was he wrong to feel that way? In fact, children have an innate sense of morality. Vivian Paley, a Chicago teacher and great researcher of children, relates in one of her books (I don’t remember which, and I think it was Paley, so I hope I’m not misremembering) a similar experience of reading “The Three Little Pigs” to four-year-olds.

First, let’s recall the original Grimm’s fairytale: three pig brothers have to build homes, and the first pig builds with straw, the second with sticks, and the third with bricks. The terrible wolf blows down the first two houses, and eats the pigs, but he cannot destroy the house of bricks. That last pig lives. The wolf goes away. The end. The lesson: You need to work hard and take the time to build a sturdy house to protect yourself, or you will DIE.

But that isn’t the story most people in America know, and here is what Paley discovered by telling the version of the story in which no pigs die. She read the children what I’d call the Disney-fied version, where the brothers sing, “Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” and when the wolf comes, the first brother runs to the house of sticks, and when the wolf comes again, the two brothers run to the house of bricks, and then the three brothers trick the wolf and boil him in a pot. Disney, who really wasn’t one to shy away from violence—I mean, who can forget the death of Bambi’s mother?—for some reason didn’t kill off the pigs. Without those deaths, what is the lesson? Go ahead and be a lazyass pig—your brother will save you. That is not a good lesson.

And Paley’s young students felt that. When Paley finished reading, the children looked dissatisfied. One child asked, a little fearfully, “Is that the real story?” Other children asked the same question. They’d heard another one, perhaps, but somehow this one just didn’t feel right. And Paley told them they were right, that there was another version. And they looked afraid, but they wanted to hear it; and she told them, and they cried when the first two pigs were eaten by the wolf, but they were satisfied with the story, because innately they knew that this was life, that this lesson mattered. They wanted to hear the real story.

I think that inside of these children, of all children, must be a hundred thousand years of genetic memory. No one taught those four-year-olds about narrative structure, or ethics, or what happens in “real life,” and yet instinctively they knew the real story, what the true story ought to be.

I think American adults in general have lost their way when it comes to our real story, our national story, and the reasons for this go back to the Puritans, as everything does, with a view of life as something to be dictated by religious patriarchy rather than lived and experienced deeply, connected to the natural world and our own intuitive, honest natures. And so, as there must be one narrative, one story, to publish in the history books (for humans are still in need of a story, whatever else happens), we pick and choose the pieces we want to include in our collective story, and by “we” I mean white men, the majority culture, in power. I don’t write this in acrimony. That is part of our real story.

But here is the shame: The American story is not just Founding Fathers with capital F’s, the colonists against the British; or the Wild West, with capital W’s, with wars of cowboys against Indians; or the Civil War—which in much of the white South is known still today as The War of Northern Aggression—or even only wars. These stories, too often, have been reduced, in the popular imagination (until most recently and blessedly, Hamilton), to vague tales about ragged coats and red coats, white hats and black hats, blue and grey: they’ve become bloodless, artificial. What gets lost in these acceptable history book narratives is the deep story of the People: the thrill of the exploration of the oceans and discovery of new worlds and also the savage destruction of native people and cultures and lands; the astonishing bravery and also the emotional brutality of the Puritans; the deep Christian convictions of early settlers and also the hypocrites who took advantage of those convictions for personal gain; the astonishing growth of agriculture to feed the world and also the enslavement of Africans to make that growth possible; the growth of industry and also the exploitation of immigrants and the earth to make that growth possible; westward expansion and also the utter destruction of the native way of life; and woven through all of this, the story of women taking part in and helping shape all of these stories, shoulder to shoulder with men, with nearly none of that story recorded. This story of America is one thing AND the other. The story is huge and vast and messy and complicated and fraught. It’s a continuing story.

If four-year-old American children aren’t afraid to hear “the real story,” why are the majority of grown American adults afraid to hear it? Why are certain hugely powerful media companies run by white men, for example, so afraid of “the real story,” the true story, of America that they feel they must create their own narratives, narratives in which there must be good guys and bad guys, and the only possible villains can be immigrants, Muslims, blacks, or women, and the only good is the continuation and protection of white male greed using repression and guns? All over the news, this is too often the only story, or the story that a few others try desperately to fight against. But it isn’t the real story, is it? We know that it’s not. What is the real story?

This sort of story manipulation doesn’t belong only to America, and it surely can’t be laid on Disney’s doorstep, or even at the threshold of the corporate headquarters of Fox News. This deliberate, inorganic story manipulation has only been possible in the last few thousand years out of many millennia, when because of agriculture and surplus, nomads began settling into villages, where, out of laziness, really, a few charismatic men began duping and robbing the workers and families of these villages, amassing wealth, and then hiring the men they’d robbed to make weapons and form armies, so they, the overlords, could take even more, scapegoating races of people and creating the massive military industrial complex—models of this dating back to the building of vast flotillas of all manner of ships, the breeding of horses for riding, and the forging of iron weaponry, all made for the sole purpose of carrying out large-scale warfare, among the men of Egypt and Greece and Rome; among Vikings and Saxons and the Angles and Normans; among tribes everywhere, really, when one goes deep into the stories.

That’s the real story of the People of Earth.

And the only way to change that story—because it simply isn’t sustainable, resources being what they are—is to shift the power dynamic, to decide, as a People, that the sociopathic-lazy man-warmonger narrative is not only wrong, it’s silly. We could be having so much real fun when we aren’t facing real, naturally occurring dangers. More to the point, we are, right now, for real, a People in Crisis, a climate crisis, brought on by global warming born of industrial ignorance and, of course, greed. You can trace most any problem to the grasping greed of a few bad men. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we turned our story—focused all our warrior energy—into working to salvage and heal and restore our Earth?

Here is the story:

Once there were three women, all teachers, two middle-aged and one just turned 30. The young woman, from the eastern plain, saw a deeply gray, dirty world that cried out to be cleaned, to be respected, to be enjoyed, and to be loved. She shared her vision with the woman from the western plain and the woman from the northern plain, who agreed, because they had been thinking the same thing. And from the southern plain came another woman teacher, middle-aged, who cried out, “This is a great world, and it needs cleaning!” And the youngest woman called out, “Will you clean it with me, Annie?” And so it was. Western Anna grabbed her camera, to tell the story of the Great Cleaning, and Northern Suzanne, who hadn’t cleaned before and wanted to learn, joined the women of the East and South, and together from all four directions the women grabbed their brooms and flew out into the world to clean it up and make it live, and to tell the story.

Here the storyteller shows the children the pictures that Anna had taken. The children notice that the person who framed the photos of the women in this story showed them flying out to clean the world, one by one, and the last photo is of them lying down, exhausted and finished with the work.

And here a child asks, a little fearfully, “Is that the real story?”

And here the storyteller pauses, and sees that she has to tell the truth.

“No. There is another version. Do you see that second to last picture? The one where they seem to be getting up to do it again? That comes last. You see, the work never ends. The story doesn’t end.”

And though the children were afraid at hearing this, and even cried, still they were satisfied. This was the real story.

Photos by Anna Citrino; framing by Wilkins Myrick Frames and Fine Art; wall located in Queens, NY.






A Tale of Two Americas: A Miss O’ Thanksgiving Meditation

A Tale of Two Americas: A Thanksgiving Meditation


[Note: This version has been slightly revised. -ed.]

Oh, kids. Miss O’ wanted Hillary Clinton to be our president, and not just because she’s a woman, but because she GETS it, IT being Democracy and all its messiness. We’ve all been sad, we supporters of the losing side that strives to make a more perfect union, which opposes the side that celebrates greed and narcissism and God and hard judgment and “I got mine” in the name of “change.” Understanding, please, that neither party has a claim to perfection by a long shot, where does this divide come from? And who do we want to be as Americans?

To start thinking about the events of November 8, 2016, I thought I’d reach back to our earliest successful colonists in America, the Puritans.

“Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno. 1632”

O Bubble blast, how long can’st last?

That always art a breaking,

No sooner blown, but dead and gone,

Ev’n as a word that’s speaking.

O whil’st I live, this grace me give,

I doing good may be,

Then death’s arrest I shall count best,

because it’s thy decree.

~Anne Bradstreet,    1612-1672, Newtown (later Cambridge), Massachusetts

Miss O’ is in a fit of goddamned sickness. And as Anne Bradstreet was our first woman poet, and our first feminist, really, I thought hers a good voice to open this little essay. She grew to be deeply ambivalent about religion in the Puritan mode. The term “puritan” was an English slur against this ascetic religious group, and so loathsome and annoying were they that King Charles I gave them a ship for the Great Migration and hoped they’d drown in it. Instead, they made it to Plymouth, in Massachusetts, and the rest is history. Sort of. I say “sort of,” because most Americans don’t know jack shit about it. And we are paying the price of that ignorance, I think.

My Country ‘Tis of Thee v. My County ‘Tis of Me

So we had an election. Every election is too much for television, and every election seems to carry the stakes of life and death. But the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, for the first time in our 240 years of Democracy, actually was a referendum on democracy itself. The stakes for preservation have never been higher, and possibly never less understood by half a country—the half that voted for Donald J. Trump, a man right out of that Sinclair Lewis novel that you have never read (by a Nobel Prize-winning American author you’ve never heard of).

There are a lot of ways to try to frame this election’s outcome, so Miss O’ here is going to approach it in the ways I can think of to see if anything can make any sense of it. Trump voters famously don’t read, so this won’t reach them. I can only hope to clear it up for me, and maybe a little for you.

My Country ‘Tis of Me  (possible new lyrics for an old patriotic song)

My country ’tis of me,

This is my liberty,

Of me I sing!

Land of the white man’s pride,

Walt Whitman’s dream has died,

For all the liberal tears you’ve cried:

God Save the King!

Take One: Omniscience v. Free Will

Who were the Puritans, and why does this matter? It was the beginning of “separate but equal,” is one way of looking at it. I’m not even remotely a theologian, nor a deep historian, but I offer some ways to looking for information, should it interest you. From an article on the Washington State University site:

“The term ‘Puritan’ first began as a taunt or insult applied by traditional Anglicans to those who criticized or wished to ‘purify’ the Church of England. Although the word is often applied loosely, ‘Puritan’ refers to two distinct groups: ‘separating’ Puritans, such as the Plymouth colonists, who believed that the Church of England was corrupt and that true Christians must separate themselves from it; and non-separating Puritans, such as the colonists who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed in reform but not separation. Most Massachusetts colonists were nonseparating Puritans who wished to reform the established church, largely Congregationalists who believed in forming churches through voluntary compacts.  The idea of compacts or covenants was central to the Puritans’ conception of social, political, and religious organizations.”

I pledge allegiance. Puritans also believed in Predestination. “Predestination, in theology, is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God, usually with reference to the eventual fate of the individual soul. Explanations of predestination often seek to address the ‘paradox of free will’, whereby God’s omniscience seems incompatible with human free will.” So here’s the BIG question: Is God, if she exists, all-knowing, all-seeing? Or do we have free will? John Milton’s famous Paradise Lost hinges, more or less, on the following question: Why did God put the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, and then forbid us to taste of it?

And, for that matter, why did God create disharmony between the sexes, between our brothers, among us all? Our nation might do well to revisit the old Bible story of Cain and Abel: Let’s take a little stroll back to 1632, again with poet and ambivalent Puritan, Anne Bradstreet.



There Abel keeps his sheep, no ill he thinks,

His brother comes, then acts his fratricide.

The Virgin Earth of blood her first draught drinks,

But since that time she often hath been cloy’d;

The wretch with ghastly face and dreadful mind,

Thinks each he sees will serve him in his kind,

Though none on Earth but kindred near then could he find.

~ from “Contemplations,” Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672

So religion is very much about war, whether war within oneself or with another, or with God, and projecting our self-loathing onto others. Life is, and is only ever about war, not peace, the Scriptures tell us (until Jesus, but no one reads the words of Jesus anymore, just as no one reads The New Yorker–so sayeth Trump). Republicans go on and on and on about religion and crime and war and the devil in this country, and yet it’s like they don’t know all this stuff is a part of our history (see previous parenthetical), an in an almost barbaric way. Do you or they remember The Great Awakening? What about Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) and his immortal sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? Here are we humans, according to Rev. Edwards:

  1. The devil stands ready to fall upon them and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The Scripture represents them as his “goods” (Luke 11:21). The devils watch them; they are ever by them, at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back; if God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.

Jonathan Edwards was a complex and deeply serious man, and he’s a confusion to me. From the Wiki: “Recent studies have emphasized how thoroughly Edwards grounded his life’s work on conceptions of beauty, harmony, and ethical fittingness, and how central The Enlightenment was to his mindset.” And to continue: “The emphasis of the lecture was on God’s absolute sovereignty in the work of salvation: that while it behooved God to create man pure and without sin, it was of his ‘good pleasure’ and ‘mere and arbitrary grace’ for him to grant any person the faith necessary to incline him or her toward holiness, and that God might deny this grace without any disparagement to any of his character.” So much for the God of Love of the New Testament. The God of Wrath returns. Where did such a view come from? Did it come from within himself and he projected it onto others?

So what does this relic of reverend have to do with Trump v. Clinton? For one quick image: the Republican National Convention used a background color of fiery red, the color of wrath, which matched the tone and content of the convention speeches. The Democratic National Convention used the backdrop of clear blue, the color of tranquility, matching the tone of optimism and clarity of vision of the speeches. Another comparison: The Puritans believed in the Elect, or the idea that God does not take everyone into heaven, and that “goodness” has nothing to do with it. There is no way, the Puritans said, to know who is among the Elect. But, as my junior year English teacher Mr. Edwards (no relation) explained, “Surely God would not bless you with a Cadillac, surely not, unless you were  among the elect.” And, lo, capitalism was born, and dressing up for church, for if God is “blessing” you with material things and great opportunities for sex (or grabbing pussy), apparently you must be going to heaven. (“The meek shall inherit the earth,” said Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. “But,” as someone said in a movie, “the meek don’t want it.”)

So Trump deserves the presidency, you see, because God has blessed him. Hillary has had to work and work for her success, and so of course she has been predestined to fail. If you are truly worthy, then, what you seek comes easy and without a hitch. Just ask Jesus. And all the while, Trump called Hillary “crooked,” “lying,” and the rest, projecting onto her what he himself is guilty of. He fired up his base. Sinners were in the tiny hands of a deeply angry Trump.

So to sum up: Religion is interwoven with politics in American Christians, and is so deeply ingrained in part of the American psyche that the indoctrinated don’t even realize it. It goes like this: God gives grace in an arbitrary way, so that there is no point in being good. Being good is for suckers. Whether Rev. Edwards intended it or not, the idea of Predestination and being among the elect and being in God’s favor “at God’s pleasure” really opened the doors to sinning with impunity, it seems to me. People who were truly good, therefore, were being suckers. The Donald Trump who refused to pay small business owners is going to heaven, seeing as God has favored him so nicely, and the truly good, hardworking business owners who lost their shirts because of Trump? They are dangling over the pits of hell at God’s pleasure. At least, this is the view taken by the Americans who elected Trump the elect. Everybody loves a winner. Greed is good.

The trouble is, the nation was founded by deists, by men who accepted God but not any church or dogma attending religion. They established rights that would prevent forcing religion on people, prevent persecution and separation under the law. Republicans are ever trying to repeal those rights, and they make no secret of it.

Take Two: Pessimism v. Optimism, or Us v. Them

Republicans typically paint the nation as in a state of continual and unabated crisis: Nixon, Reagan, Bush—all said America was on the brink of disaster, and that they each were the one, with God’s help, to repair the tattered remains of our republic. Public cries for civil rights, ending the Vietnam War, bringing home Iran hostages, ending military waste, sustaining labor unions, or protecting the environment—and all the attending citizen protests and placards for justice—were, to Republicans, destroying the fabric of the nation. The problems these protestors were seeking so solve were irrelevant: The problem was the protesting. Are you following? America, Republicans always declare, is on the brink of ruin (even as life gets progressively better for a lot of citizens); and in victory, damned if these Republican presidents and the others among the elected didn’t try to push it over the nearest cliff. (Watergate? Iran-Contra? Trickle-down Economics? The 2008 Mortgage Crisis, anyone?)

Democrats, by contrast, except in times of actual crisis (the Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement) never have any idea what nation, exactly, Republicans are talking about. Democrats see hope not “around the corner,” should they become elected, but living in our midst, playing out in every moment. Democrats fight for voting rights, and they encourage active participation—whether it’s hippies in sit-ins, or student activists marching, or unions marching, or women marching, or #blacklivesmatter as a movement—and see peaceful, vociferous protest not as destructive to democracy, but rather as the very essence of our national identity. Give us Liberty, or give us Death!

To reiterate: Republicans want “law and order” and abject silence—unquestioning obedience—and never see the quiet for the apathy or the fear it actually is; rather, they see incarceration (Lock her up!) and quashing of rights and voices as the hallmarks of “success.” Give us Liberty, and give you Death! (Did I get that right?)

For Democrats, protest brings us closer together as we define our ideals and goals, how we want to govern, and how we want to live. Democrats ask for money loudly. They call people. They make big noise. They welcome real debate. Note: Television news seems not to broadcast liberals in action or celebrating the wins.

Republicans, by contrast, do their voting and deciding silently; the money filters in covertly; and the gerrymandering is done in a backroom. Their idea of “change” and “Make America Great Again” is antithetical to Democracy with a capital D. Note: Television news broadcasts Republican dismay with Democrats 24/7.

Thus the great divide. So which way is “authentic” to the spirit of the Constitution, to the original founders’ intent? Does it even matter anymore?

Take Three: Separate v. One

A few quotes from the past few decades:

From The Atlantic: “In 1968, Richard Nixon spoke of a nation torn apart by crime at home, and by wars abroad. But, he promised, better days were ahead. ‘Without God’s help and your help, we will surely fail; but with God’s help and your help, we shall surely succeed.’”

It’s up to you and God, says the Republican nominee. So which is it?

“America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us. It’s always been about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government….The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous.”
~ President Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention, 2016

“I alone can fix it.”
~ Donald Trump, Republican Nominee, Republican National Convention, 2016

From The Atlantic: “[Trump] broke with two centuries of American political tradition, in which candidates for office—and above all, for the nation’s highest office—acknowledge their fallibility and limitations, asking for the help of their fellow Americans, and of God, to accomplish what they cannot do on their own.
“But when Trump said, ‘I am your voice,’ the delegates on the convention floor roared their approval. When he said, ‘I alone can fix it,’ they shouted their approbation. The crowd peppered his speech with chants of ‘USA!’ and “Lock her up!” and ‘Build the wall!’ and ‘Trump!’ It booed on cue, and cheered when prompted.”

And not to go all apocalyptic on your ass, but here’s an Irish poet to say it:

The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.


Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Reread that a few times, why don’t you? There’s a question about the way religion is used to oppress in there, and a warning. Then take that image of the “slow thighs” and read it against the two poems that are coming up. Look how all these disparate poets are talking to each other across centuries, rooting, in their way, for the good of US.

Take Four: Generosity v. Greed, or Abundance v. Deficiency

The Statue of Liberty: Iconic to the entire human world. Engraved on its base, the most famous poem of freedom, which was written by a Jew, Emma Lazarus, July 22, 1849 – November 19, 1887, an American born in New York City. The title, little known, of her sonnet is “The New Colossus,” the title taken from a statue that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.


“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I contrast the message of this poem with the Puritan disdain for, say, Native Americans, even as the Puritans depended on them for survival. I also contrast this message with that of Manifest Destiny, “the 19th-century doctrine or belief that the expansion of the US throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable.” I contrast this with 350 years of slavery justified by white supremacy. And with the treatment of women who sought the vote, tortured and beaten and tormented for wanting a voice in government. (Women couldn’t own a home in her own name, or even have a credit card, until 1974, or work while pregnant, the list goes on. I read of too many female Trump supporters who wished he’d grab their pussies. Give me your genitals, yearning to grope free? How have we toppled this low?)

Two Americas, Take Five: Color v. Content


When Barack Obama was elected, I read that John Boehner was heard to say of our first black president, “I can’t even look at him.” Friends of mine in Virginia actually said, “Well, we’ve been debased. I can’t believe I have to live under a nigger as my president.” And, these friends noted, a “negress” as first lady was beyond absurd.

Their comments deeply troubled me and angered me, and I said so, but more than that they baffled me. Harvard Law Review editor, constitutional law professor, state legislator, U.S. Senator—and still Barack Obama is “debasing” us and cannot be “looked at” because of the color of his skin? When I try to explain that my disgust with Trump is based on the content of his character and his lack of elected experience, and not the color of his skin, the deplorable white friends explain to me that it’s exactly the same. And they aren’t racist, they point out, but rather simply right.  Blacks in America are viewed by them as, if not subhuman (though often that), at least clearly inferior to whites, and I was reminded of this over and over as a teacher in rural Virginia. The impossibility of working with the Republicans in Congress was blamed never on a racist (“You lie!” “I can’t even look at him”), intractable Congress, but on Obama himself, for his arrogance. So I cannot seem to get through to these white friends and relatives, who could not look on Obama without retching, that their worldview is simply ugly and wrong.

Then last weekend, following the election and its astounding and embarrassing outcome (and this is globally recognized to be true, if not universally understood in the U.S.), I was walking through Port Authority here in New York City after a bus trip out to Jersey to visit equally aggrieved friends, and I saw at a newsstand a People magazine cover featuring a full body photo of our president-elect with the title, in appropriately big white letters, “President Trump.” I thought to myself, “I can’t even look at him.”

So am I no better than a racist?

White supremacists, again including relatives of mine, and their friends, have told me that it is I, not they, who have the closed mind because I will not consider white supremacy to be a fact of life. They have told me this in ALL CAPS: “YOU HAVE A CLOSE [sic] MIND!!!!” My friend Mark heard such a supremacist on NPR say this same thing just yesterday. I, who have been enriched and amazed and loved by humans of all races, religions (and ages, for that matter) am “closed minded” for not seeing whites as supreme. Because I am not giving WHITES—and we mean white CHRISTIANS, to be clear—a chance to run everything, “for once,” in their belief system, then it is I have who have the closed mind.

Where do I start?

Back when I was a high school English teacher and a co-sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance, a group designed to promote understanding and tolerance, a nice English teacher lady colleague said to me, firmly, “I don’t believe in tolerance. I don’t like gays, I don’t like illegal immigrants. I don’t like liberals.” She seethed. “Why should I tolerate what I don’t like?” Lately, I am asking myself the same question. But we are asking that question from two entirely different points of view.

Who is right on the issue of gay rights? Mike Pence and my colleague up there and millions like them, or Miss O’ and the millions of gays and their friends in the world? Is global warming real? Who is right as to whether or not blacks and Muslims, as well as whites and Christians, have the Constitutional right to fair and equal treatment under the law? Who is right about women’s right to their own bodies and decisions about their health? Who is right, people who think we need to work together to solve problems, or people who want one (straight, white, Christian) man to solve all the problems for them?

These are the questions that divide us in the United States right now. Trump supporters tell me their side is just as worthy of consideration as my “liberal” “closed” side.

How do you tell them, “No, it’s not,” without sounding like a tyrant and a hypocrite?

In Sum

First came the Puritan, white, my-way-or-the-highway, love-it-or-leave-it, God-fearing, separatist, elite, elect America of Plymouth Colony origins: It’s complicated, and often unattractive, boring to study during junior year of high school, despite their suffering—and this is a shame, because America just voted it into office in 2016 without realizing it, probably. And these historical folks aren’t funny. Just not. Ever. Funny.

Second came the Revolutionary War-winning, immigrant, dynamic, deist-not-Christian, Enlightenment-influenced, red-white-and-blue, Declaration of Independence, Constitution-based, vote-giving, anti-oligarch, Hamilton-rap-fest amazing America, inspiring to the world, taught in school—and yet it was voted out of office in 2016. Plus, it’s the America of genuine humor and scathing satire.

There is a Third America: The America of slaves, of dispossessed and tortured indigenous people, of oppressed women, of exploited laborers, of religious and racial bigotry, of socio-economic disparity. Only Democrats include this Third America in their party platform and policies, and the Republicans very consciously do not.

Finally, I am going to say it, I am going to pronounce judgment: White supremacy is fucking wrong. Like bigotry, murder, rape, bullying, and abuse, I can comfortably categorize white supremacy as equivalent to a biblical sin (a bible in whose God I do no personally believe, but in whose stories I find important views of the world). White supremacists don’t see they are wrong, any more than Donald Trump doesn’t see why he can’t grab the genitalia of any woman he wants, or ogle teenage beauty contestants in their dressing room, or destroy a small business. Just because he doesn’t think it’s wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t. Any four-year-old will rationally explain why she or he is perfectly capable of being left alone around hot stoves, big lakes, and strangers. Grown-ups know better.

Unfortunately, Trump supporters own all the guns. So you can see where this is headed.

“Divided We Stand”: In Memoriam, Democracy #notmypresident

 When Barack Obama was elected, a brand new group arose out of the clear red, the Tea Party, funded by the Koch Brothers. They were mostly older white people who were terrified of a black man in office, and the Kochs were terrified of a Democratic president and congress that might raise taxes on rich people like the Kochs, or make it impossible for them to get tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. It’s an old, old game, stoking irrational fear for an endgame that has nothing to do with the people who go on the lines in the name of, er, freedom.

Americans of the Red Elephant who coined “Not My President” (co-opted now by the Blue Donkeys as “#notmypresident”) called Obama a nigger, questioned his citizenship, called his wife a gorilla, and said worse about his daughters. (These same people wore tee-shirts calling Hillary Clinton a “cunt.” They wore these shirts in front of their children.)

In the America where I was raised, as I said before, blacks, to many, simply are not humans, but are wild animals from the jungle, cut loose from captivity. If you don’t believe me, watch video footage of the way white officers approach and kill unarmed black men and women, and it’s as if you are watching Daktari. These officers of “the law” approach black citizens while in crouched stances, backs arched, as if they are on safari. It’s horrifying. It’s absurd.

My parents did not subscribe to this at all, and used All in the Family to teach me about racism, explaining why Archie Bunker was wrong. I was six when this started. So when I went to teach in rural Virginia I was unprepared for having my life threatened by two white boys in my class for teaching “I Have a Dream,” and for calling Martin Luther King “a great American.” They pointed fingers in my face, “You know was a great American? George Washington. Huntin’ accidents happen, Miz O’Ha.” The Vice Principal took their side. I taught the speech with even more determination, this being Miss O’, and I’d like to think that maybe, as the first white person in that school ever to do so, I made the tiniest bit of difference in a good way.

Of my disappointment over the results of this election, a black colleague and friend said to me, “I have had it with all of you white people and your white privilege.” She frowned at me. “You are disappointed. You are. Now you know what it feels like to be a black person, how I feel every single moment of my life in this country.” I felt chastened. I think it would behoove every white Hillary supporter to take in those words and have a Great Awakening of our own.

Art as Life: Hope?* (*This section edited from an earlier version. –ed.)

If you know the musical Hamilton—and how could you not?—then you know we just elected Aaron Burr over Thomas Jefferson. More than that, we may have “elected” King George III:

Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
~ Donald Trump, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda

This is a real fear—a promise, even, if you are Muslim or undocumented or black—stoked by the President-elect himself. We know this. We’ve heard this from his very lips in various shapes and forms—both the words and the lips. “Detention camps for Muslims are on the table” in the Trump administration, read a recent headline.

You’ll be back like before
I will fight the fight and win the war
For your love, for your praise
And I’ll love you till my dying days
When you’re gone, I’ll go mad
So don’t throw away this thing we had
Cuz when push comes to shove
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love
     ~ Donald Trump, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda

And you’d have to live in a fully armed bunker not to know that on Friday night Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton, his entrance into the theater after intermission was attended by boos and applause, both—divided we stand. And yet united by art. During the show, various lines got wilder applause than usual, or even standing ovations, including this one, sung by King George.

What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
~ The American Left, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda

You know how great is the artistry of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics because one can also imagine Obama and Clinton and Biden and Kaine singing this song of King George’s, and to Mr. Narcissism himself:

You’re on your own
Awesome. Wow.
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise
Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
All alone, across the sea
When your people say they hate you 
Don’t come crawling back to me

~ “What Comes Next?” from Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

After the show, at curtain call, Mr. Pence was hustling out when the cast, led by A-dot-Burr himself, read a respectful letter, on behalf of the cast, imploring the VP-elect (M-dot-Pence) and his boss (D- dot-Trump) to lead the nation by including ALL people, despite their promises to the contrary. What a RADICAL NOTION! As quoted by Peter Marks yesterday in the Washington Post:

“Thank you so much for joining us tonight,” Dixon said, on behalf of the production. “You know, we had a guest in the audience this evening. And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here, sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir, and we hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post, because this message needs to be spread far and wide, okay? Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf ofall of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men, women, of different colors, creeds and orientations.”

Trump tweeted a giant whine against the cast of Hamilton: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” — President-elect Donald Trump (Come January, Trump may well try to close the show. For good. Will he find a way? The fact that I could even IMAGINE such a move is what makes me so nervous about Trump as a leader.) What Trump doesn’t understand about theater and its place was critiqued beautifully by the Washington Post‘s Peter Marks yesterday: Why Trump gets theater completely and utterly wrong (Miss O’ recommends the full read, and hopes you do it.)

Trump also doesn’t get this thing called American Democracy, nor does he want to. His transition to power has been the slowest and by all accounts most incompetent in recorded history. I read that Obama’s people are freaking out because Trump won’t read anything, won’t move on any issue, and there’s plenty to know about. (Anybody else remember Bush willfully ignoring the memo: “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States”? Anyone?)  Trump’s never had truck with democracy and so knows next to nothing about it, as evidenced by his speeches. We’ve all heard them. He’s been, and I say this factually, the pampered son of a rich white man in America, and has broken and destroyed lives, raped young women, and spent money that was not his, all with impunity. To keep this good luck going and to pass it on to his kids, he’s trying to return to oligarchy, and possibly monarchy, apparently. Today’s headline in The Guardian:

Trump transition provokes cries of nepotism – but can anything be done? Despite concerns over Donald Trump’s decision to bring his family into his White House inner circle, experts says critics have few ways to stop him.

 Is it just me, or does Trump more and more remind you of the machinations in Richard III? I swear his family looks like the cast of an updated version of one of Shakespeare’s history/tragedy plays. King Lear, perhaps.


Are you a Puritan or a Hamilton? Are you an American in the spirit of Manifest Destiny, or an American in the spirit of Ellis Island? Can you reconcile yourself to both? And of course it’s way more complicated than that, but we have to start somewhere.

So when you People of Trump out there start thinking that the Left is really out of its Thanksgiving gourd, or that our warnings of fascism are little more than “sour grapes,” you might listen to the Hamilton cast album and read the Chernow biography that inspired it; reread “The New Colossus,” read about the Puritans and the Revolutionists. And read the FUCKING CONSTITUTION. I swear that with love.

Post Script

 “According to most contemporary descriptions, the Colossus stood approximately 70 cubits, or 33 metres (108 feet) high—the approximate height of the modern Statue of Liberty from feet to crown—making it the tallest statue of the ancient world.[2] It was destroyed during the earthquake of 226 BC, and never rebuilt.”


 No American (mostly) wants (surely) the nation’s history of democracy to come to an end. Shelley’s famous poem up there, as my friend poet Jean LeBlanc says, shows a poet’s ability to “remember the future.” So, in that spirit, ol’ Ozymandias should be reminiscent of the latest man to claim absolute power, this man who has no honest claim to be the leader of the United States, and thus the world, except that he is among the Elect, and select of the Electoral College, if not elected by majority vote (Hillary Clinton is leading by 1.65 million votes and counting); and unless we are eternally vigilant, as Jefferson warned us, it could be Donald Trump’s words on the base of a torch-less, headless New Colossus. In the form of a whiny tweet.

(P.S. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Make calls to your reps. See you, perhaps, at the Million Woman March on January 21, in Washington, D.C. I have friends flying in from London to attend, another friend in New Delhi counting on me to represent her, too, because this is of global importance, and our rights must not be rolled back or run over. Will it make a difference? Oceans rise, empires fall. And in this election, the world turned upside down. Time to right it, from the left. Sending love.)