fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

migraine + book talk = wait – where am i?

by nikki meredith

Last week, my friend Esther Wanning, writer and psychotherapist, interviewed me at the Larkspur Library for their local author series. Above is the photo my husband took of the event.

Do you see anything wrong with the photo?

The first thing that’s wrong: you can’t see Esther’s lovely face. My husband was trying to be unobtrusive and couldn’t figure a way to get her face in the photo without walking in front of the audience. Sorry Esther! (Just the first in a series of apologies to Esther in the wake of this event…)

But there’s another thing wrong: if you look closely at the face on the right, you will see a woman with migraine in her sunglass-shielded eyes.

But before I tell you about the migraine, I want your opinion. Background: The conversation Esther and I were having at the library was about my book, “The Manson Women and Me”…there’s a subtitle but I hate the subtitle so I’m not including it.

Where was I? Oh yes, I was about to ask a question. I hate to make you take sides but I am curious about this. Do you think that it was wrong that I mentioned Trump in a conversation about Charles Manson? Or, if not wrong, was it unusual, unfair, rude, and/or an exhibition of bad manners?

I didn’t say the two men were the same, exactly. I said they shared some traits, especially when it comes to the treatment of people. We’ve all seen the way Trump uses over-the-top flattery when in an ingratiating mode and infantile name-calling when he’s in a humiliation mode. That was Manson’s M.O. And then, there’s the grandiosity, the braggadocio, the vile sexism. Manson ordered murders and probably murdered people himself. I have no evidence that’s true of Trump. In spite of that, and I can’t believe I’m writing this but if, at gunpoint, I had to choose between spending an evening with Manson or an evening with Trump I would choose the former.  (No sex in either case. If the gunpoint person introduces sex into the scenario I will have to declare a mistrial and withdraw my vote. I know that’s a mixed metaphor or a mixed something but, what the hell, this is a blog.)

What I was focused on that night vis-à-vis the two men was what could be called, loosely, their hiring practices. Trump has the people he showcases, and the ones he keeps more or less in the closet. According to people who claim to know, Trump wants the people who represent him publicly to look the part: well-dressed, well-spoken and, oh, obsequious bootlickers.

I would guess that his looking-the-part crew includes: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, his former communications director, Hope Hicks and, if you go for pit bulls, his new attorney Rudy Giuliani. And who can forget the way he drooled over Dr. Ronny Jackson in his rear admiral whites — the White House physician with a few bad habits. And then we have the others: the ones he keeps or kept, more or less, in the closet. Examples: his sort-of lawyer, schlubby Michael Cohen; his first press secretary, Sean Spicer; his first chief-of-staff, Reince Prebus. (I need a judge’s ruling on how Trump designates Kelly Anne Conway? I know where I’d place her.)

Manson had his back street girls, the ones who were not as attractive, like Patricia Krenwinkel, who did a lot of the work and kept a low profile; and his front street girls, like Leslie Van Houten, a coltish beauty who he used to attract guys into the fold. You’ll have to read the book if you want to know how all of that worked in the Manson Family.

So, back to the library. I talked briefly about what the two men had in common and in a minute, I’ll tell you why talking about it was a problem (hint: someone close to me, who may or may not have been the event photographer, objected.) Truth be told, I’m not precisely sure what I said about Manson and Trump. I can’t remember because I had a migraine and I was pretty loopy. My memory isn’t just a problem at the moment when I’m trying to reconstruct what I said about Manson and Trump, it was a problem that night.  I don’t think I ever completely lost my train of thought (subject to debate) but I do know that I drifted a few times. One person who was in attendance claimed that I drifted a lot. (hint: it was the same person who didn’t like that I brought up Trump.) All I know is that every once in awhile I would look over at Esther and notice that she was quiet, and, in fact, she looked to be waiting…waiting for what? And then I noticed that she looked a little concerned. Why is she concerned? Oh shit, she’s waiting for ME to…. WHAT? Oh, it must be that she’s waiting for an answer to the question she just asked me. WHAT THE FUCK QUESTION DID SHE JUST ASK ME?

The next morning my husband mentioned that Esther had to work pretty hard to keep the train on the tracks. (You may have guessed that the problem was not only the pain in my head…it was what I grabbed from my purse at the last minute to take for the pain in my head.)  It was bumpy, I’ll grant you that. But his other complaint makes me doubt his whole take on the evening. (You may have guessed by now who it was that was doing all that objecting.) I observed, and not for the first time, that he still has a lot of Canadian in him and his inner Canadian, the little guy who is usually dormant unless hurling a puck into the net on the ice), was stirred into action when he heard me compare the two men.  He wasn’t worried that the comparison wasn’t accurate, he was worried that I would offend people who had come for a literary conversation, not a political one.

I am truly sorry that Esther had to work so hard “to keep the train on the tracks”  and, by the way, her questions were great…the ones I remember. I’m truly sorry that my behavior caused my husband to worry about whether we were in danger of losing our polite society cred but, and I’m almost afraid to admit this, I kind of enjoyed myself.

How can that be? I think I bombed. My husband didn’t use those words. All he said was “not your finest hour.”  One friend who has known me through decades of migraines, diagnosed it immediately but another friend said she thought I was simply tired. The thing is, I wasn’t tired. I was something but I wasn’t tired.

So this is one of life’s little miracles. For the past six months, I’ve been plagued by a fairly acute case of stage fright, certain that it was entirely possible that at some point in the course of promoting my book, I would have a historic melt down. Not only would the paramedics have to be summoned, they would have to use the jaws of life, to pry me from the floor, where I was locked in a fetal position. But I never collapsed, never even came close and I didn’t even experience more than what I assume is the anxiety normal people have. Maybe I did blow it at the library (and maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned Trump…I also need a ruling on that) but as I sit here thinking about it, I have a smile on my face. It is now the custom for people who are confessing embarrassing moments to say, “If I can spare even one person the anguish I suffered…” (because of anticipatory dread), it will have been worth it. If I can do it, anyone can do it and you might even have a good time!

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governor brown bows to pressure and reverses former manson family member leslie van houten’s parole approval

by nikki meredith

I’m discouraged that Governor Brown, for the second year in a row, has refused to follow the parole board’s recommendation to release Leslie Van Houten. I’m also surprised. For those of us who have followed his political career from a law-and-order hard liner as a young governor to a humane, seasoned and, we thought, wise leader as an older governor, this is a major disappointment. When he was younger, he didn’t believe in rehabilitation. Now he’s known as a governor who believes in second chances, but not in this case. Here, he’s bowing to pressure from the loudest and the most reactionary voices in the criminal justice system.

The murders of Mr. and Mrs. La Bianca were horrific. No one disagrees. To this day, the description of the events of that night takes my breath away but to keep Leslie Van Houten locked-up almost 50 years later is not just, by any stretch. If it had not been a high profile crime, she would have been paroled many years ago. There isn’t a single person who actually knows her who believes that she’s dangerous and that includes mental health professionals who have evaluated her, professors she’s studied under, journalists who have interviewed her, correctional officers she’s worked with side-by-side. Her case file is filled with reports demonstrating that she’s not only rehabilitated now, she has been for several decades. Read the rest of this entry »

manson’s followers, and what they reveal about human nature, are his true legacy

by nikki meredith

Sociopaths are a dime a dozen but we would not even know Charles Manson’s name without the young people he attracted and manipulated.  Manson’s legacy is not only the violent, senseless deaths of innocent people, it’s the way normal people – people like you and me – came under his spell. We dismiss those people at our peril:  the methods ISIS uses are the same, the methods Jim Jones used were the same. There are bloody examples throughout the modern world from Nazi Germany to Rwanda. What attracts people to them, crazy as it sounds, is the false promise of a better world.  These relationships are fueled by a twisted idealism that puts the objects of their focus in grave danger.  Manson was very good at telling people in search of meaning and family what they wanted and needed to hear. The legacy of his notoriety should be studying ways to interfere with the influence malevolent charismatic leaders have so we can better predict and prevent the violence they perpetuate.

My book, The Manson Women and Me, will be published in March, 2018.

that brief period where I tried to hold on to my sanity: news blackout in the time of trump

by nikki meredith

 

I took a break from life in the mainstream – a six-month break to be exact. After the election, I dug a hole in the sand, firmly planted my head in it and vowed that I wouldn’t pull it out until there was evidence that my husband had won the worst fight we ever had. Let me explain.

On that dreadful morning when the country, at least the civilized portion of it, was trying to comprehend what had just happened, I looked across the breakfast table at my husband and noticed that he didn’t look terrified. “Don’t you dare not be undone by this,” I said. “I don’t want to hear any of your optimistic bullshit. This is a disaster of disastrous proportions…there is no good face to put on it.” He, nonetheless, dared: he said he continued to believe that our checks and balances were, eventually, going to right the ship. I told him he was dead wrong. The Republicans controlled everything. It was over. Read the rest of this entry »

my mother, my country

by nikki meredith

I had my teeth cleaned last week and while my mouth was rendered unusable by me, the dental hygienist started talking about her husband. He works for a Bay Area police department and had just returned from some kind of law enforcement conference in Florida. At one point her conversation veered to the political and I held my breath or as much as I could hold my breath with someone’s hands in my mouth.  I braced myself for a right wing rant.  But that’s not what happened.  She said when her husband returned home from his trip, he walked in the door and flopped down the living room couch.  He looked at her and said,  “I don’t recognize this country any more.”

 

broken-flag

While he was in Florida he saw campaign signs – apparently many of them – that freely, openly and unapologetically, used the n word in their anger-relled declarations.

“Can you imagine,” she said to me, “what it must be like for African- Americans to drive around and see those signs?” Read the rest of this entry »

dogs trump division: making canine peace with friends that support trump

by nikki meredith

donkey elephantThere’s a woman at my gym I like. A lot. We do weight training in small groups and I like bitching with her about how heavy the weights, how awkward the positions or how sore we’ll be the next day. I like gossiping with her about the gym manager’s love affairs. I like laughing with her. We laugh a lot and we laugh at the same things. I like the way she looks. She has intense azure eyes and an off-kilter smile.   She has an abundance of warmth and…let me stop there because I’m describing chemistry and everyone reading this will know what I’m talking about. I’m attracted to her in that ineffable way people are attracted to each other and usually prefer not to analyze because there’s an element of magic to it… but I’ve been forced to think about it because of Donald Trump.

About a year ago, she and I were pedaling side by side on elliptical machines and watching CNN. Trump’s face appeared on the screen and she said:

“I get a kick out of him.”

“Trump?” I asked, astonished. Read the rest of this entry »

where the rubber hits the road: a closeted prude listens to modern sex advice

by nikki meredith

dreamstime_s_13347370
I have a new secret pleasure. It’s not actually secret — I’ve mentioned it to a few people – and, though it involves sex, it’s not exactly pleasurable for reasons I’m about to explain. Come to think of it, it’s not even very new.

Every Tuesday, for the past six months, I put a leash on my dog, ear buds in my ears and head out the door to my local gym and on the way to that gym I listen to the Savage Lovecast, billed as love and sex advice from America’s sweetheart, Dan Savage. I kind of love Dan Savage. I say kind of because a while back he would occasionally go on fat people rants that I found offensive and not consistent with his generally compassionate approach to people. He doesn’t do it any more but I haven’t quite forgiven him. He is, however, an ardent advocate for LGBT rights…actually for lots of rights, gay and straight and, with the fat exception, I agree with him about 99 percent of the time when he’s not talking about sex. When he’s giving advice about sex, I agree with him about 97 percent of the time. Maybe it’s actually 95 percent or possibly 90. Sometimes it’s closer to 50 percent of the time or 20 percent. Perhaps, it isn’t his advice I disagree with. It’s the whole premise of the show. Read the rest of this entry »

I helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968.

by nikki meredith

nixon with fist

I recently had to remind myself of this fact. It was the only way to stop my rant against Susan Sarandon, a Bernie surrogate, after she told Chris Hayes on MSNBC last month that she wasn’t sure she’d vote for Hillary against Donald Trump. My adrenalin oozed a liter or two when she said that electing Trump wouldn’t be so bad because it would hasten the revolution…and, with an impish smile on her face added, “…if he gets in, things will really explode.” My forbearance does not extend to a rich white movie actress who cheers on a revolution in which neither her life nor her lifestyle would be imperiled.

I find it astonishing that Sarandon failed to learn anything about consequences when Ralph Nader helped defeat Al Gore in 2000. She was serving as co-chair of Nader’s national steering committee when he argued that electing George W. Bush wouldn’t be so bad because it could serve as a “provocateur,” awakening the power of the left. “If it were a choice between a provocateur and an ‘anesthetizer,’ I’d rather have a provocateur. It would mobilize us.” Hey Mr. Nader, Ms. Sarandon, how did that turn out for you? For us? For the people of Iraq? For all of the Middle East?

But back to Nixon and me. Read the rest of this entry »

Carol Doda, Rest in Peace

by nikki meredith

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 9.52.59 AMA national treasure died last month and because I had the opportunity to intersect with her, my life and even more, my husband’s life, was a tiny bit more thrilling. Carol Doda was a true pioneer — one of the first women, at least in the Bay Area, to have her breasts pumped up with silicone injections. One morning her bust size was 34B, later that day it was 44DD. A star was born. She was widely credited with triggering a nationwide topless revolution as a 26-year-old go-go dancer in 1964 and it was that year that I first saw her. Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 9.53.28 AMI was a student at Cal eating my lunch on the grass when I saw her walking across campus with the student body president, Mel Levine. In those days, Levine, who later served in the California State Assembly, was known as a bit of a prig but that day, strutting next to the lovely Miss Doda, he looked like he’d won the lottery. Pleased as punch comes to mind. In my memory he was wearing a three-piece pin striped suit but, in fact, it might have been a blazer – it was clear, however, that he was dressed for an occasion. As I watched them make their way to the Student Union, I was a little worried about Miss Doda. She seemed a little wobbly in her three-inch heels and because she was so tiny, gave the illusion of being perilously top heavy. (I say illusion because I don’t think liquid silicone is heavy.) It looked to me that Mr. Levine was trying hard to focus on walking and talking and not stealing sideways glances at her breasts. Anyway, they were on their way to some kind of appearance, though, for the life of me, I can’t remember for what event. A lecture on quantum physics? The history of the rotary engine? The silicone chip? Maybe I don’t remember the topic because I didn’t attend, I only read an account of it the next day in the Daily Cal.

Before I relate the account, let me set the scene. Read the rest of this entry »

daddy’s home: how getting a dog can break relationship rules

by nikki meredith

couple in matching shirtsI’d like to blame my husband for this deviant practice but, in truth, I started it. Even so, I think I can still blame him because the practice doesn’t bother him as much as it bothers me. In fact, it may not bother him at all but I’m too busy being bothered by it to focus on whether it bothers him.

I wish I could say that the “practice” to which I refer involves sex because it’s been an awfully long time since anyone proposed a new and/or unusual and/or exotic sex practice – so long, in fact, I can’t even remember what such a sex practice might have been. I fear that what I considered new and unusual sex practices in my day, what most people considered unusual and/or exotic sex practices in my day, are all now de rigueur for kids in the sixth grade.

While it doesn’t involve sex, it does involve marriage, my marriage. But to start from the beginning: when we were in the early stages of becoming a couple I knew at some point I would have to divulge my two relationship rules. Although the first rule doesn’t have anything to do with the second one, and the second rule is more or less the subject of this post, I’m going to mention both because I hope to establish my credentials as being, if not precisely cool, at least not entirely un-cool in the domestic arena.   Also, I want to mention both rules because, I believe, that having only two demonstrates that I’m hardly tyrannical in the relationship department. (It’s possible that I’ve established a few more since then, but never mind.) Read the rest of this entry »

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