fierce attachments

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

Category: politics and religion

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 »

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 »

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 »

can we please talk about torture? please?

by nikki meredith

ladies out to dinnerIn mid-December, a few days after Diane Feinstein released the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture, I was dining out with friends. About an hour into dinner, after we’d talked about grandchildren, books, work, movies, our growing list of age-related maladies, there was a pause in the conversation and I blurted: “Can we talk about torture?”

I knew it was abrupt. I knew it was inconsistent with what’s expected in a congenial dining experience but I was desperate to talk about the report. My husband had been away when it was released and I’d been in a self-imposed period of isolation to get some writing done. The report was upsetting to me, not because of any bombshells but because the graphic detail it contained made the monstrous suffering of those men palpable. (Twenty-six of whom, by the way, were later found to be innocent.) The report also revived my anger at Obama. While it’s true that he ordered torture discontinued when he took office, he’s done nothing to promote accountability for what happened or instituted safeguards to prevent it from ever happening again. (I like and respect Obama and agree with him in many other areas…that’s why his failing in this one is heartbreaking to me.)

The answer to my request at dinner that night, as we picked over our pasta and creamy hummus on seared salmon, was a resounding “no.” No one wanted to talk about torture. Read the rest of this entry »

we’ve come a long way, baby. or have we?: is women’s sexuality a substitute for women’s equality?

by nikki meredith

vintage pornI’ve been thinking about sex a lot lately and it all started when I read an account of an all girls circle jerk in a Manhattan Upper East side apartment.  Okay, to be fair, as far as I know, no one but me is calling it a circle jerk.  Jenny Block, a columnist for The Huffington Post, attended a masturbation party…or, more precisely an orgasm party — after all, the former without the latter wouldn’t make much of a party. Again, to be fair, and I’m trying to be, sort of, it wasn’t a party it was a workshop though it had many aspects of a party, or a kind of party. All of the participants were naked and there was lots of sex, and booze.  Okay, actually, I don’t know about the booze.  I can’t seem to stop myself from trying to make the event sound ridiculous as though I don’t trust that the participants can get there on their own. And, speaking of getting there on their own, or, rather, not getting there on their own, a traditional young boy’s circle jerk, as far as I know, doesn’t involve a teacher. (If it did, someone would call the authorities.) The teacher of this, uh, class, was 85-year-old artist Betty Dodson who, in the buff, pranced — okay, maybe she didn’t prance –  she floated from woman to woman administering hands-on instruction.

It may not sound like it, but my purpose here is not to ridicule the workshop but rather to sort what it is that offends me about the whole enterprise.

Does the visual of Dodson’s hands-on work trigger my heretofore undiagnosed homophobia?   Or, does the mere mention of sex and nudity in the same sentence as an 85-year-old woman elicit from me the same bias against old people and sex as expressed by the likes of Chris Rock and Bill Maher?  (I’m just guessing about Bill Maher, but Chris Rock, in a riff about Sex in the City, once declared that the actresses on that show were way too old to be showing their “titties” on camera.) Or is my problem even more primitive?  Does my discomfort put me in the same category as, say, Rick Santorum, who, I’m quite sure would stroke-out if he found himself in the room with all of those masturbating women.  God knows, there are areas of my mind that are more narrow than wide. But, because I find my judgmental self so distasteful, an alarm goes off when it surfaces.  If I find myself rejecting something simply because it wasn’t done in my time or, if it was done, it wasn’t acceptable, I want to know if I’m just lagging behind culturally or if there are reasonable grounds to object. Read the rest of this entry »

Ebola is real. Our risk is not. Protect front line health-workers.

by caitlin meredith

PPE removal.1.1As a field epidemiologist, I have responded to disease outbreaks all over Africa during the past 10 years, from cholera to meningitis to Hepatitis E. Any other year, I’d be in Liberia right now, in gumboots with a map and a spreadsheet, trying to track and contain Ebola’s spread alongside my colleagues. Because of a new baby, however, I’m watching from the sidelines.

So far, what I’ve seen from the bench makes me concerned – not about Ebola’s threat to the United States, but about the mixed messages our leaders are sending and the mob mentality that results when fear overtakes facts.

Though my professional career in international health has been primarily with Doctors Without Borders, I am not speaking on behalf of the organization or my colleagues. I don’t know Dr. Craig Spencer personally, though he worked in Guinea with some of my good friends. I’ve never met nurse Kaci Hickox in person (that I know of) but we corresponded about project data a few years ago. I have e-mailed both of these colleagues messages of support in the past few days, but haven’t been in touch – i.e. I have no insider or personal information about either.  The facts I’m writing about here all come from mainstream news coverage.

Based on my experience as an epidemiologist and aid worker, I offer four main areas of improvement for the U.S. to start getting Ebola management right. Read the rest of this entry »

knocking on doors while black: my neighborhood, my neighbors, my confusion

by nikki meredith

front doorLast week, around noon on a weekday, a young African-American man knocked on my front door. He was there to talk me into signing up for AT&T high speed internet.  As most people know AT&T and Comcast are fiercely competing for subscribers. He said he could save me a lot of money if I switched. I told him we had actually scheduled a switch a couple of weeks before but after interviewing neighbors who had made the change and didn’t like it, we decided to stick with Comcast.   I added that all of my doubts about AT&T were confirmed when I was on hold for 45 minutes while I waited to cancel the installation appointment. He laughed. “Yes,” he said, “there’s been a problem with the way customers have been treated. We’re trying to improve the situation.” He works for a company that contracts with AT&T. Their mandate is to improve customer relations.

There was something about this young man I liked. For one thing there was no hard sell. For another, he had dimples. I’ve always been a sucker for dimples and he was boyishly handsome in a way that reminded me of my son when he was in his early 20’s. Also, there was something endearing about his enthusiasm for the new and improved AT&T. I never thought I would find enthusiasm for AT&T endearing, which gives you some idea of the man’s appeal. I told him to come back in a year and maybe I’d reconsider.

He was nicely dressed in a navy blue blazer, khaki pants, a crisp white shirt and a tie. There was not a single thing about him that signaled danger. These facts will later become relevant. Read the rest of this entry »

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