Don’t Just Stand There

There is a social-psychological phenomenon called “The Bystander Effect.”  Back in 1964 the country was rocked by the story of the murder of Kitty Genovese, a Queens, NY woman who was assaulted and killed in her neighborhood as she returned from work late at night.  Her neighbors supposedly heard and were aware of the attack , but did not come to her aid or call the police. The phrase, ” I didn’t want to get involved.”  began to circulate as code for making the choice to turn away from responding to an incident (or emergency) in a social setting.

This provoked social scientists to study why individuals in groups would behave this way, and they came up with a theory involving the diffusion of responsibility in a group, or social setting. The researchers boiled down five cognitive and behavioral responses that bystanders go through during an “emergency.”

  1. They notice that something is occurring.
  2. Then they make an interpretation: Is what I’m seeing an “emergency?”
  3. Third, they assess their degree of responsibility.  A single person viewing an emergency is more likely to take action — i.e. the Good Samaritan.
  4. Fourth, they consider their forms, or options, to render assistance — should they get directly involved or indirectly involved (like calling 911)?
  5. And fifth, they implement the action.

When there is a large group of people viewing an emergency there is a tendency for an individual to think that somebody else has already performed some action, or there is somebody else more qualified to assist, like a first responder or a healthcare professional. We all know the story of the Good Samaritan who helps a stranger in need, but there is a tendency in large groups of bystanders for any one individual to think that somebody else either has responded or will respond to a person in distress.  They “diffuse” the emergency over the group and will not offer aid, thinking that somebody else has, or will, get involved.  

For a long time I have had the feeling that we are a country of bystanders.  Please do not take offense.  Everyone is so busy with his/her/their own day-to-day life full of obligations that assessing what we’re watching unfold nationally takes a lot of energy.  But in the last six months I sense a shift in the collective American consciousness.  It is an emergency when Black men and women are being killed by police.  It is an emergency when a global pandemic is killing people of all ages (POC at an even greater rate) and showing the economic fault lines of hunger, poverty and access to care and education.  These events are in front of us daily even if you don’t watch the news or spend time on social media.  

But who am I, you say?  I’m a random blogger among millions.  I’m just a woman who was born at the start of a volatile decade of U.S. history.  A women who heard a lot of rhetoric about equality from an early age, but is still confronted by the sorry match of reality to that rhetoric.  Things haven’t changed that much and it has been a long, slow slog for many, many marginalized groups.  But somebody with more resources will get involved, right?  Somebody more qualified, somebody at another level.  Or have we, as voters, just been watching and waiting:  “Is it REALLY an emergency?  Somebody else more qualified than me will fix it.  I’m only one vote — it doesn’t really matter.  I live in a Blue/Red state so my vote won’t mean much.”  

But now there’s a lot of talk about your vote — about the integrity of voting.   Elections aren’t luxuries or expendable.  There was a reason why the men who get the credit for founding this nation put qualifications on the right to vote — they took it very, very seriously so only men who owned property could vote.  So seriously that we had to fight for laws to protect our franchise, because American elections have consequences.  As hard as it is, ignore the static designed to diminish your desire or will to vote.  Carefully vet the information you read about voting (including this tiny, voice-in-the-wilderness blog)

If you are reading this and you are an American citizen, I implore you — exercise your right to vote.  Check your registration and your state’s plan for casting your vote either in-person this November 3, 2020 or by mail by October 27, 2020  (the deadline to post your ballot to ensure a November 3 postmark).  We are NOT bystanders.  We are in a state of emergency and we have the capacity to act, to render aid to this democracy.  And you know what that guy, W. Churchill, says….

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… ‘  

This post is longer than my usual length — I try to keep it tight so you’ll read to the end.  If you’re still with me, thank you very much.  I’m trying very hard not to be cynical (which is my default, I’m afraid), but we have come too far to go back and there is still such a long way to go.  I wish us all well.  

Short Fiction

Little Pandemic Story #31


“……Mom, mom, mom, mommmmmmm!” From under the water it’s just an “mmmmmmmmm” sound through the bubbles.  Mom takes her time when you’re old enough to take a bath by yourself, to stay in the tub until you and the water turn gray and coldish, the soap a blob on the side of the tub.  ‘Cause she’s having her wine-time looking out the window over the sink.

When you finally get out and she wraps you in a towel she’ll notice you still have shampoo in your hair and she’ll make you stand under the warm shower again.  And you don’t complain because you’re both laughing in the steam as the shampoo foam spirals down the drain.





A Prayer

Help Me Get Ready To Make Things Happen

I read a newspaper every day — the kind that a person tosses out of a slow-rolling car,  onto  the driveway sausaged-wrapped in a plastic sleeve (that I save as an impromptu dog-poop bag). I usually read it while eating breakfast and I keep a pen nearby to do the crossword puzzles and on Sundays I make notes and circle quotes that grab me.  I have time to REALLY read the paper now — all the sections are pretty thin.  The editors are getting creative on the Sports pages especially because, well, you know.  Sometimes I break up the reading with some household chores so it can take me a whole day to read it.  I’d say I’m getting my money’s worth from this subscription.

Help Me Get Ready To Make Things Happen

This quote jumped out at me from a piece about a woman who is the outreach coordinator for a medical marijuana company.  She used it to describe the feeling she gets from listening to a pastor leading a church service that she’s listens to on the way to her job, which she works on Sundays.

There are a lot of people who are still working.  In many ways they are working more.  Their homes are their workplaces all day, even as they are also schools and sanctuaries.  When I think of it that way,  they are never not working.  And then there are people who are “unemployed” (meaning they are not receiving a paycheck for their labor).  They can think about work all the time as well.

The World feels distorted.   Or is it?  It’s been my own self-absorption that has kept it orderly and tidy.  It’s been on Fire since the beginning of Time with little pockets of peace here and there for some folks.  As usual, we humans crawling around today think we’ve come so far with our inventions, our technology.  But what I am seeing today are People.  Yes, they are using technology, but it’s to combat systemic racism, to support other People who are marching as a front line together.  I see the humanity of front-line healthcare workers who are taking care of the sick and frightened.  Yes, they also use technology’s tools, but their work is still very much hands-on (with gloves, masks and face shields).

And still it’s too easy to turn the page, to turn away from the suffering of People.  It’s the suffering that should bring us together.  For the past few months I’ve been sheltering at home and it’s been easy to think about change, but this prayer is germinating something, something to DO every day.  Write something, call someone, contribute time and/or money to further a group’s progress on behalf of People.

Every day, Help Me Get Ready To Make Things Happen”.




The Beauty of Diversion

It’s a strange time even for the introverts.  Other than going to the gym I lead a socially distant life organically.  But even I have noticed a couple of interesting things about the elasticity of time as I move through my never-really-changing day(s):

If I have to wonder when was the last time I took a shower, it’s time to take one NOW.

When I do the laundry and find I’m only washing two pairs of underwear in a week, there’s a problem.

When I start justifying the number of crossword puzzles I’m working on in a day, have I crossed a line?  According to the New York Times, no.  They have increased the puzzle page in recent weeks to give readers more of a distraction from, well, the news.

If I play enough songs from the the 80’s and put on a headband I can go back in time.  My time machine is fueled by cleaning out stuff.   WHOOOO!  I finally used up a six- year-old lip balm and tossed those old mascaras, because who needs make-up under these make-shift masks I wear to go grocery shopping?

The TV is off during the daylight hours — radio, too, since all of the “news” is about one topic.  But I experience a strange phenomenon as I go about my day.  There’s an elasticity to time.  I’m not working right now (at a paying job, at least) so the only structure to my day is around the household chores, and, truth be told, those chores aren’t very onerous.  We don’t have little children in the house to feed regularly or to teach  so there is just the passing of the hours.  The closest way I can describe the feeling is to say it reminds me of being a child.  Sometimes I have the feeling of five-year-old me:  that feeling of some larger authority  structuring my time —  like a parent calling me to the table, or to go with them on an errand because I am too small to be left alone at home.  And sometimes I feel like my  adolescent self —  old enough to be left to my own devices but without homework, or a car, or money.  Both were feelings of a strange kind of abdicated freedom.

There are a whole lot of people still working.   They are keeping civilization intact for the socially distant.  They are stocking shelves, delivering stuff, showing up for their shifts at hospitals, police stations, fire houses, restaurant kitchens, food banks.  They are creating diversions for kids, making us laugh and trying to alleviate loneliness.  Our days are long and all the same, but we have still have agency and some power to make choices, however small, to improve them.   The painted rock in this post photo was resting on a path I walked recently.  Somebody reaching out to all the passers-by:  choose beauty, choose to be happy. And remember, it will not always be this way.



Short Fiction

Bunny and Eddie’s Christmas Party

“Grandma, tell me again how you met first Grandpa Eddie at the office Christmas party.”  Grandma Bunny was always consistent in her telling, no nonsense, no embellishment.  She was a love-serious dame, and I’m a sucker for a true-love story.    

My grandmother had a thing for Eddies — two of her husbands were named Edward. I loved my first grandpa Eddie more than his replacement Eddie. Not that “Grandpa Eddie Two” was a bad guy, it was just that the first Eddie was the grandpa of my formative years when digging up worms and sharing giant cherry Slurpees were the highlights of my summer vacation.

“Well, it was really crowded at The Meadows.    I was the new hostess so I had to check the coats of the folks coming in for their Christmas parties,  and since I had never checked coats before, the line was very long.  Because you know the damn accountants are nothing if not prompt so everyone arrived at the same time. “

“And it was the kind of party that included the wives and girlfriends so every woman had a coat.   The few that had fur coats and stoles didn’t check them.  They only wore them a few times a year and didn’t trust the coat check girl to give them back the right coat.  And they wanted to show off a little, too, those snooty bitches.”

“I learned pretty quick that Jolly Gene had some god-damn jolly roving hands when I had to reach over the counter to take up the coats.  He liked to be up-front to kiss all the women and the asses of the big bosses so they’d come back for their kids’ sweet sixteen or their wives’ charity parties, ya know.”  

“So Grandpa Eddie was what we used to call an office boy because he wasn’t a college boy, ya know.  He’d bring the mail around the accounting firm and when it was quiet in the office he’d be studying because he was going to the night school.  He didn’t have a rich daddy to send him to college so after he got out of the army he took the GI Bill and worked while going to school. He used to say that I shoulda come to night school,  too.  He thought I was smart even if my own daddy didn’t seem to think so. That’s why your mom and auntie Eileen went to college — because Grandpa Eddie knew women were smart,  smarter than some men even.”  

“So there’s this long line of people waiting to check their coats, and I’m sweating running around with the coats and the coat room getting so hot.  The men are puffing on their nasty cigars and the smoke is starting to make me a little dizzy — I didn’t have lunch that day because I knew there was gonna be a private party and the staff could have a plate after the service and I was hoping for some of that shrimp cocktail.    It’s loud and I’m trying to keep up with giving the right coat check ticket to the right person, and when I turn around to hang up a coat there’s skinny Grandpa Eddie with his arms out and he’s handing me the coat check chit with one hand and scooping up the coat in my hand with the other.  So all I had to do was take the coat off the counter and turn around.  Nobody sent him to work the coat check — he was just there.  I don’t think I even noticed how good-looking he was,  THAT HAIR OF HIS!  I was just so relieved that I wasn’t gonna pass out in the coat check closet where Gene could get his jollies.”  

“We were a good team and when the coats started to slow down we started talking — ya know, back in the day we’d tease each other, but Grandpa Eddie was kinda serious.  I had brothers so I could really tease rough — but I took it easy on him.  I was smart enough to figure out that a guy like Grandpa Eddie was a real catch.   You know,  I chased him until he caught ME.  But that’s another story, because in this story we didn’t even know each other yet.”  

“The music was starting to get louder in the dining room and I told him I was doing OK now so he could go in to the party with his company,  and he suggested he’d stay in the coat check for me if I want to run to the ladies’ and freshen up before I had to wait in the closet all night.  So I think, his mother must have raised him right or he’s got sisters who work on their feet — and you know Auntie Stella and Auntie Roseanne, so I was right again ”  

“So I come outta the ladies, what, five minutes later?   I get to the half-door of the coat check and there’s Jolly Gene laid out on the floor and Grandpa Eddie standing there looking at his hands — shocked, opening and closing them.   Seems that Gene didn’t know I was in the bathroom and went into the coat check closet with his grabby hands and got a face full of Grandpa Eddie’s five fingers instead.”  

At this point in the narration Grandma would shake her fist and the Bakelite bracelets on her bony wrist would clack together — summoning the righteousness of Grandpa Eddie being groped among the smoky and perfumed coats,  and then she’d lean over and say with conspiratorial wink….

“As cool as could be, I open the lower door,  grab my coat off the back of the stool, put my hand through Grandpa Eddie’s arm and pull him out of Green Meadows.  We went and got hamburgers, and who the hell knows what happened to Jolly Gene.  Until the day my Eddie died we’d drive past Green Meadows, look at each other and just smile.”      







My Full List: Reading Women In 2019

For those of you just joining, or those of you who have better things to do than to scroll though my assorted posts, below is a full accounting of my reading (29 books!!) from last year with comments, of course.

The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion) — Real and really heartbreaking.

Americanah (Chimamanda Negozi Adichie) — Funny and self-aware with a squirmy view of ‘Murica for us natives.

The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri) — Lahiri captures that feeling of being between two worlds with a longing you can’t really explain. A vivid book.

Still Life With Breadcrumbs (Anna Quindlen) — Good beach read.

Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Guilded Age, and the “Powerless” Woman Who Took on Washington (Patricia Miller) — This should be made into a full-length feature film (like Bombshell, but set before the invention of television).  A great book bringing together the people and social movements that brought a wave of Progressive change — the work never ends, does it?

Vox (Christina Dalcher) — Dystopian fiction! My favorite!  In this story all women are limited to speaking no more than one-hundred words a day.  Yeah, really.

The Bus on Thursday (Shirley Barrett) — Aussie Gothic where the bus takes center stage. Goofy and scary at the same time.  

White Houses (Amy Bloom) — Beautiful story, beautifully rendered with great heart. Reminder that love is love is love is love.

The Emissary (Yoko Tawada) — Don’t let the slimness of the pages fool you;  a powerful yet beautiful dystopian story of love between a grandparent and his grandchild.  

What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City (Mona Hanna-Attisha) — This should be required reading for EVERY citizen.  What happened in Flint can (and does) happen anywhere.  The need for water is basic for survival — environmental justice is too.

Good Bones and Simple Murders (Margaret Atwood) — “The name’s Atwood, Dame Atwood if you’re nasty.”

Under the Table (Stephanie Evanovich) –– I CANNOT wait to see what new stories she’s got cookin’. 

The Nest (Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney) — It took me until the end to appreciate this book, but it will make a terrific movie because it has just the right amount of schadenfreude with a scoop of redemption.

Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over (Nell Irvin Painter)This is an ambitious memoir of an accomplished woman who, despite all the accolades of an academic career, is still plagued by self-doubt (just like the rest of us). To write about that takes guts.

The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Ruth Ware) — I preferred Mrs. Westaway over The Woman in Cabin 10 — but maybe I’m just tired of all the Girl/Woman titles?

The Great Believers (Rebecca Makkai) — Just exquisite.  If you came of age in the early 80’s your heart will break along with these characters’.  

Feel Free: Essays and Grand Union: Stories (Zadie Smith) — If you’ve spent any time with me you know I love Zadie Smith.  She’s real and she keeps it real.  Essays or stories, it don’t matter — she writes so you get it.  

Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) — Not sure if I get the hype over this.  Beautiful descriptions of Nature, but for Narrative and Nature I’d recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer.  

Private Life (Jane Smiley) — A wonderful surprise. A story of a woman underestimated by everyone who makes a life for herself in spite of them all.  

The Female Persuasion (Meg Wolitzer) — I love when an author creates a whole contemporary world out of thin air that makes me swear I remember when that (fictional) event happened.  My favorite Wolitzer.  

My Sister, the Serial Killer (Oyinkan Braithwaite) — Tight as a drum and sharp as cut glass.  I read it in three hours.  Braithwaite better be writing more of these.  

Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying (Sallie Tisdale) — Both practical and poetic.  A must read for anyone with a body.  

At the Wolf’s Table (Rosella Postorino)— Fiction that reminded me a bit of The Handmaid’s Tale in that these “things” did happen (women were recruited as food tasters for Hitler).  A story of survival in a strange time.  

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (Rebecca Traister) –– The title says it all.   A good book-end to Bringing  Down the Colonel and very topical as the E.R.A. was just ratified by the the state of Virginia, Harvey Weinstein is going to trial, and it’s an election year,  so there’s some stuff going on.  

Daisy Jones & The Six (Taylor Jenkins Reid) — Were you alive during the Fleetwood Mac years?  Daisy Jones & The Six are coming to VH-1 with a “Behind the Music” episode just for you.  The narrative is told as a series of interviews with the members of the band.  Join the stunt casting round robin here! 

Frankissstein: A Love Story (Jeanette Winterson) —  If you have not read any Winterson yet I highly recommend this as your first.  Not a word out of place.  You got Mary Shelley talking about her monster story and then you have AI and sex dolls and it all makes sense.   

The Museum of Modern Love (Heather Rose) — This was a really lovely year-end read that I added via Hoopla.    The author is another Aussie who asked the artist, Marina Abramovic, if she could incorporate her true-life story into her fictional story.  I remember when this installation, The Artist Is Present, was running at MOMA –concurrently with a Tim Burton retrospective strangely enough, and I’m a sucker for any New York story.  

Well, that’s a wrap — I’ll see you at the library, after a nap.   



Books on the Side

Look, I admit it: I’m not one of those people who thinks that the end of the year is for “best of” wraps. Good books know no year, even if they are of a certain time. Well-told stories are just that. But my next post will give the full accounting of my year of reading only women.

As I moved into the last weeks I took a little detour from non-fiction rage and picked up Zadie Smith’s book of short stories, Grand Union. Concurrently I zipped through Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. And then on top of those I added Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein. December was a big month — I achieved my Goodreads 2019 Challenge goal of 24 books for the year, and I even figured out Hoopla — the app where you can download content to your device courtesy of your local library. Groovy! I found myself reading in the dark like a furtive, feral teen again.

So, what have we got in this literary melange? I needed to change direction and lighten up a little and short story collections are like a box of chocolates in that you have your favorites but you can also try something a little different. You close the box and put it back in the hiding place where you found it and deny you ate any of your Mom’s favorites, and then sneak back to it when she’s run out to get her hair done. Then she busts you red-handed (or caramel-toothed) but you’re too into the story to care that’s she’s mad. And that’s what reading Zadie Smith is like. She’s good, box of chocolates good, and you put off life-sustaining work until you finish the story.

Daisy Jones and The Six got a lot of hype and it’s my first Taylor Jenkins Reid book. I remember the 70’s rock era and Fleetwood Mac — and the golden age of the rock documentary (remember VH-1’s “Behind the Music?”). It’s a fast read in the format of a long-form interview of the band members, and I enjoy when writers play with form and like Meg Wolitzer in The Female Persuasion, Taylor Jenkins Reid creates pop culture moments out of whole cloth — including song lyrics. If you remember waiting to buy a record in a store on the day it was released and playing it over and over and over, and over, you’re the demo for this book.

Winterson’s Frankissstein is a masterful riff on the genius of Mary Shelley crossed with AI. That’s all I’m gonna say — other than damn, the author makes it look so easy — not a single superfluous word in the whole tale.


Revanchism Is All The Rage

When you were a kid (say middle school age) did you really do what the teacher advised when you came to word you didn’t know and look it up in the dictionary?  ….. yeah, me too.  It’s so much easier now with the Internets to look up words (and persons) you don’t know.  And admit it:  even at your current age there is still crap you don’t know.  At least if you are being honest with yourself.  And it was very strange that the week I came across “revanchist/revanchism” was the week I began seeing it everywhere.  Coincidence or just timing?  (Or is coincidence just the awareness of timing?)

Which leads me to Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (2018).  Revanchism, for those of you  who knew I’d eventually save you a trip to Google or M. Webster’s, is rooted in the French word for “revenge” and defined as:

the policy of a state intent on regaining areas of its original territory that have been lost to other states.

Rather than trying to reclaim a piece of land, Traister frames revanchism as certain segments of society fighting to go back to reclaim a time when certain people knew their role and things weren’t so “confusing.”  It’s not just feminism — it’s racism, it’s  workers’ rights, it’s pretty much the work for all marginalized groups (including the one that’s 50% of the population).  Yeah — women’s anger has been boiling over repeatedly through the centuries and each time the temperature would be turned down enough to keep the vessel from burning down the kitchen.  But now, since 2017, it has stayed boiling, because something has shifted.  The tactics of distraction that have historically been used to discredit those loud-mouthed women who dared to speak out are now being unmasked.  My favorite chapter of the book was cheekily called “Dress Up Your Anger.”  Like a sexy little article about beauty tips we have:

God’s Go-Ahead:  Because if you’re angry on the Almighty’s behalf, well, who can argue with that?

Just a Wife and Mother:  All Wives and Mothers are justified in their anger — just try to deny Mamie Hill.

Simple Erasure:  Look up Marsha P. Johnson, Storme DeLarverie, and Sylvia Rivera.  I’ll give you one hint — Stonewall Riots.

Choosing to Hold Our Tongues:  Inner rage versus outward expression can be very powerful in its silence.

The Tears of Wrath:  We can be both Angry and Sad at the same time.

A Spoonful of Humor Makes The Medicine Go Down:  Anybody old enough to remember Pat Schroder (D — Colorado 1973 –1997) who quipped, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.” ?  Seems even THAT was perceived as “harsh” by her colleagues (mostly men).    I’m not going to link it, but if you are looking for a master class in humor of this ilk, please go over to YouTube and type in “Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Last F***-able Day in Hollywood.”

F*** It:  Never discount the use of a well-place f***.

Getting Volcanic:  I’m just gonna close with the last line of this chapter which is a quote from the memoir of the late, great Flo Kennedy, “I’m just a loudmouthed, middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing, and a lot of people think I’m crazy.  Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I’m not like other people.  The mystery to me is why more people aren’t like me.”  

Yeah, I’ve been good and mad for some time now and happy to see I haven’t been alone.



At The Wolf’s Table

There was a reason the Nazis chose women as food tasters for their leader. Women’s role was defined by sacrifice and service to the Motherland — not to fight as soldiers, but to provide them soldiers’ flesh — primarily to bear as many children as possible. I can’t think of any more of a dehumanizing attitude, and I don’t care if it was wrapped up in a glowing, golden bow and sold as something noble and glorious. It’s not much of a stretch to justify their use as digestive coal-mine canaries for one man.

This novel, At The Wolf’s Table, written by Rosella Postorino and translated from the Italian by Leah Janeczko, is based on a true story of a young German woman who was “recruited” (as one of many women) to taste Hitler’s meals while in residence at his secret forest compound (the Wolf’s Lair). Rosa becomes part of a strange sisterhood and the book explores how these strangers come to support each other. There are secrets among them, and I got a contemporary vibe of moral ambiguity that doesn’t resolve — unsettling, for sure, but this is war and its reach is like kudzu. And just as hard to cut out.

I overlapped At the Wolf’s Table with Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. So strap in Nappers, because she blew the roof off for me with a book that had me taking notes and making lists of more reading. Misogyny isn’t going away without a fight, friends.