Friday, July 8, 2016


Recently I was in Las Vegas. It was the last night of my trip to a foster care parents association conference where I was hawking my new book for foster children: Kit Coyote: A Brave Pup.

As a treat, I went to see the most fabulous magician Mat Franco. Lots of people know him from show America’s Got Talent but I’d never seen the show and never heard of Mat. His magic tricks are stupendous, awe-inspiring and so was his personality as he unfolded bits of his childhood growing up and practicing, practicing, practicing to become a great magician. His ability to stun the thousands in the audience obviously pleased him and it pleased us– because we love to experience MAGIC even as we’re wondering how does he do that…there must be a trick!!

Earlier in the day, however, I learned about a different sort of magic. I heard about the magic performed by Dr. John Degarmo and his wife in caring for foster children. For nearly 15 years, the couple have performed the daily and nightly magic of soothing the hearts of bereaved children, calming their night terrors, coping with their rage, giving these unfortunate girls and boys the chance of believing that someone cares about them in a world that’s been uniformly cruel and callous to them.

I won’t say which magic is more potent. Because the world needs both. We need a conjurer and performer to make us believe in a world beyond the beyond. And we need individuals who are committed to the heartbreaking tasks of giving hope to the hopelessly hurt among us.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


A few days ago I was sitting at the kitchen table working on my laptop with my husband a few feet away, working on his laptop. Suddenly he said, "Something's burning!"
Naturally I leapt to my feet, knowing well exactly what was burning. "Oh no," I declared. "It's the greens." I rushed over to the stove. And sure enough the chopped kale, chard, etc. was burnt to a crisp. I turned off the stove and carried the mess to the sink to plunge into cold water.
"I don't know how we've stayed married so long," I lamented. For this wasn't the first time something had burnt on the stove. In fact, it probably was the 50th time or even the 100th time. The truth is that I'll often start cooking something and then get distracted by my work, by the phone, by any little thing and then, oops, the bacon or the potatoes or the brussels sprouts or the oatmeal burns to cinders. I can't count the number of pots and pans I've had to rescue with baking soda. And always, always I feel terrible about it. I feel like a giant failure -- as a cook, as a wife, as a human being. Isn't that the most elemental thing you're supposed to be able to do: cook oatmeal without burning it?
Suddenly, however, my husband exclaimed, "Do you think I give a (expletive) if you burn the greens!" And suddenly I realized that this huge shame that had burdened me for decades was entirely a figment of my imagination. I had this idea that I needed to be a good cook or at least a competent cook who didn't burn the bacon. If I wasn't, I was worthless in the eyes of the world.
His comment erased all that shame. I mean really --what does it matter if I burn the greens?

Monday, March 28, 2016


I always thought Obama was able to be elected because of Denzel Washington. Well, not just Denzel Washington but all the handsome competent black men who've been featured as heroes in American action films. Denzel is just a striking example. I'm talking about American mass media films -- the kind that everybody sees to the movie theater to see or as a rerun on TV. In an action film, the hero struggles against insuperable odds but eventually saves everyone through his intelligence and strength and courage. Denzel saved enough people enough times that voters believed Obama could save us as well. Films have an amazing and powerful subliminal impact on viewers. And often it's very positive. Though not always. (See my blog on the reason I hate the film MILLION DOLLAR BABY.)
Take the recent film THE MARTIAN, for instance. Not a great film, not an Academy Award-winner, but a crowd-pleaser that's chock-full of very typically American themes. Theme #1 the lone American hero who is isolated from the bunch but doesn't give up -- far from giving up, Matt Damon displays great intelligence, ingenuity, and perseverance to stay alive. But Theme #2 he couldn't have made it alone on Mars without Mission Control -- that's what I call the room back at NASA that's filled with people of different ages, genders, races and so forth. When they wake up to the fact that a lone American has been left on Mars, they all get together and pursue the common goal of bringing him back alive. I don't think you'd see this diverse group of people talking to one another, listening to one another, respecting one another, and pursuing a common goal with one another in a film from France or England or  Germany. It's very American theme. Kind of OCEANS 11 on a bigger scale. And finally there's Theme #3 which is the team that in THE MARTIAN made the terrible error of leaving Matt Damon behind so they have to risk their lives to go back to get him. Shades of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Kind of stupid really - to risk a dozen lives to save one. But America has this football team, Marine corps, "I've got your back, bro" mentality or at least we aspire to believe that about ourselves. Probably dates back to the cowboy and Indian movies where you never left a wounded cowboy behind 'cause he might get scalped.
Anyway, let me know what you think on this....

Friday, January 30, 2015

the bounds of human decency….

A new documentary is being broadcast soon on CNN and released in theater called "The Hunting Ground" which features rapes on college campuses. The schools included in the "piercing exposé" include the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Am I surprised? I attended college there four decades ago. In my freshman and sophomore years I was invited to many fraternity parties.

I do remember getting drunk on punch at the SAE House; I don't remember any frat man treating me discourteously (is that word even used any more?). And I didn't hear of anyone else being assaulted which doesn't mean it didn't happen. Of course it may have but not been recorded or even talked about. Quite honestly, however, I believe that there was another ethic in practice at that time. I believe that societal norms were substantially different. I think the entire country has been hugely sexualized since then -- through the media largely, plus video games and what's on-line - the huge growth of the porn industry. Yes, boys read Playboy Magazine (my brother certainly did) but that's tame compared to what's out there now….

In those days, there were things to be afraid of, for sure, places you didn't go, precautions you took -- but being raped on campus by a college colleague was not one of them. I probably won't go to see "The Hunting Ground" - but I'm glad someone produced it. I don't doubt colleges have been dismissive of girls reporting assault. Dismissing women's experiences is not something new at all. And no doubt there are many college males who need to be held accountable for their violent actions. Because rape is violence against women.

In fact I believe the rape epidemic is comparable in some respects to the mass killings which occur regularly nowadays and were virtually unheard of when I was growing up. I also strongly believe part of the "owning up" has to be societal in scope -- why and how has our contemporary society become so inundated with violence and sex? It's not surprising to me that Muslim countries react in such a radical way by covering their women up from head to toe -- there exists such a dearth of ordinary human modesty and respect among people all over the industrialized world.

And it's contagious, it spreads and once the bounds of decency have been trespassed, it's hard to legislate them back into place -- even by compelling people to recognize its existence in a harsh documentary.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Fall for me is definitely the time of change, renewal, nostalgia for the past. I spend hours neatly putting away my summer clothes and getting out the winter clothes. Among my stored clothes, I always discard a few. That also goes for other items like wool hats, scarves, blankets. Every year I remove a wool blanket, a green and red Pendleton, from a chest redolent with mothballs, and consider adding it to the discard pile. But then I don't. Though I never cared a lot for the blanket in the first place,  that is its colors and design, it was a gift from my brother and his wife 35 years ago. When I look at it, I see them – young happy hopeful. Among other things, hopeful that the leukemia that had seized my brother ten years earlier was in remission and would just somehow disappear or stay at bay. Of course it was not to be. Only a few years later, Henry was dead and his wife had a two-year-old to raise on her own. My family mourned this loss for years and years, in anger, bitterness, regret. That's what I see when I look at that blanket -- that spring of hope (though it was delusion), that momentary pause in the pain and stress and helplessness; a time when we weren't the people we are now. When we didn't have so many scars. The same goes for many items that long ago should have gone to Good Will -- a shabby stuffed elephant that belonged to my son, a robe my mother used during beach holidays -- we hold onto these material reminders like the madeleine Proust tastes that brings back his youth, we revel in those moments of feeling how we used to be, the people we once were. Even if the present moment is just as good, or better, it's not the same; we're not the same. But honestly I think this year I will give the red and green blanket away -- it's time to cease dipping into the's time to affirm the present moment.