Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reflections on 38 Years

Today I am 38. Some days I feel not a day over 20. Others, I feel 80. This is aging, I guess.  Where you look back and think, "How did I get here? I can't possibly be this old."  I'm getting closer to 40 (which, for the record, I don't fear), and this makes me think a little about where I have been and where I'm going. I'm not where I thought I'd be when I was a kid, or ten or even five years ago.  But where I am is pretty good . . . and I need to remember what I have done, instead of kicking myself for what I haven't yet.

I've been to Europe, but not Asia. There's much of the world that I still haven't seen.  But I will.

I've met a President, a pop star, an Academy Award Winner, and a Supreme Court Justice (two, actually), but not Cher.  She continues to elude me, but she's still kicking and so I am.

I've learned the value of sunscreen, a comfortable pair of shoes, expensive olive oil, and nice champagne. They're worth paying for in a way that expensive sunglasses, underwear, and cell phones are not.

I've ridden a horse, an elephant, and a camel, but never flown on a trapeze. With a complex for doing that not too far from home, there really is no excuse.

I've had a mamogram, a sonogram, an MRI, but not a colonoscopy. Because I'm not that old. Yet.

I've found the love of my life.  And I'm definitely not done with that yet. I can't wait to be to crotchety old folks together.

I've cultivated a village of the most wonderful, thoughtful, loving friends and family anyone could ask for -- and even though that says much about them, I have to remember what it says about me.  And be proud of it.

I've learned not to take myself too seriously (most of the time). But I'm still learning that it doesn't always have to be perfect -- because flaws can be funny.

I own property! Which is probably why I have many of the grey hairs on my head. But it's mine (ours) and I love it.

I've fallen in love with the written word and books.  Including my own, which I have not yet managed to write. But it's in there.

I've laughed and cried and loved. And there's so much more of that ahead of me, I can only hope that the tears are from joy more than from sorrow.

I've done a lot, but there's a lot more to do, so if you'll excuse me, I'd better get going.  There are things I want to accomplish today . . .


Happy Birthday to me, circa 1979

Monday, June 10, 2013

Remembering, With Love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My grandmother died yesterday after an entirely too-long battle with Alzheimer's.  As the oldest grandchild, I was lucky to have known her when she was healthy, which she was during all of my childhoodIt's going to be hard to say goodbye to her this week, but it was much harder to slowly say goodbye as she descended into her illness. But that's not what I will remember about Grandma.  I will remember how nearly-perfect she was.  There aren't words to describe the depths of her kindness, there just aren't.  I'm not a religious person, but Grandma was -- and she lived her life in such a way that religious or not, it was an example for everyone.  When I think about her, the verse above comes to mind, because she was love.  

Love is patient, love is kind.  My grandmother was both of these in spades.  The mother of seven children, grandmother of ten, great-grandmother of two -- it would have been easy for her to lose her patience.  She could have become frustrated, hard, curt.  But she never did anything but smile and love us.  She did everything for everyone.  When I was a kid, I would go stay with her for a week every summer and during that week I got to eat whatever I wanted, do whatever I wanted, and stay up as late as I wanted. When I got up in the morning, Grandma, like a short-order cook, was ready to whip up whatever breakfast delight I could imagine.  We would laugh and play cards and have fun.  One of my cousins, who was significantly younger than I, used to spend a lot of time at my grandparents' house.  When he was a toddler, he was constantly calling for "Gammommy."  How she didn't lose her mind was beyond me, but she never did.  She always answered when called for, and always with a smile.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. My grandmother never talked about herself. She showered all of us with attention and affection, but she never asked for anything in return.  I never heard her raise her voice or saw her get angry.  As each of her children got married and had children, she welcomed the newcomers with open arms, happy to have more people to love.  We spent every Thanksgiving with my grandparents and all my uncles, aunts, and cousins.  Grandma cooked a feast for us every year -- with out complaint, sometimes without compliment.  And she loved every moment of doing it.  Come Christmas, she effortlessly whipped up the biggest variety of Christmas cookies I've ever seen assembled in one place.  I haven't had a rum ball like hers in many years, but I can still taste it in my memory.  She did these things because she loved them, because she loved us -- not so we would thank her or shower her with praise about her baking.  Just because . . .

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  You might think my grandmother was soft, and she was, but she was also tough.  How else does one raise seven children, six boys and a girl?  How else does one survive breast cancer and a masectomy? How else does a person manage to keep a smile on her face even at times when she must've been exhausted, or cranky, or sick?  In her gentle, loving way, she looked out for us all -- her husband, her children, and grandchildren, protecting us, always with a smile. 

When I remember my grandmother, I will always remember her smile and her pervasive, unwavering kindness. And how much she loved us all. 



Friday, May 24, 2013

Lotteries, Luck, and the Women Who Came Before Me

Last week the Powerball soared to nearly $600 million.  As is often the case when it gets to that point, I bought a ticket.  I didn't win.  Well, I didn't win the jackpot . . . but I did win $4.  I doubled my money.  And that's not nothing.  That got me thinking about luck and winning and how often we end up ahead, and don't really notice it because we're too busy worrying about what we didn't win.

Take for instance the line of women from whom I come. My mother's mother grew up in a working-class Italian family in the '30s and '40s in D.C.  When she was in high school, there were sororities that all the girls joined.  Unless you were Italian -- you weren't allowed to join, because of who you were.  A lesser woman might've admitted defeat and sat at home feeling sorry for herself.  Not my grandmother.  She and her friends started their own sorority. They continued to meet regularly for more than 60 years -- in fact, until she died, she continued her friendship with her high school sorority sisters.

In the 1980s, the "club girls" all bought vacation houses in the same neighborhood in Rehoboth.  As a kid, I can remember riding my bike all over the neighborhood to see my "aunts" every summer.  When my grandfather died, one of the strongest memories I have is all the club girls walking down the street to my grandparents' house to console my grandmother -- this group of little old ladies, united in solidarity for one of their sisters.  It was heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.  The remaining women -- there aren't many left anymore -- still meet.  What a way to stick it to the bigots who wouldn't let them into their clique.  I can't think of anything more valuable than the longevity of their friendship.  This is a lesson I learned from my grandmother -- a lesson that I took deeply to heart.

And what about my mother, the daughter of my determined Italian grandmother.  She decided to run for office when I was in high school.  She became a school board member -- a brilliant leader committed to making our schools better.  And then there was that one time she strong-armed the President (of the United States).  Yes, you read that right.  There was a conference in town where a collection of school board members from various places around the country were convening in her district to visit schools. As the president of the school board, she had extended an invitation to the President to meet the leaders at one of the schools, but he declined in favor of another event, so she made other plans for the visitors.

The morning of their visit, she received a phone call from the administrator for her school board saying that the President had changed his mind and would in fact like to attend the school visit.  "Too bad," she told the administrator, "we have other plans." The adminstrator was confused.  "You mean, you want me to tell the President 'no'?"  That's precisely what she meant, unless, she told him, she and her guests could have a private audience with the President.  "You want me to demand an audience with the President?"  She did.  So the administrator delivered the message that, unfortnately, the visitors were busy and were unable to meet him, unless of course he could make time for a private audience with them.  I'm still not exactly sure how that conversation transpired, but it ended with the most powerful man in the world agreeing to my mother's demands. Don't take no for an answer, even from the President . . . another valuable lesson learned from the toughest woman I know.

When I think about my recent $4 windfall, I realize that it's probably the best I'll ever do in the Powerball.  You see, my luck fell somewhere else. I won the legacy of hard-assed determination from two brass-balled ladies who refused to be put into a box, who refused to take no for an answer, who knew the value of standing their ground, and the strength of female friendship.  I don't know, I guess that person who won the lottery thinks she won something pretty special, but I'd rather have my prize -- it's priceless, after all. And it's a legacy I hope I can live up to.

My great grandmother, gandmother, mother, and me, 1975.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

. . . and the Net Will Appear

I'm not a risk taker. I follow rules, take the road most taken, and generally do what is expected of me.  And lately all of that rule following has made me pretty . . . uncomfortable.  I'm mid-career, mid-stride, nearly mid-life.  And frankly, I'm quite tired of being mid-anything.  I'm ready to shake things up, make a change, move on to whatever's next.

Trouble is, I have no idea what's next.  You're probably thinking, "Duh, WashingTina, nobody knows what's next. That's the whole point, isn't it?"  I don't do so well with not knowing what's next.  I'm a planner.  I like to know what's for dinner by breakfast.  I like to know what I'm doing on Saturday by Monday afternoon.  I like to know where my next paycheck is coming from, how many vacation days I've earned, and the exact number of pennies in my bank account.  Not very exciting.

I was at an event recently focused around creativity.  Despite my straight and narrow path, I do consider myself creative.  And what I learned at this event was that creative types take risks.  They fail. They dust themselves off, try again, and fail again.  Sometimes they fail thousands of times before they succeed.  Over and over again, the speakers at this event (Oscar winners, journalists, heads of Fortune 500 companies, and the owner of several major sports teams -- the most successful people around) talked of risk.  And failure.  And eventual success.  It was profound and it was inspiring.

Sitting in the event next to me was a dear friend, a friend who is a lot like me in many ways.  A friend who is toying with starting a business of her own.  During one point in yet another talk about risk and failure, I elbowed her and whispered, "See! It's not too late!"  And as dear friends are supposed to do, she elbowed me back and said, "Same goes for you, my friend."  She's right. And I got uncomfortable again.  

I've been reading Stephen King's On Writing lately, a gift from that same dear friend, a friend who believes in me and thinks that I should be writing (and I suppose I should).  King discusses his first attempts at getting published, when he was just a high school kid, nailing the rejection slips from failed tries to his wall.  He writes:
By the time I was fourteen . . . the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing. 
And he didn't stop. He kept on writing.  And writing, and writing.  He's one of the most prolific writers of our time (and a damn fine one, at that).  He learned how to risk when he was just a kid . . . something I didn't do, for fear of getting grounded, or disappointing someone, or hearing my name pronounced with a hard "T" on Tina, the way they do when I'm in trouble.  The note I wrote to myself in the margin by that passage in his book, "Even Stephen King failed!!"  A gentle reminder.

And so I must learn to risk.  Without too much analysis, without too much fear, with the permission to fail.  A pretty tall order when you've done exactly the opposite on all accounts your entire life.  I don't yet know what it's going to be, but I know that I'm getting closer to the leap . . . and I know, as the old adage says, that the net will appear.

Leap and the Net Will Appear
Image by chicksprint via Flickr

Friday, April 19, 2013

On Gay Marriage

I'm all for open minds, but for me, there are few issues on which there can be no debate. For me, gay marriage is one of these. My sister is gay.  And I think she deserves every right I do. She is not "less than" because of who she loves. Let me say that again, because of who she LOVES.  Are we even debating love now? In a time where we are torn apart by ire, and vitriol, and hate?  Are we so consumed by limiting who can LOVE?

But aside from my familial connection, I think every human being deserves equal treatment -- medical and retirement benefits; tax deductions; the right to visit the one you love, unfettered, in a hospital; the right to raise children together; even the right to disagree, dissolve, and divorce.  I don't think there are a separate set of rules for certain segments of the population based on who you love. Period.

My friends, the Gay Lawyer and his husband the Gay Historian (and their baby, the Most Beautiful Child in the World), have been together for more than two decades and adopted their son not quite two years ago.  WH and I (and our parents and siblings) are their extended family. They got married years ago, but recently asked me to be the witness during their legal ceremony (which is particularlly poignant considering that GL performed WH's and my wedding ceremony).  I have been christened Auntie Mame (Auntie Mean, as WH callls me) and WH, Amoo (apparently reflecting our love for Broadway and Iranian heritage, respectively). My parents are Nonni and Ace (Italian and fiercely cool, respectively), surrogate grandparents to the baby.  There is Padrino and Cha Cha, and so many others who love that little boy as if he was our own.  Their village, our village, is raising that child -- a child who is so loved, and so spoiled, and so very happy.

Today, I received an invitation to the wedding of my favorite teacher to her partner of more than 20 years.  My teacher who taught me to read (nay, to LOVE reading), taught me confidence, taught me that we are all something special. My teacher with whom I danced with at my own wedding. She taught me in first and third grades, and for more than 30 years we have kept in touch. My teacher who never thought she would be getting married . . . because it wasn't a possibility -- only now it is.

Two people who love each other committing to be together forever with all the protections available under the law.  Except that under the law, they don't have the same protections as the rest of us.  Sure, in a few states and D.C., they have more rights than in others, but when we look at the full cohort of protections, they are woefully shortchanged. And this is why we have the cases currently pending before the Supreme Court. I hold great faith in our institutions. I know how our country has evolved on civil rights throughtout the years, thanks to pioneers like Thurgood Marshall and Susan B. Anthony and Mildred and Richard Loving (isn't there something so poetic about the pioneers for interracial marriage having the last name Loving?) and the incredibly courageous Edith Windsor.

As my WH likes to put it, equality doesn't just apply to your group, it applies to all groups.  And if you're going to fight for equality, you need to fight for all equality, not just your own.  I know we're close to a time when there's equality for GLBTQ people under the law. I know our country is ready for it, whether they know it or not. And I sincerely hope that when the next marginalized group comes forward, that we are as passionate about defending their rights as we are now, that the side of right is as it was in 1954 (or any other time in history when vulnerable citizens needed us the most). I believe in this country, and I believe that the time for equality, true equality is NOW.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Luck of the Washingtonian

I love this city. I love it more than I can find words to express.  There are so many awesome things to do, see, and experience here.  None more exciting than the inauguration of the President.  The peaceful transfer of power, the pomp and circumstance never fails to make me feel proud of my country. Every four years, the eyes not just of our country, but of the world, are turned toward Washington to witness history.  This year, I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural ball, to see the President and First Lady up close, sharing their first dance.  It was literally the greatest night I can think of (besides my own wedding).  I'm going to be high about it for weeks.

My exciting experience, and the incredible luck of being able to participate in something so special, got me reflecting on just how fortunate I am to live in this city.  It's easy to forget, when you hear from your friend on the Hill that they had a lunch meeting with the Speaker (of the House, obviously), or that a colleague was at yet another White House reception (cue exaggerated sigh).  But for me, this stuff never gets old. I was talking with my dad this weekend about how it's easy to forget that, just because it's fairly commonplace to "run into" our country's leaders on the street or at a professional reception, doesn't mean it's common to everyone else.  And while my experiences rubbing elbows with the elite of D.C. are fairly minimal by D.C. standards, they are opportunities that my friends from other parts of the country would die for.

This nerdy star-struckness starts young here in D.C.  I can remember a nursery school classmate bringing in for show-and-tell the dress she had worn while being held by President Carter as a baby.  Even then, my four-year-old self knew that this was a pretty big deal. 

In my adult life, whether in professional settings or just dumb luck, I've met a former President (more on that here), two Supreme Court Justices (more here), a handful of Members of Congress, the Secretaries of State and Education, as well as the Attorney General, and even a few "regular" stars (you know, the Hollywood type).  And even though they're people just like us, their face in the public eye makes them just a little more exciting.

To me, D.C. is the center of the universe, glittering with all different kinds of stars -- not just because it's our seat of government, but because it's home.  And I'm damn lucky to live here!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Voice Not Silenced


I can't stop thinking about Malala. A little girl who wanted something as simple as an education. And yet, there is nothing simple about education. This I know.

 I have education in my blood. My mother was a teacher and school board member. I was a teacher. I work for an education organization still. It's the family business, so to speak. Education has sustained me my entire life -- and yet, I never had to fight for it, worry about dying for it. It was always a given. Not so for Malala and girls like her in many corners of the world.

This brave young woman -- still a child, already an activist -- has so frightened a bunch of grown men with her outspoken fervor for learning that she's now fighting for her life. Because with education comes so much more. Power, potential, freedom . . . and I guess that scares some people.

Malala, even before the attack that left her fighting for her life in a British hospital, was a symbol for the rights of girls to go to school. The daughter of educators herself (her father runs the school she attends), education is in her blood. The blood that the Taliban spilled on her school van. The blood that the Taliban has vowed to continue to spill until she is dead and her voice silenced.

But a voice like Malala's can't be silenced by cowards -- history has shown us that. Instead, it is magnified, amplified, by those who think like she does -- that everyone deserves an education. By those who are outraged that grown men would choose to hunt a child because she is strong, and brave, and thirsty to learn. By those, like me, who never had to worry about how I was getting to school, or if I would make it home from school, or if my school would be shuttered by hate-mongers and extremists. By those who have been touched by her story, her courage, her desire to learn.

Malala, your voice will not be silenced, because I won't let it be. I'm adding my voice to yours -- and to the other girls like you who are willing to put their lives in danger just to go to school.  We can't stop reading, and writing, and screaming, and learning.  We have to -- for Malala, until she's well enough to join us again.