My Way

This is a post about Aretha Franklin and wearing a hijab and my mother’s funeral, and it comes to you from a cafe in Marrakesh Morocco.

img_3256I’m staring out the window at the crowds of tourists and locals crossing a busy street in front of the Koutoubia Mosque as I write. I’m alone in this city, far out of my comfort zone, and I’ve just ordered my first couscous. I settle into the ornate red pillows, ready for a genuine Moroccan experience, when I recognize the unmistakable voice of Aretha Franklin in the background.

Now I like Aretha as much as anyone and maybe more than most, but she is kind of getting in my way here, and it’s not even one of her better songs. I listen more closely and I feel the ghost of my mother snuggle into the pillows beside me.

What is my mom doing here? She died a few years ago and, in spite of her having been a difficult woman in many ways, I admired her a great deal. She was passionate, smart and so headstrong that when my sister and I were looking for music to play at her funeral my sister jokingly suggested the song “My Way.”

Mom’s death was sad, of course, but also bittersweet. Her body was tired and her mind was worn, and her independent spirit was struggling to maintain its identity as the rest of her began to fail. Because the Frank Sinatra classic was a favorite of her generation, I went ahead and searched out the words. To my surprise they weren’t silly; they were rather touching and perfect for my mother. (And apparently not only for my mother. Inquisitr reports that My Way is the number one song used at funerals in Great Britain. Who knew?) We used the song and yes, my sister and I both cried profusely as it was played. I realize that’s the song Aretha is now singing.

One of the things that I most admired about my mother was her strong sense of justice. A white woman from a farm in Kansas, she somehow found her way to a strong belief  in the dignity and equality of all humans and she spent her adult life arguing for the rights of every non-privileged group she encountered. Except for one.

blog1My mother was mostly unaware of Muslims until late in her life, when the events of 9-11 and the subsequent wars put this unexplored culture front and center in the worst of ways. Her feminist side responded first, and her anger at the much touted restrictions on Islamic women flared at about the same time that her ability for nuanced analysis was fading. She came to hate the hijab and all other forms of religious covering worn by Muslim women, refusing to see the head coverings as anything but a sign of male dominance.

I work in the oil industry, and I know many Muslims who I admire and enjoy. I tried to explain to her that head coverings were worn for many reasons that often included a woman’s own choice. That choice might be influenced by her desire to please her family, her society, or her God, or it might center around her own feelings of comfort or safety. My mother would not listen.

So now I am looking out the window, watching the world walk by, and her spirit is staring out the window with me. Half of the humans we see are female, and a few are covered from head foot, only showing eyes. “I still think that’s horrible,” she mutters to me.

blog2Some wear all manner of scarves, including some of the tourists. Others let their hair fly in the breeze; long tresses and short bobs, the blonde, the black and the grey of the women of dozens of nations and all ages. They move happily, most of them talking and laughing no matter how their head looks, sometimes jumping out of the way of the many women and men riding motorbikes and bicycles down the crowded street. I turn to my mother’s ghost and she nods.

Aretha Franklin is well into her rendition of the song “My Way” now, and I decide that the overall effect is not bad, even though I wish she would have changed the lyrics to say “what is a woman?” instead of “what is a man?” Nonetheless, I think that mom likes the song, and that she is beginning to appreciate the scene outside the window. All those women out there, each one doing things her way, even if not everyone in the world understands it.

blog3I sip on the mint tea that is everywhere, and my waiter brings the vegetarian couscous cooked in the wonderful clay pot called a tagine. It is as delicious as anything I’ve ever eaten. I consider how I am a feminist, too, and I share my mother’s belief that no one should force a woman, or a man, to wear garments that restrict her (or his) freedom to move, see, talk, eat or enjoy life. But part of that belief is that every woman should get to live her life her way.

Mom is fading back into the velvet pillows now as I concentrate on my lunch, but I like to think that she and I reached some sort of understanding. Freedom to make personal choices matters. That freedom meant the world to my mom; it means a lot to me. And it is what Aretha has been singing about all along.

(Enjoy this video of Aretha Franklin singing “My Way” and check out the lyrics below. For more about my trip to Morocco go to I see ghosts, That’s Why you Make the Trip, It’s an angry world in some places, and Happy International Day of Peace, Lahcen and Najet.)

My Way

And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew when I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried, I’ve had my fill my share of losing
And now, as tears subside I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that and may I say – not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got, if not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way.

One Great Idea From the Misogynist Wing of the Alt Right

Like almost everything you can imagine, and a whole lot of things you can’t, it exists on the internet. The same wonderful, amazing tool that fuels my stories by letting me see locations I’ll never visit and open doors into the minds of others I will never meet, also allows me to find voices that repulse and frighten me. In fact, it allows me to find them easily.

Like most people, I avoid the dark corners of the internet, until my desire to make a character or incident more authentic drives me back to some putrid place. This time, I was trying to do something that seemed pretty safe. I was trying to learn more about Argentine women, because I was writing about one. Flipping through sites, I landed on a blog about how to get laid in Argentina. It seemed to be part of series of posts advising men about how to obtain casual, consensual and free sex in every country on earth. Crass but harmless.

The author advised me that women in Argentina were far too high maintenance and that I would be better off just heading over to neighboring Brazil. Something about the general tone started to bother me, and I filed it away for a possible future blog post of my own.

geniusBecause I’m a news junkie, over the last few days I’ve heard a lot about Trump’s new campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, who also heads up Breitbart News. I had not heard of Breitbart News before, but according to a wealth of sources it is part of an alternate reality known as the alt right, in which a wide variety of paranoid white-centric ideas are held as truths. I checked it out for myself, and found headlines like “Obama Golfs as Louisiana Floods” and “Texas Voter ID Case Compared to Area 51 Alien Conspiracy” (two actual headlines used today). Okay, I’m going to go with the talking heads.

I also went back to the how-to-get-laid-in-Argentina blog, thinking I might write about it, and lo and behold I found another post there entitled “If Trump Doesn’t Win We’re Screwed.” Hmm. Seems like this guy writes about more topics than effective pick-up lines. It didn’t take much in the way of looking around to find a post called “Ugly Minority Girls Are Winning Beauty Pageants To Satisfy The Diversity Agenda” and to find comments like (I quote the exact words and apologize in advance for any offense) “overweight and obese girls have more sexual partners on average than girls who are in shape, because the same lack of impulse control that leads them to stuff their faces with food also leads them to hoover up cocks left and right” and “homosexuals and bisexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be mentally ill: their malfunctioning sexual impulses lead to their entire personalities being dysfunctional.”

By this point I was looking for some bleach to clean out my browser. Ick. Yes, people can believe anything they want and they can also share those thoughts with others. But does this blogger seriously believe what he writes, or, like much of the alt right, does he just enjoy shocking people with outrageous statements?

I decided to look further into this. The blogger has a name, Daryush Valizadeh, and he achieved a small amount of infamy when he wrote a post in 2015 suggesting that rape be legalized on private property. His argument was that such a law would coerce women into becoming extremely careful (or paranoid), to the point of never being alone with a man with whom they did not want to have sex. Thus rape would be eliminated. After a lot of criticism, he claimed that he was being sarcastic.

sungazing5The Southern Poverty Law Center follows him due to his “specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence” and you can read their latest on him. (I am happy to provide a link to the SPLC site, but will not link to his blogs.) According to the short Wikipedia entry on him, he is against female promiscuity, which seems a rather odd stance for a man who writes books with titles like Bang Lithuania: How to Sleep with Lithuanian Women in Lithuania and Don’t Bang Denmark: How to Sleep with Danish Women in Denmark (If You Must). I  have no idea what he has against Danish women.

Another odd contradiction is that along with his clarion call for men to be sexually aggressive, he has recently begun to rally his followers to reject globalism and adhere to nationalism. It seems a strange stance for a man who is the child of two immigrants, who has lived in multiple other countries and who writes travel books. Perhaps he is trying a little too hard to merge his philosophies about sex with the politics of the alt right.

I do confess to reading one of his posts from start to finish. It was titled something like “don’t have sex with feminists” and it advised men that the feminist movement could be seriously diminished if males would simply refuse to become intimate with women who held unacceptable ideas like wanting equal pay. (I’m serious, equal pay was the horrible feminist idea that he used as an example.) His plan for stopping feminism is for every man in every bar to respond clearly and firmly to every such statement with something like “then forget it, I’m not attracted to feminists.” He thinks this would make women feel so rejected that they would rethink their silly ideas.

I almost wrote the man to say “Please get all of your followers to do this. Please. What a service this would be.”

Imagine the scene in the bar. He says “Forget it, lady, I’m not attracted to feminists.” She says “Thank you so much for telling me. I’m not attracted to assholes.”

And everyone leaves the bar happy. See, even I can find one idea from the misogyny wing of the alt right movement with which to agree.

 

 

 

A December 1st baby: born to give back?

It’s my birthday in 2 days, and I always felt that being born on the first of the month was a bad deal.

Anyone else: “Hey, isn’t your birthday some time this month?”
Me: “Yeah. It was last week.”
Anyone else: “Oh. Well, hope you had a good one.”

But this year I am feeling pretty special. Someone (who ever decides these things) has decreed December 1 to be Giving Tuesday. What??? Well, according to the Giving Tuesday website

“We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.”

Think about it. This is a totally cool idea. I mean I know people born on Global Wind Day, Australia Day, International Lefthanders Day and Free Money Day*, but a day dedicated to celebrating generosity kicks butt on all of those if you ask me.

So what am I going to do about it? If you read my posts at all you know that I’ve struggled for the past few months to get the sixth and final book in the 46. Ascending collection moving along. I took a year long break from writing, expecting to emerge at the other end of a cross-country move and job change fully refreshed and ready to create another novel. Instead, I’ve found the blank expanse in front of me more daunting than any blank screen in a newly opened word document ever was.

laotzu121075My advice to others seeking to ground themselves and move on has always been to stop thinking about yourself and do something for someone else. What good is advice if  you can’t follow your own? So tomorrow I have an appointment with a volunteer coordinator in the area who is going to help place me at one or two local agencies who are willing to train me and then use my time and expertise. I’m excited.

If you know anything about my novel c3, you know that I have a particular passion for women’s issues and a strong desire to see my sisters free and confident enough to follow their dreams. No surprise then that I will be looking at volunteering with agencies that deal with some of the worst problems that women face. I’m not naive on these subjects (have you read c3?) but I do understand that I may find myself well outside of my comfort zone. I hope to grow in strength while I help others do the same.

Does the idea of focusing on generosity for a day appeal to you as well? I’m told that one can log onto Twitter and follow the hashtag #GivingTime to join the conversation and learn more. Or go to the official website and check out their video.

Whatever you do, happy December 1.

*If you’re curious, Global Wind Day is 6/15, Australia Day is 1/26, International Lefthanders Day is 8/13 and Free Money Day is 9/15 and yes this day does involve giving away money, so it is sort of about generosity too.

Long Way, Baby

“What were they thinking in 1968?” I ask, as I take a closer look at the faded old newspaper, crumbled decades ago around the dishes that I am unpacking. Still stark in its faded shades of charcoal and cream, it is a relic of communication that I almost never see anymore. The Wichita Eagle. It whispers to me from a place I once lived, and from a Friday August 23 of long ago.

westpointI seem to have opened the paper to the women’s section, although it is tactfully not called such. The feature article (from the Associated Press) gives a slightly breathless account of how “East Coast girls between 17 and 21 don’t have to travel far … to have one of the most glamorous, unforgettable weekends of their lives.” It goes on to detail the excitement awaiting a girl lucky enough to be invited to West Point for the week-end as the date of a cadet. There are picnics and dances and white-gloved receiving lines. It’s not all glitz, however. The article warns that up to five girls have to share one low-wattage bulb while applying their make-up.

As I read, forty-seven years melt away and I become Sherri Roth, a thirteen-year-old news freak skimming the paper as I search for answers to the burning questions about life that keep me awake at night as I try to understand the universe.

Is my goal supposed to be to date a boy who goes to West Point? The AP writer seems to think so. Hopeful young women looking for a foot in the door are encouraged to contact the Cadet Hostess at West Point to see if they, too, might be included in one of the arranged mixers held throughout the year. I’m not convinced this approach is for me.

slimsThe summer of 1968 is also when Phillip Morris introduces Virginia Slims, a cigarette marketed to young women using the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby.” I’m only 13 and I don’t smoke cigarettes, but I like the slogan and I wonder if we have come a long way. The Virginia Slims ads sure make me think so. I like how the women in them can do anything.

I think that maybe I’d rather be a cadet at the academy. Frankly that sounds far more glamorous than just dating one. I’ve wanted to be an astronaut since first grade and I’m pretty sure that a military academy education would be a sure fire way to make that happen. I decide to look into it. Over the next year, I will be disappointed to learn that the academies do not even have women cadets.

Sally RideIt will be 1980 before the first females graduate from United States Military Academies. I’ll have figured out long before then that it was the Air Force Academy I should have gone to. I’ll also have learned that women cadets there and elsewhere were not permitted to be trained as combat pilots until 1993, greatly reducing a women’s chance for flying time and advancement.

Sally Ride will become my hero for life when she circumvents that path, becoming an astronaut and the first American woman in space by way of a PhD in physics from Stanford.  I will smile that whole week in June 1983 when she makes her first space flight. This, I will say, is really what constitutes “one of the most glamorous, unforgettable weekends” of any girl’s life.

For more notes from 47 years ago, where 13 year old Sherri Roth reports the news from the Friday August 23, 1968 Wichita Eagle, see my other blogs posts for the How to Get a Standing Ovation Editionthe Vietnam Edition the Won’t You Please Come to Chicago Edition and the Race Relations Edition

“Give Mother the Vote”

A bit of history to remind us of how far we have come. 96 years later, the animosity directed at this fight for the right to vote is hard to believe. How many of today’s issues will seem equally absurd 96 years from now?

vote from herstory

Today in 1916 the 19th amendment finally gave women in the United States the right to vote. New Zealand was the first country to do so, in 1893, and Saudi Arabia holds the dubious honor of being the most recent, in 2011. Change takes time.

The United States hardly lead the parade for voting rights for women. Women in countries ranging from Denmark to Uruguay to Armenia were able to cast their votes first. 1947 was the biggest year for women’s suffrage, with eleven new countries deciding it was time to join what was once considered a radical movement.

Please drop by the Facebook page “Herstory” and give them a like for the poster above and checkout the full timeline of women’s voting rights the world over on Wikipedia. It will surprise you.

vote mother