Category Archives: I Enjoy Being a Girl

Great Google-y moogly: An alternative “about me”

So, she recommended that whether we’re headed for BlogHer or not, women bloggers consider introducing themselves to the wider community by posting about the perverse-sounding act of Googling ourselves.

This isn’t, by any means, my first time at this. As a freelance writer, it’s something you do semi-regularly to find out who might be republishing your work without permission. The biggest offenders are music fan sites, and sometimes the musician’s site itself, although it’s hard to be offended when someone has taken the trouble to translate your review of Cher’s farewell tour into Spanish. And it’s a little confusing when Josh Groban fans reproduce your concert review and flank it with little flashing tulips, in spite of the fact that you refer to their vanilla heartthrob as “Donny Osmond Giovanni.” But this is the kind of stuff that happens.

Nowadays, the first thing that appears (beyond the links to that you can already find in the margins of this page) is a piece of my past persona as an alternative weekly staff writer, including the listing of an award I won with my colleagues for best local political story many years ago. We addressed the rise of hate groups in Ohio. My piece was an interview with Floyd Cochran, an ex-Aryan Nations recruiter who turned his life around to become a vocal advocate of social justice. This was a shining moment in my 20s, as the story was reprinted in alternative weeklies in Detroit, Los Angeles and many smaller cities in between. It was also picked up by PBS’s Not in Our Town campaign against American hate crimes and included in their education materials for years.

I wasn’t a journalism major in college. In fact, I went to a college that had “concentrations,” not majors, and mine was an amalgam of American history, American literature and creative writing. My work study job was student activist. I fell into journalism because I always knew that first and foremost, I wanted to write, and the close second was that I wanted to make a difference. So these pages of links, this life happened (at least a little) by accident.

Once upon a time, I went to a mall and asked a bunch of teenage girls what they thought feminism was. (I miss doing stories like this.) The article I wrote, “Feminism by Osmosis,” has been used in custom published women’s studies courses for several years since. No matter how much I have written in between, this is one of those pieces that keeps coming back high up in my Google image.

Another bit of feminist history that has followed me online (I think because I reprinted one on my first web site back in 1997) were two stories I wrote about the first woman to run for president, Victoria Woodhull – who was all the rage in historical non-fiction a few years ago.

I know more about Columbus, Ohio than you do. I spent two years as the senior editor of, therefore I wrote or edited a kabillion restaurant, hotel, attraction, bar, club, retail store, gallery, coffee shop, movie theater, park, weekend destination and other miscellaneous screen-length profiles that still live online.

Strangely, the work I’ve been doing as a Storyteller for the KnowledgeWorks Foundation for the past four years doesn’t appear until the bottom of the third page of my Google results.

There are also an endless number of artists’ web sites that list my stories about them on their resumés. You might already know who some of them are.

I am linked to a piece of my husband’s ignominious past by some obsessive Judge Judy fan site that tracked down a bunch of info about him after his appearance on that completely absurd show. (I didn’t go on the set with him. I knew he was going to lose. Declan — who wasn’t yet six months old — and I spent the day wandering around Hollywood instead. )

Without the Zollinger, my name is pretty common. Common enough that I was once in a video store and someone yelled for me from the front desk saying I had a phone call, and when I answered, the woman on the other line said “you’re not my sister-in-law.” I handed the phone back to the clerk, who then yelled: “Is there another Tracy Turner here?”

It’s almost enough to make me want to change my name to my husband’s.

I am routinely asked about business stories I have not written for the Columbus Dispatch, because another Tracy Turner wrote them.

Googling my shorthand name reveals that I also share it with an established artist, a BMW salesperson, a Texan OB/GYN, someone who takes still photos on horror movie sets and a guy from Kentucky who wrote a book of railroad tales and a biography of his brother, who died in a tragic car crash.

What happens when you Google you?

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Dreams of a mother

I don’t remember how old I was when I wore it, but it stayed in my shirt drawer long after it fit. My mother did work with other women that felt important. It stood for something. This shirt showed that I stood for something too:
She told me that she hoped that what she was doing would mean that I would grow up in a different kind of world than she had, one where what I had to offer would be welcomed and appreciated, not dismissed on account of my gender. Throughout my childhood, she did work in support of that dream. She even went to Mexico City in 1975 to help draft a plan of action for the women of the world.
When I was six years old, I adopted her maiden name as one of my own (Zollinger) – my first feminist act.

Our world is by no means yet a utopia. There are challenges that my mother’s 30-something self couldn’t have imagined. But this world is different, and better, because of her.

I also dream of a world different from this one for my own son. One that truly values his tenderness, compassion, kindness, generosity and patience. One that treasures his humanity so deeply that no one would dream of calling on him for violence.

Today, the Momocrats have drawn our attention to the original Mother’s Day Proclamation, penned by Julia Ward Howe after the Civil War. I can’t think of a better spirit for this holiday:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace. …

MOMocrats: Dreams of a Mother

Happy Mother’s Day to my precious mom and yours.

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Estrogen, euphony and domestic ennui

I have been slowly dragging music off my CD shelves and into my iPod for the past couple of weeks. Between my past (and future) life as a music reviewer and Dan’s history as a music promoter, this process is bound to take awhile.

As I made tall stacks of favorite CDs yesterday, I began to realize that the percentage of recordings I grabbed made by women was significantly smaller than I imagined. That’s strange because I think we listen to more music by women in this house than many families do. It’s also strange because for the years that I regularly wrote CD reviews, I was one of the only female music writers in town, and assigned a disproportionate number of albums by women. I didn’t mind this for two reasons – I felt it was important that a wider number of female musicians got some press exposure, and it just so happens that solid, worthwhile female songwriters and performers have been coming out of the woodwork for the last 15 years.

As I listen, I’m amazed that while some of these women are still thriving (or struggling) in the music game, a few have fallen off the map entirely. I’ve scraped together a few links of songs I find worthwhile by the critically acclaimed and the obscure for your listening and viewing pleasure. There are 30 second samples on iTunes, full videos on YouTube and a free little playlist with the same title as this post that I may grow as I can (although getting my first song choice isn’t always feasible). The process has made me consider podcasting, but we’ll see.

My rule as a reviewer has always been to listen to a recording three times. Sometimes I’ve fallen in love with records I hated the first time through, other times things that I liked on the first listen bored me to tears by the third. I hope you enjoy these:

Sam Phillips
One of my favorite songwriters and performers, period. Although her lighter stuff had its ultimate life on the TV show “The Gilmore Girls,” her records are dark, Gothic and gorgeous.
A Boot and a Shoe, “Reflecting Light”: Sam Phillips - A Boot and a Shoe - Reflecting Light (Or “I Need Love” on YouTube)

Amy Rigby
Known as the “Mod Housewife” with pigtail braids and striped stockings back in the when, a lot of her songs are domestic ennui personified. She’s now living in France.
Diary of a Mod Housewife, “We’re Stronger Than That”: Amy Rigby - Diary of a Mod Housewife - We're Stronger Than That

Angela McCluskey
I just like this woman’s voice. She has also apparently expatriated to France, where she sings with a band called Telepopmusik.
The Things We Do
, “It’s Been Done”: YouTube video, Angela McCluskey - The Things We Do - It's Been Done

Caitlin Cary

A member of alt country band Whiskeytown, her bandmate Ryan Adams went on to bigger fame, while she’s cut a few fairly well-received records.
I’m Staying Out, “Empty Rooms”: Caitlin Cary - I'm Staying Out - Empty Rooms

Rosanne Cash

I realize that she’s part of a major musical dynasty, but the emotional catharses she she shared on Rules of Travel and Black Cadillac about life, illness and death are just timeless.
Rules of Travel, “Beautiful Pain”: Rosanne Cash - Rules of Travel - Beautiful Pain
(Or, from the same record, the haunting duet with her father, “September When It Comes” on YouTube.)

Iris DeMent

I didn’t like her old-timey voice at first, but it grew on me and I love her songwriting.
The Way I Should, “The Way I Should”: Iris DeMent - The Way I Should - The Way I Should
(Or DeMent’s video on YouTube of Let the Mystery Be.)

And here is a woman who was in alt country band The Blood Oranges and had a solo record called “The Northeast Kingdom” that I adore, but it’s nowhere on iTunes or any playlist I can find. Sadly (for us anyway, probably happily for her)
, I understand that she’s making soap and raising flowers in New England, far from the turmoil of the music industry. Her name is Cheri Knight:


Here’s another woman who did some interesting things by blending music and slam poetry. She went for some easy laughs, but when I saw her live, I found her to be better than a novelty. She’s dropped of the map, but of you ever watched MTV when they actually played music, you may remember this video: Maggie Estep’s “Hey Baby“.

And here’s the playlist, with the songs I could find from these and some other artists:

What female artists do you love or feel haven’t gotten enough exposure?

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Race and gender and guilt, oh my!

“You must have an overdeveloped sense of guilt,” I remember a guy telling me over coffee in college. “I can see why you’d be a feminist and everything, but I don’t understand why you care so much about racism. It doesn’t affect you.”

But it did, I insisted. Even if I couldn’t explain exactly why, I believed in bumper sticker slogans like “no one is free when others are oppressed,” and the simple message of the poetic parable, “First they came...” Moreover, I passionately loved every possibility that the broad strokes of the Constitution painted, a document that made me cry when I read it aloud (I preferred this to, say, auto bingo on road trips). My work-study job was as a student coordinator for a campus organization that saw issues of race, gender, class and sexuality as inextricably linked.

In my personal undergraduate studies of American history and literature, I saw those issues as inextricably linked as well. And after learning as much of the history of non-European races in the U.S. as I could absorb over my first three years of college, I spent my last year considering my own ethnicity in an undergraduate thesis about white identity in America.

I came to believe that one of the roots of racism was the very fact that the dominant, white, Protestant culture didn’t see itself as “ethnic,” despite the fact that, barring Native Americans, most of us came from someplace else. Or lots of places. If you don’t comprehend, let alone appreciate, the diversity within your own bloodline, it’s that much easier to write off the characteristics of the people you perceive as different from you.

You need only read the history of how our railways were built to see, in a less black and white way, how effectively our differences have been exploited for generations, just as you need only listen to American music to see how those differences have enriched us. I came to think of identity as a wheel inside of me – sometimes my female-ness informed my responses and actions in the world, sometimes my white Ohioan-ness, my age, my Golden Rule-obsessed upbringing, or my confusing socio-economic class. But they were all spokes connected to the same center.

So obviously, I read Barack Obama’s speech yesterday, and cried. I am glad he is willing to appeal to our better nature, trust in our intelligence and speak to us frankly in his own words. His interpretation of the Constitution and his vision for America are inspiring. I’m thrilled that he’s promoting unity by embracing the complexity of our population’s make-up instead of trying to melting pot us into soylent green. And I’m glad he smote some of his supporters by reminding them not to distort the readily distortable, because honestly, too many of his supporters have acted intensely overbearing, smug and sexist in his name.

For all that people criticize Hillary for her past and the people around her, they don’t give her due respect for the major thing she has to offer – an epic passion for policy. She and her husband have held idea retreats for wonks for years and years, and no matter how cautious or caustic her campaign might be, that wonkiness ought to have brought her more respect. Truthfully, I have not found her campaign that offensive after seeing past tactics like swiftboating and push polling. (And boy I am glad that the video of Obama’s minister is up for discussion now and not rolling 24 hours a day for the first time in late October.)

But in the wake of this, the broadcast news coverage has been terrible, as it has been of this whole Democratic Primary. What do they do with a stark, candid speech that should serve to elevate the level of discussion about race in America? The same thing they’ve been doing throughout this process – talking about odds and image instead of anything of substance. Even 60 Minutes let me down. I say elect Obama president and let Hillary’s wonks wrestle the airwaves away from the moronic armchair quarterbacks on television (unless they’re working in his administration) so that we can start using our great tools of communication more effectively for once. We’d all be better off.

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Dammit gym, I’m a person, not a calculator

“So, how many pounds do you wanna lose?”

She snaps her gum . Her gaze seems to be darting everywhere in the room as she talks, landing on me about as long as a fly would.

“Well, uh, I don’t know, exactly. I want some of my pre-mommy clothes to fit, I want to feel better. But I don’t really want to watch the scale,” I tell her.

“We weigh you you and take your measurements every week until you reach your goal weight,” she says. “We will weigh and measure you today. How many pounds do you think you want to lose? Just guess.”

Gum snap. She fidgets with the paper she’s holding. Gum snap. She mouths something to a co-worker. Gum snap. Her eyes are everywhere in the room, except on mine.

“I don’t know, twenty? Maybe thirty?” I am looking at her, thinking, you didn’t hear me at all. “Whatever it takes for me to feel better, healthier.”

She looks beyond me again, and says something to the girl at the front desk.

“I’m going to have Gina give you a tour, then you can do fifteen to twenty minutes of cardio and then we’ll do your workout,” she says to me, still looking at the front desk.

The place is nice enough, and the girl who takes me through it is also nice enough. There is a lot of space dedicated to only women, which is also nice. I’m having a hard time figuring out why a place that seems to be taking the Curves approach to marketing has no child care available, and when I make a comment to that effect, it draws a blank stare.

The nice girl stashes me at the elliptical trainers, makes sure I punch the right button to start it and leaves me alone. I didn’t think to come equipped with water and the hotter I get as I step, step, step, the more tantalizing the coolers in the front become. I sweat my way through 18 or 19 minutes and stumble to the front where I buy a bottle a bit breathlessly.

“How much longer do you have on cardio?”Gum snap asks. I don’t understand the question.

“I…. I did 18 minutes or something,” I answer.

“Oh!” She says. “Oh, then let’s do your workout. Ready?”

When we reach the weight machines, she tells me what to do at chipmunk speed at each one, saying “do two sets of 15 for me” faster each time and ordering me to spray and wipe the thing down afterwards. I feel like I’m in a hurry, so I push through the sets quickly, and by the third machine, I begin to feel nauseous. It’s mid-afternoon, and I’ve had a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a salad for lunch – I begin to realize that there wasn’t enough protein in my day.

I sit on the floor and a couple of minutes later, after talking to several other people in the room, she realizes where I am.

“I didn’t see where you went, are you okay?”

I insist that I am, but that I’m nauseous, so she gets me some sample power bar to eat. I feel better, but three machines later I’m nauseous again, so I take a real break in the bathroom, wash my face and finally come back out for the last two machines.

Now my free day pass is complete and it’s time for me to be sold. I hate that gyms refuse to tell you anything about their cost without coming in, and this place at least has signs for $15 a month stuck in the ground every ten feet between my house and the freeway. I could have sworn they also said something about no membership fees, but she gives me three possible equations for membership, all involving paying several hundred dollars that day, with alleged incentives for better deals after I’ve joined for one year.

She might as well have been saying “you’re on a an orange train 763 miles away from town, traveling 64 miles per hour with a load of 754 clown shoes that retail for $3.79 a pair. Your membership cost will be the square root of the number of minutes it takes you to get to town, multiplied by the overall value of the clown shoes two years ago, which have since been reduced in price by 37 percent…”

By the time she spins all three membership packages, I’m completely confused about which one is the best deal, but I’m told that I’ll be giving up the one she says is best if I walk out the door without getting it today. Then she changes my deadline to closing time that night, but says she’s not allowed to give me the paper that explains the cost of a membership to help me think it over.

Because I’m too tired, demoralized by how sick the workout made me feel and confounded by the need to do 9th grade algebra to make a decision, I make the only one I feel comfortable with. I skip it. She asks me why and as I’m telling her that it’s more than I expected, that I think I should talk to my husband about it first, her eyes are back up on the front desk, the Biggest Loser sign dangling from the ceiling, the butt of a passing man.

I think I could have said, “I can’t buy a membership because I’m made of plutonium and oatmeal cookies. Please let me eat your barrettes. My tonsils are periwinkle. Neep norp, neep norp, neep norp,” and she still wouldn’t have heard a word.

Thankfully, she spared me the indignity of weighing and measuring me, probably accidentally, because I’m sure the results would have become part of her pitch. I didn’t need to subject my body image to a person who couldn’t stay with me through the end of a sentence.

The next gym experience, which I’ll write about later, wasn’t much more human, but at least it was also free (for now). Affordable gym with reasonable math run by compassionate humans, if you are out there, I will find you!

I’m submitting this post to the Group Writing Project at Mamablogga. Visit the link if you’d like to join. The subject for January is “Me time.”

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Mrs. Ombach would be proud

When we were kids living in New Jersey, my brother and I had a babysitter named Mrs. Ombach, who came over to watch us frequently on summer afternoons. She would look over her half-spectacles at us as she knit long afghans with zig-zags or stripes. At the exact same time each visit, she would instruct us to read or lie down on blankets on the floor nearby while she took a half-hour nap on our rust-colored couch. Because of her insistence that we be raised with an appreciation for classical music, our dad went out and bought a bunch of Tchaikovsky music on eight-track tapes. I knew The Nutcracker and Swan Lake by ear long before I ever saw a ballet.

Her efforts to keep us “civilized” didn’t end with music. Whenever she was over, there would be tea, cookies and conversation at 3 o’clock. On the few occasions we went to her house , it was full of tea sets and needlepoint pillows and dark curtains and cuckoo clocks. No matter where we were with her, she would always police our language for “yeahs” and “uh-huhs.”

“You mean yes,” she would correct us.

Ombach’s notions didn’t entirely disappear or stick. I like classical music, but am by no means an expert. I’ll have some nice herbal tea in the evening now and then, but I’m mainly a coffee drinker, and I don’t drink it ritually much these days – just in large quantities in the morning. I’m particular about language in writing, but often too lazy about my speech, especially around the house. Lazy enough that my mom will still sometimes correct with me with an “Ombach would be very upset with you.”

But Declan almost always says “yes,” with a clear and precise sss sound. He’s even taken to saying “thank you” and “please” quite often, unless you’re telling him to do it, in which case, he stares straight through you as if to say “do I look like I need your pedestrian coaching?”

The other afternoon, he woke up from a nap in the car. I had the classical station playing. He rubbed his eyes and looked around sweetly for few minutes. Then he cupped his ear and said, “do you hear that Mozart? It’s on the radio.”

This blew my mind because it was, in fact, a Mozart piano sonata playing.

He will be two and a half in 11 days. What’s next? Daily requests for a cup of Earl Grey? It’s not out of the question, since he thinks Jean-Luc Picard is a family member. But if he starts asking for tea-time, I’ll be scanning the room for signs of Mrs. Ombach’s spirit.

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Who are you and what are we doing here together?

Writing a blog is a funny exercise.

When I write for publication, media kits and writer’s guidelines give me some sense of who the audience is, or, more precisely, who the publisher would like it to be.

But when I write here, there is no Power Point-wielding man in a suit trying to tell me that my core audience is 30-something Volkswagen drivers who go out to dinner twice a week and own at least one iPod. No one is trying to push me to write in a way that they think will attract more 23-year-olds because the ad team wants to sell more space to movie theaters and stores that sell sports equipment.

Ultimately, this space is here for me to write things that I will want to re-read ten years from now, not things designed to make more steak house patrons bookmark me. But because I have chosen not to shield myself with anonymity, it’s also tricky, and a bit scarier to dig into the real nitty gritty of motherhood. Overthinking this has has given me a little writer’s block this week that I hope to subvert by delving into NaBloPoMo next week.

Until recently, I hadn’t engaged much with the larger world of blogging. I’d done some of the standard mom blog reading, like dooce, Suburban Turmoil and Breed ’em and Weep. But I’d missed blogs like Twas Brillig, Attack of the Redneck Mommy, Running in Wellies and Not that I don’t love my kids…. Then, a couple of weeks back, I joined, a social network which seems to have drawn an unusually high number of woman/mom bloggers by wisely promoting the fact that unlike MySpace or Facebook, the owners would not deem pictures of women breastfeeding obscene and delete them.

While the aforementioned blogs are among its top stars, there are hundreds more in its ranks, accompanied by a frenzy of women trying to get to know each other, make connections, get their blogs noticed, find respite from domestic isolation, or impart the secrets that make their homes happy. It becomes addictive very quickly – cruising through pages and pages of household scenes, images and mini-essays laced with powerful thoughts about personal identity, marriage, body image, child-rearing, sisterhood, bathroom habits, illness, death, meal planning and accidental comedy. This stuff is authentically funnier and more moving than anything Lifetime could come up with, produced by people with imperfect bodies and faces.

But beyond being a diversion, I realized that the reading I’ve been doing recently has reaffirmed the way I want to look at the world. As a writer, I’ve felt strongly for a long time that everyone has a story worth telling, and those of non-famous people are usually far more interesting than the ones behind the overexposed faces on newscasts and newsstands. The happiest work I have done has generally involved giving rock star attention to un-famous individuals.

For the last week, I’ve noticed faces in the grocery stores that I might have glanced past before and wondered more actively about what kind of extraordinary experiences they might be willing to share, what secrets they possess and if they might be one of the remarkable women I may one day happen upon on the Internet.

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Bye Bye Bill Maher

I felt pretty betrayed at the end of “Real Time with Bill Maher” last weekend. Being one of those people who has actually done things like written to Sinclair Broadcasting in protest of their censorship practices (they were the galvanizing force that got his network show cancelled a few years back), I’ve always found his understanding of gender politics awfully limited, but I was glad he was out there, shaking the trees for free speech.

But his “New Rules” chastising breastfeeding moms that held a “nurse-in” at Applebees restaurants across the country, just came across as petty, unfair, and a clear case of the “look-at-me-ism” he absurdly accused these women of. I know journalists like this – people who go off the rails on a topic that they know will stir things up because they just aren’t getting enough hate mail lately, and hate mail is something that they’ve come to rely on to validate their celebrity. If it wasn’t deliberately disingenuous, then it was certainly horribly, horribly researched.

First, there were some facts that he just got wrong. He said that the Applebees nurse-in was the “world’s first,” when, in fact, these kinds of formal protests have been going on for some time. Wasn’t it only last year when a bunch of moms held one outside the studio where they tape “The View”? There have also been protests of Delta airlines, Starbucks, even hospitals. The purpose of these protests certainly isn’t vanity – it is the raising of awareness of a public health issue.

Maher is one of the only pundits out there who routinely addresses environmental problems created by our food supply, the toxic nature of additives like high fructose corn syrup and the nationwide health problem of obesity. So it’s baffling to me that he knocks the promotion of a health choice that is well known to reduce the risk of childhood obesity and a variety of illnesses, has health benefits for women, is completely ecologically sound and could have far-reaching economic benefits if it were promoted more effectively (over infant formula, which is often the product of behemoth drug companies).

The events are also an opportunity to re-acquaint business owners and the general public about the breastfeeding laws in our country, many of which protect a woman’s right to feed her child anywhere she deems necessary. In other words, companies should thank “lactivists” because they typically get so much media attention, they make managers revisit laws and policy, hopefully to the point where they make sure everyone who works for them realizes that it’s illegal for us to them to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave even if they are offended by a naked breast.

Lastly, his suggestion that women just “cover up” is basically moronic, and only forgivable in that he has clearly spent no time around infants. Hello Bill – babies have arms and hands, and it doesn’t take long before they begin to figure out that they can be used to pull blankets and things off of their faces. They also don’t have the cognitive ability to understand things like “but the people around you will be uncomfortable if you do that here” or “you’ll have to eat later.” Incidentally, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with any number of national health agencies, recommend that mothers breastfeed for a year. The World Health Organization recommends two years. So yes, in a healthier world, babies would have teeth and the ability to say words before being weaned, and after the first 2-3 months, a blanket on the head is not going to stay there long.

At any rate, I certainly don’t have any problem watching and listening to a person I disagree with. I’ve watched Bill Maher for years (since his days on Comedy Central) and liked and disliked lots of the things he had to say. But in this case, his ignorance was personally insulting. If he doesn’t do any mea culpa on this, I definitely won’t watch him again for a while, if at all.

Add this to what I read about Facebook and MySpace at IzzyMom today (namely that breastfeeding images have been removed as “obscene” even as hundreds of pro-anorexia groups are free to give women directions about how to starve themselves), and I’d say it’s been a pretty depressing news week for chicks.

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Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman

A couple of nights after I had my dream of bleeding breasts, I had another, even more vivid one.

In it, I was having a drink with a woman I used to be quite close with, but have not spoken to in years. I was trying to explain to her that I had missed her often, that I missed her humor, that I missed learning from her. Even though there has been nothing but silence since 1998, the fact that we were no longer friends still sometimes stung me like a fresh wound for reasons that I couldn’t explain.

She laughed.

And then she left the bar, still laughing at me. I followed her into the street and watched her walk away.

“But you hurt me,” I said, sounding weak in every sense of the word.
This made her laugh harder as she walked off into the night.

When I think about men that broke my young heart, I remember the fact that I felt pain, but I don’t actually remember the pain. Losing a friendship with a woman is different. Days after I ran into her in my dream, I ran into her, for the first time in about eight years, in life. With all that time behind us, I still wanted to curl up and cry.

During my mid-20s, A and I were co-workers and co-players who peed our pants laughing while drinking bourbon and smoking and watching “Billy Jack.” (“Watch his feet, he kill you wit’ his feet.”) We lauded each other when one of us turned a particularly good phrase at the alternative paper where we both worked. She had helped to get me hired. We were both obsessed with identity politics and pop culture and law and crime and finding the best ways to write about them. We also gossiped about co-workers, imitated our more annoying sources and tore some of the people we didn’t like to shreds, verbally, behind their backs. Like most exercises in the demeaning of other people, the subjects of our scorn didn’t always matter much beyond of their service to the art of a good story and the sense of belonging that could bring to the teller.

She knew secrets about me that even my mother didn’t – things that she listened to with loving consideration inside of the warm glow of times when the idea that we wouldn’t be friends for decades seemed absurd.

She was my colleague and friend, but became my sometimes boss, a role that probably wasn’t any more fair to her than it was to the rest of us. She was a good editor, but a lousy manager, and her first foray into boss-dom launched our relationship into open water where it sunk with the pressure and only periodically came up for air. Whenever she seemed to pull away or cut me out of the loop (which she often had to as my boss), I’d become clingy and annoying. I’d campaign for my own relevance with her to the point where I’d later smack myself in the eye for recoiling into an insecure adolescent persona I thought I’d outgrown.

There were other people to blame. There was an unreasonably hostile work environment to blame and there was our youth to blame. There was a culture that raises women to believe that they can’t be direct, especially with each other, to blame. But these problems sat around like unclaimed luggage in the office hallways, and were never really unpacked.

Naturally, there were also men involved. One man who I suppose she ultimately preferred sharing her writing with. Her relationship with him once put me in the excruciating position of having to choose between betraying her and betraying myself at work, and I chose the latter, or the “high road,” as my mom would call it. (The “high road” is often on the same sea level as a doormat, I’ve found. Other people were much hipper to that fact than I was in my 20s.) I also had a man who had his own way of butting in. And these things are a whole other part of the story.

I buried her and mourned the friendship more than once, only to have it resurrected when we had a particularly good laugh or accidental heart-to-heart. But after pitches and pitfalls and fits, our friendship croaked, well after our newspaper had met the same fate. She stopped returning my phone calls as I became more and more paranoid that I was now one of the people I used to help her avoid. When the phone rang after hours, I’d answer and she’d whisper “I’m not here,” while smiling and wiping the air with her hands. There were usually colorful reasons why a particular person wasn’t worth talking to or needed to be avoided, replete with anecdotes that summed them up like a well-drawn comic strip. She tended to withdraw from any conflict or tension, and whenever some sprouted between us, I would dread the idea that I might suddenly become one of those two-dimensional characters, animated inside of A’s richly detailed frames.

We also worked with another woman, K, who remains one of the only people I would cross (and, lord love a duck, I believe I actually have crossed) the street to avoid. Sitting in a desk next to hers in my first weeks on the job, I remember how she’d speak sweetly to people on the telephone, then begin cussing them out the second the receiver hit the base. Being one of those people she spoke to sweetly on a regular basis, it didn’t take long for me to realize that anytime she was on the other side of a closed door, chances were good that she was facing it and shooting me the bird. She identified herself as a feminist almost daily, but was no more capable of treating her fellow woman with respect than our publisher, a preening, self-absorbed lefty with the obligatory sensitive new age guy ponytail, treated the office receptionist. Like Kleenex.

Near the end of the paper’s existence, I actually caught K in the act of talking smack about me behind a partition, describing me as universally incompetent due to a rotten sentence I’d written during a 60-hour work week in which, due to our constant downsizing, I’d written over half of the news content. A had been cast back into the role of editor in the final act of the paper, so I complained to her sort of hysterically. She sympathized and apologized, but laughed that we all knew K, and the she had warned her that this kind of thing was bound to happen someday. When asked to apologize, K actually told me she was sorry about how I heard what she said, but that she felt it was all true. It was just unfair, especially coming from a woman who used to sweet-talk me into doing her job while complaining of headaches that lasted well over a year.

We were all like latent characters in scenes from Odd Girl Out.

A year and a half after the paper folded and several phone calls to A had been unreturned, I hadn’t lost all hope. I have plenty of friendships that have gone through stretched, elastic phases and eventually snapped back. Other former co-workers I ran into complained that they hadn’t heard from A either, expecting that I had. And she was in a one-year master’s degree program, which seemed like a legitimate reason to be out of touch.

Then I ran into a former co-worker who I saw fairly regularly who said “so, it was good to finally see A last weekend, but you didn’t miss much. Were you out of town or just so annoyed with her no-calling-anyone back act that you’ve written her off completely and decided not to go?”

It turned out that K had a party for A’s completion of her masters degree that I, who hadn’t moved, changed phone numbers or become in any way unfindable, hadn’t been invited to. This seemed strange, since people from our old accounting and production departments had apparently received their invitations.

A party snub is no big deal when you’re regularly in touch with a person. Apologies are made and you just see them the next time. But before I’d been a co-worker, I’d been a friend. And if I had just been forgotten – if people from accounting were a priority to reconnect with and I wasn’t – then that was almost worse. At best, I was simply forgettable, at worst, I was snubbed with the intent to h
arm. I held another funeral for the friendship in my mind and tried to banish the viral feeling I had that close relationships with women simply weren’t worth having.

A few weeks later I went to a bookstore where I often took refuge from the isolation of freelance writing among the crowd of weekday strangers that always appeared to be doing the same thing. As I charged toward the coffee counter to get a cup to take for a lengthy browse, I realized K and A were right there, chatting animatedly at a table in the cafeÃ?©. It was too late to just turn-tail and run, so instead I opted to act oblivious. I ordered my coffee and poured in my cream with my back to them, acting like I had no idea they were there. Then I bolted for the highest book stacks I could find to hide among, then sat down and tried to catch my breath. Not only did it physically hurt my heart to see them, I was immediately ashamed that the feelings it provoked in me were so strong that I didn’t feel capable of doing anything but fleeing.

Maybe it would have been different if A had been alone, or with anyone but K, who I thought could probably benefit from a 12-step program for people who apparently derive their entire sense of self-worth from demeaning others. I’m sure I felt hurt that a person who I had seen talk smack about virtually everyone she ever encountered was someone A saw as more deserving of loyalty, or who was in any way a more rewarding friend. I thought about calling A so many times to get angry, spill my guts or cry that year, I’m not entirely sure that I didn’t.

But I thought I’d let it go. In recent years I’ve worked with several people from her city and publication, so I hear of her sometimes. On the rare occasion that I’ve seen K, I’ve just looked past her, crossed the street or walked away. But it’s a little like cutting out a three and a half year period of my life which, while it was often absurdly stressful, was also formative and a time in which I produced work I’m still proud of.

And here we are eight years later with this dream, coming at a time when I’ve really just started to foster some of the deepest new friendships with women that I’ve dared to try since the A experience. Motherhood opened up all of these new possibilities for healthy, loving friendships with other women and I have tried to let go of some old fears and embrace that – to trust that we don’t have to be petty with each other or stop communicating because being direct is too painful. And maybe once you’ve had 16 doctors stare up your hoo-ha while they ponder the safety of you and your baby, you learn something that no one can really explain about humility and fear and love.

So this past Saturday, just a couple of hours after I had left the company of one of my newest, dearest friends – one of the only people that I exchange “I love yous” with regularly outside of my family (as I once sometimes did with A), I stopped by Target to pick up an extra set of lights for the Christmas tree. Declan was 19 pounds of asleep in my arms and the baby carts were blocked by a kid cart and A, who was talking to her younger sister right in front of them.

Maybe it’s because the dream was such a fresh event that I’d Googled her just a week before, or maybe it was petty self-consciousness over the fact that we’ve practically traded body types in ten years – she is now rail thin and I’m more Rubenesque – but I immediately felt kind of winded. But I wasn’t going to waste the trip by leaving and I wasn’t going to walk all the way to the Christmas decorations without a carrier of some kind. So I marched through them awkwardly and started yanking at the kid cart to get to the baby cart, apologizing under my breath for moving them aside.

“Tracy, is that you?” she asked. I think I tried to act surpised, but frankly, I’m terrible at faking anything. “Is that your baby?”

We had an awkward exchange, at least from my end. I babbled incoherently and sort of breathlessly about the writing work I’ve been doing lately. I let her know that I’d been vaguely aware of her whereabouts for years and met a few folks who knew her. But I didn’t say how much I love being a mother, only that I’d wished Declan wasn’t asleep so that she’d gotten to see what a nice person he really is. I didn’t say that I saw that she’d done something amazing with her career last year and that I was struck with both pride in once having known her and envy that I’m not currently in the position to do something similar.

She said something about how I should call her at work sometime, or let her know when I was in Cleveland, which I am a couple of times a year. But this became the thing it was hardest to let go of as I went on to buy my extra string of blue pearl lights. I think I made some kind of obligatory “that’d be great” kind of response, but then I contemplated that situation and couldn’t imagine any outcome other than I call, and then never hear back.

Having unresolved pieces of my past seems harder than it did before I became a mom. I want to be wise enough to know what to do when my little boy, whose eager smiles are so quickly returned by most of the world right now, suddenly aren’t. And how do I convince him to let go of rejection when my own old wounds can still feel so fresh?

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