Handmaid

If I were writing a review blurb for The Handmaid’s Tale (the show, streaming on Hulu), it would look something like:

“…terrifyingly relevant! Five stars!”

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It remains one of those books for me that changed me, left a mark. I reread it from time to time, mostly to remind myself of what I’m fighting for when I talk about feminism, and the right to choose, and women’s autonomy.

If you are unfamiliar, The Handmaid’s Tale imagines a dystopian future society called Gilead, which is a theocracy ruled socially and politically by white Christian men — Matt Walsh’s wet dream, basically. Women have zero rights; they aren’t even allowed to read. Because of environmental factors, the birthrate is very low. Women who have proven themselves fertile are conscripted to be handmaids to the ruling class. They lift this idea (and most of the laws of the society) out of the Christian Bible. Each time the commanders have sex with (read: rape) their handmaids, they read a passage from Genesis, the story of Jacob and his wives, sister Leah and Rachel:

“And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.” (King James Bible)

The story is told by Offred, the handmaid of The Commander (in the show, Commander Waterford).

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

If anything, the show is more terrifying than the book. The camerawork is almost uncomfortably intimate. Joseph Fiennes as The Commander is creepy af. What happens after her “transgressions” to Ofglen/Emily is horrifying. In short, LGBTQ people in Gilead are viewed as ‘gender traitors’, and punished, usually by hanging. But because Ofglen is a fertile handmaid, her life is spared; other parts of her, not so much. It’s truly shocking.

In one of the bitterest of twists, the show reveals that Serena Joy/Mrs. Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) came up with a lot of ideas for Gilead’s rule of law. The show gives her a depth of character that the book decidedly does not. She’s *almost* sympathetic. The casting in the show is younger than in the book, or at least that’s my impression. As a result, Mrs. Waterford seems to be in much more direct competition with Offred for the commander’s affection.

The show also gives us some back story for Nick (Max Minghella). It reveals Luke’s fate after the escape attempt. The show also gives us a very diverse cast, which I liked. When I read the book, I pretty much pictured everyone as white (duh), but the show is cast much differently.

Some of the most chilling moments from the show:

After The Commander’s first handmaid kills herself, which is shown in a flashback, as they are taking the body out, Mrs. Waterford looks at her husband and says, “I told you.”

In another scene, after an illegal game of Scrabble with the Commander, he tells Offred that they created the system of handmaids “for your own good…. You’re free now, to fulfill your biological destiny.” Offred says, “What about love?” and he dismisses her as if she’s a child.

This is the part of the show that scares me the most, probably. Because it’s not fiction that plenty of men (and not a few women) do believe that a system that takes choices away from women is actually freeing them for what they should be doing. Women don’t need to work; they don’t need access to reproductive health care; they don’t need to read. They should just submit to sex, conceive babies, and be happy.

*shudder*

The casting of Handmaid’s Tale is extraordinary. There is not a weak character. (Look for a cameo by Atwood in Episode 1.) Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia is amazing. She captures the zeal of the Aunts — women who have been chosen to “train” the handmaids in their new roles. Aunt Lydia is a true believer in Gilead. The comparisons comedienne Michelle Wolf made between Aunt Lydia and Sarah Huckabee Sanders weren’t about SHS’s looks. They were about SHS’s willingness to be a mouthpiece to the powers that be. I don’t know that SHS is as much of a zealot as Aunt Lydia — who is also quite the sadist — but both women are willing participants in the culture of lies and oppression, one fictional, and one very much not.

But all the credit goes to Elizabeth Moss who plays Offred/June. She manages to capture the surrealism of her situation while also recognizing the horror of it. Her facial expressions, and her voice as she speaks in the voiceovers, starts as incredulous — “How is this life?” But as the story goes on, she finds her core and her power. “They shouldn’t have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army,” she says in one of the last episodes of Season 1.

The show ends exactly where the book does (sans epilogue), so I am curious to see where Season 2 takes us.

If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it, but I will warn you: It’s not easy. It wasn’t easy to read twenty-plus years ago when I first discovered it, and it sure isn’t going to be easy now. The show is also quite difficult because it pulls very few punches. The characters in the show are not as one dimensional as in the book — which is scary. These could be real people in power; arguably they are. Don’t tell me VP Pence and his wife wouldn’t be perfectly content in Gilead.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale, or watched the show? What do you think?

Copyright for featured image: prasongtakham / 123RF Stock Photo

Arts Fest Umbrellas

Tuesday

When the 13-year-old comes out of her room and says, “Hey, let’s play a game!” you forget whatever else you were doing, and you play that game!

This is actually true of any of my children, but especially for Flora. Recently Michael asked to play the board game Sorry!, and so we did. Last night, Flora wanted to play Apples to Apples, so we did. Random requests for family together time should be delivered if at all possible!

One of the challenges of continuing to blog is that I started this when my children were babies. I needed a repository to complain, to write about babyloss, to capture the cute and frustrating things that my children did. From infancy through about age 4, I found parenting to be physically and logistically challenging in ways I hadn’t expected.

The tween and teen years, of course, are challenging in different ways, and ways that I cannot always share here. Because it’s not just about my parenting any more; it’s also about making sure my children’s privacy, safety, and dignity are also respected. Each of my children give me challenges every day — why won’t Michael do his homework; what can I do to get Flora out of her room; how do I help Kate navigate a drama-filled relationship? — and while I can allude to these challenges, I can’t always dive into them in depth.

They aren’t my stories.

Navigating the tween/teen years as a parent are challenging for me in the following ways:

1. Emotions run strong. I think the tween years are proving to actually be more fraught (although my teen isn’t far into the teen years, so everything is subject to change without notice — I think I’m going to make this my new bio). The hormonal, physical, social, and emotional upheavals that start around the ages of 10 and 11 are harder to deal with. Once a young person going through puberty starts to figure out what is up, they can temper their reactions. Mileage varies, of course.

2. “Your feelings are valid.” Even as the emotional roller coaster of puberty appears to turn already irrational creatures (i.e. children) into even less rational creatures with a side of eyeroll, this is something I find myself telling my children often. I think I’m doing the right thing by affirming my children’s emotions, the positive ones as well as the difficult ones. I do this in part to help them navigate the difficult ones. Anger, anxiety, sadness, grief — my children’s reactions to things that happen in their lives are appropriate. It’s what they decide to do after that needs to be examined and dealt with accordingly.

3. I want my children to DO stuff. At this point, none of my children are involved in any extra curricular activities, and while I think part of that is my responsibility, I also want them to be like, “Hey, Mom, I’m really interested in XYZ, can I take this class, course, sign up for this sport?”

And that’s not happening. Flora and Michael played soccer last fall, but neither was interested in soccer this spring. Flora doesn’t want to do anything extra (although there was one club at the library she was interested in, which never got off the ground due to a lack of interest); Kate was in drama club, but the faculty member running it had to drop it this year due to health issues. Michael wants to take karate or similar martial arts. But I haven’t taken the initiative to get him signed up for those. I don’t count playing instruments because that is part of their curriculum.

4. I want my children to just do what I tell them to do. My children know what I expect of them: homework, chores, practice instruments. I want them to come home from school, and be done with their “work” before I get home.

This does not happen. I get home, and I am ordering them around. It’s not very fun. I’m not sure how to help them develop these habits.

Anyway: Tuesday, we played games. It was good. (And, no, I don’t “let” my children win.)

What did you do Tuesday?

May

One third of the year is already gone. *poof*

I feel like I haven’t done anything, and yet I know that I’ve actually been very busy, which is why I’m looking around myself in May wondering where the time has gone.

But I guess that is part of the problem: I (we) have been busy with things, day in and day out, plus weekends. And thus, nothing has gotten done. It’s a conundrum. Plus, of course, dealing with my own anxiety and sleep issues.

So. May.

May-be, it’s time for me to slow my roll a little bit, and instead of focusing on busy-ness, focus on projects I want to get done. Flex different muscles than the ones I have been flexing.

1. Writing: What the heck, I’m going to try blogging every day this month. No idea what I’m going to write about. I’ll figure that out as I go through it.

I am also going to set a goal of finishing my next rewrite of my original WIP by the end of June. I may try Pitch Wars again, but in any case I have another project I’d like to start. I may try to do NaNoWriMo again for that one. I NEED TO WRITE I MISS MY CHARACTERS. I spend a lot of time up in my head with them. I need to get them elsewhere.

Plus, I have other stuff I need to write.

2. I don’t know what Two is. I want it to be my house. We just ended our car payments on one car, so maybe that can go toward the house.

I hate my house. Too much shit, and no time, no place, to move it.

3. I want to have more fun with my children. I suppose this in some ways gets in the way of 1 and 2.

All right, anyway. I’m going to get myself together here, and try to distract myself less. Wish me luck, and see ya tomorrow.

Live

Recently, I traveled to Washington, DC, to see Lorde. I stayed with my cousin Kathy, who was a perfect host. (Seriously, fam, if Kathy asks you if you want to go to a concert with her — especially if it’s at The Anthem — go. She and her family are lovely hosts.)

In an ironic twist, I wore an Afghan Whigs t-shirt to the show. I had brought two outfits to choose from to wear, but neither one turned out to be weather appropriate. So I went with a concert tee, long black sweater, jeans, and combat-style boots. It was the right call.

As we were eating a little dinner and having a drink at a place next to the venue, Kathy asked, “What do you like about the Afghan Whigs?”

Readers, I had an answer easily to hand. “They capture a darkness in their music that I recognize.” (For a longer version of this answer, see here.) I think we are attracted to the artists to whom we are attracted because we understand them, but we haven’t been able to express ourselves.

Going to see Lorde — for that matter, listening to Lorde — is a different experience than listening to the Afghan Whigs, to be sure. While there is a bitterness to Lorde’s themes and music, the darkness of Dulli is not there. She captures a youthful, hopeful, pained romantic vibe in her songs. Dulli is betrayed and betrayer, and he relishes the pain of both. Lorde is the injured party, and she owns her pain, holds her head up, and carries on.

I enjoyed the Lorde show for the energy that thrummed throughout the entire venue. When I go to see the Whigs, I tend to focus on the stage and on my own enjoyment. At Lorde, I felt very caught up in the hopeful enthusiasm around me.

It was clear that Lorde was feeding off her audience as well. This tour had been a series of arena shows until The Anthem stop. So she and her entourage were coming off a lot of shows in front of tens of thousands of people to an audience of about 6,000 people. “I can reach out and touch you,” Lorde said, delighted. “I can see your faces.”

I think the artists we go to see feed off of us as much as we feed off of them, truly. Else, why do it? Being on the road for months on end has got to be grueling. The reward must be more than financial.

Anyhoo, Lorde played all her hits, and chatted with the audience. I had a wonderful time, not just at the show, but also visiting family. It was my two favorite things put together.

Less than a week later, I was seeing the Afghan Whigs live, right up front, and bellowing the words to “Honky’s Ladder.” (It’s my favorite AW song. In four tours, this was the first time I had seen them play it.) And before, during, and after, and to this day, I think: Go find you some live art to take in, be it rock music, a play, a gallery opening. Art keeps you young. Find your people, and go.

On a final note, “Writer in the Dark” is my song. I’ve lived this. As many an ex-boyfriend and current husband can attest.

I love ya, babe.

Two rally banners: Books Not Bullets and Protect children not guns

March

Saturday, Dan, the children, and I went downtown to the March for Our Lives rally.

(We missed marching from the City County Building to Market Square due to work [him] and child logistics [me]. But we got to the rally as it began.)

It was the first real political action we had taken in general (aside from voting, writing letters, and/or making phone calls). It certainly was the first time we involved the children in action.

It won’t be the last.

I hope the grownups are paying attention. These children — my children — are growing up under a cloud of possible violence. Many of the children who spoke at the rally on Saturday had already been directly impacted by gun violence in their communities. Their friends were dead; they were living with fear and anxiety.

Many of these children will be able to vote in November. And any politician who is not actively seeking to make a difference when it comes to gun control laws is going to find himself out in the cold, and deservedly so.

I know it gave me hope. I hope it gave Flora some hope. She and I walked the square, and we bought some pins (Flora’s: Fight Like a Girl), and M4OL bracelets. (Flora, yesterday: “Do you think I should wear my bracelet to school?” Me: “I do. I think you have supportive friends. Some of your friends participated in the walk out.” Flora: “I’m going to do it!”)

It was extremely moving as well. The politicians who spoke were politicians. But the children and non-politicians who spoke owned the crowd. A number of 17-year-old girls had time on the stage; the Pittsburgh March itself was organized by two sisters from Shadyside Academy, a 16-year-old and a 15-year-old. Parents and siblings who had been traumatized by guns spoke up and spoke out. And there was a HUGE call for intersectionality. The children are reaching out to children of color and communities of color who have been under assault from gun violence for decades. They want to make a difference for those communities too.

The NRA and people who oppose gun control can hurl insults and invective at these children. They can scoff. They can choose to believe that come November all this passion will have died down. That young people will continue to eschew voting and activism.

I say, let them have their denial. I believe in these children, in their passion and their voices. They are tired of the deaths of their peers, they are tired of the do-nothing politicians and their thoughts and prayer, they are galvanizing us adults to be the people they believe us to be.

Also, they have no illusions. They aren’t calling for guns to disappear, they understand the Second Amendment. But they also know that they have the momentum and popular support on their side. That the tide has turned.

That Enough is Enough. Never Again.

++

Another first for me this month: I created an entire “Irish” meal for St. Patrick’s Day, which was a Saturday this year. Corned beef, mashed potatoes, Irish soda bread, and cabbage (sauteed, not boiled). Dan and I had Guinness as well, naturally. I was kind of proud of myself. I also learned that Dan loves corned beef (Michael and Kate enjoyed it too). So that will be something that maybe I’ll cook more than once a year.

Image of corned beef and cabbage on a plate, and some Irish soda bread.
Corned beef and cabbage, and my first loaf of Irish soda bread.

Did you do anything for the first time this month?

Election

After several months without an anxiety attack, I had one yesterday.

And I know exactly why.

Yesterday was a special election for my district in Pennsylvania. You may have heard. As of this writing, Conor Lamb, the Democratic contender, has declared victory, but there’s been no official word.

So now I guess I’m just going to have anxiety attacks every election day? Thanks, 2016. You were a real peach.

It’s a ridiculous thing, to have post-traumatic stress disorder about an election gone more wrong than I could’ve imagined. But here we are.

And I’m happy that Lamb won. He had my vote. He’s a young guy, 33, former Marine, former federal prosecutor. He ran on an economic platform — shore up Obamacare, protect Medicaid, Medicare, and social security — that simply won over many of the voters who went for T*ump in 2016. He’s white. He helped his grandmother vote.

Safe. Kinda boring if you ask me. Lamb is a Pennsylvania politician in the mold of almost every PA politician that’s come before him.

So, let’s not get too excited. He’s not a fiery progressive. He’s not going to lobby for universal basic income, single-payer health care, or paid family leave. Twenty years ago, Lamb could have run as a Republican in Pennsylvania — pro-gun, pro-choice, willing to work with the other side.

That is one thing that gives me pause. Lamb is going to work with the GOP in Washington if he can. He’ll work with T*ump. Don’t be surprised. I voted for him because I’m not sending the guy who bragged about “being T*ump before T*ump” to D.C. I voted for him because I figure the president is too much of an idiot to actually bring good policy to the table. So Lamb won’t be tested.

The Democratic party will come back into power by running a lot of safe, white, boring candidates. With luck, there will also be enough progressive, POC, and women candidates to keep things moving in that direction for the party.

I guess that’s the best we can hope for in 2018.

Placebo

As the daughter of pharmacists, I fully embrace the adage: Better living through chemistry, especially as it applies to medication. I will take the Advil for aches and pains; gimme the antibiotics for infections (not for viruses!); and my children are fully vaccinated.

However, my experience with antianxiety meds have not been the best. Xanax is great for derailing an anxiety attack, but it’s contraindicated with alcohol, and we all know I like my nightly beverages. I tried Lexapro, and it was bad news.

Last November, I started taking passion flower supplements, two a day. My husband recommended I try it at the recommendation of one of his patients who takes it for anxiety.

My anxiety and insomnia were at an all-time high, and I was starting to feel like prescribed medication was not a good option. I would’ve tried just about anything.

When we traveled to see my sister at Thanksgiving, she suggested a supplement called L-Methlypro. It’s the metastasized form of vitamin B (basically, I think). I believe, if I have this right, that some chiropractic research has turned up evidence that certain ethnicities don’t metabolize vitamin B well (think Irish). So I started taking one of those a day.

My anxiety has mostly been under control since I started these supplements. Are they working because of the chemical reactions inside of my body? Are they working because I believe they work?

Do I care? (Spoiler alert: I do not care.)

As I documented recently, sleep has been a problem. I picked up melatonin over the weekend to try that. I took it Sunday night, and slept fairly well — one wake up to go to the bathroom. However, Dan fell asleep on the couch that night, so I didn’t have him breaking into my sleep. I took melatonin again last night, and Dan and I were in bed together. Two wake ups, although the second one was at 5:30 a.m. I wanted to go back to sleep, but Dan was snoring, which made it challenging.

At the same time, of course, I must have finally dozed off again because I hit snooze until 6:40, and thus ran late all morning.

Tonight, I am going to try to sleep without melatonin to see if there’s a difference.

Do these supplements work because we think they work? Or are they “medicine” in a non-traditional sense, natural drugs that are kinder and gentler to our bodies because they are less-synthesized than prescription medications?

Either way, I am willing to give them a try. If the anxiety or the insomnia get out of hand again, I am willing to turn to a prescription. I am okay with trial and error. But I am also okay with going with what is working for me, regardless of WHY it works.

How about you? Do you take supplements to help with health issues, or rely on a prescription medication? Or both?

Sleep

It eludes me.

This isn’t the insomnia of the past. It seems that some mix of nutritional supplements, exercise, and deep breathing are working to keep true wakeful insomnia at bay.

If anxiety brain tries to turn on at 1 a.m. or 3:30 a.m., some deep breaths and counting backwards from 100 usually get me back to slumberland.

But I sleep and wake and sleep and wake.

Falling asleep: Not a problem (usually).

Staying asleep: BIG problem.

I am a light sleeper. I wake up when Dan comes to bed. I wake up to go to the bathroom. I wake up if Dan snores too loudly or moves too much.

Sometimes I abscond from our bed and go sleep with Michael. He sleeps in a double bed; I just push him over to make room. I bring my leg pillow — I have a leg pillow. Michael is quiet.

I wake up sweating. I wake up with my right hip feeling like it’s on fire.

I wake up.

I wake up at 4:15 a.m., and doze and wake and doze and wake.

Even with earplugs I hear: Someone’s alarm goes off at 5 a.m. The girls’ radio plays. Dan snores. Birds chirp. I doze and wake.

My alarm goes off, and I snooze, but I am awake. I am groggy. I do not want to get up.

Sleep. It eludes me.

Bomb

The high school in my district has received two bomb threats (at least) since the shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Yesterday, they sent the high school children home early in “an abundance of caution.” Today, they told all the high school and middle school students to not bring backpacks or gym bags to school. The middle school is separate from the high school, but on the same campus. At the middle school, everyone was to be dropped off at one entrance, and children would be searched as they entered the school.

Delays were expected. The message from the school specifically asked that parents dress children for the weather because they were likely to be outside for a while.

Dan and I elected to keep the girls home from school today. (Michael’s school is not near the high school and middle school campus. His bus was so late today that Dan ended up driving him to school. The middle school and elementary schools share buses.)

The girls had asked to be kept home from school, as well, although Katie did miss a test. It was all very anxiety provoking.

On one hand, the likelihood of anything happening was very small. The threats were deemed “non-credible.” The administrations of both schools were taking every precaution they could. The schools had a police presence.

On the other hand, what used to be unthinkable is something that happens with some regularity now.

Part of me struggles to have sympathy for a child who feels the need to threaten to bomb his school. Clearly, someone acting that way has some issues, and is doing the only thing he can do to be heard and noticed.

Some of me wonders if it’s a child’s idea of a prank.

Some of me wonders if the child is simply a sociopath, enjoying the chaos and fear his actions are causing.

In those latter two cases, my sympathy shrivels.

I am not here for the debate on guns, although you can find plenty of my thoughts on them elsewhere on this blog.

I am not here for a debate on mental health or school safety, either. Do those things need to be addressed? Sure. In which case, fund them. Give people the resources they need to get mental health care, and to secure their schools — not by arming teachers. That is not the solution. Heck, give teachers the resources to actually TEACH, including basic supplies, in-classroom aides, and a supportive administration and board.

How much closer to home does it need to get for things to change?

I admire the passion and activism of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We are still talking about this a whole week plus later, which is a change. I am here for the change.

If you are interested in making a difference, find a March for Our Lives event near you.

Listen

The girls and have been watching Queer Eye on Netflix, a reboot of the Bravo channel show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It is *highly* entertaining — and surprisingly moving.

These five gay men meet the men they are making over exactly where they are, with no judgement, and with nothing but encouragement and love.

They are better people than I, without question.

We watched Episode 3 last night. Titled “Dega Don’t”, it sends the guys to an Atlanta cop’s house to get him cleaned up, dressed up, and out for a date night with his wife and daughters.

Karamo, who is the culture guy, is a black man. At one point in the show, he and Cory, the cop, are riding somewhere in the car, and they start having a conversation. A real conversation. About black men and cops, about stereotypes, about the deep divides in this country.

And here’s the thing: They really listen to each other. You can see it. Cory is turned toward Karamo, and he doesn’t jump into the conversation. He doesn’t look like he’s thinking, “When is it my turn to speak?” And Karamo opens up to Cory. He admits he started off the makeover totally closed off to Cory — gay black man, white cop? In his words: “Nah.”

But instead of becoming more entrenched in their positions, they have a dialogue. Cory says he hates when police use unnecessary and deadly force, too, that it is especially problematic when it’s a white cop and black person. He doesn’t defend himself or people in his profession; he doesn’t justify the murder of unarmed black men. And Karamo is moved. They talk about their upbringing, and find out they have a lot in common. And by the end of the conversation, Cory says something to the effect of: I know that it’s going to take a lot more than two guys in a car, but if more people would talk about this, if more people would listen about this, it would be a big move toward uniting this country.

It gave me a lot to think about. Because I completely understand that I am part of the problem. I don’t know that I can overcome it when it comes to the political divide. I don’t know if I could open up and truly listen to a Trump voter: where they are, where they come from. I have a huge problem with our current administration.

I don’t know how we get back to being open and truly listening to each other, instead of shouting one another down. (Social media is no good for listening in general. There are rare exceptions.)

Maybe we admit, like Karamo does, like Cory does, “This is wrong.” Maybe we admit we are vulnerable and scared, and after that, find a way forward together.

But I don’t know how to make it happen. There are people I don’t talk to because I don’t trust them with my vulnerability, and I don’t trust them to listen to and hear me. It’s like writing to my representatives, and either getting a long letter full of GOP talking points — or, worse, being scorned and dismissed. I don’t want to take the risk.

Maybe more people need to listen to the cultural messages that exist out there in our pop culture — I am thinking specifically of the first post-credit scene in Black Panther, as well as the message the Fab Five give us each episode — maybe those kind of things are what we need to hear. Maybe there is common ground — hope? — from which we can step toward a prosperous and successful future together, rather than divided.

1 Kings 19:11-13 King James Version (KJV)
11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave.

Maybe we all need to be a lot more quiet, so we can hear.