Comments, criticisms, or (one can hope) compliments are more than welcome! Please let me know what you think, tell me I'm crazy (I suspect this) or what you'd like to hear about. Comments are screened before publication, so if you want to share something with me only, just put that in the comment and I'll keep it to myself.


Friday, June 19, 2015


Thus says the Lord:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more."
Thus says the Lord:
"Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work."

Says the Lord:
"they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future."
Says the Lord:
"Your children shall come back to their own country."

- JER. 31:15-17

I'm hesitant to even comment on last night's news that nine members of a A.M.E. church in Charleston, S.C., were shot by a 21 year-old man who spent an hour participating in their prayer meeting before pulling out a gun and opening fire, reloading several times and continuing to shoot people despite pleas from the crowd to stop.

I have no business saying anything. I don't live there. I don't know these people. I can't pretend to know what it's like to be subjected to the kinds of subtle and overt aggression that people of color face, particularly in a state where symbols of a time when enslaving other people was acceptable are displayed on public buildings as a reminder that there are people among them, including people in positions of power, who wish it was still the case.

And yet I will.

I will because--if it was me--I would want to know that others felt devastated, too.

I will because it will never, ever be okay with me that my actions, or lack of actions, contribute to a society where one group of people is "more equal than others".  The older I get, the less comfortable I am with the idea that I can manipulate how I am treated by my appearance in a way that others cannot, and that assumptions will be accordingly made, privileges granted, opportunities extended.

I will because, despite that, I know all too well how it feels to have adjectives applied to you that you didn't choose, other assumptions made, and privileges withheld, because of a biological trait over which you have no control, but for which you should have absolutely no reason to feel ashamed.

I will because we all bleed red, and whether you are Caucasoid or Afro-Caribbean or Hmong or Coeur d'Alene, you are entitled to feel safe in your house, at your place of worship if you have one, or on any street in America, because your kin fought and died for that just as mine did, and I have no more right to that feeling than you do.

I will because I, and my sisters and brothers around the planet, meet in places very much like Emanuel with people we don't know, and offer them whatever comfort we can with the thought too frequently in our minds that something like this can happen.  And yet we do it anyway, because can you imagine what kind of a world it would be if we gave into our fear, and stopped?

I will because there are people whom I love who work in law enforcement, and i want desperately for the things I believed about members of law enforcement as a child to be, without exception, safe things for a child of any color or upbringing to believe. I am grateful for the men and women in blue, along with civilians, who put their lives on the line to swiftly apprehend this shooter.

As old as I am, I am still naively optimistic on most days that these things are possible and we will someday reach that promised land.  There is an expression I love, whose rightful authorship I have not been able to pin down: "We ain't what we could be, we ain't what we gonna be, but at least we ain't what we was."  I believe that, and I have to believe the arc of history will continue to lead us forward.

But today I'm just heartbroken.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Too Many Flags to Fit

 “A boy like that will kill your brother
Forget that boy, and find another
One of your own kind, stick with your own kind”

This Sunday was Flag Day in the U.S. We have an enclosed porch with the ability to fly eight flags, which I do only on special occasions. Besides the American and Episcopal Church flags, which I fly on most nice days, I have a bunch of others, representing my partner’s and my varied ethnicity, places we’ve been, and some (like Wales) that I just have because visually it’s a cool flag. I have a vague sense of the major holidays in these various countries, as well as seasonal fillers to trot out when appropriate. We may the only people in New Jersey with Mardi Gras flags, for example, but I have attended the real thing in Louisiana many times and think observing it with gusto is a great way to usher in Lent.

Since my youngest sister married, it occurred to me that — just among my siblings and our partners — we now don’t have enough spaces to represent everybody’s background completely. Besides our own Italian, Lebanese, and Polish roots, some of which our spouses share, we have connections to Germany, Peru, and various British isles. I guess we can’t have everybody over at once, or someone’s going to feel slighted when they pull up to the house.

With that in mind, I saw with pleasure that a blogger whom I discovered recently, Joe Kay, had a piece from last year republished today by Sojourners. From This Day Forward… or Backward” starts out by describing the pressure Kay experienced from his family to marry someone just like them: Eastern European and Catholic. There was a tremendous fear that “the old ways” would be lost if this purity was not preserved. As he put it:
“To so many people, my relationship wasn’t about finding someone who fit me — it was more about me finding someone who fit them.”
My family has one pretty homogeneous narrative: my mother’s mother’s mother came from Poland as a teenager, quickly married a Polish man, and lived for most of her life in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where it was (and may well still be) possible to get by while speaking and reading only Polish. When my grandmother was of age, she also married a Pole, and her two siblings who married did likewise (in fact their spouses were also siblings, children of another family from the neighborhood).

My dad’s background is somewhat different. When my Italian-American grandfather brought his Lebanese-American wife to live with his Italian-immigrant parents above their grocery store, the two women both continued to do what they did best: cook amazing meals, each in her own kitchen. In fact, my grandmother was among the few people whose cooking my great-grandmother would eat besides her own.

There was some initial resistance, however, on her folks’ part: Italians, in that age of Mussolini, were viewed with an extra layer of the suspicion that most immigrant groups faced, and the Lebanese compensated for their share of discrimination by playing up their political and cultural association with the French. Once they proved themselves, however, both my grandfather and my cousin’s husband (also Italian) were adopted as part of the tribe.

My parents’ disparate backgrounds did not, as far as I know, cause any strife for their respective families , and neither did they impose any such restrictions on us (our mindset is pretty much Hey, another food to try!). As fate would have it, my sisters still all married Catholic men, two of whom are at least part Polish.

I guess by choosing another dude (and a WASP, to boot!) I wandered furthest from the field of what anybody might have expected from me, but I am grateful to say none of this has been an issue for anybody in my extended clan, including that same Polish grandmother, who is now 94. Thus I had tremendous sympathy for what Kay experienced.

This kind of concern still exists, even in the ethnic soup that is New Jersey. Some cultures prefer to associate only with their own, and to not do so can trigger suspicion and displeasure. An Indian friend’s family took a long time to get used to the idea that his lovely wife, also Indian, was not of their religious tradition; and a young Italian guy I dated briefly told me that if were to ever meet his family, I should not disclose my mixed heritage, the fact that I grew up in another town, or that I was no longer Catholic. And that was just to describe me as “a friend”! I never did end up meeting his family, as there was no way I was going to keep up that charade.

On June 12, we recalled a milestone in our collective recovery from such fear: 48 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that the state had no interest in preventing people of different races from marrying. Since 2003, the precedent this ruling set has been employed in the case for marriage equality for same-gender couples. As we approach the expected ruling that may finally put that struggle to rest (at least on paper) I’m grateful to my kin for embracing the relatively newfangled idea that a relationship is primarily for the people who are in it. As Kay said it:
“If someone really cares about you, they’re going to want to know whether this other person makes you laugh, helps you feel loved, brings out the best in you, and challenges you to grow. Does being with them bring you joy? Does your relationship bring you a deep experience of love? It does? Great! Congratulations! I am so happy for you! You are truly blessed.”
Would that it doesn’t take another 48 years before same-gender couples achieve the same degree of normalcy those of mixed race, ethnicity or religion are at least starting to achieve. In the meantime, as I look forward to empanadas joining the pierogi, insalata caprese, and tabbouleh on the table at family gatherings, I am glad that there is always room on my family’s mental porch for another flag, even if the real one can’t hold it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dear Eighteen-Year-Old-Me

This was part of a suggested exercise in response to a piece called "Letter to My 18-Year-Old Self" by Brita James, published in baristanet.com guru Debbie Galant's Mid-Century Modern blog on medium.com

Dear 18-Year-Old Me:

Greetings from the Future! I realize that I (45-Year-Old You) am still not on speaking terms with 16-Year-Old-Me for not lifting weights instead of taking gym class whenever you had the chance. For the record, we’re still thudding three miles around the track everyday trying to get rid of that Burger King sandwich you just ate.

However, since New Jersey is in the midst of celebrating Pride, I’m feeling benevolent. I realize you don’t yet know what that is, sheltered little Catholic School graduate that you are. But someday you will not only come to terms with the way you feel about some of the guys you know, but there will be guys who feel the same way back, and you will no longer think you are some kind of alien species with crossed wires.

Speaking of which, not three months ago, two of those boys in your high school class, who weren’t always the nicest to you, manned up and apologized for the way that they acted, completely unbidden. I know it’s hard to believe now, but 45-Year-Old-You wasn’t even overwhelmed with surprise at this development. People change and grow, and — if you have any kind of conscience at all — it seems to be human nature to carry around those little hurts that you cause, like pebbles in your shoes. Redemption — when you find it — can feel be a relief, and 45-Year-Old-You was actually glad to be a part of that exchange.

We’re not supposed to give spoilers, but you’ve seemed kind of in the dumps lately, so I’ll throw you one. Breathe a word of it and I’ll deny everything, mind you, but listen: Right now, in a house not that far from your freshman dorm room with the roommates you’re afraid of, a ten-year-old boy is growing up fast. Years from now, when you’re both what you currently consider ancient (don’t think I didn’t hear that!), he will cross your path and catch your eye. In a church, no less. Yes, I know a church just told you to take a hike, but God won’t give up on you just because that nun did, and when it’s time, you’ll grudgingly come around.

A few years after that (I should warn you, they keep going by faster, like some crazy carnival ride) you and he will be the proud uncles of nine (count them, nine) beautiful and intelligent nieces and nephews, and each of your families will treat you like there’s nothing wrong with you being together. Because there isn’t.

So hang in there, 18-Year-Old Me. The best is yet to be.

Knowing what you do now, what would you tell your eighteen-year-old-self? Keep the party going by replying to Brita's original letter, and/or using the hashtag #Dear18YOMe.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

More Than a Handsome Face: Model/Singer Kerry Degman Draws Eyes to Military Suicide Prevention

It is not every day that someone you once admired (or envied) on a purely aesthetic level fleshes out to be a real person who not only responds graciously to fans, but devotes a considerable amount of his time and energy helping others.

I’m speaking of Kerry Degman, who has since 2007 plied the wares of Abercrombie & Fitch, Braun shavers, and other products, but has more recently demonstrated formidable chops as a country singer, and put both good genes and musical talent to work to raise money and attention for the issue of military suicide.

A few years ago, I commented on something he posted on social media, not really expecting a response, but ended up having a fulfilling, if sporadic, exchange about spirituality and other matters that continues to this day. A recent interview reveals a young man who remains thoughtful and grounded despite being a household face, if not always name (yet).

Degman’s solo debut Red Light, available on iTunes and other outlets, features a cover of the John Denver classic "Take Me Home, Country Roads", but is mostly original material, including the title track, the nostalgic "Home-Grown Tomatoes" and the infectious (pun fully intended) “Stuck In Your Head” (video below):

The album also features a track called “Pray for a Soldier in Pain” which Degman wrote after learning some troubling statistics about suicide among both active duty military and veterans: The Department of Defense reported there were over 100 active duty and reservists who took their own lives in the first quarter of 2014 alone, and veterans kill themselves at a staggering rate of 22 per day.

Degman and Columbus Blue Jackets’ forward Cam Atkinson are the public face of a new (as of this past Friday) nonprofit organization, the Force Network Fund, which promotes public awareness of this issue and funnels donations to thirteen established charities who care for soldiers, veterans, first-response personnel, and their families.

How to Help

If you are in a position to help financially, please check out Kerry's page (). There are give-aways and prizes for various contribution levels.

Beyond donations, everyone can help get the word out about FNF and the issue of military/veteran suicide. Degman has a call out to other artists to cover “Soldier in Pain” and repost with the hashtag #sing2serve. Atkinson is challenging other professional athletes, fans, and friends to take and post a patriotic “selfie” on Instagram, tag @camatkinson and use the hashtag #americam.

And of course if you or someone you encounter is experiencing suicidal thoughts, get help! A national hotline 800–273–8255 is one of many resources available.

Grace... Eventually?

“Grace is having a commitment to—or acceptance
of—being ineffective and foolish.”


Ugh, I swore up and down that I was not going to write about this.

As I was winding down last night, I caught wind that a favorite author of mine had apparently used her Twitter account to express fatigue with the very public gender transition of an individual once known for athletic prowess but now in the common consciousness principally through association with a media accident I refer to, collectively, as “the K Hole”. You may gather from this moniker what you will any insight about my attitude towards same.

This was problematic for me, not because of her disdain for the media circus which has ensued, but because — by not respecting that individual’s choice to adopt a change of pronoun through the omission of one letter — my author suggested an uncharacteristic callousness toward the gender identity issue as a whole that shines a new, somewhat distressed lens on her writings about grace and compassion.

I don’t know what drove that; it may have been the fact that this individual has overshared TMI about plans to Keep It and assure us (did I seem worried?) that there would be no accompanying change in sexual orientation. Or maybe it was the plasticine Photo Spread, or possibly the unwavering support for people and institutions which do their best to keep others on that same road of transition, who do not share the same safety net of money and prestige, in places of poverty and violence. 

Or maybe my author was just plain tired.  Anybody who reads her stuff knows she makes no claim to be perfect. She has been candid about some pretty self-destructive choices along the way, and the ongoing struggle to surrender control, be present, and generally see past others’ warts (and her own) to the God-loved person inside who really is trying hir hardest. She wasn’t issued a manual on how to respond to a seemingly camera-hungry public figure who has suddenly stood our perceptions on their collective ear. 

Similarly, no such manual exists for undergoing profound identity change, post middle-age, while bearing media scrutiny and a lifetime’s assumptions about gender and sexuality on your back, many of them obtained in the oh-so-forward-leaning world of athletics.  

That said, having this experience does not magically make one above reproach. Narcissism is still narcissism, and publicly voting against one’s own interests (or those of the people who share your gender identity but don’t share your privilege) is still going to earn you criticism. On the flip, if you set yourself up as a coach for others to find kindness and mercy, and then say something completely tone-deaf, you can expect to be called out on it. Possibly by your own kid.

What I know… what we fought for… is that this individual has the right to explore these things, maybe mess up, shape-shift, and sort out how to be seen and known. We can wish it didn’t have to unfold in lurid detail in the tabloids, and we don’t have to attach any bravery or heroics that aren’t warranted (try this as a poor, inner-city person of color and get back to me!).  But how we respond to who one person becomes should be based on hir choices alone, and not reflect our understanding, or path to one, of what it means to have or change a gender identity.

The next Tweet in my feed, offering a completely unrelated story about Afghanistan, began with a quote:
“Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world”
So that’s where we are: bitter and beautiful, trying to live with each other, getting it horribly wrong sometimes. Everyone we encounter has something to teach us; it’s harder with some than others to know what that is, but — in those cases — it seems to be something we need to know about ourselves.