Month: January 2017

Lift Every Voice And Sing: A Q&A with Activist and Singer Abby Dobson

The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, two black feminist icons — Alice Walker and Angela Davis — spoke at the annual Peace Ball in Washington, D.C. offering two key messages about the intersection of art and activism. Walker revealed that the creation of art was one of her five tools of resistance. Davis noted that right now, “We need art, we need music, we need poetry.” Davis and Walker both understand the healing power of art, especially for women who feel under assault under the current administration. Jamaican-born Abby Dobson is a vocalist who carries with her both the activism of Angela and the art of Alice in her song. Dobson says she uses her gifts to birth powerful “genre-nonconforming” music, which is deeply resonant, at times mournful, in turns joyful, but always authentic. Dobson is currently Artist in Residence for the African American Policy Forum, a gender-equity organization founded by the “mother of intersectionality,” Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw. Dobson was featured in Crenshaw’s TED Talk (see below) singing as part of the #SayHerName campaign, a movement to bring …

Why I Marched: 9 Women Across The Country Share Their Reasons

Planned as a protest in Washington, D.C. to the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States the day before, the January 21st  Women’s March on Washington surpassed all expectations of size and scope. Millions of people showed up in D.C. and in cities all over the country—and beyond that to all seven continents—to march, chant, and listen to speakers, united in focus on resisting Donald Trump’s agenda. Many of the women wore the famed pink knit “pussy hats,” although headgear was entirely optional, and most carried signs with pro-woman and equality, anti-Trump and fascism messages.  I talked to several women about why they marched, what steps they plan to take next, and if they consider this day the birth of a movement. Sandie Angulo Chen, writer Maryland I marched in Atlanta while attending the American Library Association’s annual midwinter conference. I marched because as Rep. John Lewis reminded us, we can’t afford for our nation to take even one step backwards when it comes to human rights, civil rights, women’s rights. Since then, …

Sister, Sister: I’m a Black Woman with a White Sister

When people ask if I have brothers and sisters, I don’t know where to begin. Do I say, I’m an only child, the youngest of seven or the seventh of nine? In fact, all these answers are true. I’m my mother’s only child and the youngest of my father’s seven biological children. But if we’re talking the order in which my father’s children entered his life, then I’m not the last. When my parents divorced, my father remarried and I inherited two step-siblings. Still, however I go about answering the “Do you have brothers and sisters?” question, I always get to this part: I am a black woman with a white sister. Her name is Amy. People would come to my old Harlem apartment see her photo on my bookshelf, the one where I’m standing next to her on her wedding day, and they’d ask, “Who’s that?” But I would never just say, “My sister.” I knew that I must follow up with an abridged version of my family history, saying something like, “My parents divorced …

Calling Julie: The Sister I Chose and Lost

I still have her listed as “sister” on my Facebook. You know how you can tag people as family in your profile? It has been five years since she died, and I just can’t bring myself to change it. Perhaps I never will. Julie was my best friend. We first met each other when we were working at The Destin Log on the northwest coast of Florida. It was my first “real job” out of college. I had followed a cute Air Force officer to the beach town after I got out of school, planning to move on to Atlanta after the summer. Turns out I loved it there and, although the dude didn’t love me, I stayed. I had a friend who knew someone at the local paper, and — voila — I got a job there on the lowest rung, working the government beat in nearby South Walton County. Julie was the features editor — a beautiful woman who drove a cute red BMW. I was drawn to her immediately. Now, the government …

Margit’s Note:  Thanks, Sis

It was a chilly 4:30am morning in Brooklyn, and I was bundled up and headed to the Women’s March in D.C. My bus was packed with pink pussy hats, mostly women —  and three guys. No one was quite awake yet. But no one wants coffee yet. It’s too damn early. I knew the organizer Sara and her sister Amy, but otherwise I didn’t know a soul. I’d nabbed one highly coveted seat to get to D.C.; I needed to be there, to represent, to feel connected in a world that seemed more and more divided. For me, this trip was semi ambitious — it was the first time I’d done anything this physically challenging since I’d recovered from cancer treatment. The idea of hoofing it and standing around for eight hours made me a little nervous, but for some reason I wanted to do this on my own, without my husband, mainly in the company of women. It wasn’t more than 10 minutes before I’d met the sparkly Yoon and Kathleen, two moms sitting across from me, cracking open their hard-boiled eggs. We bonded …

I’m 50 and I Can’t Remember Jack Shit

When I was a kid, super memory was my superpower. I was the youngest in my nuclear family, the second-to-youngest in my extended family, and I was regarded as a rememberer-in-chief by all my relatives. Trip to the grocery store? “Nancy, we need apples, tomatoes and cereal,” Mom would say, and I’d reel off the list to her until it was all in the cart. “Nancy, what was the restaurant where we ate in the Adirondacks?” Aunt Margaret would ask, and I’d answer, “Keyes Pancake House” before the question was out of her mouth. People marveled. “You never forget anything.” It was easy, this remembering of things. What was the big deal? I’d think to myself, with all the self-awareness a nine-year-old girl could muster. Later, when I was teenager and perfecting random cruelty directed at my mother, I’d openly mock her for her inability to remember things. “Did I see that movie? Did I like it?” I’d taunt her, after she’d ask me just those questions about some film I’d mentioned. How could someone …

6 Apps to Remember Stuff and Get Comfy in the Cloud

In this age of constant alerts, badges, and notifications, it’s increasingly difficult to filter signal from noise. How do you remember what’s really important when the flow of information never ceases? In our busy modern lives, it’s way too easy to let essential material slip through the cracks. The good news is that there are a plethora of tools available to help manage the onslaught. With a little planning, technology can become an extension of your mind, improving your memory and helping you maintain focus. As a digital fanatic, I’ve created a system that allows my entire brain to live in the cloud. A brief introduction: I’ve worked in digital since the late ‘90s, back when people told me that the internet was a passing fad. Today, I run a social media agency – and to say that our work moves fast is putting it mildly. The good news is that by putting our memories into the ether, we become smarter humans, with an enhanced ability to understand and process information that our minds alone …

Can I Learn to Accept My Chemo-Induced Memory Loss?

I am a woman who forgets a lot. Every day I misplace keys, call one of my children by the wrong name (I’ve been known to throw in a dog’s name if I’m honest), and I lose track of what I’m talking about mid-sentence. It would be easy to blame any number of reasons for my absent-mindedness: three kids who keep me running in multiple directions, the day-to-day financial and emotional responsibilities of a household of five, my own, natural tendency to lean toward ADHD, along with work, friends, and exercise. For years, I somehow kept all those balls in the air, even adding new ones without a shrug. One or two might slip, but for the most part I was an artist at keeping who, what, where’s, and when’s moving seamlessly, without the use of a notepad or smartphone reminders. All of that changed when the one thing I hate to remember made me forget just about everything else: cancer. A little over five years ago I was treated for breast cancer. I wasn’t …

Ditching Multitasking to Be More Mindful

I’m sitting at my desk with my phone on speaker mode. This allows me to participate in this conference call but leaves my hands free to type away on my keyboard. That, in turn, enables me to take care of all manner of business from booking Christmas flights to Miami to checking stats on my football pool to ordering a new coffeemaker. I am a master multitasker! Or, not so much. Turns out I missed half of what each person had to say on the call and added no comments of my own since I was only partially listening. I ordered the wrong carafe for the coffeemaker because I wasn’t paying full attention to that chore either. As for the tickets? Hopefully, I’ll end up in Miami, not Minsk. What’s behind this drive to tackle multiple tasks simultaneously? The obvious answer is that it feels good to get stuff done. But it turns out that a sense of accomplishment isn’t the true driver of this borderline manic behavior. The culprit is actually the rush we …

What is the Lifespan of a Memory?

Memory is a funny thing. Why do we remember the things we do, and how is it that people remember the same event differently? How does one person remember and another forget? I’ve always been fascinated by this, and so when my kids were very young I began an informal experiment by asking them at different stages about their memories: “What’s your best memory? What’s your worst memory? What’s your first memory?” Even with their young brains, there are some things that they have already begun to forget. Which leads me to one of my biggest fears: that I will begin to forget too — their stories, my stories and my family’s stories. And if I forget bigger events, what will happen to those little moments? How my mother laughed and my father smiled? And what my daughter’s first hug felt like? This melancholy musing has led me to ask: What’s the lifespan of a memory? Family stories seem to be the easiest thing to keep alive. I keep dredging them up and telling them to my kids …

Margit’s Note: What Was I Going to Say?

The brain is a weird place. We instantly forget the name of someone we just met, but we remember every damn lyric to “Hotel California.” (“What a nice surprise, bring your alibis.” ARGH!) We rely more and more on our cloud-synced calendars, to do lists and electronic data to keep us current, and if that cloud ever crashed, our whole world would fall from bytes to bits. I am somewhat terrified of losing my memory. I remember seeing my great aunt delicately picking up a spoon to use with her salad and then putting salad dressing on her hamburger and being quietly explained to that she had lost her ability to remember how to do things. (To be fair, given today’s grain-filled salads, she might not have been so off.) As a six-year-old, I was scared to imagine that in the same way I was learning things, I might at some point unlearn them, too. I’ve often thought that there’s only enough genetic data for one sibling to get all the memory juice. For example, my sister has a photographic …

My Proof God Wants Us to Keep Laughing

When I was a kid attending church with my family, the worst offense we could commit was to laugh in the middle of the service. Which is why my siblings and I regularly prodded each other into laughter so forceful that it seemed to emit from our mouths, noses and ears. My brother and sister and I were regularly reshuffled to opposite ends of the pews by parental glares set to “SALT PILLAR” until the moment Miss Smith arose and called the kids to follow her out for Sunday School. The lesson was driven home at an early age: God and humor do not mix. So I was so delighted, as an adult, to find a church in my adopted hometown in NorCal where a) our priest is an accomplished stilt walker and never misses a chance to explain a parable from ten feet overhead; b) the send-off gift to newly ordained seminarians as they head to their first big jobs is a flaming Bible (to be used ironically, of course); and c) when a …

The Mazel Tov Slap: The Jewish Tradition You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

(Graphic: Kat Borosky/TueNight.com, Photo: Niekverlaan/Pixabay.com) When I told my mother I got my period for the very first time, she slapped me across the face and shouted, “Mazel Tov!” It wasn’t a punishment slap — more like the way you’d slap a person who fainted, or something out of the Marx Brothers — and it didn’t feel violent. I don’t remember the moment in great detail, and I don’t remember it as something terrible that happened to me. I mostly remember knowing that it was part of long-standing tradition from shtetl times, passed down from Jewish mother to Jewish daughter, the purpose (supposedly) being to bring the color back to your face (because it’s all draining out through your vagina now!). It’s possible I even knew it was coming, that it was something we discussed in advance — probably with all of my female relatives! — as I eagerly awaited the big day. And yes, I so desperately wanted my period, because at 14, it felt like ALL OF MY FRIENDS had theirs, and I was on …

Why I Keep the Fact That I’m a Muslim to Myself

You wouldn’t know my secret by looking at me. You wouldn’t see me walking down the street and give me that knowing nod of understanding. Because, honestly, you can’t tell that I’m a Muslim. I’m a middle-aged woman (first time I wrote that out… ouch), born and raised in the states. Blond hair, blue eyes and a totally American name. And I don’t cover. There are a few reasons I choose to be anonymous with my religion. I don’t need to talk about my religion or get people to convert to my side. I don’t need to debate the merits of my religion versus another religion or having no religion at all. I know what I believe and I’m firm in my faith. I have no desire to make sure you believe what I believe or to give you some spiel on why I needed to change religions. My husband and I are private people. We don’t share our news with the world. We keep that between us, so it’s reasonable to think that our …

I’m Not Religious, But I Believe in Pat

Had I posted a classified ad when I was searching for a nanny for my kids, the copy might’ve read something like this: Wanted: Delightful woman to impart kindness, manners and respect to my children. Infectious giggle a real plus. And wouldn’t you know it? That very person knocked on my door, arriving a few months before my second son was born. She stayed for 20 years. Pat’s few shortcomings as a nanny (she could be a dangerous laundress and a mystifying cook) were far outweighed by her loveliness. I remember calling my house from my office to hear her answer the phone with her charming Guyanese lilt and perfect enunciation: “Hello, good afternoon, may I help you?” she’d trill. It was all I could do not to hang up and call back just to hear her say it again. Pat had endless patience for rambunctious boys and a true appreciation for games. She actually enjoyed playing Chutes and Ladders, while I only pretended to do so. She declared my children both geniuses and gifted …

Faith in Boys, Bikes and Wallpaper

I had all kinds of faith when I was a kid. Faith in Christmas presents, in the sweetness and chaos of my brother, in pathological lip-gloss reapplication, in swimming pools, in ketchup all over everything, in my bike. I had faith that my mother would remain fierce and beautiful and my father funny. I had faith that I could be those things if I paid attention. I would cherry-pick and incorporate. Season myself to taste. I would control myself. Everyone thinks they can do this. I didn’t know that then. But I had faith that concentrating really hard was the answer. Sometimes I notice myself being the things that they are, all kinds of things, and their voices are suddenly inside me, finding their way out. I’m surprised every time. Like I’ve belched in public. I have faith it doesn’t show. Did you read that on my face? I’m very good at not showing. I ask all the questions. I have faith that asking all the questions will fill me up. My story and others …

Finding God and Letting Him Find Me Too

I have never known a time when God was not in my life. He was a foreboding presence from my first memory. God was everywhere, critically watching everything. I never questioned his existence. Not the way I did Santa when I realized there was no chimney in my house for him to come down. There may have been no Santa, but God was absolutely real. I grew up going to Pentecostal churches with my mother and my younger brother. First in D.C., where I was born, and later in Philadelphia, where I lived from the time I was nine until I went to college. My father believed in God but saw no need to go to church. In both cities, my church was predominately black. You dressed up for service. Men in suits, women in dresses — never pants. The adult women like my mother typically wore lace coverings that looked like doilies over their hair. The differences between denominations were confusing for me at that time. I just knew Pentecostals to be a lively …

Margit’s Note: The Martin Mixtape

As a kid, I used to get Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr.’s names mixed up. Actually, I imagined one was the other one’s father. That the “King” one was the Dad. Blame it on growing up Lutheran and the fact that both names shared substantial storylines in my six-year-old head. Ironically, and somewhat unintentionally, I spent some time with both Martins over the last two days — watching MLK videos and reading from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and visiting the awesome Morgan Library where they’ve got a great exhibit on the elder Luther, a priest who defied many of the teachings of the Catholic Church by pinning Ninety-Five Theses (his rebuttal) to church doors, jump-starting the Protestant reformation 500 years ago. Even though I’m not religious, it was a thrill to see one of the old documents in real life — it’s like a bit of social media pioneering before there was social media and one of the first uses of the printing press. For anyone who works with words, it’s a powerful piece …

From High-Powered Exec to Pilates Instructor — Am I Happier?

You hear about those folks who eschew corporate America — who just bail and find some trade that makes him or (more likely) her happier, more fulfilled, less angry. You envy them at times. Maybe you crave to do what they’ve done. Perhaps you have a plan to do the same at a certain age or net worth. I’m that girl. I did that. I used to be a media executive. I made the big bucks. I was a Senior Vice President at several major media companies: Scripps Networks Interactive (aka, the parent of Food Network and HGTV), Discovery Communications and Time, Inc. Having started my media career later than many (I did odd stuff until I arrived to it at 30), I ascended fairly quickly. I was a VP by 35 for a high-profile company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. (Fun fact: I started the week after she got out of prison.) Among other things, I had teams under me numbering over 100 people and managed P&Ls in the multi-millions. I was a kind of …

Up in Smoke: A Renovation Nightmare

After a couple of years careening back and forth between considerations about where to live, how to live and what we want to do with the next 50 years of our lives, my husband, Dave, and I finally committed ourselves to a big renovation project. It included an expanded living space, hardwood floors, new doors and windows, a new kitchen, new heating and cooling…the whole nauseating enchilada. Exactly four months ago, we broke ground, planning to be back in our home in time to host Thanksgiving in our newly-expanded dining room. But that was before the fire. Allow me to back up a bit. The decision to renovate was not an easy one. When we bought this house several years ago, the home inspector looked at its crawl space full of decaying joists, its attic full of black mold and the varmint hole as wide as a dachshund dug under the kitchen floorboards and shook his head and said, “Well, I can see why the price is so low. But listen. Do not invest any …

Making Room for an Older, Adopted Son

When you renovate a home, you tear down walls, gut rooms, rip out old pipes and wires. You empty out to rebuild and refill it. When you renovate a family, you push, stretch, pull and shift, too. You push past fears of it “not being the right time” or of you “not having enough money.” You stretch your thinking about the structure of your family and where everyone will fit in with a new addition. You stretch the shape of your heart to fit a new child into it, one that didn’t come from inside of you but is placed with you. You shift the space within your mind, your heart and your home to make room. “I want a baby brother,” my 9-year-old daughter told me for the umpteenth time. My “bio” daughter, or “biological daughter,” as she would soon be known, was eager for a sibling and no amount of “Mommy can’t have any more babies” satisfied her want. And then one day, something shifted. “I want a baby brother,” she said. And …

Ovarian Rhapsody: A Little Self-Renovation

Around the same time I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we were scheduled to renovate our apartment. My husband, an architect, had started to sketch out the designs. We’d enlisted his favorite contractor, Slavek. Our plans were to update the kitchen and the bathroom and to turn an unused half bathroom — really, our cat’s bathroom that featured an easily accessible hole in the door, left from the former owner — into a full bath with a shower. Our kitchen was Brady Bunch-era wood-and-probably-formaldehyde paneled situation: The refrigerator sat in the living room and we had a non-working washer/dryer combo machine called a Comb-o-Matic, circa 1975. Floor tiles were loose and scattered around the bathroom floor. We’d been saving up cash and waiting to do this project for a good seven years. It was time. So after processing the news of my upcoming ordeal, one of the first things I said to my husband was, “But we still have to renovate, right? We can’t stop the progress!” “Um, no,” he said. “That’s not happening now.” …

The Beauty of a Bullet Journal — and How it Keeps Me Organized

I have always struggled with organization. I would make to-do lists on Post-its, update calendars and planners but nothing really stuck…until I tried a Bullet Journal. I first heard about the journals through a Facebook post and was intrigued by the beautiful handwriting and colorful drawings that covered the pages. I love to doodle, paint and scrapbook, and so I knew that the creative aspect of a Bullet Journal would keep me interested. It’s not monotonous like a planner, so each page is something completely different and new. Unlike a traditional planner, a Bullet Journal doesn’t require you to stick to a pre-designed layout or theme – in fact, it thrives on creativity and sporadic inspiration, allowing you to organize your thoughts in a way that works best for you. While you could use virtually any notebook to create a Bullet Journal, there are a few rules you need to follow. Every Bullet Journal starts with a Key, an Index and a Future Log. The Key explains what all of the different symbols you’ll use …

Margit’s Note: I Came in Like a Wrecking Ball

As I stare at a huge pile of wall shards stacked in my bathtub, part of a renovation we decided to embark on months ago (read about that here), I’m reminded of the phrase “Sometimes you’ve gotta go down to go up.” And, truly, after months of banging, scraping, hammering, replacing, affixing and waiting in the IKEA return line (THE WORST), we now have a glorious new tub that’s so much better than before. Look! We have hot AND cold. The same can be said for our bodies, our careers, our relationships, and, um, maybe our president? Sometimes you have to experience the worst to unearth something great (or, at least, appreciate what you had before and say, wait, wait I liked that other one! Can we have it back?) That’s the optimistic way of looking at it. I truly believe though, even with something terrible like, say, cancer, if you’re lucky enough to make it through, there are things you discover about your body and mind that might make you better than ever before. …