A Quick Trip with Leonard Cohen

I can see the room.  It’s a little scruffy and smells like pot and incense. (Yes that’s a cliche but there you are.)  There’s a mattress on the floor, crazy Berkeley posters on the wall, a turntable and speakers, one window over the bed, another on the long wall.  Lots of bookcases, record albums, a coffee grinder for stems and seeds, a big old stuffed chair, and us.

It was a long time ago.  Hasn’t crossed my mind in years.  Then, right there, on the Spotify singer-songwriter channel, comes a young Leonard Cohen singing this:

Music is dangerous.  Suddenly I was back in Massachusetts almost half a century ago, when Suzanne, and Sisters of Mercy too, were part of my lexicon, along with everything from Milord

to Ruby Tuesday

to Blowin’ in the Wind.

Years ago Garry Trudeau published a Doonesbury thta included the line “You’ve stolen the sound track of my life!”  I don’t remember the context but it’s disconcertinly accurate, as he usually is.   Every song is a movie of the past, running — sometimes joyously, sometimes with enormous sadness, in my head.

It was such a different time, full of righteous anger and, at the same time, joy at being alive, sometimes in love, always part of the changes taking place all around us, many at our instigation.

Now, as we face the rage and disappointment of many of our children and their peers, it’s kind of heartbreaking to look back with such nostalgia at a time that they clearly see as debauched and destructive and, even worse, egocentric and selfish.

It’s paricularly hard when these songs rise up, so transporting.  Everyone, if they’re lucky, has fond recollections of the younger times in their lives.  But for me, as the music carries me there, it was so much more.  Hope, freedom, equality, beauty, love and peace — every song an anthem moving us forward.  And  lovers in a scruffy dorm room, a little bit stoned, listening, and sometimes, singing along.

The Wolf of Wall Street: Greed, Sex, Cruelty and Martin Scorsese

I understand about Martin Scorsese.  I really do.  From Mean Streets to Taxi DriverRaging Bull to Goodfellas to Boardwalk Empire, much of his work has been dark and violent.  Decent people don’t show up very often and when they do, they seldom prevail, so when we went to see The Wolf of Wall Street this weekend, I wasn’t expecting a pleasant experience.  I was not expecting what I got, either.

By the end of the film I was so angry I was shaking.  After three hours of unrelenting greed, emotional violence, ruthlessness, the cynical exploitation of the weak, casually abusive and emotionless sex, indescribable disregard for and destructive treatment of women, it was tough to walk out of the theater without throwing something.  

It was excess beyond anything that words could describe; images, sadly, are more successful.  There’s nowhere to hide and there are so many moments where we wish we could.

I was a broadcast producer in the and 80’s and covered the excesses of that time.  I knew that, in Bonfire of Vanities, Tom Wolfe was demonstrating his skills as a reporter as well as a novelist.  

Even so, the rank, brittle ugliness of this film, of these people and of the fact that much of the story really happened turned what we know into what we wish we didn’t.  The criticism by the daughter of one of its main characters, that it glamorizes the Belfort universe and makes them some sorts of rakish sweetie pies wasn’t what I saw. The are all reprehensible from first to last.

Of course the film wouldn’t have had the impact it did if it hadn’t been so well-made.  Its impact is indisputable.  Even so – maybe his next undertaking, after all this darkness, will bring us the Scorsese behind The Last Waltz and Concert for New York City.  After all, they say music tames the savage beast, and in this film, he certainly unleashed a hell of a creature.

To Letty and Marlo with Thanks: My Free to Be Grandson

My grandson Nate turned two yesterday.  He loves music.  And, a child of his era, music video.  We are avid watchers of Free to Be…You and Me clips. 


This morning, this song, and the others, ran on a loop in my mind as I walked passed strollers and playgrounds in the park.   Not for the first time, I was overcome with gratitude to the two of you and the others who brought these songs to what is literally now generations of children.  It was a major factor in our home when our boys were little; it was even the school play at their elementary school.  Now it belongs to their children.  And, I suspect, those who follow.

It's become my go-to baby present to young families who don't already know it – and sometimes to those who do.  And, within a few bars Glad to Have a Friend Like You or When We Grow Up, can bring me to tears.  

It's everything we wished for our kids when they were little – all of us; it's a myriad of memories of all the hours we spent loving, dancing to and singing these wonderful songs as they became part of us.

And so I presume, for all the moms and dads, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers  and teachers and friends — to thank you one more time, as I enter the third year of the second generation in our family to be "free to be."  

Glad to have a friend like you!




iVillage Heard Women’s Voices Before Anybody Else Knew How to Listen

Edcentral sized



Women need tribes.  Need each other.  

Two of the first online people to figure that out were Nancy Evans and Candace Carpenter Olson, the co-founders, along with two others, of iVillage.  Together they built the best online home women will ever have.  Parent Soup, where I worked for four years, was a mommy site before mommy bloggers or Babble or BlogHer.  Vibrant, warm and well-led, it served – and listened to – women with inclusiveness and respect.   

Well before blogs or social media, iVillage's topical message boards,  conceived as support communities like those in AA, engaged the site's visitors and provided a sense of home and ownership that didn't seem to appear anywhere else online.  They shared parenting and relationship advice and once, right before my eyes, rescued a woman from a terribly abusive relationship as all the members of the board came together to support her.

Today we learned the site will "be shuttered" and folded into the TODAY SHOW Online  under its current owner, NBC News.  

It's sad.  To get an idea of how wonderful it was to be part of what we created there, consider the deluge of comments  that followed a single post earlier today.  All of us are, I suspect, as surprised as I am at the depth of emotion this news has evoked.  We were all so proud to be part of what we knew was a remarkable creation.   And we learned so much.

My own first assignment was to design an education site for parents.  (The logo for "Education Central" appears at the top of this post.)  I took the initial outline to Nancy, who was Editor-in-Chief.  Looking up from her desk, she asked  "Have you looked at the message boards?"  I shook my head.  "Well go read the message boards, use what you find there, and then bring me what you have" she said.  She wouldn't even look at it I did that, and she was right.  

Rule one: listen to the community.  There was so much within those conversations that revealed what should appear on the site.  I've been preaching that lesson ever since.

iVillage believed in its communities, in their hearts and minds.  It gave countless women voices they would never have otherwise had and paved the way for the powerful women bloggers who have emerged after them.

Its leaders also believed in us, from novices to old hands like me, and in our mission: give women a home online and hear what they say there.  Believe, more than anything, in them.






Where Have You Been, Cindy?

Nate Nov 18 edited

This is Nate.  He was born in December of 2011.  He isn't really the reason I haven't been writing; my old job took care of that.  I was so obsessed with the work that I let the writing go.

As you may have guessed, this little guy is our first grandson. I wish I could describe how it feels.  I used to look at people who'd ask me "WHEN are they going to have children?" as if it were an urgent event as if they were nuts. AND really intrusive.  My answer was always "When they're ready."   

I'd stick with that.  No one but a mom and dad can decide when they're ready for kids.  But I CAN tell you that all the amazement and delight, pride and emotion, is real.  And wonderful.

The best part is watching your child, and his wife, being beautiful parents.  It's great to have a good job and a PHd and all that and between them they have two of the former and one of the latter, but to reveal themselves to be gentle, caring, magnificent, patient, joyful and loving with their son … that's the best!

I'm sure that this return will involve a great deal of grandparently meditation but given the state of our country right now (can you say War on Women?) I'm sure there will be many of my old topics too.  It's good to be back.

July 28, 2008: The Dark Knight, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Dark U.S. Days and Politics

I used to see Christ symbols everywhere.  It drove my mother crazy; no matter what film or book, I'd find some kind of symbol in it.  And Christ symbols were fashionable then (Ingmar BergmanRobert S. Heinlein.)  So I guess it's no surprise that I found implanted meaning, this time political messages, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  (the loss of Hogwarts students' freedom and rights to Dolores Umbridge) and the Lord of the Rings  – listen to this:

"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it's only a passing thing. The shadow even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that stayed with you. That really meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why, but I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. The folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding on to something." "What are we holding onto Sam?" "That theres some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for"- The Lord of The Ring– The Two Towers

Now The Dark Knight joins my array of political films.   Think about it.  Irrational evil — the Joker (the late Heath Ledger,as good as the reviews but somehow a bit Al Franken-esque)– drives Gotham City to such anxiety that its citizens are willing to surrender freedom and privacy and even to turn on their Bat-benefactor, to return order to their streets.  Sound familiar?  Throughout the film members of the community at large, as well as Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale), his beloved Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal,) DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and even the sainted Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) face — and often fail — deep ethical temptations (including abusing prisoners — sound familiar?) — and, surprisingly, those who face the most horrendous choice are criminals and civilians whose behavior is far more laudable than that of any of us (including me) who know what's been done in our name in Iraq and have mourned but not acted to stop it.

[SEMI-SPOILER ALERT]  This gigantic challenge, issued from the Joker himself, is a formidable and hopeful moment in the film.  Many have written that the film is dark and without humor but I don't think so.  This scene, in particular – and I don't want to be too much of a spoiler — seemed to me to be there to remind us that there is always the potential for good.  Even so, the film is crammed with talk, as in Sam's speech to Frodo, and especially from the wise Albert (Michael Caine) of the pain and sacrifice required in the battle against the troubles ahead.

Maybe it's a reach, and I can hear your saying "Hey, it's ONLY a movie!" but there you are.



First I got this email from a young friend:  "LOVED IT – Just brilliant and I am happy to vote again."  Then I watched The Speech again early this morning on C-SPAN and marveled at the reaction of 200,000 Berliners in a city that has been, in recent years, a tough room for American leaders.  We've spenta lot of time in Berlin, so I know the city; in my parents' lifetime it was the capital of the most racist country in the world but now it's urbane, cerebral and pretty sophisticated, with a stunning history and a development we've watched throughout the last ten years that is unparalleled.  War(and communist)-ruined buildings and just plain ugly ones have finally been replaced by gleaming new market and skyscraper squares, there's fabulous mass transit as well as renewed activity in its two opera houses and many theaters and ballet companies.  OH and enough museums to keep you busy for months.  Just the kind of place to be particularly hostile to a president like George Bush.

So what did Senator Obama bring that made the difference? David Brooks was pretty harsh in the NYTimes:  " Obama has benefited from a week of good images. But substantively, optimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney."  To be fair, I guess it can sound that way.  The reality, to me though, is that after eight years of a president of whom we could not be proud and whose policies, war, rhetoric and attitude shoved our allies far from our side, a bit of warmth and solidarity is a legitimate introduction.  Beyond that, the most profound thing about the speech, in my view, wasn't Obama but the response to him.  Sure, Europe is liberal and politically correct (except, often, about their own immigrants, unfortunately) and a black candidate (even half) for president in the US is attractive, but it's more than that.  It looked, at least to me, like Europeans have been longing for a United States they can believe in again; that perhaps part of the reason Europeans have been so angry at us is that beneath the rubble of the Bush years, we still represent a promise and ideal that Europe has been furious that we've abandoned. 

Of course, I could be projecting my own heartbreak over Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act and all the other profanities done in our name; at the horrific lack of inspired leadership both at home and abroad just after 9/11, at the war (How could it happen again – after Vietnam; the same lessons never learned, the same hubris?), at the craven attitude toward energy and life at the bottom end of our economic ladder – at all of it.  But I don't think so.  Rather, it seems that under all the anger Europeans have manifested toward the United States, they, like us, want an American leader they can believe in.  An America they can believe in.  And Barack Obama is about as close to that is you can get without moving to another dimension.

The foundation laid by that inspiration will get us, and our old friends newly re-engaged, through the terrible, tough days ahead.  Without a leadership of hope and belief, natural allies outside our borders will be lost to us, as they so sadly have been these past years.  And as Senator Obama reminded us, we can't afford that.  Not now.

John Kennedy, Barack Obama, 2 Inaugurations and 2 Generations of Dreamers REDUX

JFK Inaugural tickets

I wrote this piece right before the Obama Inauguration.  This seems like a good day to share it again.

I seem to be living in the WayBack Machine this year.  Lots of memories of 1968 and even 1963.  Now as January 20, 2009 approaches, yet another looms.  January 20, certainly, but in 1961.

See that crowd?  Somewhere, way in the back, probably at least a block beyond, stand an almost-fifteen-year-old girl and her mother.  Fresh off an overnight train from Pittsburgh, having arrived at Union Station in time to watch the Army flame-throwers melt a blizzard’s worth of snow on the streets of the inaugural route, they make their way to their parade seats: in the bleachers, way down near the Treasury Building.

I spent most of 1960 besotted with John Kennedy.  And Jackie.  And Caroline.  And all the other Kennedys who came with them.  Most of my lunch money went to bus fare as, after school, I shuttled  back and forth “to town” to volunteer in the local JFK headquarters.  I even had a scrapbook of clippings about Kennedy and his family.

So.  My parents surprised me with these two parade tickets.  My mom and I took the overnight train and arrived around dawn Inauguration morning.  We couldn’t get into the swearing-in itself, of course, so we went to a bar that served breakfast (at least that’s how I remember it) and watched the speech on their TV, then made our way along the snowy sidewalks to our seats, arriving in time to watch the new president and his wife roll by, to see his Honor Guard, the last time it would be comprised solely of white men (since Kennedy ordered their integration soon after,) in time to see the floats and the Cabinet members and the bands and the batons.

It was very cold.  We had no thermos, no blankets, nothing extra, and my mom, God bless her, never insisted that we go in for a break, never complained or made me feel anything but thrilled.  Which I was.   As the parade drew to a close, and the light faded, we stumbled down the bleachers, half-frozen, and walked the few blocks to the White House fence. I stood there, as close to the fence as I am now to my keyboard, and watched our new president enter the White House for the first time as Commander in Chief.

That was half a century ago.  I can’t say it feels like yesterday, but it remains a formidable and cherished memory.  It was also a defining lesson on how to be a parent; it took enormous love and respect to decide to do this for me.  I was such a kid – they could have treated my devotion like a rock star crush; so young, they could have decided I would “appreciate it more” next time.  (Of course there was no next time.)   Instead, they gave me what really was the lifetime gift of being a part of history.  And showed me that my political commitment had value – enough value to merit such an adventure.

Who’s to say if I would have ended up an activist (I did)- and then a journalist (I did) – without those memories.  If I would have continued to act within the system rather than try to destroy it. (I did)  If I would have been the mom who took kids to Europe, brought them along on news assignments to Inaugurations and royal weddings and green room visits with the Mets (Yup, I did.)  I had learned to honor the interests and dreams of my children the way my parents had honored my own.  So it’s hard for me to tell parents now to stay home.

My good friend, the wise and gifted PunditMom, advises “those with little children” to skip it, and since strollers and backpacks are banned for security reasons, I’m sure she’s right.*  But if you’ve got a dreamer in your house, a young adult who has become a true citizen because of this election, I’d try to come.  After all, he’s their guy.  What he does will touch their lives far more than it will ours.  Being part of this beginning may determine their willingness to accept the tough sacrifices he asks of them – at least that – and probably, also help to build their roles as citizens – as Americans – for the rest of their lives.  Oh — and will tell them that, despite curfews and learner’s permits, parental limit-setting and screaming battles, their parents see them as thinking, wise and effective people who will, as our new President promised them, help to change the world.

*I know, I thought of Christina-Taylor Greene as I re-read this too.

This post also appears in the forthcoming PunditMom’s Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America




Sarah Palin, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Tea Party

This is a sincere and committed couple. I am not mocking them. It does demonstrate the depth of anger in our country in a dramatic way though. What do you think?

(Thanks to @Lizardoid who retweeted this from a tweet by @JamesUrbaniak and @boloboffin)