Ask. You Won’t Sound Stupid.

tiger

When I was twenty-two, I left New York for San Francisco, determined to move past a failed relationship and a failed presidential campaign. I had done all I could for both–all I was able to do at that time–and was ready for my adult life to truly start.

That adult life began with a healthy amount of mooching off family members. I stayed at my brother’s Berkeley dorm, a co-op, while he was out of town for spring break, sleeping in his bed and reading his roommate’s Harry Potter books. I felt like an interloper even though I had permission to be there, so I tried to stay under the radar, eating meals at the taqueria up the street and sneaking to the communal kitchen only for cereal. The cereal and milk were dispensed from large canisters that seemed impossible to empty. Nevertheless, I found a nasty note on the windshield of my car, which I’d parked in one of the many vacant spots in the co-op lot. The author of the note assumed I was a homeless person, and told me that I’d been seen stealing food from the kitchen and that I was trespassing. It was the result of a miscommunication that was quickly cleared up upon my brother’s return, but I felt attacked and too timid to plead my case, so I decided to move on. (What happens next?)

Definitely Not Mainstream
My Life as an Astrologer

mystic-package-1967

“I never thought you would become someone who’d sell spiders and charms.” That was my dad’s reaction when I said I was going to be an astrologer.

He’s not the only person I’ve had a negative reaction from. Years later my unflappable and always-confident therapist told me, “I wish you’d have come to me sooner. I could have saved you from astrology.” When I meet new people and they ask what I do, they sometimes seem surprised when I tell them. I don’t look like what they think an astrologer should look like. No wild tattoos. No eye makeup. My Cher look: missing. (What happens next?)

What I Didn’t Learn in School

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In an episode of the “Cosby Show” that sticks in my mind, Vanessa Huxtable’s class has a science fair. For her entry, Vanessa creates a static model of the planets in the solar system. The day of the fair, she is shown up by her peers and comes in 14th place. The other projects are impressive, like a robot that works at the clap of hands. Another student brags that he created a model of the solar system where the planets orbited one another several grades ago. By the end of the episode, Vanessa decides to redo her model, not for credit or even to show to her teacher, merely to show herself that she can.

This episode stuck in my memory from my childhood because not because the moral sank in, but precisely because I couldn’t relate to Vanessa. “Why bother with the extra work?” I wondered.  Instead, I had learned to work efficiently and I calibrated my effort with the results.

(What happens next?)

What Went Wrong with Feminism?

Image of a women's liberation protest by Warren K. Leffler
Image of a women’s liberation protest by Warren K. Leffler

 

I was at the heart of the second wave feminist uprising when I moved to Manhattan in 1969 at the age of 22. The help wanted ads in the newspaper were still divided into men’s jobs and women’s jobs (hard to imagine now), but women who had made the coffee and bore the babies for the rabble-rousing men of the Free Speech and Civil Rights movements were beginning to get restive.  What about our issues?

The male revolutionaries didn’t care about our issues, but they HAD taught us to organize, so we pressed for equality ourselves.  It was a heady time. Gloria Steinem was constantly in the news and Betty Friedan’s “The Second Sex” was being read widely.  We held consciousness-raising sessions in living rooms in Greenwich Village and eventually in larger spaces like churches and synagogues.  We marched for equal pay for equal work, for the right to safe and legal abortions, for equal opportunities to advance in business and the professions, and for the Equal Rights Amendment which would enshrine our status as the equals of men before the law in the Constitution.   (What happens next?)

An Impossible Choice
Ambivalence about Parenthood

Capture

It starts with a pregnancy test.

For Poppy Morgan, a 39-year-old San Franciscan, that plus sign in the view window was an answer to a decades’ old wish. As a journalist, Poppy’s prayers and journey were exactly what I was interested in; I was writing an article on pregnancies like hers and had interviewed another couple about their experience.

I had also, about six months before my first conversation with Poppy in 2012, woken up at 38 and realized I might be one of those women who never would see that plus sign in the view window, that I might be one of those women who ran out of time to have a family.

So it was that I would spend the next two years writing the Morgans’ story, and, eventually, deciding what my own story would be. (What happens next?)