These women are absolutely amazing by alix clyburn

I am in awe of this array of young women who came forward in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom this week to rightfully shame USA Olympic doctor Larry Nasser. The story of his cruel criminal sexual abuse is here too, but Im sending it out so we can all take a minute to witness these incredible heroines. 

The strength, courage, and dignity they exhibit in this courtroom is absolutely stunning. It's hard to hear what some of them describe, but imagine actually enduring it—in some instances with their parents unknowingly standing in the room. To anyone who claims the #MeToo movement is going too far, or #TimesUp is a celebrity gimmick, here's my exhibit A. This is reckoning. Gold medals aren't sufficient for these brave women.

There's a new children's book out now called Love by Matt La Pena and illustrated by Loren Long. It's a poem about love, but the words and illustrations aren't all sweetness and cuddles. The book shows difficult moments, and it gets at the unexpected ways love finds you and manifests. I look at these women and in a complicated, not-suitable-for-children way, to me they are showing love too. Love of themselves, love of justice, love for their own future, and the love they've doubtless received from their friends and family that gave them the courage to take the stand.

I don't know any of these gals but I think I love them too. Please take a moment and witness them.

The Power of Less by alix clyburn

The holidays give us so many things to complain about, which is why I cherish the aspects that genuinely bring me joy: some of the music, some of the parties, very little of the gifting or traveling, and all of the end-of-year best of lists, especially the book ones!

Aaah, the nerd pride to see books I’ve already read on the best-of lists, and fizzy excitement to put a library hold on titles I’d never encountered.

These past few weeks I’ve tackled a few of the NYTimes 10 best books. It’s a wonderful way to avoid baking and sending out pretty holiday cards (sorry).


First I read Less by Andrew Sean Greer. This book made multiple lists and each time the reviewer commented on how funny it was. They were right. It’s a delight to read. Named for its main character, Arthur Less, the story is about this middling novelist who books a round-the-world trip to try to outrun his perceived humiliations of turning 50, and to avoid the wedding of his ex. While his circumstances are quite distinct from my own, I absolutely share his existential anxieties about hitting 50. If, unlike me and Mr. Less, you are completely proud and comfortable with where you are in life, a) fuck you; and b) don’t worry, you’ll still like this book. The writing is subtly masterful and fresh, the wit is arch but warm, and the honesty is balanced with romance. It’s like one of those amazing little French petit four cakes you mostly just see in cartoons—whimsical and sweet, but actually incredibly difficult to pull off. (I only know this because Naomi and I now watch The Great British Baking Show together.)

Another in many best of the year lists is The Power, by Naomi Alderman. It’s speculative fiction about what happens when girls and young women discover that they can deliver electrical charges from their hands. I read the whole thing in just a couple days. It’s really, really good; like, put it down and say, “Whoa. Holy shit” good.

Then again, it’s not perfect. It’s not that the writing is so poetically beautiful, or even that its emotional power knocked me over. In fact, it’s a world-building book that makes some pretty major gaffes (more on that later). It's that the concept is #MeToo timely and Alderman is astoundingly good at presenting layers of ideas that will mess with your head in fabulous ways.

This jolt of electricity girls discover within them ranges from a sexy little spark to a lumos-like magic lantern to a high-voltage dick-singeing killer. Well, imagine how the world would change if girls had this power. Alderman plays it out in satisfyingly vindicating ways… and then takes you to some unexpected and uncomfortable places.

Yes, to see the balance of power shift, slowly at first and then rather quickly, is richly satisfying. But Alderman won’t let you linger in the self-righteous vindication. Even the gratifying parts give you much to chew on—you’ll love what happens when a woman candidate exerts a touch of physical power over her male opponent, for instance. Or, then again, maybe you won’t.

She uses a range of characters to take you through all the ways the world changes. Christianity gets a revision—after all, why are we worshipping the son, not the mother who made him? Countries that traffic or oppress women are violently and quickly overthrown. The world’s scumbags create drugs and political strategies, of course, to tweak and exploit the power now coursing through the bodies of all women.

Smashing the patriarchy sounds like a great idea, but what if matriarchy is the same thing with a different first letter? Power corrupts, after all. What if we are thinking about everything the wrong way? We like to joke about it, but maybe women are not inherently superior to men.

Naaah. We are.

The Power Cover.jpg

As I said, her world-building is flawed. I don’t think she sufficiently addresses why guns couldn’t keep this power in check, but maybe that’s because Alderman is British, where guns are not legal. So I let it go, especially because she was telling such a provocative, page-turning story.

I was happily ready to tuck into a novel-length revenge fantasy. This is much, much more than that. I highly recommend it.

Another Lonely Christmas

Have you ever noticed how many classic Christmas songs are about missing someone you love? (For any of you who don't get the reference of Another Lonely Christmas, click on the link to hear my favorite Christmas song.)

When my dad died, the holidays changed forever. For years, there was no real pleasure in it for me, just an affected joy and the residual happiness glowing off of my kids. That year, 2007, commenced a terrible spiral of grief for me: I lost my aunt, my mother, close friends, Jeff’s mother, our brother-in-law, and more. A therapist called it grief-related PTSD. Everything sucked, including the holidays.

Slowly, I found my equilibrium. I have my existential issues with turning 50, but in some ways I feel much older than that. My parents created my concept of Christmas and Hanukkah; now all I have are my mom's funny Mexican Christmas ornaments. Now it's all on me and Jeff to whip up the holiday potlatch of joy and junk for my kids. I’m just relieved the darkest days of grief are behind me. For years, all of this was just robotic obligation; I thought I never would genuinely want to even laugh again. I'm so glad I can feel happy again. This year some of my closest friends are struggling in the cold dark of grief. I think about them every day. If nothing else, it makes me stop whining about having to wrap gifts. 


The toothbrush is out there

The comedy that arises from incredibly out–of-it people doing stuff is a personal favorite. (See the Instagram account called Drunk People Doing Things if you ever need a laugh).

One night, I was awoken by a vibrating sound, a repeating low buzz/buzz-buzz/buzz. In my sleepy fog I struggled to understand what the sound was—the smoke alarm? My kid’s alarm clock? Am I imagining that sound? Are we in danger?

Ooooh fuck, it’s the sound of an electric toothbrush. Who is brushing their teeth? (Important background: Several weeks ago I had to toss my beloved Sonicare electric toothbrush because the rubberized push-button tore and became inoperable.) Jeff’s toothbrush must be broken too.

I nudged him and through a wooly fug of sleep breath I mumbled “toothbrush.” He staggered back from the bathroom with the offending device and in the dark and half asleep, we fumbled to stop the relentless, alarming buzzing. He was banging it on his nightstand. “A pen! A pen!” I croaked. With my eyes half-closed from the glare of the light I tried to aim the pen right at the metal switch to push it off. Success. I did it. We shut out the light and fell back into stupefied slumber. Then it would start up again. We dumbly grappled with this three times, maybe four—every time the same mix of caveman banging and clumsy squinty poking, our brain-damaged sleepiness gradually replaced by an escalating fury oddly coupled with hysterical laughter (on my part; Jeff not so much). Finally, he opened the window and hurled the toothbrush into the street.

In the morning, it was gone.

I tell you all this for two reasons. First, don’t buy your loved one an electric toothbrush as a holiday gift. For about a week I thought this would be the perfect gift for Jeff, and then came to my senses. Lame. 

Secondly, did anyone else see this bizarre UFO footage from the Pentagon?

Maybe those things we were cleaning our teeth with weren’t toothbrushes after all….

Happy Holidays!  And, since I did decide to skip the holiday card, here's a few pics of my cuties from the most unforgettable LA Thanksgiving with my brother and sister-in-law. 

Indoctrinating them into our nerdiness.

Indoctrinating them into our nerdiness.


This is all on fire now.


What exactly is an Open Secret, anyway? by alix clyburn

At some point in nearly every tale of sexual harassment, the reporter says it was an open secret in the industry/newsroom/office/world-at-large.  It got me thinking about that term, open secret.

I think, at least in this appropriate-albeit-overused instance, open secret seems to mean it’s something that shouldn’t be happening but is, and doesn’t impede on the powers-that-be enough to do anything about it. In other words, the dudes in control didn’t mind that women and, in some cases, young men were being harassed or even assaulted at work.

The incidences of harassment and assault are awful. The open secret thing is also awful. Here’s my worst-case scenario interpretation of this: It’s the most self-destructive incidence of tribalism we humans could possibly exhibit. If this open secret thing is evidence of men subconsciously circling the wagons to protect other men, we are doomed.

Why are we humans so ready to set aside our morality and values in this way? Why is the release of the film, or the continued upward trajectory of the producer, or candidate, restaurateur, comedian, writer, editor always more important than doing the right thing? What else is an open secret?

I realize it’s hard for these bosses to now stand up and say “I’m sorry. I was complicit in this harassment.” And as disgusting as it is to hear all these stories, I do think the relentless tide bringing all this flotsam to light will change the future. The women coming forward are incredibly brave and I hope they will go down in history as pioneers who helped change the American workplace.

(Nobody thinks this is a thing unique to the entertainment, media, and restaurant industries, right? Hopefully these celebrities who’ve spoken up will help embolden accountants, attorneys, managers, legislative staffers and other office workers to make a stand too.)

With each story, I realize how much insidious shit I put up with in the course of my career. We all do; we’re acculturated to endure it. I smiled gamely as I was groped by the handsy old executive director out of a misplaced sense of respect for my elder; I chuckled with discomfort at the lame flirtations of my client since he was, after all, a client; I rolled my eyes in mock shock (and genuine tedium and disgust) at the off-color jokes a male co-worker would make since it didn’t seem worth the trouble to raise a stink. I didn’t think I had the power, and they clearly assumed they DID. I’m grateful and lucky nothing I experienced was sexual assault or even truly scarring. But none of it was acceptable. The open secret for women even in 2017 is that we put up with way too much shit.

I listened to Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday podcast—I know, so corny. He’s an easy guy to mock, but he’s not without his good ideas. One is how encouraged and excited he is by technology and social media. He sees it as an incredible force for positive change, and at times like this, I think he’s right. The catalyst for Black Lives Matter was smartphone video. (And, btw, the reality that cops routinely harassed and occasionally did much much worse to black people was also an open secret.) The initial Harvey Weinstein story was traditional reporting, but I think the way it has unleashed this septic tide is thanks to social media. Maybe Deepak is right. Open secrets are harder to keep in the world of Twitter, smartphone videos, and nonstop media glare. We all have a little power now, even the people who white men thought they didn’t have to worry about.

(And yes, of course I don’t mean all white men. Calm down.)


The power we always had

Since 1920, we’ve had one power that technology didn’t give us, and we’re still figuring out how to use it effectively. The vote. Think about it. A month before Trump was elected, the open secret of his harassment and assault was played out nonstop all over the media. He bragged about sexual assault. We Americans elected him. A majority of white women voted for him. Why? Why would they vote against their own self-interest? Why would they vote for a man who bragged about assaulting their fellow women? Why aren’t we women protecting our own tribe?

Who are these women? Why do they think they win by toeing the line these men dictate? Why do they hold on with such a death grip to the fairy tale that old white men will take care of them? Santa Claus isn’t real. They know this, right? Are they afraid of taking power? Do they not want to do the work? Do they feel uncomfortable speaking up? Do they find it unladylike? So perplexing.

I don’t want a girl v boy world. No one does. But these men are hostile to the rights of women, so to vote for them is to vote against yourself. In Gloria Steinem’s book, My Life on the Road, she did such a compassionate and incisive job of explaining who these women are and why they vote against themselves. It helped me so much to read her perspective, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see it happen.


Empire of Greed

When I was a kid, my brothers were teenagers. They were good at doing drugs but weren’t that good at hiding it from my parents. We lived outside Detroit, and my parents would sometimes leave work—and the United States—to cross the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor for lunch. Once, on the way home, they discovered that one of my brothers (or “a friend they didn’t really know that well”) had left a small bag of maryjane in the car.

I was only tangentially aware of all this, of course, because there was a lot of really important stuff going on between my Barbies and that handsome fuzzy-haired GI Joe at the time, but I do remember one dinner when, in disgust and frustration, my mom said, “I don’t understand how every dumb teenager in this town can find the drug dealers, but the cops can’t.”

The reality was, and is, that the cops probably knew exactly where the drugs were coming from. It was an open secret, if you will. Today, it’s not the cops I’m concerned with, it’s the FDA. Please read the New Yorker article, Empire of Pain about the astonishingly rich Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma. For one thing, it’s thrilling writing. Patrick Radden Keefe shoots emotional stakes and suspense through what could be dense and dull material. The FDA is so beholden to these greedy degenerates they did nothing to slow the firehose of Oxycontin this company was spraying all over America. Purdue even had a side company that researched which doctor’s offices were overprescribing the drug. When their statistical analysis revealed a doctor over-prescribing this dangerous drug did they intervene? No. They called these doctors “whales”—just like the high rollers in Vegas.

The story lays bare the way our government and Western medicine at large is so complicit in the opioid epidemic. Everybody turned a blind eye to the open secret of the rampant over-prescription of Oxycontin. Nobody really held the Sackler family’s feet to the fire while their privately held company time and again squirmed out of culpability. Chump change payouts and sealed agreements kept these somehow legal narco-criminals up to their eyeballs in millions. At one point, when doctors who prescribed the drug grew concerned that patients were showing signs of addiction, Purdue came up with some verbal jujitsu bullshit to say it was a “pseudo addiction” the patients were experiencing. The solution was…. you guessed it…. More Oxy!  Ka-ching.

The Sacklers are epic philanthropists. Their name adorns wings of the Met, a full Smithsonian art museum, and more. They give none of the billions they’ve made to addiction recovery, maybe so as to not appear in any way responsible? With a fraction of their fortune, they could finance a nationwide rehab program. They don’t. The final paragraphs of this New Yorker piece are Gatsbyesque and chilling.


Escape to The Good Place

And I don’t mean narcotic escape, I mean TV! Silly and smart is my favorite combo in all things and I fell into a deep pit of it with The Good Place. I was intrigued when the series premiered last year, mostly because I’ve harbored a crush on Ted Danson since he was Sam Malone. But, I never watch TV so I never watched the Good Place. Then, the series had a finale that generated serious “OMG!” buzz. Then, I realized that one of my favorite tweeters @meganamran, writes the Good Place. Then I couldn’t decide what book I wanted to read next. Then I started binging on it on Netflix.

It’s so funny and quick. Kristen Bell is so great, plus she’s remarkably pretty and her hair is perfect. Damn people on TV are so incredibly, absurdly beautiful. Books are much easier on my tender ego.

The news these days is pretty hardcore, I sometimes need to turn away, and much like a year ago when I escaped to Hogwart’s, this series has given me a wonderful but smart form of escapism.



Six Ways I'm Like a Pirate by alix clyburn

The world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket… carried by a mean old man with a small yellow dog on his head…  But instead of my rants about gun control, climate change, sexual assault, and nuclear Armageddon—rants I think many of you share—I give you this: 

This is called a Molly Roger. Get it? hahahah

This is called a Molly Roger. Get it? hahahah



1. I’ve been gone

I've been at sea, incommunicado, out of touch. This is how things go when you’re a pirate, but now I’m back and glad to be on solid ground. For months, I think I was trapped in the doldrums—that spot on the equator where the winds can’t push you out. (Did you know the doldrums aren’t just a state of mind, but an actual place? It’s true.)

Right here in New Jersey, I had the same doldrums-like inertia. It settled on me in the summer and I’ve only just recently emerged. In retrospect I think it was a little depression. A petit mal depression, if there is such a thing.

I sort of worship Tracee Ellis Ross (of Blackish and Diana Ross). She’s one of the few people on Instagram who don’t bore me (well, sometimes she does bore me, but it’s Instagram. It’s boring.) The apex of her Instagram content is when she posted a mini-video of an interview she gave for Teen Vogue that is far too wise to share only with teens.

The whole 3-minute video is marvelous; I love her metaphor about how a woman is like a tree (that sounds so vapid here, but watch it, you’ll agree.)

If you can’t watch it, here’s the quote that I need printed above my bathroom mirror:

“You can’t feel your way into feeling better. But you can act your way into feeling better.”

So true. So so true. Inertia is never the answer.

2. My crew has scurvy.

Nobody eats any vegetables here and scant fruit. Maybe I’m overstating it. Naomi has strawberries sometimes, and the other night my boys nibbled a few pomegranate seeds. My children definitely eat more sour patch kids than vegetables.

I’m just saying this is one way I’m like a pirate.



3. I need an eye patch

My eyeball is inflamed. I can’t wear contacts, my glasses bug me, bright sunlight is blinding, and my eye is itchy and blinky. It’s driving me mental. I now understand why pirates are so cranky.

(Editors’ Note: At press time the steroid eye drops seem to be helping and maybe I won’t need an eye patch after all. One way I’m not like a pirate or like millions of unfortunate Americans, is that I have good health insurance, so I saw a doctor.)

4. I’m in search of treasure

I’ve majorly got my hustle on. This summer, I decided that all I want now is lots and lots of US Currency. True, 'freelance writer' is not really the fastest way to do that, but I want my own giant pile of precious gems and gold doubloons. We have made some serious sacrifices to ensure that one of us was mostly home for these three mini-pirates and I think in most ways it’s been worth it. But I’m tired of being broke all the time. I want work, and lots of it.

My other two, Naomi (l) and Dexter (r) are mad because Julius got a slurpee.

My other two, Naomi (l) and Dexter (r) are mad because Julius got a slurpee.

5.  I engage in savage rituals around earrings

This summer Naomi and one of her besties had an epic trip to the mall to get their ears pierced. About a month later, one of Naomi’s ears was puffy and the earring seemed to have disappeared. The backing was still in, but no earring.

I called Claire’s to complain about their cheap-ass jewelry. Stupid gem front popped off the post. I figured just the backing and the stick the gem was on remained in her ear. The ear seemed a little infected. I needed to pull it out. It’d hurt a little, sure, but nothing Jeff and I couldn’t pin her down and force her to endure. (Pirates, remember.)

Naomi’s ear-splitting caterwauls, her horrified screams indicated that I was wrong. On many levels. She screamed in terror and anger as her pirate mother did this to her, because she didn’t quite understand, I suppose, that this is what pirate life is all about. Sometimes it hurts, ok?

The earring was not smoothly pulling out, and my first mate (Jeff) was really not at all down with this procedure. In these moments, usually involving anger or profound impatience, Jeff unconsciously slips into his father’s soft South Carolina accent. “What exactly are we doing here?” he drawled. “I think this requires a little more prior planning,” then he chuckled softly in that way that says, “I’m done with this shit. You are on your own.”

Further investigation determined that the entire earring was still in her ear. Her incredible X-men like superpower skin growth had rapidly generated new skin, absorbed the foreign body in her ear, and grown over the earring overnight. Overnight.

So turns out when I pulled on her earring backing what she was feeling was her little emerald earring boring a big hole backward in her sweet little earlobe. I may be like a pirate, but I’m not really a pirate, or a physically abusive parent.

Thus you and the people at Child Protective Services of New Jersey will be pleased to learn that I lost my nerve and took her to a kind ENT who arranged for her to be fully anesthetized to remove the foreign body in her earlobe. (Again, thank you fabulous employer health insurance).

Fun postscript: After the first surgery, her other earlobe skin grew over the other earring and we did the whole surgery thing again a few weeks later. Naomi has grown so accustomed to general anesthesia I use it most nights to get her to sleep on time.

6. I disavow our current leadership.

I’m not an anarchist, but anarchy is starting to look more reasonable than letting this band of fools run things. Trump and his gang of greedy white men are so catastrophically wrong on every front. They are dismantling the EPA, they are rolling back women’s rights, they are peeling apart health care and public education. Trump is engaging in dangerous games of name-calling with an equally unstable leader, and—of course—they are all laying waste to our reputation and standing as a nation.

When he was elected, Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit became the book all the liberals recommended to give balm to the anxiety. I bought it and it sat on my nightstand when I opted instead to escape to Hogwarts.

After the hurricanes, the brush fires, and the horror in Las Vegas compounded my sense of imminent doom, I decided to pick it back up. I’m not all the way through it, but here’s a paragraph that I’ve found helpful:

I want to illuminate a past that is too seldom recognized, one in which the power of individuals and unarmed people is colossal, in which the scale of change in the world and the collective imagination over the past few decades is staggering, in which the astonishing things that have taken place can brace us for entering that dark future with boldness. To recognize the momentousness of what has happened is to apprehend what might happen. Inside the word emergency is emerge; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”

Maybe we’ve forced ourselves into a state of emergency and something better will emerge? We’re definitely in danger. Is its sister, possibility, somewhere out there? Hard to tell…

So I escape. Instead of rum, I’m a pirate who reads to forget my troubles. The New Yorker’s David Remnick recently raved about the books of Jason Matthews, a former CIA agent who now writes spy thrillers. Remnick lauded the authenticity, and loved the sex scenes. I don’t usually read spy novels, but something about this interview piqued my interest. Truth is, as a gal who reads lots of literary fiction and classics, I don’t get many sex scenes in my books.

So I picked up Red Sparrow, the first of Jason Matthews trilogy about the CIA and Russian double agents. I loved it, but let me say that the sex in this book wouldn’t qualify as sexy to me. It’s no Eligible. Worse, a feminist friend of mine put it down because the whole premise of Sparrow School—some Russian thing where they send female agents to learn sexpionage—was understandably too offensive. When she told me she couldn’t get through it I felt sort of guilty because I devoured this book and the sequel, Palace of Treason.

It’s definitely not for everyone. It’s genre fiction, so it gets a little hokey sometimes. But, the plot is terrifically complex, the characters are incredibly smart, wonderfully venal, or just plain demented, and a Putin like kleptocrat is played by … Putin! I found it delightful escapism, but not so escapist that I didn’t employ the Kindle dictionary at least once every few pages.

Every chapter finished with a casual recipe for some dish the characters eat in the story. I suppose it’s intended to humanize these super-nerd spies who forsake any semblance of a normal home life, except for food maybe?

I recommend both books … if you can set aside your feminist sensibilities, that is.

I cannot set aside my feminist sensibilities, however, for Harvey Weinstein. Initially I found the whole uproar very “dog bites man”—is anyone really surprised to hear that this guy is a lecherous bully? What’s man bites dog about this story is the response. For decades these women kept quiet because they feared no one would believe it, that their careers would be jeopardized, that they would be punished (and they were right on all three counts. The New York Times quashed the same story ten years ago). Today, things are different. This gives me hope in the dark.

And this … this makes me laugh out loud. Samantha Bee, FTW.





Why Read? Watch This. by alix clyburn

Harvey, Irma, and Trump are enough to make me think the End Days are upon us, but moreso even than natural disasters or stupid presidents, I think the real threat to our collective future is non-readers. Alas, I include my children among them. 

I write this blog about what I read partly because I love reading so much, and partly because I want to be one of the people generating enthusiasm about reading. I honestly think it's not just the key to personal happiness, but also our future as a community and, hell, civilization. There's only so much you can glean from a 400-word story on your smartphone (current 400-word piece excluded).

Today, however, instead of books, I'm going to share an inspiring little video about reading. It's Kelly Corrigan, the witty author of bestselling books like The Middle Place and Glitter and Glue and now the host of an entertaining podcast called Exactly. This is nine minutes to share with your kids:

Last night, I managed to get all three of my kids to simultaneously sit at the table with me while we ate tacos. This seemingly quotidian event gave me a burst of confidence, so I went for it. I mandated (in a nice way) that every evening we will all put our devices down for 20 minutes and read a book. Eyes rolled and complaints whined but I held firm. And wouldn't you know, for 20 minutes last night Dexter, Naomi, and I sat in the living room and quietly read (Thurber's Many Moons for Naomi, City of Thieves, for Dex, and Red Sparrow for me). Perhaps it's not the End Days after all?

The Mind-expanding act of giving in by alix clyburn

Ok, I’m getting the hang of this do-nothing summer I’m having. Apparently, the world is not going to end if I just chill out and be sort of unproductive for a few weeks. I'm leaning into the idea that my life isn't a waste of time just because i'm wasting some time. Maybe I’ve transcended middle-aged-mom-having-an-existential-crisis and gained some deeper understanding and wisdom? Or maybe I’m just good at being lazy. I can’t keep up with all those hotshots with their big careers and interesting summer travel, anyway. If I can just be ok with my essential lack of consequence to all but those who love me, I could be ok with this low-key life I’m leading.  

It's an effort on my part. I can reach out and grab giant handfuls of anxiety about how unstructured my life is these days. I am stepping over great piles of nervousness and uncertainty on my way to the sofa to read my book. To get into Julius's bedroom fort, I need to wiggle past a shaky tower of regret. Fear of the future is curled in a ball in the basket of my bike. But if I don't bother them, they don't bother me... as long as I don't wake up at 4 am.

My days are mostly just me hanging out with Julius and Naomi, and thankfully I've realized this is actually pretty fantastic. We go to the pool, we ignore each other while gazing at screens, we read (me by choice, them by mandate), we watch movies, we stay in pajamas until noon. We painted a little wooden set of drawers. They built a complex fort, I tied up my tomato plants, we rearranged their bedrooms. We made lemonade from scratch in a blender. Homemade lemonade is better than anything, by the way. Except for maybe homegrown tomatoes.

We watched North by Northwest. It was a hit with the kiddos, and it made me realize how much tougher we Americans were 40 years ago. Cary Grant is given a brand new pair of dress shoes (think slick leather soles), and Eva Marie Saint is wearing heels, yet there they are, creeping along Washington’s schnozz on the nearly sheer face of Mt. Rushmore. No athleisure for them.

We are so weak. I need a special pair of sneakers for tennis.

Anyway.  Here’s some other stuff I’m enjoying these days.

The vibe of 10 year old girls at a slumber party

About a year ago I moved away from almost all podcasts. It just became so much dull conversation, everyone trying to capture the intrigue of Serial or the a-ha-ness of Radiolab. Once on a road trip, we actually listened to a 30-minute podcast about—no lie—whether or not dental floss was really worth the trouble. (Spoiler alert: yes, it is.)

Thanks to a small project with Audible, I started listening to audiobooks. Thanks to a president who makes my stress spike on a daily basis, I have dramatically curtailed my news consumption and now listen to fiction nearly all the time. And New Yorker short fiction, something I almost never read in the magazine, makes for perfect audio fare.

I can polish off a story in one run, or one afternoon of doing housework. (Housework. HA! Anyone who has happened by my house in the last few weeks can tell you that I don’t actually do housework. Housework is my euphemism for painting my toenails.)

Anyway, I digress. My favorite New Yorker fiction podcast by far is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Show Don’t Tell. Others are great—David Sedaris reading Miranda July is 20 minutes so rich and entertaining you’ll wish you could pay them for it, and Sittenfeld’s Prairie Wife is delicious fun with a surprising finish.

Show Don’t Tell is the one that really stays with me, though. Its vaguely autobiographical tone is only heightened by the fact that Sittenfeld herself reads it. It’s about a young woman in an MFA writing program, waiting to find out if she received a highly desired grant. It’s very internal which is a writerly word that those of you who favor plot-driven bestsellers would say is code for “boring, nothing happens”, because it’s mostly stuff in her head. In Sittenfeld’s case, however, that’s not fair. She’s really good at balancing the literary internalness with terrific dialogue, action, and plot. The party in this story, for instance, is as sloppy as every college house party I’ve ever been to, and thanks to her ability to write the internal stuff so well, even seemingly mundane scenes (i.e., buying beer at a convenience store) ripple with humor and even suspense.

At the story’s end she jumps ahead in time to when the character is now a successful novelist. She says her work is classified as women’s fiction and writes, “This is an actual term used by both publishers and bookstores, and means something only slightly different from “gives off the vibe of ten-year-old girls at a slumber party.” (See, it is vaguely autobiographical.)

This line comes in what is nearly the last paragraph of the story and along with the actual ending, it reframes the way I think about the whole piece. So much of this story is subtly about being female. With a few well-written paragraphs at the end, she makes it also feminist. She has such a light touch. I’m still thinking about it.

Men will be boys... if they're white and rich

Speaking of feminist thinking, please read Jennifer Weiner’s New York Times essay called The Men Who Never Have to Grow Up.  It’s a quick read but so satisfying for anyone who, like me, felt their stomach lurch when Trump referred to his 39-year-old son as a “good boy.” If that characterization of a grown man with enormous privilege and power didn’t bother you, this essay might. For years I’ve been annoyed at this trend of letting certain dudes off the hook for stuff because boys will be boys, and clearly Weiner does too. Along the way she does name check my pal Matt Klam and his new book’s anti-hero, but the best part for me is the ending. She sticks the ending. 

Rollin’ with the homeys

I’ve never seen the Gwyneth Paltrow movie, so when I read Emma this summer, I had to repeatedly match characters in the book up with the characters in Clueless. Mr. Elton is of course Elton, and Mr. Knightley is Paul Rudd. What does it say about us that the formerly hard-working yet modest farmer Mr. Martin is updated to be a goofball stoner?

Mr. Woodhouse never says, “I have a .45 and a shovel,” so Amy Heckerling has that on Austen. Emma was good but it’s no Pride and Prejudice. I’m so loath to admit this but I kept thinking about Middlemarch as I read this book. Middlemarch, the book I crawled through last summer and ultimately didn’t really think i loved, was a superior work of literature.

Courage doesn’t mean you're not afraid.

Naomi went off the diving tower at my pool. It’s really high and scary. Many adults can’t do it. She did. When I praised her courage, she resisted, said that she was scared. I told her courage isn’t about not being scared it’s about what you do even though you’re scared. She still resisted and said, “I only did it because I didn’t want to chicken out.” Again, I explained to her that often, that's where bravery begins.  I hope she never loses that. And I hope somehow this little experience justifies all the Mario Kart she's been playing this week.


Summer Slide by alix clyburn

This is my backyard. Pretty, right?

This is my backyard. Pretty, right?

Here's some books I'm going to call summer reading but truth is only one was actually read poolside. They provided an escape from my life that felt summery, however, and that's what we're talking about, right? Escape, either to some fabulous beach or at least something figurative, a time to abandon routines and relax and recharge. It’s completely bullshit. There is no escape, but I'm the moron who every year does this. I envision that this summer is going to be the summer I write for an hour every morning before 7 am; this is the summer my children and I go on countless life-altering adventures; this is the summer I lose 25 lbs.; this is the summer the unstructured time inspires glorious creativity and personal growth. 

Yea, right. Unstructured time sucks. Every year, I yearn for summer, and every summer I end up grumpy and frustrated with myself. I'm not rising at 6 am to write. In fact, when I finally do wake it seems the most pressing issue for me is to read the latest Refinery29 email. I get queasy at how many hours the kids sit slack-jawed and drooling while they play Wii, Xbox, Clash of Clans, or Netflix, yet I lack the initiative or brute force to compel them to do something else. 

Rather than a season of growth and adventure, or even just fucking chilling out, summer is a time of self-recrimination for me. It’s a time to confront the fact that I’m a fundamentally lazy person. I know there are incredibly motivated Type A people who are achieving all sorts of impressive things every day--workouts, professional goals, deeper bonds with their offspring. I'm more than halfway done with my life and I'm still struggling with my essential truth: I'm a Type A wannabe. Summer is a great season for people like me, who read too many novels, succeed at not reaching their potential, and aren’t as firm and trim as they could be. It’s my prime time, yet I feel guilty.

Here we are in the season that favors Type not-As, and I can’t embrace it.

Which is why I like reading. It takes me away from my brain. It's my real summer escape and yet I can do it all year long. I'm not reading these books RIGHT NOW, but with propulsive plots, the right dose of humor, and terrific characters, they make perfectly beachy summery fun. So whether you’re hiking in Acadia while on a week off from your high-powered job, woke at 5:30 am to kayak 10 miles down the Hudson, or you you’ve laid on the sofa for the last 45 minutes scrolling through Instagram, here’s some escape:

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz—have a real affinity for what is known as "cozy mysteries," the name given for Agatha Christie-esque mysteries. I guess cozy means low on gore, high on Englishy settings and quirky characters. Magpie Murders is a mystery within a mystery, and is partly told by the editor of the bestselling cozy mystery manuscript within its pages. The witty writing is most fun when we're with the editor who gets pulled into the role of amateur detective. 

I know it seems like this affinity for cozy mysteries is evidence of my creep toward decrepitude but I think it’s the reverse. As a girl, my first foray into the adult section of the library was to read Agatha Christie, and reading this mystery reconnects me to my girlish reading days, as do the Maisie Dobbs series, which I adore, or the mysteries set in the Shetland islands by Anne Cleeves.

Siracusa by Delia Ephron—This one I did actually read poolside just last week. Why it’s a perfect summer read: Tolstoy would approve of how specifically unhappy these two couples are. They take their shaky unions to Italy so the settings are terrific. And it’s clear early on that something bad is going to happen before everyone is back on the East coast. The uptight Upper East Side blonde's voice was particularly sharp and amusing to me. She's full of her own certitude and tragically hovers over her weirdo daughter. Two of my favorite fellow bookworms read this and pressed it into my hands (“You can read it in two days. It’s fun.”)  They were right.

There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson—I heard Eminem on the radio and remembered this book. It's the memoir of Lisa Robinson, who has had a huge career as a music writer. I've been reading her since my days as a pre-teen when I'd ride my light blue bike to Brown Drugs on Old Orchard Road to buy Creem magazine (when I wasn't reading Agatha Christie, that is). This book is page after page of juicy bits about John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Jay Z, U2, and on and on. A book like this makes great vacation reading because it accommodates repeated interruptions to give kids ice cream money, to dip into the conversation happening on your beach blanket, to rescue a small child from a rabid seal attack, or to keep up on the group text with your friends.

And three more...

The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller—Young couple moves in next door to a distinguished yet chronically dallying senator and his tolerant wife. Young wife is initially judgey.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks—a Haggadah is found in Sarajevo and we trace its history. Wow, that sounds so fucking boring, but honestly, it’s a really good book. Even if you don’t know what a Haggadah is.

The Good House by Ann Leary—a divorced mother of grown children is a successful realtor in a lovely Boston exurb. She’s a recovered alcoholic. Or so she’s led everyone to believe…

These are all novels I’ve read in years past that stay with me. They mostly qualify as literary fiction, but don’t necessarily require your most intense smartypants concentration. They aren’t afraid of a satisfying finish which I think is a nice quality in something you read on vacation. No need to be reminded of how fundamentally grim life can be on the same day that you’re waiting 45 minutes to pay $15 for plain pasta for your kids’ dinner at some tourist trap beachfront restaurant. Most of all, I recommend them because like I said, I read all these years ago and I still remember the ideas and emotions they provoked.

Tomorrow I'm going to undergo a dramatic transformation. I will spend several hours and all the money that should rightly go toward enriching summer programs for my kids at a fancy hair salon where, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, I will shed my overdyed flat black-brown hair and become a new woman, one with slightly lighter brown hair. I anticipate my entire life will be very different starting tomorrow afternoon. I'll keep you posted.

My friends, please read and watch my friends by alix clyburn

I’m so overdue to blog I think I forgot how to do it. So let’s just dive in and see what happens.

I’ll start by touting the work of my friends. Two of my friends have big time stuff out in the world for all of our reading and viewing pleasure. Check It , Dana Flor’s documentary, is out on, and Matt Klam’s novel Who is Rich? is on sale everywhere. These are the two most brilliant and important works out now, and I’m not just saying that because they were made by my friends. 

Check It

On the surface, Check It seems to be like a deliciously scandalous bit of true-life tawdriness—young gay men band together in a violent gang when they’re not cross-dressing, turning tricks, and producing a fashion show. So yes, it delivers on the OMG. But what makes the movie so powerful is the way she shows you who these kids are beneath the makeup, wigs, and heels. Dana is the funniest human I know, so she doesn’t skimp on the humor, but she’s also brilliant. Her film pulls you in to see the sincerity of their relationships with each other and the caring adults who try to help them. I saw it when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in the spring and I was so in love with every young man in this film by the end. Apparently, so was Louis CK who was also there, and he’s now a fan just like me and the The Washington Post. Check it yourself.

Who is Rich?

After waiting and waiting, I’m so happy to be once again reading Matt Klam’s fiction. (Others have been waiting too, including New York Magazine, and this writer of a now legendary Rumpus column.) His new novel, Who is Rich?, is out. Forget sunscreen and shades—this is what you need in your beach bag. The Post and the Boston Globe and all his fancy writer friends agree with me that this book is fantastic. The truth is I read this book before it had the sharp cover design it does now. I loved it then, but hearing him read a bit on Thursday night in Brooklyn reminded me how much I’m going to love reading it again.

It’s got a little bit of everything. Don’t read it if you’re averse to lustiness and thrilling honesty, or don’t like satire, or avoid random silly humor, or social commentary. If you do like seeing the world through the eyes of horny, neurotic, tortured but witty soul at mid-life, here's a book you'll enjoy. Do read it if you have a good sense of humor and appreciate spectacular writing.

Ok, those are my two big recommendations for now. Please share with your friends and your enemies and your frenemies. 

I’m going to put another one of these out before the week’s through, I promise.  I've got loads more to say, including a little rant I'm formulating about the New York Times and their piece about Amy Pascal. Did anyone else feel a little cheesed off to get halfway through an article that talked about how her life was "blown apart" and included the line: "What, she thought, with not a small bit of fear, do I do now?" I trust it was a teensy tiny bit of fear, because you have to read several more paragraphs, including one that describes her mindfully petting her labradoodle while scented candles perfume the air, before you learn that in the world of this writer and Amy Pascal, life getting blown apart is an acceptable description to a $40 million payout deal with an addition $9 million annual extra thing for "overhead"? That little piece of info comes quite late in the story. I can't really formulate my response to this at the moment, but I do think they missed the lede. For $40 million plus $9 million I will gladly be hacked by North Koreans and fired from my fancy job. Blow my life apart, world. Jeesh.

Some Kind of Blog by alix clyburn

It seems I’m having a bit of a fixation. Almost everything I write this week, and it is a hodgepodge this time around, somehow comes back to the underdog power of kindness.

Years ago, when my oldest was too young for preschool even, a friend with a little baby boy of her own said something I still think about. She said nursery school is where you learn the only thing that really matters: how to share.

A gross oversimplification, sure, but not untrue. What’s worse, I think we forget the lesson before we even get out of elementary school. Read the paper. Read history books. Or ponder this fun fact: The average CEO makes 300 times what the average worker makes. Are we sure what’s crippling our middle class is the influx of Mexicans stealing our jobs? Are we sure that’s the problem in American industry today? Hmmm.

Anyway, I have a serious distractibility problem. I’m a digital magpie, and the world has conspired to ruin me. I struggle to remain focused despite meaningless social media feeds, mentally unstable world leaders, their microwave-hostile minions, my children, and my love of snack food. It’s impossible to get anything done.

Yes, I know self-discipline is key in this, as in all good things. Self-discipline is so hard though. Why can’t it all be fun and easy? I clearly lack the motivation to be a workaholic. I’m Type X, not Type A. I bet best-selling writers, titans of industry, hit songwriters, and world leaders (except one) do not waste as much time as I do browsing the Internet for the ideal leather tote. (It’s Cuyana, by the way. I think with the monogram.)

So here’s a weird mix of the stuff distracting me lately:

Lincoln in the Bardo
I read this while ensconced in a Poconos indoor water park called Aquatopia. It’s also called “the loudest fucking place in America holy hell, why must everything make so much noise” (at least by me). This great novel, however, transported me to a quiet cemetery in Georgetown, circa 1862. I know he’s an unusual writer, and many a friend can’t take the weirdness, but I adore George Saunders and this book made me cry, it was so lovely.

In a completely original and absurdly funny way, Lincoln in the Bardo encompasses every aspect of what it means to suffer in America—the history of course, but also racism, gay discrimination, sexual abuse, poverty, alcoholism, loneliness, lust, love, grief, even heavenly judgments. Every beautiful, delicate, tender, profane, dirty, mundane, scary, horrific, hateful, funny, wry, gentle, rough moment a human could have is somehow contained here. He can convey an entire lifetime of longing in a phrase. His writing has so much emotion, and what I think he does best is tell stories that show courageous acts of empathy. I know he’s weird, but I swear this book could make every person who reads it a little bit more kind.

This is the ideal novel for a magpie; it’s more like an oral history. Several different ghosts narrate and the flow is further chopped up by chapters of actual and maybe not actual excerpts of historical texts. We also get to go inside the mind of Abraham Lincoln.


Thanks to our Poconos family fun weekend, I was able to ignore everyone and consume the entire book in two days. This is probably the best way to experience Saunders, so you can totally sink into his unconventional writing style. I have wasted 20 minutes leafing through the book, trying to find a perfect passage that illustrates the beautiful and moving way he writes about empathy. I can’t find it, and I wonder if the rare uninterrupted time that cacophonous indoor water park afforded me was necessary to really get in harmony with him.

Hopelessly in the Light
Last night I started reading Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. It’s a bit of a cult classic, an often-recommended balm to the news of the day, and thus far she has provided me some valuable perspective on the reality of being in the resistance. We’re pushing boulders up hills; it’s a slow job, but these are really important boulders.

Totally unrelated but kind of funny: She quotes someone who refers to Uruguay as “an almost secret country” since it’s so unimportant on the world stage. That image stuck with me. It got me thinking how nice it might be to grow up in an “almost secret” two-bit country, one that is not in any sphere of any influence. It goes without saying that one feels grateful to be an American, and I am, but maybe I could be happier in a place where the sky isn’t the limit, where everyone sort of muddles along since what the hell? It’s just Uruguay.  A place where there is no expectation to “be someone,” to get rich, to reach your God-given potential, to achieve your American dream. What’s the Uruguayan dream? (Uruguayans reading, you can tell me what it is in the same email where you'll invariably also tell me how offensive you found this paragraph.)

I’m sure millions of Americans don’t spend most of every day wondering what they’ve done wrong, or how they’ve failed to achieve as much as they were supposed to. I’m not one of them. A good part of every day is distracted by the nonstop litany of self-recriminations going on inside my head. (Anne LaMott calls it KFKD radio and I’m a sustaining member.) I am all about being kind to everyone... except myself.


How Do You Turn off That Station?
I’ve also started listening to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and in the first 15 minutes he spewed this great line in my earbuds:

“The desire for more positive experiences is itself a negative experience, and paradoxically the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”

Greater happiness could be mine…if I could only stop trying to achieve greater happiness. If only I could accept that I won’t have a life like the one I thought I was supposed to have (whatever that was) simply because I’m a white college-educated sort of affluent American woman.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Meditation is so magnificent. I wont really write about it because yawn. But if nothing else, it’s a break from my brain and radio KFKD… and from the actual news of the day too.


Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
If you, like me, can’t really fully release entirely from the news, I strongly recommend the long New Yorker piece about Russia (, and the shorter but equally interesting op ed, “This is the Russia You’re So Afraid Of?” in last week’s New York Times. If Putin is so great, Trumpy, why aren’t the trains running anymore?

And I love the cultural dissonance of the Trump’s Muslim ban, version 2.0, launching the same month Nike debuts its new sport hijab. The image of a lovely athlete figure skating in her sleek black hijab (avec swoosh) certainly undermines the notion that Muslim = BAD! Apparently the marketing and product development whiz kids at Nike did the math on the “threat of Radical Islamic Terrorism” and came out with a different answer.


We all Have a Little Giant Squid in Us
Naomi and I read Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo. It’s a glorious adventure with heart, humor, and originality. Through an alarming accident with a household appliance, a squirrel gains superpowers, chief among them the power to appreciate words and write poetry. Plus, he is consumed with love for Flora. DiCamillo writes about loneliness so well, a great quality in a writer for children. At one point, Flora and Ulysses are looking at a neighbor’s creepy painting of a giant squid overtaking a passenger ferry. The owner of the painting relates to the squid (“my poor, lonely giant squid”), not the passengers. She says giant squids are the loneliest of God's creatures, and sometimes live their entire lives without seeing another of their kind. The squid is just lonely. Maybe he's not the only one.

Naomi just asked if I wrote about how Flora's motto is "Don't hope, observe." Naomi said she's now trying to do this as much as she can. "It's about acceptance, isn't it?" I asked my wise little 2nd grader. "Yep," she said.

Here’s the poem Ulysses writes to his beloved friend Flora. I think it’s a poem to love in general and it makes me so happy. Without DiCamillo’s permission, I’m going to print it here. Think about someone you love while you read it. (Then go buy the book!)

Words for Flora
would be
easier without
because you
all of it—
sprinkles, quarks, giant
donuts, eggs sunny-side up—
are the ever-expanding
to me.

That’s pretty great isn’t it?  Think of all the people in your life who you feel that way about—spouses, parents, children, brothers, sisters, friends. Put your brain in that kind space. Isn’t that better than wondering how Kellyanne Conway can screw her mouth up to say that Trump’s microwave was spying on him?

Invest in Toothpaste by alix clyburn


“Sometimes, when I’m in the midst of all this, I can hear my mother saying, ‘Democracy is just something you must do every day, like brushing your teeth.’

            --Gloria Steinem, from My Life on the Road


I listened to Steinem’s memoir on Audible in the weeks after the election. This book truly was a balm to me, and I recommend it to anyone who found the marches on Saturday energizing. We can all learn a lot from Gloria Steinem.

Hermione read it too. We have so much in common.

Hermione read it too. We have so much in common.

I’ve always been a fan, but she tells her story with such unpretentious candor you have to remind yourself just how bold and unconventional she was. She’s so open-minded, open-hearted, courageous, tenacious, and quiet. She must have been quiet all those years, because she was clearly listening carefully to everyone around her. The wisdom of her friends and her experiences spill onto these pages for all of us to lap up and take with us. By the time I was done with it, she felt like one of my super-intelligent aunts. 

At points, Steinem might digress into minutiae about organizing the flight attendants, or maybe go too granular on the first nations (although I found that stuff fascinating), but overall I think this book is magnificent. The later chapters in particular, about political organizing, were astounding to me. With an almost parable-like structure, she uses the appointment of Clarence Thomas to clearly show how every single solitary vote counts.

Her observations about the response of other women to Hillary’s 2008 campaign could have easily been 2016. Her views on the importance of true change starting in someone’s living room is being played out right now as we soccer moms are morphing into activists.


I Hope the Future is Female

The marches were all peaceful and orderly. Gee, I wonder why? One friend said her bus driver said he’d never in all his years of driving a bus had a group all arrive back to the bus on time. Moms! Another friend saw the Bikers for Trump try to disrupt things midway through the march on Saturday, revving their engines into the crowd. The crowd responded by .... singing. Moms! Of course they didn't engage—we are the ones who teach kindness to everybody else. Our sons and daughters were watching.

This election proved that women are not monolithic.  A majority of white women voted for Trump—a staggering fact that so shows the patriarchy is alive and well. These women clearly don’t buy into any notion of sisterhood, and might not be feminists. Hell, some of the people who marched on Saturday might not have voted for Hillary.

Who cares, now?  Really? Let’s make Trump’s election and his disturbing first few days in office our catalyst for a new sensibility.

Considering the actual popular vote, we don’t need to convince anyone to rethink the choice they made about Trump v. Clinton. We just need to all show up and vote. We lost that test on November 8. Let’s not lose it again. It’s time to brush our teeth.







It's our turn by alix clyburn

My neighbor just brought home her brand new baby boy tonight. He was born on Wednesday Nov. 9. See: The world didn’t end Wednesday; for some people it just began.

Inside my lefty progressive bubble of a town, the mood on Wednesday morning was pretty apocalyptic. I completely thought we had this sewn up. Like a finely tailored pantsuit…

Aaaaagh. So wrong. So so wrong.  So what now? What do we do now?

Well, I’m wearing a safety pin. I gave money to the ACLU. I helped my friends organize a town hall type event on Friday night. We got Planned Parenthood,, the Council on Reproductive Rights, Moms Demand Gun Action and more to come speak and rally support.

I’m going to be ready to speak out against ugly hatred and racism whenever I need to. I’ll take part in demonstrations. I’ll march on Washington January 21. I’m going to put my congressman and senators on speed dial.

Best-case scenario is we get the same old GOP meanness we’ve seen before. Worst case scenario is Steve Bannon tries to turn the entire country into the worst parts of Idaho.

African Americans know that domestic terrorism didn’t start on 9/11. They’ve endured it for hundreds of years. Now I fear all of us are going to get a taste. (“See something, say something,” version 2.0.)

Maybe I’m being histrionic and melodramatic to draw parallels to Hitler’s win in 1933. Wouldn’t it be horrible if I am not?

I have no insights, I have no fresh thoughts on this. I guess on some level, America got the president it deserves. Our collective American brain has rotted on reality TV, and lulled itself into complacency with Facebook echo chambers. We’ve entered an era when the media is so powerful, its thumb is maybe the only body part not on the scale.

Worse than all this, we’ve self-segregated. How do you find a solution to being “figuratively miles apart” when we are literally miles apart?

I don’t know how to solve what’s wrong, but I’m thankful for the perspective and humor of some great writers:

David Wong on

Garrison Keillor in the Washington Post

Ethan Coen in the NY Times

Plus, I highly recommend turning off the news and turning on Mavis Staples.  

We play Hamilton in the car all the time. Tonight, the song that played was “One Last Time,” the beautiful ballad about George Washington’s brilliant decision to step down to initiate the peaceful transfer of power. With that previously unheard-of act of forethought and selflessness, he essentially established what set the United States apart from the rest of the world. (Before you actual historians point out that the peaceful transfer of power is not what sets us apart, please note that I’m not a historian and I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s a good song, just listen to it.)

As much as I can’t bear the thought of President Cheeto Baby Man, I’m going to do my best to honor what Washington intended. I’ll also keep showing up for meetings and donating money to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

We’ve had a nice eight years of living in a country with a president who was working to achieve what we wanted. That’s not the case anymore but there’s still plenty of work to do. Who’s going to do it? I am. Will you?


A Reason to Read by alix clyburn

I always connect to well-written characters, but every once in a while the experience surprises me.

Whoever designed this cover knows their target audience really well.   

Whoever designed this cover knows their target audience really well.


Take for instance Mabel, the main character of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It’s 1919, and she’s so destroyed by her tragic struggle to become a mother, so tortured by seeing her sisters with their own babies, she convinces her husband to relocate from their secure Pennsylvania home to hack out a solitary life in Alaska.

This woman is nothing like me. I successfully (and gratefully) became a mother. I would never homestead in the Arctic. I wouldn’t even live in a slightly less-than-ideal neighborhood let alone the stark uncaring wilderness. Yesterday, I went on a Brownie troupe hike on the “fairy house trail” in a forest so close to the road you could see the cars go by. Still, I had moments when I envisioned some apex predator bounding through the trees to take us all down.

Plus, obviously, I’m a living breathing human being and this Mabel is just a name on a piece of paper.

This woman and me, we’ve got nothing to connect us.

By page 7, however, I was with this woman. I was completely empathetic with her pain. She was contemplating suicide and I needed to know what was going to happen. In her pain, I caught my own reflection. She was so crushed with disappointment, stunned and destroyed by how far her life was from what she thought it would be. I know what that tastes like. Don’t we all, at least in some small way?

This is why I love reading so much.

Mabel stands on the thin ice between life and suicide, and lives—almost by accident. Her life chugs bleakly onward but does arrive somewhere new and she’s surprised to feel joy again. (Lucky for me I know what that tastes like too.) The story reminded me that whatever feels bleak in my life might also melt away. 

Books like this are the perfect example of why I think fiction has the potential to make us better people. Not just “Great Literature,” either. This isn’t Toni Morrison (not even Bob Dylan), but I contend the connection I made to these characters oils the gears that enable me to connect with people I find strange in my real world. And who's kidding who, nearly everybody is strange. Take gun nuts and Trump supporters. Just thinking about some of the Trump's supporters and their anti-Semitic tweets is enough to whip me into such an angry lather. And I'm aware that I'm strange too--my dream of melting every last gun and all the ammo is extreme for even people who want stricter gun control. I look at some women (Melania) and wonder at how we are even the same species, our world views are clearly so different. Then I think of Mabel.  If i can care about Mabel, i guess I can take pity on Trump's troglodytes, live in a country with more guns than people*, and even maybe somehow see myself in Melania.

The more pliant our compassion, the more likely we might find a way to connect. While it’s tempting to resist connection, especially with the Trump supporters, compassion can transcend anger and self-righteous disgust. (This might be easier on November 9.)

If nothing else, who can resist some good old frontier nuttiness, and this book has lots of it. Characters take maybe one bath a year, eat moose for dinner, see only five other people, and a little girl kills a swan with her own hands. Wait ‘til you see what she does with the feathers. 

This book is really a fairy tale turned into a novel. In some ways it’s a frosty take on Latin America’s magical realism. The snow child appears one day and even though they both see her, neither Mabel nor her husband Jack are sure she’s real. Neither are we, for a while. But the snow child keeps coming back—as long as it’s cold enough, that is—and her mysterious presence transforms everyone in the story.

Does foregoing quotation marks give an author license to ignore all the commonly accepted laws of physics and fiction? One could take issue with the liberties Ivey takes in imposing some semblance of reality on a fairy tale. But I decided not to. She did perhaps smudge the lines on the fairy snow child, but her rendering of Mabel and Jack’s marriage is as precise as crystal. So much goes unsaid between them it could drive you nuts, just like a real marriage.

My final endorsement for The Snow Child? I read it in a week. Take THAT Middlemarch.




The Bataan Death Middlemarch by alix clyburn

According to every poll except the ones that Donald Trump makes up, Hillary Clinton is expected to win the presidency this November. For me, the whole campaign has been nerve-wracking, exasperating, infuriating, and at the best moments, exultant. I think I'm going to help elect our first female president. How strange that Middlemarch, a book written nearly 150 years ago would feel so relevant now? If George Eliot were still alive, I'm sure she'd be wearing an "I'm With Her" Tshirt. 

Worn by months of handling, spine broken by months of being dropped onto my napping bod, the evocative cover art still makes me smile.    

Worn by months of handling, spine broken by months of being dropped onto my napping bod, the evocative cover art still makes me smile. 


I picked up this doorstopper in June, after reading a few lightweight-but-fun novels (including Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, which I highly recommend). I like to judge books by their covers and Middlemarch had a lovely one. It's considered this one of the greatest novels ever written, and I'd never read it. My neuroses about being undereducated is a great motivator (as well as a terrifically powerful psychic bludgeon at 4 am).

So I brought the book home, and slowly started chipping my way in. It's long, overly wordy, and written in a dense antiquated style that often rendered the content indecipherable to my feeble 21st Century tweet-addled brain. It didn't take much provocation to distract me and I could fill a blog post with all I read while avoiding Middlemarch; coming soon, I promise.

It was an act of great commitment but i finished it, and I'm thrilled to brag about it here. I will never run a marathon, I probably won't ever give up dairy or gluten, but I did read Middlemarch. I disagree with those who proclaim this book supreme. If you're in the mood for some long old-ass novels, I'd enthusiastically press Anna Karenina or Moby Dick into your hands, not this.

Tucked inside it pages-long paragraphs, however, are some gems of writing that touch on aspects of the human experience as relevant today as they were in 1870. I'll give a few examples here, with a framework to update the context to a modern discussion:

Why we need botox:

"Looking at the mother, you might hope that the daughter would become like her, which is a prospective advantage equal to a dowry--the mother too often standing behind the daughter like a malignant prophecy--"Such as I am, she will shortly be."

The personal crisis of excessive credit card debt:

"He was assailed by the vulgar, hateful trials of a man who has bought and used a great many things which might have been done without and which he is unable to pay for, though the demand for payment has become pressing."

About the grim day the honeymoon is over:

"...his suspicions that he was not any longer adored without criticism... there was a strong reason to be added, which he had not himself taken explicitly into account, namely that he was not unmixedly adorable. He suspected this, however, as he suspected other things, without confessing it, and like the rest of us, felt how soothing it would have been to have a companion who would never find it out."

These are just a few words of way too many words. A big part of this far-ranging story is told with an anachronistically feminist point of view. One of the main female characters, Dorothea Brooke, shares Hillary's earnest desire to make her mark in the world by doing good. Unlike Hilary, however, even the notion of making her mark is treated as an eccentric novelty in the woman, and generally ignored or patronized. Then she marries someone she thinks is important who she thinks will teach her valuable things. Turns out (shocker) he's a giant ass whose ego-driven insecurity damns her long after he's dead and gone (which thankfully for her happens early in their marriage). He amends his will to control her choices from beyond the grave. Dickhead patriarchy for all eternity.

I know things aren't that bad now, but you'd be surprised by how much is not so different. Eliot wrote with such an incisive sensitivity her characters seemed totally multi-dimensional and human and it floored me to see myself and my contemporaries in these stories of English people in the 1820s: women who consume themselves with their appearance, men and women who fall into crippling debt just to keep up the appearance of affluence, women who deliberately take themselves out of the conversation whenever it veers toward public policy or anything beyond the domestic, men who merely by dint of their own financial success feel confident to bloviate publicly about the same topics despite having few insights, women who defer to their spouses despite their clear skill and intelligence. 

We humans are pretty predictable, I guess, but I'm still a big fan of change. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the tenor of our times might change with a woman in charge. 

Do What Thao Does by alix clyburn

How many times in the course of your adult life have you felt incapable of the job before you, yet certain you had no way to wriggle out of it? Freelancing routinely puts me in this position, but middle age in general seems to be about “have to” not “want to.” And so much of the “have to” seems too hard or scary. You feel like such a badass after you conquer those first few sleepless years of parenthood, only to realize that was the easy part.
Truly being a grown-up seems to be about owning the decision-making status even if you don’t feel a rightful claim to it. It can be something as simple as what the headline should be on the website of the latest credit card offering (my freelance work), or deciding the best way to shepherd my mother through the final stages of dementia (my life). Somewhere in the middle is everything else—bossing around my children, how to pay the bills, what we should tell the kids about police brutality against young black men. What the hell do I know, I say to the universe. I am not capable of all this. I can’t do it.
A young singer named Thao gave me the motivating lyric for times like these: “You gotta push all that doubt to the side of your mouth.”

It’s in a song called Swimming Pools and I don’t really know what exactly she’s singing about, but this lyric reached me. Sometimes, you have to just push that doubt to the side of your mouth and dive in. Another line in the song:  "We brave bee stings and all, and we dont dive we cannonball." Fuck yea!
As far as I can tell, a big part of motherhood and grownup-hood in general seems to be ‘faking it’—exhibiting a sense of knowing authority so the people around you feel secure. Unless you’re a NASA scientist or a brain surgeon “faking it” is just the way it goes until you get good at it, I think. You just push that doubt to the side of your mouth where no one can see it.
I remember when we were moving to New Jersey and my boys were 4 and 2. I was in a near constant state of panic over selling the house, packing to go, uprooting the boy, leaving my friends, where we would land, etc. Dexter’s nursery school teacher gently told me, basically, to “Snap out of it!” (Cher, Moonstruck, best line ever.) Miss Karen didn’t slap me, but rather sweetly reminded me to exude calm even if I didn’t necessarily feel it, since – and here, she pointed at the boys with her chin, “You’re the captain of this ship.” Not that I wanted that title, but it’s true. I am the captain of their ship.

Thao is a Virginia girl from a Cambodian family and her music is infectious and simultaneously punky rough and dancey pop. It’s filled with Taylor Swifty lines of empowerment, but with more off-kilter honesty and less glossy roundness.
For an extra dose of her charm, watch her tiny desk concert .

Perfect Vision by alix clyburn

Today I nearly experienced a miracle. I put my contact lenses in and my vision got blurry. Usually I can just blink the contact into the right position and all’s well. This time the blinky blinky wasn’t working. By the time I realized my contacts were not working my fingers were coated with tinted moisturizer. So instead of taking my contact out, I just kept blinking. Still blurry. hmmm. Weird, I thought. I got dressed, then realized I couldn’t read anything. Everything was blurry. I needed to deal with this. I went back upstairs and took out my contacts.  This is when things got really strange.
My vision IMPROVED. Now nothing was blurry. I looked outside, and could make out leaf detail, not just one big green patch. My contacts were out and I could SEE.
I was elated. I think I’ve heard of this happening. People aging and their vision improving. For once in my life, I’m the lucky duck. I’ve been cured of myopia. I’ve got the golden ticket!
It really was remarkable. Miraculous. Alas, no. I then poked myself in the eye in the way that only a contact user can do, and realized there were contacts IN MY EYES.  Jesus. I don’t know which emotion is greater, disappointment or embarrassment.  I'm alone in my bathroom yet somehow embarrassed at my own dopiness.

Not that it’s out of character. I have a strain of absent-mindedness that can make life feel like an I Love Lucy episode. I have to put daily medication in one of those old lady daily pill dispensers because I not only forget TO take a pill, I’ll forget that I just DID take a pill and take it again. When I got my first paycheck, as a teenager, I deposited the pay stub and threw away the check.
Two summers ago we kept the big Thule storage carrier atop the minivan for a few weeks. I forgot it was there—I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s not like you can see it up there while you’re driving. You can hear it though, when it scrapes the concrete roof of a parking garage. I did that once in the garage next to Bloomingdale’s.
Here’s the thing that makes me an amateur Lucille Ball. I did it AGAIN. The next day. The stream of expletives that flew out of my mouth will stay with my children for years. The second time, I couldn’t scrape the car out. I was stuck in the middle of a university parking garage during camp drop-off and my car was completely jammed, blocking everyone. Jeff had to come to where I was and unwedge the van from the parking garage structure. He rarely gets mad at me, but I think he was a little mad at me that day. “I just don’t understand how you can do this twice,” he said. He would never put two pairs of contacts in.
One of my best friends once walked all the way to work with the back of her skirt tucked into her underwear. I think this is why I love her. She was so rightfully angry at the entire city of Washington, DC, because no one on her subway commute ever saw fit to tell her.
I mean, c’mon. Nobody’s perfect.