On Mattering

God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.

–Quincy Jones

I think a lot about mattering. Do I matter, how can I help other people know that they matter, what matters to me in my life. Our culture makes it easy to measure ourselves this way: how many likes did I get on social media? How successful am I in my career? How much money do I make? I used to get my “I matter” fix from teaching, which I did for over 20 years until I left my job for love (an oversimplification, but also true). Now I get it from the poems I publish, as well as social media. But I don’t have the career or the money anymore, and I don’t have the high of telling students that their thoughts and talent and writing matters. I have realized that I depended on that “fix,” and I struggle to figure out how to cope now.

Buddhism has an answer, which is helpful for me and might be for you. This philosophy suggests that our desire to “matter,” to be someone important, is all ego—and that ego contributes to our suffering as human beings. Certainly that makes sense: when I think about the upcoming writer’s conference I’ll be attending, the big one in America that’s attended by something like 12,000 writers, I cringe when I measure myself against the other writers there. When I think that I’m “nobody” compared to other writers with bigger reputations and more prestigious publications, I find myself dreading the conference. But when I ease my grasp on the ego, stop privileging the idea of “mattering,” I find myself looking forward to seeing my friends and meeting new writers.

Of course it’s not as simple as just “letting go” of ego. And, in fact, it can be hard to recognize why we should, when so much in our culture tells us that’s the only way to measure value. However, Buddhism goes on to point out why ego can contribute to our suffering. First, it denies the interconnectedness of all beings; ego relies on separation between people. Science recognizes interconnectedness through quantum mechanics (which I admit I don’t really understand) as well as the facts of the building blocks of the universe being the same. It’s often said, but humans are made of the same stuff as the stars. 

Second, ego and the building of a self that “matters” contributes to the false idea that we are not supposed to change. If we create a self that is defined only by certain things—being famous or wealthy, for example—then we can become trapped by that vision of the self. And yet we know from observation that everything changes. To recognize and embrace change is to minimize suffering; to resist it leaves you hurting when change inevitably comes. For me, this is an important lesson as I make the transition away from teaching. My life is going to change, and though I cannot help but grieve some things about how it used to be, I can let go of some of my pain by accepting the change. Whatever’s next for me—independent poetry workshops, online teaching, much more time for writing—is a natural part of the way things are and should be.

Third, allowing ego to drive us can lead to the trap of never feeling good enough. If we must be more famous, more successful, in order to matter, then we can never recognize our own basic goodness. If you’ve ever really gotten to know someone you perceive to be more successful in your field than you are, then you’ve seen that they do not consider themselves successful. They, too, worry about how much they’ve published, how much money they make, whether they matter. You may recognize that other person’s inherent goodness, how they are just fine as they are, right now. But they may not. The endlessness of the struggle for success—if you buy into it—can rob you of the knowledge that you are perfect, just as you are right now.

All of which brings me to the Quincy Jones quote I used as an epigraph. If you’re an artist of any kind—writer, musician, dancer, visual artist, etc.—it might be good to bear in mind that fixation on money or success can drive away innovation and inspiration. That art comes from a different part of the self, not the ego but someplace deeper and more mysterious. So if we shift what “matters” from us to the work itself, we might not only mitigate our suffering, but get closer to whatever grand mystery we each believe in.


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4 Shows to Watch When You’re Depressed

First I thought of the title of this post, because when I’m depressed, I find myself binge-watching shows on streaming tv. Then I listed the shows I wanted to talk about, and realized immediately that they have one thing in common: death. I know, I know—that’s a grim and dangerous topic to take on when you’re also talking about depression. But it seems to me just as dangerous, if not more so, NOT to take on that topic. Whether or not your depression has you actively thinking of suicide—and please, if it does, TELL SOMEONE—death and life and what it’s all for are tumbling around in the minds of many depressed people. In fact most people consider questions relating to death and life and what it’s all for. Art itself—and whether done well or poorly, television and movies are art too—is precisely for the consideration of these questions. For me, watching these shows makes me feel less alone, because I know someone else thought about death and the afterlife. Whether we come to the same conclusions or not is irrelevant.

I also want to preface the list by saying this: please don’t beat yourself up for whatever you’re watching while you’re depressed. You have a disease. You don’t deserve the self-criticism. People who say, “Just get out and ________” don’t understand. Even if they’ve also suffered from depression and pulled out of it through exercise or socializing or medication or therapy—all good things!—it doesn’t mean the exact same approach will work for you, or work for you all the time. Some days are just going to be crappy, and you’re going to find yourself on the couch.

Also: I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’m so very sorry. And I’m right there with you.  

So, the shows:

  1. Dead Like Me. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0348913/) A girl who’s fairly uninvested in life gets hit by a flying toilet seat and finds she’s been assigned to be a reaper. She brings her somewhat detached, sardonic, sarcastic approach to interacting with her fellow reapers and is always pushing against the rules. It’s funny, snarky, weird, and doesn’t glorify the afterlife—at least not this particular corner of it. Also: Mandy Patinkin is glorious as the brusque, “the afterlife sucks but do it anyway” boss. Only 2 seasons, unfortunately, and about 14 years old, but worth it.


  1. Glitch. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4192782/?ref_=nv_sr_1) People come back to life and climb out of their graves in a small town in Australia. They’re not zombies, it takes them time to remember things about their lives and themselves, but they’re definitely alive. Veers between science and supernatural. Not a comedy, and in fact some of the relationship stuff veers towards the soap opera at times—but it’s hard to stop watching, and the Australian accents and mostly outdoor sets keep the soap opera feel to a minimum. Two seasons so far, and I’m still watching the 2nd season, but it’s addictive in part because it feels like it’s building towards some revelations about the rules of life and death.


  1. The Good Place. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4955642/?ref_=nv_sr_1) Definitely a comedy, and yes, there are laugh out loud moments. But it’s insidious in how it gets you thinking, too, about the afterlife and people’s expectations and hopes, as well as our behavior while alive. After I binge-watched the first season on Netflix, I discovered—too late—that there’s a second season in progress. It was such a pleasure to watch in progression that I’m going to wait until the whole second season is available and not try to jump in partway. If you’ve seen the first season or read about it, don’t spoil it for new viewers! Ted Danson is actually hilarious and it doesn’t hurt that the actor has always reminded me of my brother.

  1. Wristcutters: A Love Story. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0477139/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm) Ok, so this one takes the issue of suicide head on. Sometimes that bluntness is what you need when you’re depressed and obsessing over life and death. The weird thing is: the quirkiness of the movie, its writing and comedic cameos, and its overall arc are really enjoyable. Obviously it’s not a “you should do it” take on suicide, but it’s not sappy or cliché in presentation either. You’ll surprise yourself by becoming fond of the soundtrack. The whole movie is strange, for sure—but then, the afterlife should be strange.


Finally—please tell me in the comments what you watch when you’re depressed, and why.

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An Ordinary Life

To be happy, I need to hold on to the thought that I am ordinary.

It sounds wrong, I know, when everything tells us to be extraordinary, when everything we aspire to do seems so hard only extraordinary people could do it.

But a great deal of my suffering comes from the thought that I have made it this far in my life without doing anything of particular note, especially when compared to others. I know “comparison is the thief of joy,” and when I am not comparing myself to people I know, I’m comparing myself to people I read about or, worst, the person I thought I would be when I was younger. I find it difficult to stop comparing, stop blaming myself for my failure to become extraordinary. I am neither famous nor wealthy, not someone to whom others come for wisdom, not a best-selling author, not not not.

I am ordinary. But—and here’s the important part—that is all right. 

I am not sure how to explain it. Accepting my ordinariness keeps me from beating myself with the weapons of “not good enough” and “try harder” and “be different from what you are” that society provides on a daily basis. Accepting my ordinariness allows for failure without the feeling that failure is a betrayal of who I am.

All this may sound arrogant, and for this I apologize. I thought I was lucky: my family and teachers told me constantly how smart I was. They said I could do anything, be anything. There was a lot of optimism in those days, the 1970s and even the 1980s, long before folks started to realize that the gap between the rich and the rest of us was widening exponentially. As I said, I was lucky—my family loved me and wanted me to succeed.

New studies show that wording makes a difference. It’s not so useful to tell someone that they are very intelligent; it’s far more helpful to say that with hard work and determination, they can learn anything. Because the world we live in now requires versatility, with many people having several careers. Someone who is innately intelligent may not feel equipped to make the necessary changes. I know I don’t. I feel left behind by a job market that’s moving as fast as a flash flood, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

My issues have to do with career. But I am lucky again—so very lucky—that I don’t have to figure it all out yet, or perhaps ever. Because of a non-judging husband with a good job, I do not have that pressure.

Yet that luck made me feel even more pressure to be extraordinary, to do something with my time that would change the world.

Which brings me back to my 2018 mantra: I am ordinary. And if I am ordinary, I am allowed to stumble. To write things that are banal, or cliché, or just stupid—as well as, if I’m lucky, some things that have some merit, that might be good, might help someone, even one reader. If I am ordinary, I am allowed to be introverted, to loathe selling things, to sleep more hours per day than most people, to be chubby, to post numerous photos of my pets on social media. If I am ordinary, I am allowed to wish I lived again in a time before computers and cell phones, and also to check my email obsessively, several times a day.

This freedom makes me think of Walt Whitman, and this wonderful quote: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” So much of Whitman gives us permission to be our own strange, wonderful, unexpected selves. He considers it sacred, the self. I suppose that’s what I’m working towards, when I say I consider myself ordinary. Not the definition of ordinary that makes it, by default, a bad thing. But a definition that frees me from a cage created by my younger self and by society, the cage of being extraordinary by standards I cannot possibly reach, and may not even truly value.

2018, I am ready to be ordinary. To walk my dog, vacuum the house, talk to my sister on the phone, pop to the grocery store for bagels. Also to read, to dream, to write. To live an ordinary life, with generosity, gratitude, and hope.


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Woman’s Meditation on Taking Down the Christmas Tree


The boxes, stacked in the garage, seem new to me, plastic with clip-lock lids, but we’ve had them for years. They’re dusty and drizzled by Floridian garage-fawna. They don’t look like the cardboard boxes I used to carry to the attic up north and store on parched pink clouds of insulation. They’re different, until I fill them again and see what’s inside.

P1060178One box holds all the ornaments I once gave to my daughter, a new horse for each new year. They’re  now holding their breath in their static prance, waiting for her children, who may, or may never, arrive. I blink and for split second, see through my daughter’s future eyes. I see her hands reach for the tissue and wrap the papier-mâché horse, and, in that second, I am she, remembering me.

In another box go the holiday cookie tins, aprons, dish towels, and platters my aunt mailed to me, my aunt whose home we used to visit on Christmas day when I was a girl, whose home isn’t the home it was when it wasn’t what it once was, back then, before. Back then I once reached high to set her table. The fork goes here. The dessert spoon there. I polished her silver and finally got to sit with the grown-ups, photos of whom are now in plastic boxes, with clip-lock lids, forgotten, snowed under a blizzard of digital images.

P1060175The tree rains down needles of piney Christmases past. I lift off my new bird ornaments, years old now, cradle them, wrap them in tissue, tuck them into the box. Where dangled horses, now hang the birds my mother gave me. Birds because my family used to keep birds–racing pigeons four generations back, parakeets two generations back, parrots one, finches mine. Because bird-watching is my family heritage. Because my mother loves them. Because the tree was once alive with living birds. Because precious, fragile, fleeting, flown.

P1060176I reach around the tree, a stiff and respectful embrace, step back, reach again, the dance of the tree and me. I’m unwinding the lights. I remember winding them weeks before. I remember winding and unwinding a year before. And so on, alone. I remember the shortest days of the year, the fear and the fight against the dark, candlelight masses, candles in trees, bonfires, pyres, the controlled burn that is life.

Ever since my first marriage, I’ve made the holiday alone–the tree, the garland, the food, the presents–driven by a force I don’t understand. Create and destroy. I am Santa, I am keeper and transformer of tradition, I am Kali of time and change, I am of the Mōdraniht, the Night-mothers, commander of the credit card and the tape gun. When you’re not looking, I bring the cornucopia; when you’re not looking, I take it away. I am daughter of the goddess of the Yule.

P1050859Year after year, on one of the longest nights of the year, I sat alone but for the dogs that are gone. Christmas Eves, I would tuck my child into bed, wrap last presents, arrange them artfully below the tree, and leave crumbs on Santa’s plate. Today I crawl beneath the tree, suffering a hundred needle-pricks, and unscrew the stand, releasing the tree and remembering the faces bright with photo flashes reflected off torn wrapping paper. The dopamine-fix of acquisition. The dopamine-fix of giving. I remember my little girl happy to see a new rocking horse, my grown girl happy to see a new book. I watched the faces happy to see each other but everywhere seeing, remembering, the missing.

And me, watching the three young women–my daughter, his daughter, his son’s lover–and wondering who will be the first to give Santa new life.

P1060180My husband’s adult children opened gifts on which was written, “From Dad and Lisa.” Awkward, murky, but pleased, they thanked only me. They understood, as I understood back then, before, when I aimed my thanks toward my mother, stepmother, aunt. Santa is a woman. But they don’t know how much it really costs her. Not yet.

I carry the boxes back into the garage and stack them. Hours have passed. This is silly. It’s trivial. It’s a lot of garbage. It’s a big expense. My fingers are sticky with pine sap. “Whoa, the room looks empty,” my husband says, kissing the top of my head.  “It’s a lot of work, eh? But you love Christmas. You made it special.” I get out the broom. He makes us tea. “Thanks for cleaning up after yourself,” he says over the edge of his cup, and ducks back into his office to get back to work making our living.

“Christmas Rush,” by Norman Rockwell

Am I cleaning up after myself? Is that what I’m doing?

Was all this Christmas just me?

If so, why, after his remark, am I livid?

We Santa-women take turns on the night watch, alone but not lonely, cleaning up, laying out, stringing up, taking down, thinking, “It’s not worth it,” knowing, “It’s all that matters,” dragging the tree and the last of its scent to the curb, breathing in, “We’re alive together,” breathing out, “Good-bye.”


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The Dog Park

Savvy begins to bark before I even have my tennis shoes all the way on. She’s excited! We’re going to the dog park! Hurry up! Time for a walk! It drives my husband crazy, but usually I laugh at her. She barks when I call her to get her harness on, asking her to lift first one front leg and then the other so I can fasten it. She barks when I check to see if I have clean-up bags, and when I fasten her leash, and when I open the front door.

Savvy mid-bark. (No, that’s not her frisbee.)

Then she stands on the small front porch, the wind lifting her ears, and just waits for a moment. She’s taking in the day, readying herself. It’s a rare moment of calm.


Savvy is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a long royal name for a 20-pound dog who’s cuter than she is smart. She’s a lapdog with long, fine fur that collects every dead leaf, weed seed, and cocklebur within a mile.

I inherited her from my mother. My mother had three dogs when she died, and my sister took two of them—the Cocker Spaniel and the Bichon Frise, both senior dogs. I took Savvy, who was three. My sister and I both had dogs of our own, but we managed, for years, with multi-dog households. Now I just have Savvy, over thirteen years old but still happy.


Before we even get into the dog park, Savvy has to smell all the places the other dogs marked on their way in. One of my friends joked that it’s like dog social media, with each new lift of the leg being a “like” on some busy post (often literal) filled with information only the dogs can read.

My sister’s Great Pyrenees, in his role as King of the Curly-Tailed Dogs at the dog park.

Inside the gates and let off her leash, she continues checking old news, even when other dogs are right in front of her. Meanwhile I gauge the other dogs for the likelihood of them coming over to be patted. Most adult dogs are too busy with their own smell duties, or investigating other dogs, or watching the ball in their owner’s hand. But young ones—oh, the puppies will come to you in all their goofy clumsiness, wagging their tails and doling out kisses. That’s the biggest payoff at the dog park, the one I tell my sister about on the phone. “A Golden Retriever puppy?” she’ll say. “Did you get a picture?”


My husband—my 2nd husband, who I’ve known for 4 years—has a cat. When we first got married, I had two dogs and he had two cats. They managed together surprisingly well, my oldest dog too old to chase, and his oldest cat too old to run. Now Savvy and the remaining cat are the only two pets, and though they are both spoiled enough to want my undivided attention, they mostly like each other. My husband would say that the cat tolerates the dog, but I have seen them lying next to each other, seemingly comfortable in proximity.


If you’re not a pet person, you might ask, “Why does all this matter? Details about dogs and cats—their breeds, their ages, who you had when, their personalities, how you got them. Who cares?”

Mud puddles are fun.

If you’re a pet person, no reason is necessary. Any opportunity to talk about pets, to think about pets, is something to grasp onto. You know what pets give you: the perfect example of mindfulness, of living in the moment. The unconditional, unfettered love. The daily teachings in how to be both hopeful and grateful.

But here’s the real reason all these details matter: when you have pets, your life is measured by them. Savvy belonged to my mother. Savvy loves everyone, and expects everyone to love her, but she prefers her One Special Person. My mother was Savvy’s person, and now I am. In this way, among others, I have become my mother. In this way, my mother’s love is still with me, daily, physically, on my lap and in muddy paw prints on my clothes.

But our losses and griefs are also measured by our pets. I had Savvy when I was still married to my first husband, someone who is, luckily, still my good friend, but also still a loss. My current husband had this cat when he was still married to his first wife. These shorter, furry lives overlap our other milestones. They’re woven through the other connections and disconnections, the other timelines marked by apartments or schools or jobs or presidents.


I recite a litany of the dogs in my life, telling my husband about them, in order from the first one I remember: Sergeant, Hawk, Amber, Briar, Andrew, Bonny, Mick, Ginger, Charlie, Savvy. And that doesn’t count the dogs owned by my family members, dogs I also loved. They come up in conversation—old friends who knew my old self. Sometimes I dream one is still alive, but only I can see him. Sometimes I dream they are all out in the back yard, waiting for me to come outside.


My husband considered himself a cat person, his last dog a German Shepherd that his family had when he was a kid. His mother was a veterinarian, so they had dogs and cats and even the occasional bird—rook or hawk—in and around their house. She tucked the needy puppies into bed with his brother; the sick kittens in with him. So when I showed up with my two spaniels, he thought he would be nice but distant; as he cleans the litter box, so I would do everything dog-related.

Savvy with my husband’s 17-year-old cat; rest time is important, too.

But he finds himself holding spaniel ears while Savvy licks a plate on which cooked lamb was placed, because otherwise her ears would drag in the juice. When there’s a thunderstorm, Savvy makes her way across the bed to his pillow, lying across the top of his head. And at the dog park, when she insists on getting in the muddy, stinky pond—channeling her inner Golden Retriever, I always say—he remarks on her cheekiness, saying she’s a different dog from the overly sensitive, fearful little thing he remembers. He doesn’t know that it’s he who has changed, seeing her differently as he becomes fond of her.

Sometimes we talk about what sort of pets to get in the future, after these two are gone. It used to be him persuading me of the virtues of cats, and me insisting we needed one consistent pet in the house, one that wanted attention when I wanted to give it. But now he picks out his favorites of the dogs we meet. One day it’s a huge gentle Rottweiler, holding back his strength as he play-wrestles with another dog; another it’s a bouncy mutt who would need multiple daily trips to the dog park to release her energy. It’s the walks that have convinced him, the need to exercise the Funny Little Red Dog meaning we have no excuse to stay on our butts in front of the tv.


I know what year it is. I know that I am living in an America perilously close to the kind of authoritarianism that has caused oppression and death in other countries within the modern era. I feel that fear and dread and anger—equality no longer even the stated goal of those in charge, civil rights curtailed, bigots and bullies emboldened, climate change hanging over us all like a bowling ball dangling from fishing line.

It is precisely because of this that I must go to the dog park, explaining to every person I meet that Savvy barks because she’s happy. She barks a lot in the dog park, especially when she’s about to meet another dog. I’m a little embarrassed about her barking, when almost none of the other dogs bark, but going to the dog park is worth it. She’s so happy! Everything’s exciting! She has to tell everyone about it! And I have the power to make her this happy, just by bringing her here!

And on every dog’s face there, in their movements as they form loose playgroups and swirl around owners with tennis balls or sticks thrown into the ponds, is joy. We humans cannot help but be infected. So much doggy joy! I cannot live without it.


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Counting on One Hand

I always used to pride myself on being the kind of person who does not attract trouble. My three brothers were in hot water routinely for things I got away with, clean as a whistle. I never got too much negative attention for anything, and being an average white female, that innocuousness grows with age. An old white lady becomes more and more invisible, and that’s not a totally bad thing.

But recently, every time I see a woman’s face on TV forcing herself to go public about the most uncomfortable and sometimes most traumatic times of her life, I am grateful to her for reliving those worst moments in our deeply sexist culture, telling her truth for the common good. To remind me of a few times in my own life—long held in a kind of secret shame—were trouble and troubling. To people who think this whole sexual misconduct thing is overblown. Let me assure you, it is NOT.

I can count my events involving sexual misconduct by men on one hand. Aren’t I lucky? Of course, this does not count the catcalls, the uninvited groping at college parties, the misogynistic jokes among male co-workers, the terror of walking in front of a group of men on the street and hearing them judge you as if you were a farm animal at the state fair. Or the fear every woman experiences while walking to her car alone at night, anywhere.

No, my big bad moments are few, only four, but they are indelible in my memory and in my body. They were life-changing moments, the terrible kind. The kind that girls and women of my generation were often shamed, ridiculed, and even threatened out of telling.

ONE. Dateline: Gainesville, Florida, late 1960s. My family took part in many tailgate parties before football games as my dad was a Gator through and through. I loved these events, until one Saturday as I trekked with the rest of the mob from the grassy parking area to the stadium, a man behind me put his hand up my skirt and between my legs. I froze but somehow kept walking. At 14, I never imagined anything like this happening. Broad daylight, tightly packed crowd, my mother two steps ahead of me. I felt his breath on my neck. He eventually stopped when I slightly turned my head to see his hat down as he turned away. A full-grown adult man. I trembled through the entire game and never told anyone. Hadn’t I been told it was up to me to keep boys’ hands off my body? And to respect the authority of adults? In my confusion and shame, it was impossible to speak for hours. And I made up my mind to try to forget. I did not understand the feelings that would follow me for years after this shocking, personal, and sick intrusion. Who would do that? Why? This was my first touch by a male on a private area, and it made me sick every time I thought about it. It still does.

TWO: Under duress from the first national bank of my parents, I found a job as a sophomore in college that fit my schedule. It involved cold calling potential insurance buyers in an office full of women for 20 hours a week. The boss, a middle-aged guy named Dick (not kidding), sat in his office nearby with a door that closed. Starting the very first day, Dick began to call me into his office frequently. The reasons were various and stupid. Finally he just started asking me about myself, my life. I hemmed and hawed as I stood in front of his desk. The next day he called me in and closed the door. He asked a question that I guess any boss needs to know about an employee. He tilted his head to one side and said, “You don’t really have to wear a bra, do you?” I turned and walked out the door and back to my desk, my face burning with confusion and shame, the other women staring, as if they knew.

That night I mustered the nerve to call my parents while they were in the middle of dinner and told my mom that my boss was making personal comments about me and kept calling me in to talk to him about nothing. I told her about the bra question. She said just stay away from him and as long as there are other people around, you’ll be OK. But if he touches you, run. Two minutes later my dad called back and said “Don’t ever go back there. I’ll give you some dough until you find a better job.” I never went back, never even called, but the creepiness stayed with me from that day to this.

THREE and FOUR happened on the same day. The first a fluke of timing and bad luck, the second a serious and devastating violation that I realized later was a real crime. I was a single mom of 28 with my first master’s degree in hand, and had landed a great job at Tupperware World Headquarters in advertising and PR. One of my first fancy business trips was to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I was to give a presentation to a gathering of factory managers on how the product they make is sold. When I arrived by taxi from the airport at the event hotel late morning, I realized I didn’t have any stockings with me—a must for the 80s business suit. We had a dinner meeting that night to coordinate all the events the next day, and I really wanted to make a good professional impression. I asked the desk clerk directions to a convenience store within walking distance. On my way back, a nightmarish thing happened. A big truck containing three large men pulled up next to me, at high noon on A1A. They cruised as close to me as they could get, saying unspeakable things. But I kept my eyes forward and ignored their catcalls and orders to get in the truck. My lack of eye contact enraged them. They turned the truck in front of me to stop my progress, now angry and calling me even more unspeakable things. I ducked around the back of the truck and ran across the street, hoping a cop would come by and stop them. My heart pumped at convulsive speed, and they seemed to enjoy the look of terror on my face. They were laughing and yelling now. I got to the hotel a few steps ahead of them—two had jumped out and were chasing me—and ran gasping through the glass doors of the lobby, where they did not follow. I breathlessly asked the clerk to call the police, that I had been pursued on the road by a truck full of creeps. He glanced up, looked out the window and mildly said “Where? I don’t see anything. What’s the license number?” I said never mind and ran to the elevator.

When I got to my room, I called the man I was dating back in Orlando and hysterically sobbed out the story. I could hear the helplessness and outrage in his voice as he tried to calm me. I tried to put the whole trauma aside, but every hour or so a wave of absolute horror would hit me as I wondered what might have happened if those monsters had caught me.

Joining me on the trip were other executives from the headquarters, mostly men, including Jack T., Tupperware’s vice-president in charge of human resources, which we used to call “personnel.” After the dinner meeting that night, Jack sat next to me at the hotel bar where we had gathered for drinks before turning in to rest up for the big day. I had one glass of wine and announced that I needed to get some rest, especially since it was my first time in company presentational mode. Jack said he would walk me to my room since he wanted to call it a night too. He was a soft-spoken, southern accented, paternal type who had offered encouraging tips during the meeting that night. After the mid-day adventure, I was actually touched by his old-fashioned gesture to see me safely to my room. There were kind men in this world after all, I reminded myself. Men who would provide safety from harassment on the street, who respect women because we are half the human race.

After we exited the elevator on my floor, he put his hand on my back to kind of steer me down the hall. I realized he had had quite a bit to drink and was slurring his words just slightly. When I got to my door, I was now nervous about a possible weirdness, but all mystery ended when I put my key in the lock and he leaned hard against my back, pushing his crotch against me. As the door opened I jumped inside and pushed the door back against him, but he shoved right past me. He pulled me onto the bed and laughed, like it was all a big joke.

“Mr. _______. You need to leave right now.” I tried to sound authoritative but I think I was just squawking. He got right on top of me and ripped off my cheap L’eggs pantyhose I had bought hours earlier. My skirt was no protection whatsoever. What happened next was rape, pure and simple. I was amazed at my lack of ability to stop it. I always thought I could, if it came to this. He left quickly afterward, me chalk-faced and shocked, my arms bruised where he held me down.

The next morning at my presentation he sat in the front row, grinning like an idiot. I was nauseated and shaky, but this time I did not call my boyfriend and cry. I think I was in a daze of shame and fear. How could those two terrible things happen on the same day? It was incredible, ridiculous, and something must be wrong with me.

As I got to know more people in the company, I found out that Jack had quite a reputation for coming on to female employees, especially when traveling, which was a big part of our jobs at Tupperware. I don’t know if any other women were actually assaulted, but nobody ever raised a formal complaint, because his was the department you would take your complaint to, and frankly, nobody believed women when a powerful man was involved. Oh, and bonus, he told racist jokes. Funny how sexist creepiness and racism often go hand in hand.

I needed this job. I had a career to build and a little boy to teach how to be a much better man than I saw around me a lot of the time. I told my friends about the sudden attack, but for years I told it differently. In my revised version, I won. I closed the door on his face and he never got in. “That bastard,” everyone said. “Thank God you prevailed!” But now I realize the power the truth holds, and the power that secrets can have over you if you don’t get the poison out. I have never told the true story until now, because I didn’t want anyone I love to live with this knowledge. Nobody wants to think about their mom getting raped. And I wanted to forget it myself. Good luck with that. I ended up leaving the company years earlier than I might have if not for him. I stayed clear of him much of the time, but he was always there, leering and lurking. I hated him. He’s dead now.

I tell this story finally because I am so f-ing sick of it. I cannot believe we have a president who brags about grabbing women’s genitals and I cannot believe the state of Alabama may well elect a known sexual predator. I don’t want harassment and abuse to happen to my daughter, my granddaughter, or all my beautiful, hopeful female students of the last 20 years. But guess what—it already has, to many of them. This problem is common as dirt, and we have to face it. Good men out there, we need you to help change this culture. I know many of you are soldiers of this cause already, but if you are a guy imagining this has nothing to do with you since you are not a predatory creep, listen up. We need you in our corner, on our side. We are your moms, sisters, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, friends. We need you to speak up for us, to get in the way of those predatory creeps and be a role model to other men that might be confused about what is not cool where aggression toward women in concerned. Help us.







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Can You Make Both Art and a Living Too?

Let’s say, for the sake of convenience (mine), you want to be a writer (rather than a painter, a potter, a mime), but you’re not sure how you’re going to make rent, let alone retirement. One of my students recently talked with me about this very conflict, and I realized that over the years since I earned my MFA in Fiction Writing back in 1990, I’ve noticed a few things that might help her, and you, think the options through. If the decisions seem as if they lead way off the mainstream and include heartbreak, it might be because they do.

Like a lot of other writers, I teach writing at a university, and like a lot more of us every year, I’m an adjunct professor. Back in the nineties and a long time afterward, a lot of us expected that teaching at a university would give us a balanced in life. We’d practice our craft half the time, the rest of the time bestow the wisdom gained from that practice, and earn a accolades and comfortable wage along the way.

Where I live, an adjunct works without benefits, contracted by the semester only, for a few thousand dollars per fifteen-week course. I actually quit a juicy full-time gig with great benefits to take this job, but more on that later.

I heard on a podcast (many of my statements now begin, “I heard on a podcast”) that when it comes to living as an artist, you get one of three options:

  1. get a so-called real job and wedge writing into nights and weekends,
  2. embrace poverty with a shit job and devote all your time to your writing,
  3. be born into big money, or marry it. 

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about those options, but first . . .

You Sure You Can’t You Have It All?

Some my students believe, as I once did, that they’ll be the fierce few to land a full-time writing professorship. I do have colleagues who reeled cushy teaching gigs, some with no more talent and even less effort than the rest of us. Some of them enjoy low teaching loads, publish regularly, and jet-set on book tours. A few. Mostly men. But maybe that’s just my circle.

Everything you’ve got is focused on everyone’s writing but your own.

Most of the full-time professors in my orbit, male and female, are among the unhappiest writers I know. In our lifetime, the business model has driven the fat-cat writing professor to the brink of extinction. “I’ve been here twenty-five years,” said a woman who I thought was living my dream job. She’s the head of creative writing at a small liberal arts college. “And to mark this anniversary they invited me to a luncheon and scheduled it during one of my classes so I couldn’t come.” For twenty-five years, she’d devoted herself to her students rather than her muse. And all they gave her was a crappy plaque.

Because teaching and advising in the language arts draw on the same creative energies as does writing, the well runs dry. Years, and then decades, pass, and my colleagues don’t quite manage to publish the way they’d hoped. They break their backs doing cartwheels to get tenure, which is basically permission to keep the job you’ve been doing above and beyond and brilliantly well. More and more often, the answer is no. Tenure is expensive and not on the university’s plan to dump mountains of student loan money into a few administrator’s pockets. So, my friends and their families have to pull up stakes, pull up roots, lick wounds, and compete with 300-500 other applicants for the next questionably desirable teaching gig. Especially if they’re married to other professors, quite a few couples end up living in different states. Over a beer, a tower of papers to grade looming under the lamplight at home, my enviably tenured writing professor friends say they’re going to retire early. Then, then, they’ll be able write.

Option #1—Get a Real Job

My friends who seem happiest and most successful in their writing careers work full-time for well-paying corporate jobs. How do they do it? They write during the hours when the rest of us are hanging out with mates and kids.

Their secret: they’re single and childless. Most of these writers are men. Some are fathers, but their children are being or were raised by ex-wives.

Most friends with kids are happy they had them. Most friends without kids are happy.

The writers who seem unhappiest with their writing careers have children. Don’t get me wrong—people with children tend not to regret having children, and I’m one of them. I always said, I’d rather have another kid than another book. It’s just that, while raising kids, parents tend to put literary ambitions and a hell of a lot else on hold. I got pregnant with my daughter while I was working on my MFA. When I told my thesis advisor my good news, he said, darkly, “I guess you have a big decision to make.” I was scandalized. How dare anyone think I couldn’t work, write, and be a blameless parent! One of my gravidly pregnant classmates won a full scholarship that allowed her to finish her degree without working as a teaching assistant like the rest of us. Everyone congratulated her, “Good timing! Now you can stay home with the baby.” She was scandalized. How dare anyone think that she wouldn’t devote all her time to her studies! I don’t know how that worked out. When the baby came, we never saw her again.

I know married working moms who, to advance their careers, put their children in daycare and pulled up roots, and some have regrets. I know married moms who stayed at home, then launched careers later in life. They’re behind, and some, like me, have regrets about that. Whether we carried brief cases out the door or homeschooled our kids, in the end we all screwed them up every which-way anyway. When you’re making Big Decisions, you never have all the information you need. You just don’t.

The thing is, it always feels as if there must be a Right Answer. But there isn’t.

Option #2—Embrace Poverty

Noticeably happy are my women friends who own their own low-profit or nonprofit businesses: horse stables, animal rescues, literary arts organizations, literary editing services. Although some aren’t writers, I mention them here because they love their lives and are living on less than ten grand a year. Even the ones with children really are living on that little. No retirement accounts. Little to no health insurance. They never regret a minute of it.

All of them, incidentally, are also single.

I was going toss my whole life to write another book, even though I couldn’t tell you why.

I had a juicy full-time teaching gig and gave it up in exchange for the poverty and humiliation of adjunct status. Why? It gave me more time to write. And I’m 54. I really screwed my retirement. I did it because I listened to my writing professor colleagues who were just living till retirement, dreaming of the day they could finally write that book. That was my grandfather. A few months after he retired, he died. I thought, “How do you know you’re gonna live that long? I’m out of here.” My plan was to move to a rural area in a super-cheap state, rent a trailer on a friend’s horse farm, live off my meager savings, and write another book.

Option #3—Born Rich or Married to It

I’m assuming you weren’t born rich or you wouldn’t be reading this post. So maybe you’re wondering, should you go to happy hour in someplace like Tiburon, California, where there’s a high concentration of millionaires per square mile? Or, if you’ve already got a sweetie with a decent job, is it okay to quit yours or drop to part-time to give you enough time and peace of mind to write? That’s what I ended up doing.

My mother always told me, “It’s as easy to love a rich man as a poor one.”

A few of my female writer friends and I are refugees from the rubble of the ivory tower. We hit the academic scene near the dwindling end of a grand game of musical chairs and failed, for a host of reasons, to grab a tenure seat when the music stopped. Now, although we’re lowly adjuncts who only teach a class or two, which is nowhere near enough to live on, we’re free to write, but only with the uneasy support of spouses who work real jobs.

It takes a lot of trust in your mate and a willingness to accept some degradation to be a stay-at-home writer. I have known several writers who were stay-at-home dads too, men who struggled with the same ear-popping drop in marital clout. Two of my friends are married to well-to-do men who, in moments of weakness, worry, or anger, blurt things like, ” If you went back to work, we could take that trip/buy that house/retire comfortably,” or “How ’bout I quit my job and YOU go to work?” or “It must be nice to lie around chasing pipe dreams all day.”

Even if the two of you made the decision together, that shit comes out. And during the good times, when your mate’s supportive and you’re productive, even when you win a writing award or get paid for a short story or land an agent or a book contract, the pecuniary gains are so paltry and the accolades so obscure, you wonder if writing isn’t some kind of glorified gambling addiction. Or maybe quitting your job to become financially dependent on your spouse wasn’t some kind of neurotic regression to childhood. Or maybe, in fact, you’re just lazy.

I call myself “a very expensive house cat.”

Luckily, for now, my husband’s employer offers health insurance that covers mental health care.

An editor once told me that even when he gets six-figure deals for authors, he warns them, “Don’t quit your day job.” The gravy isn’t a train; it’s most likely a lone semi speeding by. You don’t know what it will mean that you work this hard at something that promises so little socially or culturally approved pay-off. All you know is, you’re making a difficult, time-consuming investment for insanely slim odds. You can’t do it to hoping get famous or laid or any other external gain. You do it because that’s who you are. And that’s who you are because that’s what you do.

And that’s a formula you can toy with, considering, of course, your inner chemistry.

How to Make Art and a Living

Art is Big. If you want it that bad, be prepared to give up something big: children, companionship, a living wage. Respect. Retirement. Self-confidence.

I wish my mentors back in the eighties had told me I probably couldn’t be a writer, wife, mother, and tenured professor all at once. Rather than writing, I wasted a lot of energy worrying about losing one or the other. Maybe they did warn me, and I didn’t listen. Maybe my mentors didn’t warn me because they were old white men, long-tenured, who had light teaching loads (3/2 or 2/2), wives who’d raised their children, and a cozy retirement waiting around that last corner.

There’s peace in accepting that this is how it is. And then you can just be.

The point is, there’s no right way to live the writer’s life. If you aren’t writing, you’re doing something else, like parenting or teaching or making love or making a living, and they’re Big too. Accept that they must matter to you or you wouldn’t be giving them your time. Everything you do becomes you. You’re a parent. A teacher. A life mate. They’re all grand.

Whatever option you choose, (and hopefully you live long enough to try them all), make sure you:

  • find time to write as often as possible,
  • find other writers and meet with them as often as possible,
  • find a writing conference that feels like family and squirrel money so you can go every year,
  • submit your work often, again and again no matter how many times it’s rejected,
  • never apologize for who you are.

As the daughter I raised put it, “No one does this because it’s easy. We do it because we’re compelled. To many of us, neglecting it means not living your best life. The world is unkind to artists, but living without your art is unkind to yourself.”

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Charlie Rose and #MeToo

–a guest post by Janna Benge


Charlie Rose? My head is reeling. The “Me Too” movement is engulfing men I have looked up to as leaders in their fields.

Every new instance brought into the light of day makes me incredibly angry. Angry on behalf of all of the young women who are going to work today – not just to do a job that they worked very hard to qualify for: getting good grades in high school, signing up for community service credits, sitting up late to write essays, graduating to college where they and their families often eek out just enough money to put them through a 4 or 5-year degree because it will be worth it in the end. They will have a good job, make good money, be able to pay back the student loans. They hone their resume, buy a professional outfit for the interview and land an entry level job in their chosen field. Then wham. Some old creep, who himself climbed the corporate ladder 40 years ago, in large part due to male entitlement, corners her in a supply cupboard, or asks for a back massage when he should be asking for a file, or needs an assistant to accompany him on an overnight stay and then insists she have late night drinks with him.

This is why I am mad. How many thousands, hundreds of thousands, of excellently qualified, capable young women have fled their jobs because of sexual harassment in the work place? I believe we are just starting to hear their voices. Not only are they sexually harassed and they and their partners have to bear the trauma of that; but they are repulsed and even blacklisted from the career they have spent a lifetime planning and paying for. Where is justice for these women? We are putting an emotional value on sexual harassment in the work place; it’s time we put a monetary value on it too. This is not “hush money,” this is compensation for damage done to careers. It’s time women spoke up. “Charlie Rose’s behavior (insert any number of names) made me give up my career path, or take a less ambitious one. I estimate I have lost over $xxxx because of this. I still owe $xxx in student loans for a job I no longer have the stomach for because of his behavior.”

It is not fair that young women are routinely put in this position. It is not fair that they can do everything “right” and still not be judged by the same standards of young men who, for the most part, are not required to endure these things. How many potentially spectacular careers have been cut down by a furtive squeeze on the knee, the “jokes” about a woman’s body, or some sleazy old man requiring a young woman to listen to his sexual dreams and fantasies?

Up until now I’ve cringed when another man is named as a workplace sexual harrasser, especially when it’s someone I admire professionally, but from now on I am going to cheer. It’s out in the open. No more women will suffer in silence thinking they are the only one he’s done this to, or that no one will believe them over him. Yes, he might lose his job, his marriage, his future earnings – but now many young women has he already taken those very things from?


Janna Benge is originally from New Zealand. She is president of the Kerouac Project of Orlando and a local writer. She’s a wife, mom and grandma. Janna did not pursue her first career choice because  the man she worked for kept leaning over her closely, confiding in her about his marital sex woes and resting his hand on hers. At sixteen she felt threatened and vulnerable. She never told anyone why she declined the job.


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Speaking Out about Doctors Assaulting Patients #MeToo

“Dear Ms. Gilman, 

I taped this note to my door so that every time I walk out, I’m reminded of my strength.

Thank you for submitting your complaint [to the Florida Dept. of Health Bureau of Enforcement].

We have determined from our review that although the behavior you described is unacceptable, it is not a violation of the laws or rules that regulate the healthcare practitioner’s profession.  Therefore, we can take no further action. 

Florida law requires that all information in this complaint remain confidential…”


This is the response to a letter I wrote in a complaint against a doctor whose behavior toward me in a physical exam, I believe, would have risen to the level of sexual assault if I hadn’t stood up for myself.  You can read my complaint below, at the end of this post.  You’ll understand why the doctor’s actions were so disturbing.

In the state’s response to my complaint,  I was particularly bothered by the intimidating statement that the information in my complaint is required by law to be confidential.  In no part of the complaint form or instructions was that included.  To inform a complainant after the fact that they forfeited the right to talk about the abuse they suffered is unconscionable.

No one has the right to silence me because I spoke out. 

I researched my rights.  Florida’s “Sunshine Law” prohibits disclosure of such information in certain situations, but not in a case where the complaint is determined to be legally insufficient, which mine was.  So much for the threat made to me.  

I hadn’t thought to write about being assaulted by doctors until I watched a news segment about three-time Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman, who spoke forcefully and eloquently about her U.S. team coach sexually abusing her from the time she was 15.  She is now 23.

Her story reminded me that I had been sexually mistreated– was it all abuse? it’s hard to know sometimes– by three doctors.  At the times I was subjected to the inappropriate sexual behavior, I was 15 years old, 30 years old, and 48 years old.  The first time, my mother was there and prevented it from happening.  The second time, I was frozen while it happened.  The last time, I kept it from happening.

I have a voice, and I’m speaking out. 

When I was 15, my mother took me to a doctor because I had a sinus infection.  He asked whether I was a virgin.  I wasn’t; I’d been date raped earlier that year.  My mother didn’t know I’d been date raped and neither did I; I only knew I didn’t want it to happen and he forced himself on me.  I hadn’t told my mother that, and I still haven’t.

Because I wasn’t a virgin, the doctor wanted to give me a pelvic exam.  I was there for a sinus infection.  On what basis would he ask if I were a virgin in the first place?  And on what basis would a doctor do a pelvic exam on a patient, virgin or not, when she’s there for a sinus infection? My mother didn’t allow the exam.  If I could remember the doctor’s name, I would certainly tell it here.

When I was 30, I went to see a doctor because I had swollen lymph nodes on my neck.  Dr. Regan Burke examined me in a room with no one in it but us.  Before the exam, he had me take my clothes off and put on a robe.  He extensively and slowly probed my lymph nodes, including those under my arms and into my breasts.  He examined the lymph nodes in my groin– again with extensive, slow probing– where my legs met the very private part of my body.  The exam seemed to last forever. The room was dead quiet except for his deep, heavy breathing.  I was chilled to the bone.  But I couldn’t find the courage to tell him, an authority figure, to stop touching me.

When I went back to work that day, I told a male co-worker about it, thinking he’d reassure me that it was wrong.  Instead, he said “Give me a break! You think your doctor was trying to feel you up?”  I told my then-husband that night.  He understood I’d felt uncomfortable but said nothing more.

Since then, a dozen women women have accused Dr. Burke of touching them inappropriately.  He was arrested twice and had a 10-year legal battle because of it.  What I felt about my exam by him was true; he’d been touching me inappropriately.  And he kept doing it to other women.  If I’d spoken up to the Florida Department of Health back in 1997, would they have listened to me, or would their response have been similar to the one regarding my most recent experience? If I spoke up, would it have kept other women from being this doctor’s victims?  These kinds of questions are partly why women don’t tell that they have been abused or assaulted– they don’t know what the answers to questions like these will be.

In the current wave of women publicly revealing the sexual abuse they’ve suffered, many of them have been doubted and insulted for waiting so long to tell their stories.  I can’t and won’t question women who find it too difficult and have to take years, even decades, to be able to tell what happened to them.  I believe women when they speak out, and I have empathy for them.  I have have even greater empathy for the women who carry a secret burden because they can’t speak out.

Aly Raisman hasn’t been questioned, because she’s been able to speak out early.  She’s an exceptional young woman and inspiring to other young women.  Not many young women have the strength Raisman has. Not many women, young or old, are as gutsy as she is.  Her life as an Olympic athlete who has been a gymnast when she was four and who trained vigorously for most of her life has physical strength, and her Olympic medals show that she has the mettle to overcome human limitations.  It could have been either of these things, or both, or both and an innate sense of justice that caused her to tell her story.  Whatever it was, it’s helping others to tell what they’ve been through– and not only gymnasts.  It helped me tell what happened to me.

As to the question of why women “let” sexual assaults happen, Raisman is obviously strong, yet she couldn’t rock the boat while the sexual assaults were happening.  Some women can, but maybe it takes experience and courage from without for a woman to stop someone from sexually abusing her.

I’m an aggressive, confrontational person by nature, but it took until I was almost 50 to have the absolute conviction that I was being victimized and the courage to speak out to the supposedly-decent person who was going to victimize me to keep him from doing it. I did it three years ago when Dr. Tolliver Higgins would have touched me inappropriately, I believe, unless I questioned his behavior before he could complete the act.

I had the strength and grit right away to tell my friends and fiancé what happened to me.  I posted about it on Facebook.  Then I filed the complaint with the Florida Department of Health.  They agreed that his actions were “unacceptable.”  As I’ve said, they nevertheless determined that his conduct did not rise to the level required to take action against him.

I have a voice, and I’m speaking out.  

May all you doctors, coaches, directors, politicians, actors, editors, and every other man from every walk of life who have abused women you’ve had power or authority over be warned and afraid.  Be very, very afraid.  If one woman tells what you did to her, so will another.  Then another.  And another.  Your future is in jeopardy.  We are women.  Hear us roar.



The complaint I filed with the Florida Dept. of Health Bureau of Enforcement:


September 5, 2014

RE: Complaint against Dr. Tolliver Higgins

On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, I had an appointment with Dr. Higgins for a routine checkup to establish a primary care doctor for myself after I’d gotten health insurance. I wanted to see his associate, Dr. — but Dr. — wasn’t taking new patients.

The nurse came in, asked me a few questions, then left and said Dr. Higgins would be in soon. Dr. Higgins came in, sat, asked me many health questions, including whether I’d had a gynecological exam recently (yes), and a lot of questions about my life—where I grew up, where I went to high school, and things like that which led to a really intimate look at my life, things that have absolutely nothing to do with my health today.

He said he would order a lot of tests to be done that day, and then he handed me a pink paper top, the kind that is worn during a yearly GYN appointment so a breast exam could be done. He said, “Take everything off from the waist up, and put this on. The opening goes in front. I’ll be back,” and he left the exam room.

I am a large-breasted woman, even after my breast reduction surgery in 2001, which I noted in my health history. I have had experience enough to know when something is not right. Still, I did as he said. Doctors have authority over patients. But when he came back in alone and shut the door, I said, “A nurse is going to be in here, right?” He said, “A nurse? No. Why? Do you want a nurse in here?” I said, “Well, yeah.” He challenged me by saying no and then asking the way he did, as though I were being unreasonable. I am very glad for myself that I didn’t back down.

He came back in with his nurse, Leslie (he wrote her name on a piece of paper for me earlier, so I would know who to talk to if I had questions later). I was sitting on the exam table with the little pink paper top on, and Leslie stood at my feet, smiling at me to make me feel comfortable. Dr. Higgins was going to take my blood pressure and listen to my lungs, he said. His hands were shaking as he took my blood pressure and he fumbled with the cuff. He told Leslie she might as well sit down, so she complied and sat in the chair I’d been sitting in during the talking part of my visit. I put my left hand to the opening of the paper top while he was trying to get the cuff on me, and I had to hold the top closed. He listened to my chest and to my back, as I continued to hold the top closed in front.

I have never, ever, ever been asked to disrobe from the waist up so that my BP could be taken and someone could listen to my lungs.

It is, in my mind, improper to ask a woman to bare her body for that, and improper to plan to then examine her with no one else in the room.

I have attached my records from Dr. Higgins’ office’s online portal, detailing my visit that day. You will note the extensive health information, tests, and test results reported for that day. Missing: my blood pressure, pulse, or any vital signs. No mention of my lungs, either. That says something to me as well. It was important enough to have me strip to do those things, but those things were not worth writing down?

Dr. Higgins made me feel very uncomfortable by telling me to take my blouse and bra off. Still, I did it. Where is the line? Did he really do something wrong? This is the dilemma women are put in when someone in authority acts improperly. I am speaking out, though. He was going to get a look at my breasts.   He was going to have my top open in front and hold his stethoscope on my sternum, his hands ever so close to my bare breasts. I have no doubt of that. And that is wrong, wrong, wrong, even if I didn’t let that happen.

I believe his hands were shaking because he was “caught” because I wanted his nurse in the room, and she saw that he’d had me strip when he shouldn’t have. He was right to be nervous. I was the wrong woman to do that to just now. I’m bold enough to speak out.

Suzannah Gilman






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“Fall,” a poem by Orlando Poet Laureate Susan Lilley

Here at The Gloria Sirens, we’re thrilled to share that our own Siren Susan Lilley has been chosen as the first Poet Laureate of Orlando, Florida. Here’s one of her gorgeous poems; expect an interview with her on these pages soon!



for Orlando

As I left the post office the other day,
a friendly tourist, family in the car,
pulled over for advice
on Asian restaurants within a one-mile radius.
I fanned myself with a useless L.L. Bean
winter catalogue as we discussed his options.
He said, You must miss the seasons.
The seasons? We have seasons.
Oh, yes, he smiled. Summer and summer.

O visitor from somewhere cold and gray.
Do you not see the decorative gourds of autumn
around you? Do you not smell the pumpkin spice
in the coffee, the muffins, the air freshener?
We are passing through the aromatic
doorway of fall as we speak. And we check the
tropical disturbance reports only once a day.

Because as we embrace autumn with all our
sweaty hearts, we blow a bitter kiss
to hurricane season, also known as season
of the blue tarp, the ear-blasting generator,
the season of Who Has Power, hauling tree limbs,
and Jesus, take the wheel.

Read the rest of the poem by clicking here




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