Tag Archives: being a woman

The Art of Misdiagnosis, by Gayle Brandeis

The Art of Misdiagnosis by Gayle Brandeis

An exceptional act of humanity is discoverable between these covers.

Sometimes I encounter a book I know I want to reread again and again, to understand grief, and humanity, and move my psyche toward wholeness. Among these glittering narratives is The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide, by my friend Gayle Brandeis. (Gayle Brandeis and I met when we both attended the Antioch Los Angeles MFA program—and then, as now, she seemed an angel in the world, though with the beauty of authenticity shining through.)

In her memoir, Gayle captures the static that is chronic worry about a damaged loved one…when someone close is suffering in an inescapable stew of chaos, the background noise of concern is constant…and Gayle depicts the grim throb that can be brought on by the phone’s ring…she shows how complicated is the very human wish for relief…

As I read her memoir, I imagine I’m sitting alongside the narrator in the patrol car of the heart, witnessing firsthand the human struggle between connection and release, touching the complicated fiber of existence as we intersect with & knock against other broken humans…how we each bend into the shape necessary to survive the life we’re born into…how we try not to drown as we reach (often involuntarily) toward the drowning beloved…

I’ve been obsessed lately with how trauma shapes our bodies: literally, the physical body, and the spirit/psyche. The Art Of Misdiagnosis meditatively walks this terrain, and also somehow inoculates against trauma and grief, or at least wakens antibodies for understanding those parts of a life.

I read Gayle’s memoir for pleasure, allowing myself not to take notes, just to take it all in…and as I’m processing some of my own traumas, the book provides a balm, strangely reassuring. (None of us are alone.) Taking notes sometimes pulls me from the reading experience, but couldn’t I resist this part, near the end, on p. 222, after the narrator has experienced an intense physical release of trauma…

“When I am ready, Celia helps me up and hugs me back into the world.

‘Thank you,’ I tell her, but the words don’t feel strong enough. How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart? For helping release a burden you’ve carried all your life? For resurfacing just when you need her? For saving you again, almost twenty-four years after she saved you the first time?”

This memoir appears at the perfect time in my life. And as my body types Gayle’s words (above), I notice they echo how I feel about her memoir, and her writing in general: How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart?


An apology I owe Dylan Farrow (what bends/what breaks)

thumb_IMG_9602_1024In the past, when talking to my classes about comedy, I’ve used a clip from Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors: Alan Alda’s character being interviewed by Allen’s character, and Alda talking about humor. (“If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it isn’t.”) It’s part of a discussion about discerning when something has gone just far enough but not too far, and where the boundary resides (highly subjective and context-dependent, but worth considering). Much as the clip makes a good point, and much as I adore Alan Alda (despite his not having disavowed Woody Allen, yet), this time, I didn’t use the clip. I didn’t want to elevate or even look at Allen, and didn’t feel equipped to have the necessary discussion about why.

This omission is a tiny act, almost unnoticeable.

I am not above reproach: for years, since the accusation that Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow, I’ve been in denial, thinking HOW COULD HE HAVE DONE SOMETHING SO AWFUL? (For Buffy fans, it feels like that “Wait, Ben is Glory?insta-forgetting…as if my brain cannot contain the possibility that someone whose work I admire—and whose work provided me an early understanding of what art could do—could have molested a child. And then essentially married a child, another of his children. If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks…)

I grew up watching Allen’s films. His movies were formative to me, the early ones, the funny ones. Since hearing Dylan Farrow’s initial accusation back in 1992, I have been ambivalent enough, or in denial enough, or self-loathing enough to not boycott Allen. I haven’t actively defended him, but I’ve seen Wild Man Blues (featuring Allen and Soon Yi Previn) smore than once. I own the soundtrack to Everyone Says I Love You.

My own broken psyche apparently couldn’t excommunicate the filmmaker…was I passively accepting the notion that Dylan Farrow imagined her abuse, or had been brainwashed? As a seven-year-old child? At any rate, I was minimizing her pain. I looked the other way, just kept singing along to those catchy tunes, because HOW COULD HE? (Ben is Glory?)

I worked at the summer camp from which Soon Yi Previn was fired (a few summers before she was fired) and heard stories from friends about that big mess. I’m ashamed that I am only now thinking about this, and wondering what I can or should do (or not do), as a sentient being in the world, a person who believes the victims.

I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. Why did it take me this long to stop with the Woody Allen apologies? Why have I turned away?

By continuing to celebrate Allen’s art, am I complicit in the abuse, by not condemning the artist?

A couple weeks ago (the same week I read about Eliza Dushku’s stunt man, and the Michigan State University nightmare), I read the NY Times piece, Dylan Farrow Accuses Woody Allen of Sexual Abuse in TV Interview.

That was a very triggering week.

And I started drafting this distant apology to Dylan Farrow. Believing the reality of abuse is hard enough for survivors. To paraphrase Bessel van der Kolk, from his book, The Body Keeps The Score, a big part of healing is feeling what we feel, and knowing what we know. Moving away from dissociation, from minimization, from forgetting. From looking away. It’s not as easy as it sounds, when a body has been violated. We don’t want to feel what we feel. We don’t want to know what we know. It is an ornate and twisty thing, memory. It’s hard enough without the disbelief of everyone else. We start to feel like we’re living a fiction, or we’re invisible, or don’t even exist.

People—usually those who disbelieve, or minimize, the stories of victims—often claim that if a person’s not coming forward or speaking loudly enough, it must mean memories are false.

I asked Dylan if there was any chance that this was a false memory, that she had been brainwashed.

“No,” she said flatly. “I think it’s more logical almost that the people who accuse me of being brainwashed are brainwashed themselves by the celebrity, the glamour, the fantasy, the pull they have to Woody Allen, their hero on a pedestal.”

The larger point, she said, is not her own suffering over the years, but the need to listen to victims.

And later in the same piece, Kristof continues:

One demographer’s new estimate is that at least three-fourths of women worldwide have been sexually harassed.

I am sorry for any time I have looked away, or minimized someone’s pain and suffering.

I’m left with the question of what to do about the art of perpetrators.

For now, I’ll find another way to talk about what is bending and what is breaking.

(because there’s always more.)


More than 160 women say Larry Nassar sexually abused them.

Who are likely many, many more than 160…because we don’t always feel safe coming forward. Because it’s sometimes too unsafe for our bodies to feel what we feel, and to know what we know. Because sometimes it’s scarier to speak than to remain silent. Because we were warned not to speak, because others who knew minimized our experiences, or looked the other way, or (fill in the blank). Because we don’t remember. Because why would we want to remember. Because because because a million times because, just because.

The exuberant reaction to the conviction of Larry Nassar, which I heard in the voice of the woman reporting it on NPR last week, which was impossible to hide, because she is a woman and who knows, maybe a survivor herself…that exuberant reaction is a feeling that’s been shimmering for me, below the surface of #metoo and among groups of women I talk to who are horrified but not shocked about these stories, these minimizations, these erasures, this looking away.

(The other day, I was writing the above blog post about several recent headlines dealing with child sexual abuse, and then I saw I was right, sadly, there’s even moreLarry Nassar, Sentenced in Sexual Abuse Case, Is Back in Court.)


And p.s. to any predators out there:

“Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.”—Aly Raisman, gymnast and six-time Olympic medalist

“Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”—Kyle Stephens, family friend



Letter to the Inner Critic (11/19/17)

photo of book, confessions of a prairie bitch

Spotted at Dark Star Books

Here’s a leftover I meant to post from my November inner critic letter-a-day challenge (to myself). Uncooked, raw, basically how it came out. Also: in the letter below, where I write “I was born to fly”, I would clarify that we were all born to fly.:

November 19, 2017

Dear Inner Critic,

Well, apparently you are a risk manager and I’m curious what’s the risk? What is it that is on fire? The house already burned down, it’s gone. What are you afraid of? You seem to be afraid I’ll make any noise, that I’ll embarrass you or be noticed (or just seen) and that somehow scares you. You don’t want me to stand out, you want me to fit in & do what the world seems to want safe people to do. But I was born to fly. It’s not a safe thing, but I can try and work and fail and try again. I am a survivor, you know that, and if I fail, or get ignored, or rebuffed, or insulted, I will be okay. I’m stronger than you think I am. Also, I do appreciate your care—I know it’s a twisted kind of caring, the risk managing, the alert and hyper-vigilant posture. I know it’s because you want to protect me. But I need to follow the call and take risks and I need to be allowed to make a fool of myself, and I need to jump off the cliff and trust my strong wings. I’ve been flapping them and practicing with a helmet long enough. The helmet blocks my vision, the pads are too heavy. I don’t need them. I am strong and my body can sustain a fall. Because we work in metaphor and I’m not literally going to jump my unwinged human body off a cliff, I need you to know I’ll be safe, I am safe. I am using my words and my heart for this work, and my body is safe, and my spirit can only be fulfilled if I try and don’t shrink down from your alerts and warnings. I need you to know that I understand the alerts and warnings come from your wounded love for me. How you remember all the hurts and how they feel like they are happening now, but I survived those nasty in the woodsheds, and I can survive what’s to come, so I can do my work, and soar.

I love you.


Essay at Tiferet Journal!


(un-edited, sweaty, post-Zumba author photo/selfie.)

I’m thrilled to announce that my essay, “(Perfection) DEFECTION” was published in the summer issue of Tiferet JournalYou can read the essay by clicking on the link below. Please also consider purchasing the full issue for $4.95 through Tiferet’s marketplace.

This essay grew from a rant I wrote and performed at Women’s Voices Out Loud in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 2016. (You can read more about Women’s Voices Out Loud here.)

I’m grateful to Gayle Brandeis and all the good people at Tiferet for the opportunity to share this piece, and for the work they are doing in the world.




Photo stolen from my mother

IMG_8063 - Version 2

Open letter to my daughter


January 20, 2017

Dear Merida,

Today, I’m knitting the last of three black wool pussy hats for friends who will travel to Washington DC to the women’s march. Today, for a few more hours, Barack Obama is president. I’m grateful that he’s been the only president you’ve know in your lifetime thus far. I’m sad to see him go. No one is perfect, but he has been a wise and compassionate leader. This morning when I put on my Obama tee-shirt, you said you’re sad for your friend. When I asked why, you said because her birthday is the day after Trump moves into the White House. I said no, he can’t ruin our parties! I said he’s not that powerful.

Here’s what else I want to say to you today: There are so many ways to make the world better. Some ways are to listen to other people, to be kind, and thoughtful, and maybe most importantly, to be fair. To realize that we all deserve to be free, and to work to make that happen. When we see something that isn’t right or fair, we speak up and make it better. If you keep these things in your mind and heart as you grow, if you keep paying attention to ways you can make the world more kind and fair and just, you will make the world better. No one can ruin the party of the world that you and your generation are creating. You know that song we sing, the one that goes: “A woman who loves herself, though she may be shaken, a woman who loves herself will never fall.” The beautiful world we are creating is the same as that woman. We do create the world, all of us, each of us. If we fill it with fairness and compassion, even when it is shaken, it will never fall.

At the Women’s Park in Yellow Springs, along with many other friends and family, your name is on a stone, along with the words of Patti Smith: “The world is yours, change it, change it!” You and your generation will find, and will be, the leaders. You will continue making the world more fair and loving. All you need to do is keep listening, and trust what you know in your bones: that we all deserve to be loved and free.

I have infinite faith in you and your generation. You are strong and mighty. Your hearts are brimming over with love, and your voices resonate.

Use your strong hearts to keep shining the light of love and compassion outward to all.

I love you,


Letter to a young friend

I wrote a note today to a 6th grade friend who made calls for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and thought I’d post it here.

Dear E.,

Thank you for the brave work you did in calling strangers and encouraging them to vote for Hillary Clinton. Even though she didn’t win the election, I hope you know that your work matters and it was not in vain! I keep learning in different ways that every time we stand up, we give permission to others to stand up, too. It is a burden to be an every day leader (as you are) but it is so incredibly important to harness our voices and our courage, and to stand up and speak. You never know who you reached the other day with your calls, whose ready heart you have inspired to action. We have so much work to do. But with sisterhood, we can do it.

You are an inspiration!

Love, Rebecca


(Insert Your Context Here)


“Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do.” –Cheryl Strayed, “The Love Of My Life

(On apologizing only when necessary) From The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson

argonauts cover

A stunning and exceptional book from Graywolf Press

I’m so grateful that my dear friend Melissa Tinker gave me a copy of Maggie Nelson’s amazing and gorgeous work of humanity otherwise known as The Argonauts. I adore this book, for about a million reasons. I have so much to say about it, and will, when time and thought allow. For now, here’s what I have stolen from the book today.

Sometimes as a writing warm-up, it’s useful to type up someone else’s well-written words. Today I typed up from p. 98 of The Argonauts.  As someone who has struggled all my life with equivocating and unnecessary apologizing, this passage speaks to me.

Maggie Nelson writes:


“Afraid of assertion. Always trying to get out of ‘totalizing’ language, i.e., language that rides roughshod over specificity; realizing this is another form of paranoia. Barthes found the exit to this merry-go-round by reminding himself that ‘it is language which is assertive, not he.’ It is absurd, Barthes says, to try to flee from language’s assertive nature by ‘add[ing] to each sentence some little phrase of uncertainty, as if anything that came out of language could make language tremble.’

My writing is riddled with such tics of uncertainty. I have no excuse or solution, save to allow myself the tremblings, then go back in later an slash them out. In this way I edit myself into a boldness that is neither native nor foreign to me.

At times I grow tired of this approach, and all its gendered baggage. Over the years I’ve had to train myself to wipe the sorry off almost any work email I write; otherwise, each might begin, Sorry for the delay, Sorry for the confusion, Sorry for whatever. One only has to read interviews with outstanding women to hear them apologizing. (Monique Wittig). But I don’t intend to denigrate the power of apology: I keep in my sorry when I really mean it. And certainly there are many speakers whom I’d like to see do more trembling, more unknowing, more apologizing.”

—Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, p. 98