Staunchly, vol. 39: The Patti LaBelle School of Improvisation

(Originally posted: 12/8/17) 

I woke up Wednesday morning to three missed calls from my mom. Every horrible scenario ran through my head. Death. Accident. Burglary.
I called her back. Four ulcers spontaneously mushroomed in my body in the seconds before she picked up.
“I’m coming over with Mark and Charlie. The fire is in my backyard,” she said (after first admonishing me for not being up by 8:00 AM).  

“What?” I said blearily. “The fire in Sylmar?”

“No. Haven’t you seen the news? There’s a fire at Skirball,” she clarified, a bit impatiently.
(Justifiably: She’d been up for nearly two hours stuffing photo boxes into duffle bags). 
I quickly played catch-up on my phone. When I’d gone to bed, there were wildfires burning across Los Angeles, in abstract configurations in far-off canyons. Heartbreaking, but distant. It was impossible to imagine them anywhere near my family home in lower Bel-Air, breaching the borders of my privileged little corner of the city.
Then I saw a picture on Twitter, apparently from someone’s early morning commute: flames chewing the side of a hill in predawn blackness. Big flashy flames and little flame babies. I recognized the curves of the 405. I knew our house was not far from the other side of that hill.



It’s tough to sum up my experience over the next day and a half, waiting out the fire with my mom, brother, and sweet mutt Charlie in my small, mid-city apartment. Tough to explain the impact of a mandatory evacuation alert on a family like mine—a malfunctioning family (dysfunctional feels too lite at this point) that makes good use of its big house with its separate corners.
Like, how do I begin to explain the devastating yet hopeful conversations I had with my kid brother, who I hadn’t spoken to in nearly two years? The ways we talked about our shared and separate pain while we tracked the smoke, guessing the odds of our childhood rooms burning to the ground in a biblical ring of fire. How he helped me clean up the patches of vomit my anxious dog had ejected around my living room and how that act of cooperation itself had felt like a huge milestone in the way we relate to each other. 
It’s also hard to explain my incredible attachment to the physical space of my home, despite my ambivalence toward some of the people inhabiting it.

I love my house in all its glory and trauma. I love my house in that mangled way we love the places where we have felt most like ourselves, most treasured, and also most unsafe, most uncared-for.
Some families have strong, natural infrastructure. Good bones. Sturdy foundations that rock with the tremors and not against them. Mine does not. But our house has helped us play the role of family from time to time. It was sad and stressful this week to think of what my people would do without the thing that centers us.
As you can tell, I’m still digesting all this. All the ways my world was threatened and split brightly open this week.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my best insight:

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Few things are getting me more riled up right now than Democratic despondency over Senator Al Franken’s resignation. Yes, there is a serial sexual predator in the White House. Yes, Alabama is dangerously close to electing a child molester/five-star general in the Dark Lord’s Army to the US Senate. Neither of these two facts negates the responsibility we as Democrats have to clean up our side of the street.
Is it upsetting and uncomfortable and messy as all get-out that the politician going down for sexual harassment is a much-beloved liberal? Of course. BUT (*takes a breath*) I hope we are developing a sophisticated enough understanding of sexual misconduct and moral hypocrisy at this point to understand that just because a senator votes correctly, is charming and funny and Midwestern, doesn’t mean he isn’t an entitled, condescending fuckboi with a pattern of fratty behavior that suggests a disrespect for female bodies in both the comedic abstract and in actuality. (*exhales*)
Here’s what really frosts my cookies with Franken: the way he left. How he made it so obvious, with his forced apologies and public sulking, that he didn’t think he actually did anything wrong. How he continued to deny the allegations that hanged him until the bitter end. How he left behind the impression—to the people who wanted to see it—of a good man being brought down by oversensitive, unreliable women, and not the reality of what he really is: a huge disappointment.
In martyring himself on his way out of office, Franken did a substantial disservice to the Believe Women movement and to the very forces trying to bring down Trump and Moore. He disrespected his accusers; he sowed doubt; he reasserted his belief in his own goodness. All of this behavior, in its worst interpretation, conspires to pose the question:
If women can bring a decent guy like this down, is it really worth believing them? 

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Melanie recently reminded me of this VIPLM (Very Important Patti LaBelle Moment) from the '90s. Let it wash over you in this trying time. 

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“And everybody started yelling, ‘You run, Wendy.’”
According to this article, Wendys/women are running for office in numbers we’ve never seen before. Ya damn right they are!! Think about it this way: in Trump’s America, every single woman you’ve ever met is already overqualified to be president. Wild! 
Lauren Peterson on the power of reclaiming your personal and political joy in a year of rigorous, ritualistic joy-theft.
Josephine Livingstone on why it’s pretty irresponsible for a writer to extrapolate grand cultural arguments from the fact that she married her flirty, inappropriate boss.

Netflix is not all premium original content and foreign dramas. It’s also rape-deniers.
Why do we keep letting Woody Allen make movies? When will that pale, mangy, salmonella-carrier chicken come home to roost?  
“We are acting to change the cow to be more fun and less sexy. Our goal was always fun and not sexy.”
Dame Judi Dench: My life now is just trees. Trees and champagne.


Staunchly yours,