Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Are you kidding me? Prop 8?!!!!

How can it be? How can we elect a black man President and we can’t condone gay marriage (read: equal rights for all) in California, what should be the most progressive state in the nation? The state that should represent the vision for what this country should stand for. Why isn’t anyone drawing the comparison that a mere 20 plus years ago, inter-racial marriage was illegal in many states, a marriage that has produced our recently elected President?

Isn’t gay marriage the civil rights issue (analogous to racial equality) of our day? The slippery slope of “if gays can marry, then teachers will teach our kids to be gay” is outdated, outmoded, ridiculous, unenlightened, backwards and downright silly. People are with the people they choose because they CAN’T HELP IT.

My husband is black. I am white. Our kids are mixed race. Should this be banned by law? NO! But a couple of decades ago, many states would have said, “Yes, it should be illegal.” It’s immoral. It’s wrong! Are we not better than this? In California?!!!! As proud as I am that this country elected Barack Obama, I am that saddened by the Prop 8 ruling today.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

On Compassion

I recently went to a memorial service for the father of my friend Belle. Belle’s sister, Brady, spoke at the service. She talked at length about how much her father loved animals and she even went so far as to say that he believed a love of animals was a sign of a person’s capacity for compassion. She joked that some people thought her father loved his animals more than his kids. She said it lightheartedly, with a toss of the head; but there was a sad truth to it.

He was an angry man, unkind at times. He was most committed to taking it out on Belle’s brother, the oldest child, Robert. Poor Robert bore the brunt of his dad’s frustration derived from a life lived without any breaks. Despite his cantankerousness, Mr. L felt a kinship with dogs, cats, all animals. He talked to them about his life, he told them his story at the end of his days. He confided in his pets and sought forgiveness, Brady told the gathered crowd.

I hate animals. I don’t hate them. That’s an exaggeration. But I don’t really like them. I don’t want to hurt them. But I don’t really want to be around them either. Unfortunately, I have a cat. His name is The Brain. My husband and I re named him that (his original name was Lenny) when we realized he wasn’t very bright. Aren’t we ironic? We often joke that our cat is an asshole. He’s everywhere you don’t want him to be. When I want to work, he sits on my keyboard and bites my hands. When I want to sleep in on the weekend, he sits on my chest and screams in my face until I feed him. When I want to read, he positions himself between my eyes and the page, biting my wrists with significant vigor. He pees on the bath mat instead of in his litter box, he vomits to get my attention so I’ll feed him. See what I mean? Asshole!

All of that being said, I would never hurt him. I spend about $3 a day on cat food so that he gets the fancy canned food he likes. He sits on my belly while I watch Project Runway and we fall asleep together mid-way through. He’s lived with me for 14 years, a gift from my husband after a fight early in our relationship. Some gift. A cantankerous cat that squawks in my face all the time, wakes me up at 4 a.m. and leaves excrement in the bathroom because for some reason, the litter just isn’t fine enough for him.

So I don’t hate animals. I just don’t LOVE them. I’m familiar with all the studies that say that animals make people happier, prevent depression, keep old people from withering away and falling into abiding sadness, giving up on life. But this whole angle that Mr. L maintained that a person’s treatment of animals is indicative of their true character, their innate humaneness, is a crock, if you ask me. These people that were heartbroken during Hurricane Katrina because dogs were stranded, but were completely immune to the human suffering are a conundrum to me. Why would the dog stuck on the roof cause a person to pick up the phone and give money but a woman stuck inside her home, would not? I know I’m offending the animal lovers out there. But before you skewer me…consider this:

I believe empathy towards your own family comes first. Then friends. Then humans. Then animals. If a father is persistently unkind to his children, he’s a not a good father and I’d go so far as to say, he just might not be a good man. All people have good and bad in them; no one is all bad. An unkind moment doesn’t make someone evil. But a life spent yelling at one’s children, disparaging them at every turn, dispensing violence in frustration, is a life spent inhumanely, without compassion. No matter how kind you are to animals.

I’m not implying that we should be dismissive or unkind or abusive to animals. Not even close. But lets measure compassion by how we extend it to our own children, our spouses, our loves ones, our species, first and foremost. We can give the love leftovers to our pets.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Palin Epiphany

I’ve been perusing everything there is to read about Sarah Palin looking for support, for a reasoned rationale for my intense gut level disdain for this first ever, Republican, female Vice Presidential candidate. As if I need more reasons than those plastered all over CNN and the New York Times, not to mention US Magazine, within the first few days of her nomination. She’s for everything I’m vehemently opposed to. She’s ‘for’ censorship and book banning at public libraries, freewheeling gun-toting NRA-style shoot ‘em ups, pre-emptive war, pro-life policies even in the most extreme cases of rape and incest. Do I need more reasons to feel nausea and disgust? Do I really need further support points to justify my fiercely profound contempt?

I want to be pleased that a woman can potentially reach the executive office. I want to be delighted that the glass ceiling in politics has seemingly been shattered. But I’m not. This is not what I had in mind, I’ll admit.

I’d hoped for a female candidate that was actually pro-woman. Pro-anyone who maybe hasn’t had a fair shake. For instance, those tired and huddled masses that I’m pretty certain she wants to keep from entering our fair land. For gays who’d like the same rights in a long term relationship as their heterosexual counterparts. I’d also hoped for a female candidate that was anti-war - aren’t women tired of sending their sons and husbands off to battle? And how about a candidate that brought to bear her shrewd mothering skills as an influencer/negotiator to build bridges.

Not bridges to nowhere – which Ms. Palin claims she kaboshed, when truth be told, she was for, until it was no longer expedient. “I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere!” Palin misleadingly told the cheering crowd after the announcement of her nomination by Senator McCain. In point of fact, when she was running for Governor of Alaska, Palin supported the 15 million dollar initiative, to be funded by Congressional earmarks, intended to connect the small island of Gravina to the mainland. But when earmarks became evil in the public eye, being against them became a meaningful platform on which to run. And Ms. Palin conveniently said no to the bridge.

I don’t really care about this bridge. But I was hoping for someone who built metaphorical bridges between people who are politically, religiously and socially on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Based on her record as Governor of Alaska, it seems her only interest is in firing those that disagree with her and hiring all of her high school buddies. McCain is the self-proclaimed party-bridger, working both sides of the Congressional aisle. How does he justify Ms. Palin’s actions in Alaska, firing the public safety commissioner who refused to fire Palin’s former brother-in-law after a nasty divorce from her sister? And what about the fact that she engineered the firing of the city’s attorney after one of Palin’s supporters informed her that the attorney had put a stop work order on his housing project? And what about the fact that she hired her high school pal, Franci Havemeister, to direct the State Division of Agriculture, when Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a primary qualification? Palin is also known for calling anyone who opposes her a ‘hater’. It’s abundantly clear that these behaviors are in no way consistent with using understanding to build coalitions amongst parties with differing points of view.

But after all my reading and all my culling together of support points, I finally realized something. I dislike her intensely for reasons far more personal than politics. A new friend recently said to me: “If you don’t like someone, it is probably because they reflect back to you something about yourself that you don’t like.” I’d heard this before. This pycho-babble, Oprah-style, introspective, self-help sentiment wasn’t new to me. But I always seem to forget it when I’m deep in the throes of hating on someone. I pondered new friend’s words. And about an hour later it hit me.

I loathe Ms. Palin because she actually believes she’s qualified to do this job with a year and half of governing a sparsely populated state under her belt. Having built an ice rink in Wasilla and said no to an earmarked bridge, she actually believes she has the know-how to rebuild our economy and war us out of trouble.

As a woman, I’ve always been measured in my approach to my career. I’ve never pushed for a promotion until I was absolutely positive I could do the job expertly on the very first day. Men pushed ahead with reckless abandon, generating a kind of fearless momentum that I interpreted as irresponsible. Often times these men pushed so fast and so far ahead of their own capabilities that they floundered in their new roles. Sometimes even getting fired. But they took with them the higher title into the work world, no doubt parlaying that into an even higher titled and salaried position somewhere else. I always dismissed this behavior as impulsive, self-satisfied and negligent.

I’m not claiming to be a selfless do-gooder. I work in corporate America. As we’ve all witnessed through the rampant corporate malfeasance in recent years and months, it is quite easy to become disconnected from the fact that the money one spends in the corporate world, that one takes for doing a job, is expected to generate a long term return for the people that own the company. But I’ve always considered this point very seriously. When I spend money on a marketing campaign, I’m very concerned that that money belongs to someone else and they expect to get it back and then some. It is not just cash that dropped from the sky. So I better be darned sure that I know what I’m doing when I take money for myself as well as those business endeavors I’ve been entrusted to carry out.

I’ve watched others, more aggressive, pass me by. But I’ve always felt right and confident in the jobs I’ve held. I could’ve pushed harder, faster, climbed the ladder more quickly. But I’m patient and, more pressingly, in need of the approval of others before pushing on to the next level. I’m a woman, and as such, a pleaser at heart. Ms. Palin, as she stated so straightforwardly, is basically a pitbull with lipstick. I assume that means she’s not an approval seeker. Of this, I’m envious because it points out my own cautiousness, my own need for others to give me the nod. This does not, however, translate into Palin appreciation.

Through analyzing my disgust with Ms. Palin, I’ve realized the personal really is political. I dislike her politics. I mistrust her person. I’d want her to not just be confident in her ability to do the job, but to have shown some evidence that that confidence is warranted. Seeing Russia from Alaska doesn’t count. Simply being from a small town doesn’t count either. It’s reckless, self indulgent and downright negligent to assume that these are qualifying factors.

I’m working towards gratitude that a woman could achieve this level of success in the political arena. She may indeed be the first ever female Vice President. Admittedly, I’m not quite there on the road to celebrating her achievement. I’m really nowhere near half way there, in fact. Perhaps, when women are broadly represented on the national political stage, I’ll be able to accept a range of views and ideologies. But for now, I’m wanting a gal that reflects an underdog-friendly point of view and has the resume to prove she’s viable. I guess, in the end, my personal politics dictate that I want a candidate just a tad more like me.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I’m now officially fascinated by the blogger phenomenon. Not the people that actually write stuff, posting their opinions, experiences, social commentary for others to read. Rather those that choose to comment on what those who actually write stuff write. Comment is probably the wrong word in many instances. Belittle, malign, skewer, accost. These come closer.

Sure there’s the whole line of reasoning about anonymity allowing one’s mean streak to come out. It seems that 9 times out of 10 the meanies don’t use their real names so I suppose this is part of it.

But where is all the anger coming from? And why so much anger over things that are so seemingly silly and meaningless?

I wrote a piece for Salon recently about how I can be a real jerk because sports fans irritate me. As a former athlete, it sometimes seems as though the armchair fan demonstrates little true understanding of the travails of professional and Olympic level athletes when said fans sit in their living rooms, screaming at the television about some athlete or other choking or letting the team down. Or how it's worth it to compete in the Olympics with a broken ankle, not a big deal really.

To me, it comes across a little bit like: I could’ve done better. Or: I could've done that.

I realize I’m most definitely projecting here. I guess I’m a bit sensitive and defensive of the athletes.

Anyway, I write this silly little piece that is intended to be kind of a joke – a little bit snarky, a little bit confessional. A little bit just to encourage deep down honest awe for the athletes who sacrifice their lives for gold.

There were over 300 comments back in less than a day. Many of these people I think might like to take my head off if they had the chance. I’m expecting a mail bomb any minute now.

My favorite variety of comment was in the realm of: you’re just a loser gymnast who never made it, you have no right to comment. Now you’re a wanna be athlete turned sucky writer. You need mental help because you can't get over your failures as a gymnast.

In parsing this statement, I find quite a few points I’d like to challenge. And don’t get me wrong. My dissection is not some coldhearted, unemotional response. These comments stung. But if I try to be rational, I find the following faulty:

1) I 100% acknowledge that I was not a gymnast on par with Liukin or Johnson. I don’t even have to acknowledge it. I didn’t go to the Olympics. I didn’t win a medal. I know this. I don’t deserve to hold their hand grips. But that doesn’t make me a loser either. I don’t consider the Olympics the only measure of having succeeded in one’s sport of choice. If not going to the Olympics were THE measure of loser-dom, we’d all pretty much be losers.

2) I have some insight into the training regimens of high level athletes regardless of whether I went to the Olympics or not.

3) I’m an adult with an education that has nothing to do with the fact that I was an athlete. I can be a writer just like anyone else. I wouldn’t call myself a writer yet. I’m not sure what the line is when you cross over and are officially a writer. I suppose its when you make your living at it full time. Which I do not. I’m not a writer any more than my kids who like to draw are artists. But I’d like to be one day.

4) If I’m not qualified to offer insight into the world of gymnastics training having trained 40 hours a week for almost 10 years as a child, how are you, Mr. Blogger, qualified to tell me I need mental help? Are you a psychiatrist?

I recognize that the things I wrote were perhaps a tad provocative. Perhaps a tad self-indulgent. Admittedly I was sharing something shameful about myself, I thought with a bit of embarrassment and humor. I guess I was wrong.

But I’m astounded at why it made people SO angry. Get mad about the Americans still dying in Iraq not to mention the Iraqis, get mad about the earth heating up and killing our future grandchildren, get mad about the fact that too many children don’t have enough to eat in this, one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Don’t use up all your energetic vitriol on some loser former gymnast who thinks she’s a writer and needs to be institutionalized for being a narcissistic egomaniacal, delusional asshole.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blogging for salon.com

Starting next week, I'll be writing about the Olympics for salon.com.
So blogs posts here on hold.
But please check it out...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Real Sports...for real?

This week I appeared in a piece on HBO’s “Real Sports” about injuries in women’s gymnastics. There was some coverage of the show in the LA Times. An excerpt:

There seems an element of sexism, though, when every four years, the Olympics come around -- and women's gymnastics and figure skating invariably are singled out as being particularly cruel sports.

Nose around youth baseball and check out the surgical scars on pitchers' elbows. Or women's high school and college basketball for the knee and shoulder surgical scars. Has Candace Parker, her coaches or family ever been criticized for letting her continue to play basketball after her knee injuries?

These girls may be tiny, but they also are driven athletes. Shawn Johnson would rather be in the gym than on the computer, would rather eat grilled fish than a Big Mac, and says "that's OK" if she ends up with aches and pain in 10 or 20 years. "So do football players," Johnson says. "Nobody stops them." -

Have you ever seen a professional football player 20 years after he’s stopped playing? Many can barely walk, some have premature senility due to brain pounding injuries. Maybe it isn’t a good thing that nobody stops these guys from bashing themselves to near death/brain damage. But, to refute the claim that anyone is stopping these girls, no one is. In point of fact, we hail them as heroes. They will be the most watched athletes in these Olympic Games. They will be our pint-sized idols, come this August, as they will likely garner piles and piles of medals. My intent is not to stop them, rather to point out that it is an incredibly dangerous sport in which devastating injuries can and do occur; that sometimes the cost for medals and for winning might be too high; that perhaps children aren’t equipped to determine whether or not that price is too high. Hard to conjure in our winning is everything culture. But let’s look beyond gymnastics or even sports for a moment. Look where ‘winning is everything’ has gotten the banks and lenders? They were so desperate to ‘win’, they issued sub-prime loans and won in the short term. And we all know what happened in the long run. They lost, as did we all.

I was injured quite often – a torn hamstring, broken ankle, another broken ankle, stress fractures in my shins and my wrists, bone chips in my ankle that required surgery and, my crowning achievement…a broken femur. I know more than a few that broke their backs, their necks, including my own brother. These former gymnasts are lucky they can walk today. And of course, I know a few that aren’t quite so lucky.

In this very dangerous sport, young girls are often taken advantage of by their coaches. These aren’t grown women. They are children. I began competing as an elite at 10 years old. I was in no position to tell a coach ‘no’ if something ludicrous was asked of me like returning to practices on a broken ankle after only ten day in an ‘air cast’, nothing more than a glorified bandage. This situation, the disparate power dynamic, creates the conditions whereby CHILDREN can – not always – but can be taken advantage of. These young ladies can serve as fodder for the Olympic dreams of coaches and parents. And parents claiming, “Its her decision. She wants this,” about a 9 year old is simply deflecting parental responsibility, in my opinion. A child has no concept of the potential future ramifications on her health and general well-being.

Regarding the oft hurled claim that it’s sexist to even call attention to the high injury rates and abusive coaching tactics in women’s gymnastics, what’s truly sexist is not pointing out that the sport eats its young. It would imply we believe our young girls are disposable and, secondly, not worthy of the financial windfalls their male counterparts are able to collect from being world-class athletes. Generally, these best in class gymnasts will not reap the financial benefits that their male counterparts in football, baseball, basketball will. Women’s athletics are largely unviable as commercial properties. And in every instance where female athletes do make money, it’s less than their male partners (NBA vs WNBA anyone?) I can probably count on one hand the number of female gymnasts who have made a killing in gymnastics. And that ‘killing’ likely can’t compare to a 2nd tier basketball player in the NBA. That’s sexist. Not pointing out that female gymnasts get hurt and sometimes their best interests aren’t looked out for by their coaches.

You want to know what else is sexist? That we like these girls because they are cute. They look pretty and perfectly petite therefore we watch. They aren’t threatening in their accomplishment because they are simply darling with their big smiles and springy ponytails. This is how we like our female stand-outs, whether they be politicians, business women or athletes. Other female athletes will demonstrate equal feats of physical incredible-ness at these Olympic Games. Female shot putters, basketball players, soft ballers. These athletes will defy expectations with their physical prowess but it is likely that none will garner the attention and love that our gymnasts do. Whether they win or not. There are exceptions. We fell in love with the Williams sisters and their tough, muscular physiques on the tennis court. Brandy Chastain was all power in her running bra and triumph. But it is my humble belief that these are the women we make exceptions for because they are so dynamic that they demand it. Liking little cute things comes much easier for us. That’s sexist.

And finally, I know young gymnsats will say it's okay to end up with aches and pains in 10 or 20 years, as Shawn Johnson indicates. And I’m proof that that is likely true. I don’t mind the way my body creaks. The way my ankles swell, my hips pop, my hands stiffen to the point that it is hard to hold a cup of coffee in the morning. But Ms. Johnson can’t know what she will be okay with 20 years from now. She doesn't know what will matter at 29 or 39 or 59. And whether or not this life she’s participating in now will give her great joy and pride, or physical pain and regret (likely not…especially if she wins the Olympics) in a few decades. And what about the girls who train the same way, who will suffer from the same arthritis-y aches and pains or more as adults, but don’t have a gold medal to justify the “it was worth it!”? How will they feel?

Dominique Moceanu has a gold medal and has suggested she might not go through it all again. I don’t have one and I say I would, even if I didn’t get a gold medal again next time. Fifteen years ago I said it wasn’t worth it, that I missed having a childhood, that it splintered my relationship with my parents beyond repair. Now, with age and perspective, I dispute that, taking a more ambivalent view. I have nightmares about the traumas but I miss the good parts everyday. It just not that simple as to say: “I won’t mind if my body hurts when I’m an adult." The body scars are the least of the issue, afterall.

I wish Shawn Johnson the best; I hope she wins all the gold medals and never has a moment of struggle in her post-gymnastics life. She seems impossibly talented, buoyant, charismatic and joyful. I’m merely saying that children can’t know what will be good for them later. We protect children in our culture in many ways – we don’t’ let them play in traffic, we make them go to school, we have child labor laws. Why is it okay to put these children to work? Because they say they like it? Or because they win?

And why (I know I said ‘finally’ above, implying I was nearly done…but allow me one more point) when we hold communism in such disdain, do we want to ‘cut and paste’ the model deployed in China of finding the most talented athletes at a very young age, honing their talents while still under 10, and springing them on the world as proof that their system is superior, gold medals serving as evidence of a country’s dominance? We don’t want all the stuff we think is bad about communism – lack of individual freedom and choice – in fact we’ve been willing to go to war over it, but we want to adopt the stuff we like, that involves winning, even if it also entails curtailed freedoms, albeit for 6 and 8 year olds?

Herein lies the hypocrisies of women’s elite gymnastics. Which, I daresay, are merely microcosmic examples of the world at large. As long as winning is a part of the process, we’ll do anything – sacrifice our young, our values, the culture of democracy we pride ourselves in – to get it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ha Ha

A few things that I find laughable.

1. In movies, TV shows and commercials that feature upper middle class to well-to-do married women, these betrothed ladies generally wear understated wedding bands. I’ve tracked it. According to broad reach media, 9 out of 10 women who have lots of money don’t like big honkin’ diamonds.

Their gold bands are rarely topped off with boastful, eye-shielding, bordering-on-tasteless engagement diamonds (unless they are supposed to be somewhat unlikable). Even though we know that nice women like those portrayed in the fictional dramas aspire to – and generally have – the biggest possible diamond they can afford. Or not afford. The biggest possible diamond they can convince their at the time husbands-to-be to take on as debt. And then have shipped to another state – to a friends’ or a mother-in-law’s – to avoid paying sales tax. They do this with a “we pay our taxes!” indignation, to which I say, “Not your sales tax, apparently.”

But the women in these media spectacles wear subtle gold bands because:

-Producers wouldn’t want them to appear gauche – though I suppose that’s what all the women who live in NY, SF, LA and many other places would qualify as with their hand-dragging diamonds that at least one African must have lost a few fingers over. Is there some irony here?

-We want these women to be relatable. Most women – while aspiring to a real knuckle-dragger – can hardly afford the miniscule, barely visible chip their fiancés spring for at the local Wal-Mart or Shane Company.

We aspire to appear tasteful and un-greedy while signaling that we have lots of money and gigantic jewels. Or cars. Or homes. We don’t NEED them to feel superior. We just like them. Yeah right.

How about we all stop wanting great big shiny rocks (or cars, or homes) that De Beers (or BMW, or mortgage brokers) has convinced us we need to lay down 3 months salary for (more for the car and/or homes) and be as low-key as the pretend wives we see in movies and television commercials?

I’m not saying I’m there yet. I’m working on it. I’m just pointing out the irony.

2. People are upset about Jesse Jackson using the N-word. Really? You think black people don’t talk about other black people, not to mention white people, all people that are just a little less like them? Of course they do! We all do. I have an inside track here being in a mixed race family and hearing black people talk about white people and Jewish people talk about black people and on and on.

Just like religious people talk about how non-believers are heathens, liberal white people talk about “African Americans” (they say this with a barely audible hesitation, not sure what the appropriate terminology is these days; they want to use the respectful term when slandering…have we not yet realized that it doesn’t matter what you call ‘em, so long as you don’t say it with disdain?), gays talk about straights (‘breeders!’) and Jews talk about everyone including Schvartzes, Goyim and Shiksas. Please, white people – don’t act so ‘can you believe it?’ horrified because a black dude talks about the one black guy you like (because he ‘transcends race’ and ‘speaks so well!’) with a bit of antipathy. Not all black folks agree and like each other. Is that so shocking?

Really what we should all be asking ourselves is: why was Jesse on Fox News anyway? Is he so desperate for media attention after years left in the wings of American politics, that he was willing to sell his soul to Fox for a little air time? Apparently so.

3. Speaking of race, folks are also really upset about this New Yorker cover with Obama and his wife, Michelle, ‘fist bumping’; she sports a black pride afro the size of a beach ball in the style of what is intended to depict a ‘black militant’, he is depicted as a Muslim. I’m still trying to understand why people are upset with a magazine known for satirical cartoons for putting a satirical cartoon on its cover. It’s their stock in trade.

I suppose it’s anger inducing because these fancy over educated New Yorker editors are making fun of people who view this couple that way, who probably don’t read the magazine anyway so they wouldn’t have even known about it if it wasn’t telecast on every news channel known to mankind. Liberals are peeved because, they argue, regular old folks are gonna take this seriously. While they sip their over-priced lattes and carry their groceries in re-usable Whole Foods bags, these liberals say: We get it, of course, but all those poor under-educated Pentacostals…well, they won’t understand! Imagine this: when said Pentacostal is reading his New Yorker in the powder room, he’ll jam an index finger at the cover with “I knew it!” satisfaction. Oh wait a minute…he doesn’t get the New Yorker. He’ll be reading Field and Stream or Guns and Ammo or I love Jesus! on the can. So there’s nothing to worry about after all.

Are we really going to take up not very precious air-time, but time nonetheless, asking Barack about his thoughts and feelings on this cartoon? Yes, apparently we are. At least Barack put it all into perspective on Larry King:

“But you know what, it's a cartoon, Larry, and that's why we've got the First Amendment. And I think the American people are probably spending a little more time worrying about what's happening with the banking system and the housing market, and what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, than a cartoon. So I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it."

Let me be clear. I voted for Hilary. I am one of these latte-sipping liberals (I don’t actually drink lattes, because I hate milk. But I do carry my own reusable grocery bags and I am left of left of center) but I happened to prefer Hils. But, thanks to this man for calling a spade a spade. Bad analogy in this particular instance. My apologies. Thanks Barack, for telling it like it is, in this instance anyway. I’m comin’ around to your mojo.

4. Are people seriously opposed to gay marriage? How on earth is the fact that some guy in San Francisco (we’ll call him Bruce) who works as a casual pants merchant at Gap deciding to spend the rest of his life with his long time partner (we’ll call him Dan) who owns his own interior design firm and they together own a small ‘ranch’ in Petaluma where they grow organic vegetables (well, the local Mexican help does) and style the ‘barn’ to look like a page out of a Ralph Lauren store display…I lost track. Oh yes, how is the fact that these two lovely lads can tie the knot going to put an Oklahoma, Jesus-ordained, highly traditional ball and chain style marriage at risk? These two gents are committed to making the world a prettier place. Their ‘taste level’ beautifies Northern California, their commitment to each other rivals that of Hollywood’s latest ‘it’ couple. And they want what regular old folks have. The ability to commit to each other before their family and friends. And slink away in humiliation ten years later when it all falls apart.

Isn’t it more likely that a husband’s affair with his secretary or the fact that many hetero couples have sexless marriages (officially a ‘sexless’ marriage is sex 10 or fewer times per year) more likely to wreck the traditional union? I just don’t see how Bruce and Dan in Petaluma riding on matching miniature ponies is going to affect Doris and Bob in Tulsa. But then again, I never understood how the fact that Dan prefers to sex up people with parts that match his own was going to impact Doris.

In a few short years it will seem as ridiculous that gay people couldn’t get married once upon a time as it seems now that mixed race couples couldn’t get married just a few years ago. Of this, I’m sure.

Whew. I’ve gotten all my social/political/economic issues on the table.
I’m now going to go read the New Yorker, while wearing only a tasteful gold wedding band, before calling my gay newly married friends to congratulate them and see if they got my wedding gift of a top of the line espresso machine, before tuning in to Fox News for a little heart-pumping ‘know thine enemy’ before bedtime edutainment.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Vocabulosity of Winslow

My husband Winslow has a colorful and highly refined vocabulary. He talks like he’s writing or lecturing at a university, without a care for whether or not anyone will know the units of language he uses. He often uses the words Schadenfreude, comeuppance, meme, memetic, fractal and metaphysical in casual conversation . Doesn’t matter who he is talking to - junior high schoolers, cab drivers, homeless people, telemarketers. He gives everyone equal credit in terms of their vocabulosity.

He also turns some clever phrases. Some of my favorites…

“Doesn’t matter a dead minister’s dick”. This one he uses a lot in a self-deprecating fashion. As in: "God that woman is pissing me off – demanding website changes at every hour of the day. But doesn’t matter how I feel. No no. Doesn’t matter a dead minister’s dick. I might as well get to it.” He often resigns himself to his place in the world with this calming phrase.

“I’ll show you!” This one always comes with fist in the air in mock defiance. He uses this utterance quite a bit of late, at least twice a day. He is knowingly and ironically portraying himself as a Ted Kazinski/Timothy McVey type; a crazy but misunderstood misanthrope with a genius streak and no qualms about blowing shit up in order to prove to people that they should have taken notice before things got ugly. But Winslow does it with a laugh – not of the psychopathic variety – rather of the ‘isn’t it funny I have some of the same inklings and characteristics as a crazy pyschopath but I’ll never follow through' sort.

“Sad-tastic”. I love this one. He applies it to situations that are painfully humiliating but wildly entertaining. Most of reality television. The women on Flavor of Love are sad-tastic. The Biggest Loser is sad-tastic. Fat people sweating and crying and puking as they stairmaster their way to not-so-fatness. Winslow is convinced the viewership is derived from those of us who are grateful to watch VERY fat people on TV because it makes us feel thin and beautiful. He sees it as NBC and 24 hour Fitness and Ziploc Bags and Jennie-O Turkey making money off the back fat of obese people and the Schadenfreude in the rest of us. Hence it’s sad-tasticism.

I enjoy the inspirational ‘anyone can do it with a little hard work’ message. I cry every season when the formerly and soon-to-be fat again top 3 finishers bust through the paper barrier on the stage with toothy grins slashing their faces which house heretofore unseen cheek bones. These newly thin contestants wear glamorous size 4 dresses and 32-inch waist pants. They pause as they stand next to cardboard cut outs nearly two times the width of their present frames, disturbing and unrecognizable apparitions from only five months earlier. They are weepy as they talk of changed lives and newly found health. The next season when they return to honor the new winners and have already let more than a few pounds creep back on, the viewer can see that within a year they could easily become contestants again. Sad-tastic!

“Les-b-friends”. This is the counter point to “frenemies”, now often used in the mainstream press. This makes Winslow crazy as he feels he invented not just the word but the concept of dueling female friend archetypes. About seven years ago, he began broadly espousing a theory that all women’s friends are either frenemies or les-b-friends. This was based on my small coterie of female compadres. Today, ‘frenemy’ is common parlance. It is a game on facebook, an entry in Wikipedia, has been used in the New York Times and on Oprah. Les-b-friends hasn’t caught on in the same way so I think he still has a shot at owning this one. The meaning is obvious. Women who are friends but in love with each other in a more romantic way. He’s convinced I have two and that when he passes, assuming he goes first, I’ll just move right in with one of them and finish out my life as an old gay lady in Dockers and Doc Martens. Les-b-friends.

“Fack-in’ and Crack-in’ ”. The first part is ebonics for ‘telling the truth’. Fact-ing. The “t” is conveniently left off so that rhyming with the second word is possible. The second word is old black lady lingo for joking, making a funny. When I reply to his “I’ll show you!” rant with a “I’d be scared but you’d never follow through” dismissal, he shakes his head with a “fack-in’ and crackin’” whisper and dejected resignation.

“It smells like a brontosaurus pooped in your mouth”. This is what he tells our kids before they’ve brushed their teeth in the morning. This kills with five year olds. My husband has a future career as a comedian for the under ten-year-old set.

“Night pooper”. This is the term of endearment for our oldest son, Virgil, at whom Winslow points an accusatory finger each evening at 7pm when he (Virgil, not Winslow) ceremoniously begins farting. (Winslow's farts start later - at the approximate time we climb into bed). Virgil refuses to admit he has to take a dump even though he’s surrounded by nearly visible clouds of feces vapor. At some point, Virgil usually slips out of sight and the putrid and powerful smell of man shit wafts into the living room. Still, Virgil won’t admit that the farting was linked to the poop he’s left clogging the bowl. “Night pooper” we all mutter as Virgil wedges himself between the pillows on the couch, digging his bony knees into my shoulder blade as we settle in for an hour of Iron Chef. The secret ingredient transformed into delicious artistry in Kitchen Stadium always smells like crap from the vantage point of our living room.

There are more. I’m not calling them to mind at the present moment. But Winslow's vocabulosity reigns supreme. It's part of the reason why I love him so.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


My former gymnastics team, The Parkettes, is having a 40-year reunion this weekend. Very few of my friends from back then will attend, not due to any particular grievance. Life just gets in the way of reuniting sometimes; and I suppose a weekend in the ever cosmopolitan, always picturesque Allentown, Pennsylvania isn’t always first on everyone’s list of summer vacation hot spots.

Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t invited. Despite my now well-documented issues with the years I spent there, I am very curious about how all the girls have fared, what interesting lives they have built for themselves. How child athletes turn inchoate drive into fully formed adult determination (or don’t) is a subject of unlimited fascination for me. Successful athletes have a moxie and tenacity uncommon amongst the general population. I am always curious how it morphs or grows or simply dies in the pursuit of non-athletic endeavors. I plan on getting a full report on my generation of teammates from those I know who are attending.

Even if I hadn’t written the book and become an official foe to my former coaches and a couple of teammates, I wouldn’t have attended the reunion. I left on not – so – good terms and haven’t been in touch since about 1992 when I returned for a mini-reunion just so that I could be a grumpy, rebellious Gen X style pain in the butt. I had just graduated from college and I was puffed up with Stanford liberalism and bulimic ice cream binges; I wanted to rub my I am part of a much bigger world than you are pride in their faces.

I was trying to prove to myself that I had moved on by showing up with a tattoo, a nose ring, a pack of Marlboros and a tough chick on my arm (not my lesbian girlfriend – I’ve never had one of those – but if they wanted to think so, fine). Ironic that to prove to myself I’d moved on I went back seeking the opposite of the approval I’d sought for so long; in desiring their disdain, or at the very least shocked dismay, I was just as entrenched in the morass of dependence as I’d been five years earlier. I needed them to hate me so I could be released from the need to have them love me. If I repulsed them, affirmation would be out of the question. I could give up and move on.

This must be some form of individuation, the means by which a child separates from the ‘parent’. Seems silly and immature and overly dramatic. But I was only 22. I couldn’t think of a better way to define myself than simply defining myself as DIFFERENT from everyone I’d ever known. I didn’t articulate who I was. I just shouted, “I’M NOT YOU.”

When Chalked Up was nearing release, an old coach called a friend and fellow 1980s gymnast to ask if we were in touch, if she knew about the book. “You don’t talk to her do you? I mean, you guys weren’t even here at the same time!”

Said friend reminded her that we indeed were there at the same time, with a smidgeon of disbelief that a coach who’d played such a formative role in her upbringing didn’t recall such an obvious fact.

The few years that each of us trained there – for some of us, over a decade; for me, less than five years - are etched into our memories. Less lively with age, the memories have a scribbled/scrawled quality rather than an ardent, incisive chisel. We have weigh-in dreams when feeling anxious and tend to be a tad too self-critical. We all remember the physical suffering from smashed up bones and torn ligaments but when we talk about it now we laugh, as in: “They insisted there was nothing wrong with that ankle! It was twice the size of the other one! Can you believe? Ha ha ha!” We also remember the good stuff – the medals, friendships and satisfaction.

Despite the muted current day impact of these 20-year old recollections, we remember all of it with astonishing precision and emotional clarity. We remember what it felt like then – the good and the bad; it just doesn’t carry weight today with two decades between those events and our adult selves.

But the coaches don’t really remember us with the same specificity. Each of us was one of many determined sprites with hair sprayed bangs, a ponytail and a limp. The lifespan of a college student has passed since any of my generation stepped foot in that gym. And there were twenty years of Parkettes before we’d ever graduated. Decades crammed with girls – some promising, some forgettable, some feisty, some acquiescent. Some champions. Some also-rans. If a ‘generation’ in gymnastics is 5 years, at least eight generations of gymnasts have floated, flown and fallen through those warehouse doors.

We were fleeting projects; if any of us didn’t work out, there were new projects just outside the rainbow colored walls on MLK drive.

Those coaches were everything to us. And we were cogs in the factory wheel, fodder for their dreams of coaching winners. We thought it was all about us. Until we quit or left or graduated and there were twelve others there, much younger and less tired, to take our places.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On sharing

I have two friends who have lost a parent in the last year. We are that age, after all. One of them was a friend prior to her dad’s illness, the other was merely an acquaintance, prior to her mom’s.

Liat’s dad had stomach cancer. When he found out, the doctor’s said: “We’ve caught it early. We’ll go in, take it out, you should be fine.” Upon ‘going in’, they discovered they were mistaken. He lived less than a year. She’s in her mid-twenties, unmarried, too young to lose her dad. Not a child, but her children won’t have a grandfather, her dad won’t walk her down the aisle. She’s athletic, a bright eyed optimist, a bit of a Berkeley hippie-chick in the very best sense of the word. She worked for me at Levi’s and taught yoga on the side.

Meredith’s mom passed away from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This rare illness overtook her swiftly, faster than many sufferers. Meredith was with her the entire time, from diagnosis to her passing. Meredith is sensitive, beautiful, thoughtful, a striver, a bit of a compulsive; she is forever changed by this experience. She is at once grateful for her friendships, her family and surprised by people’s inability to be ‘there’, to be in this with her. We are not a culture that handles death very openly. Forthright and understanding strangers can become our friends when faced with death.

My mom was also sick this year, from lung cancer (no, she never smoked). This is what brought the three of us together. Each had a parent suffering from a serious illness. My mother is the lone survivor, just one year later. She is the lucky one. She is not better, more worthy, more loved. Just luckier, if length of life can be equated to luck. I’m not sure I believe that it should be. Other things seem more profound – life experience and appreciation, for instance. Alas, I believe my mom to be lucky because she has another chance to develop an appreciation for her life, something at which she has not always thrived.

When I found out my mom was possibly ill (she was in the hospital with fluid in her lung), I hopped a plane to Philadelphia. I thought, “this is likely nothing, a bit of pneumonia, maybe TB.” By the time my plane landed, my brother called me to say, “It’s cancer.” It felt like a rock was dropped on my chest. And my throat. I couldn’t breathe. I was flattened. Lung cancer. She would die. People don’t live from that. When I was a teenager, I had a close adult friend – my hairdresser during my competing days – who died of lung cancer at the age of 39, the same age as I am now. Lung cancer is a death sentence. My mother is going to die, I thought. I didn’t think, I knew. I knew I’d have to make the most of the year or so we had left. I’d move to Philly, spend every waking moment with her, enjoying, repairing past grievances.

By the time I got to the hospital, the doctor said it was a late stage cancer. They likely wouldn’t treat it, other than to ease her pain. What? How could this be? Our year wasn’t even going to happen, the year I’d come to treasure in the short car ride from the airport to the hospital. It must be my fault. I’ve been a horrible person. I’ve been so caught up with work – obsessed – in the past year, that I am being taught a lesson about what really matters. I’ve given this horrible disease to my mother because I am an awful, disgusting person. I was short of breath with this realization that I shared with my husband as my mom slept fitfully, knocked sideways by truckloads of meds.

“This isn’t about you,” he said. I laid with her the rest of the night, in her hospital bed. Head on her shoulder, while tears streamed down her face, my face, soaking the pillow.

Liat was one of the first people I called for advice. Her dad was in the throes of his disease, very near death. They’d given up hope that he might live, had moved through that phase into making peace with dying. She gave me advice about cancer centers, homeopathic treatments, yoga. Another friend - a doctor - whose dad had had cancer five years earlier offered advice on books (Bernie Siegel) and alternative treatments if chemo wasn’t prescribed.

And there were others: Karen K, the mother of a friend who’d survived cancer years earlier, offered weekly emails of love and support. Total strangers, on-line, shared their stories, treatment approaches, feelings about losing a loved one. It all helped.

Meredith and I became friendly when I returned to work, after seeing my mother through her surgery. The cancer turned out to be not quite as far along as they’d assumed; it hadn’t yet spread to her other lung, making her a viable candidate for surgery and chemo and radiation. Meredith reached out to me about a job, but we bonded over having a sick mom. Over having felt to blame, having felt the shameful need to maintain some sort of life outside a parent’s illness, over how to best care for our moms whom we love deeply, over our compulsive over-achieving natures. Many months later, we are still friends. Building a tentative closeness based on the horror of losing someone (in my case contemplating losing someone) that we love.

I am so grateful that people are willing to share their stories. Whether on-line or with me in person. They are generous givers, willing to reveal their darkest and, at times, most selfish moments. I felt less alone in my parents’ basement, unable to sleep, for the two months I stayed in Philly nursing my mom back to physical and emotional stability, when I trolled the cancer bulletin boards, blogs and support groups. I felt I should’ve been handling this better, but I wasn’t. As a nearly 40 year old woman, shouldn’t I have known this was coming? Shouldn’t I have been prepared? And yet, I had not predicted this nor was I prepared to deal with the imminent loss of a parent, one who I’d had a contentious relationship with throughout my teens and twenties, wasted years now shaded with unbearable guilt. I was grown, old, some might say, and had enjoyed a lifetime with my mom. How greedy and selfish was I to be rendered helplessly catatonic with four decades of mom-time under my belt? What, did I think I should have a mom AND a dad forever? And, with my mom in such emotional distress, how could I even contemplate leaving, going home to my family because I missed my children. I was torn up with contradictions.

Through others sharing their stories, I realized it is never easy to lose a parent. It’s a cliché, I know. But talking with others in my situation made me feel so much less alone. I didn’t feel less unique or sad, I felt more understood, more loved. More a part of the human race.

Sharing personal experience of any kind can serve this purpose. I gobble up memoirs about addiction, though I’m not and never have been an addict. But these former addicts share horrific truths about themselves – self-loathing that leads them down unimaginable paths. I read them not with ‘There but for the grace of God…” gratefulness, rather with heartfelt empathy. They hurt too. We are the same.

I am especially moved when people share ugly, vile stories about themselves or things that cause them shame. When they are unkind, selfish, mean or weak. We all are sometimes, I’d venture. The guilt that can take over upon realizing we’ve behaved badly or without the strength expected of us, can be all consuming. Prompting even more self-indulgent behavior (what is guilt, if not self-indulgence?). But hearing from others, sharing in experience, helps one to move on with it. It happened, I did it, I feel it. But so did she. Or he. I can keep going. I will keep going. In fact, I will share my experience without shame or embarrassment or guilt or fear. I will share. The good, the bad, the humiliating, the shameful. I will share.

Thanks Meredith. Thanks Liat. For sharing with me.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

From the peanut gallery

I wanted to share some of the letters and emails I’ve received from total strangers both in support of and against the book (or me, or my films, as the case may be). I’ve been so moved by the endorsements and, of course, hurt by those more negative. Truthfully, some notes have brought forth tears. And I don't say this seeking sympathy. It's just true.

But I am learning to have a thick skin. Thicker, anyway. I need to get over being an approval seeker. Don't I? It's hard! It's who I am, how I've always been. 39 years!! It kind of works for me. Alas, the fact that all the supportive notes – which outweigh the negatives by about 10 to 1 - have been enough to pull me from the self-flagellation and melancholy and panic inevitable when being verbally assaulted is proof I'm not really over needing approval afterall.

Perhaps I have to live with being an approval-seeking, pathetic, needy, competitive wife/mom/professional/ex-gymnast/daughter and all around neurotic. And, in addition to these afflictions, apparently I have a disease called trichotillomania. I got a letter about this after describing the finger picking on NPR. My "nervous habit" isn't a straight up nervous habit afterall. It's a disease. Excellent.

Here goes:

1) Jen~ I found your book to be a total page-turner. Couldn't put it down. I am your age (or close enough) and have always been a fan of gymnastics. My younger daughter competes now. I found myself checking myself quite a bit while reading your book. I think it would be very easy to get sucked in.

2) You have so many people having your back...you have NO idea how many people are supporting you. Don't let those dicklicks from youtube get you down.

3) Hi, Jennifer. I just finished reading your book and I wanted to THANK YOU so much for writing it. As a former elite gymnast, I could pretty much relate 100% to every single feeling you described...even though I finally quit gymnastics almost three years ago, I can remember everything like it was yesterday. Your story made me cry, especially because it reminds me of mine in a lot of ways. Again, thanks a million. You were a beautiful gymnast, BTW =)

4) You are such an inspiration and NOT a pathetic liar. It was and IS no secret what assholes your coaches were … screw the people who are giving you crap. Like I said before, You are a great mom. That's all that matters! :)

5) I just finished your book this morning while riding the 24 to Levi’s Plaza from Marin. I sat there crying on the bus – true, I’m 12 weeks pregnant so my hormones are playing a role, but I was really moved by your story. I only competed at the Class III level, but even I endured weigh-ins, many hours a week in practice, and lasting body-image stuff as a result of gymnastics. I also know that I have an incredible work ethic and self confidence because of the sport. I too dream of gymnastics often. I went to competitive diving after injury but it never filled the hole. Then marathon running, which my body is just not made for. I still look for something to take its place and yoga is as close as I’ve come (although, of course, I bring ego and competition to the studio, which is kind of beside the point...).

6) I just finished your book. I was a gymnast in the 80’s, early 90’s. I finished as a low level 10. I experienced a lot of what you did. I’ve been reading your blog and seeing the people attack you for your experience and wonder where these people are. This stuff even happens at the lower levels. My mom took me to weight watchers at 14 when I was 5-7 and 110. I think her real problem was that I’d gotten too tall for gymnastics. Unfortunately you can’t lose height!
Thank you for writing it. I’ve been struggling most of my life with aspects of my personality and never understood where they came from and what to do with them. Upon reading your book I understood. I accept nothing but the best and beat myself up if things aren’t perfect.

7) Just wanted to take the time to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. I'm old gymnast who never quite stood out but just always loved gymnastics. I think most negative reactions are from those who haven't yet read it.

8) Reading your book brought back so many memories. I felt like I lived through so many of the exact situations that you experienced… Again, thanks for being so truthful about the sport and all of the “players” that surround it. (this one was from a former Olympian via email. That helped.)

And now for the other side of the story. And some of these were in response to my short film The Gymnast on youtube. But I’d hazard a guess that many critical of the film, are upset by the book and blurring the line between the two (one was fictional, one is memoir). I'm giving equal play to the critical and the non-critical. For fairness' sake.

1) sounds like it was written by someone who has no idea about gymnastics, and then I look and it's by a formal national champion. Talking about how the girl still "survived" gymnastics. I'm sorry but I think you're overdramatic along with your first blog post on your blog. oh PS: a lot of kids do know what they want when they are young, don't generalize because you were nieve

2) Jennifer Sey lies in her book shes nothing but a big fat lier

3) Oh believe me her book bassically makes her look like a spoiled brat who acts like her parents forced her to do all this stuff in which they didnt she wanted to

4) that was the dumbest thing I've ever seen. I hope her book isn't as stupid as this crap, I just bought it.

5) I think that this was horrible. Why do you need to blam others for your life? Can't take responsibility?

6) This book is gymnastics' version of "A Million Little Pieces."

7) Jennifer Sey is a liar by any definition of the word. Even if every word in her book is true as she remembers it. (And that’s been contested by some of her teammates from the time.) If you disagree with me, buy her book. If not, encourage everyone you know to boycott Chalked Up. You can read it, but don’t purchase even one more copy. If Jennifer Sey wanted to exorcise demons from over 20-years-ago as a memoir, she could have done it on her blog. That she chose to release an inflammatory book in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics smacks of opportunism.

8) … it is ironic that Sey was probably the winner of the worst USA Championships ever. Then she drifted into obscurity.I still remember watching 86 USAs, wondering how US gymnastics got that bad since the 84 Olympics. Everyone was awful. The commentators couldn't even get excited about Sey's performance.I don't think USAG even posts the results in their archives.And now she's back...with a book. It's right before the Olympics and right in the middle of USAG being thrust into the media spotlight for allegedly harboring child abusers. I may read the book...just to give her a chance...but the first thing I thought of when I heard that a new dramatic gymnastics biography was coming out, I thought, "Oh...HER??? How dramatic can that be?"

So that’s a short summary of the good and the bad. No analysis required.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


There’s a brief mention in the epilogue of my book about my post college drug use. I ‘experimented’. That’s the term people use when they aren’t addicts, right? I don’t really think ‘experiment’ is the right word. It would imply some sort of tasting to see what would happen, recording the resultant details for scientific purposes. I guess this is what all those politicians have done who’ve been caught and were forced to admit to their dabbling.

I admit, that’s not what I did. I won’t bore you with the list of mind-altering substances that have graced my bloodstream. Suffice it to say, there was no heroin and no crack. No shooting of anything into the arm or the space between the toes. Nothing quite so lurid, though I suspect some people (parents?) reading this might find the implied list…well, gruesome. For me, the inferred list represents the usual litany of party drugs indulged in by a good portion of Gen X-ers. I’d say nearly ¾ of my friends (over ½ for sure) of my age have done the same things if not more. But perhaps birds of a feather stick together and the percentage amongst the broader population of X-ers is far lower. I can’t be sure. I do know, of those I cavorted with, they are all gainfully employed, if not outright successful (which many are); most have significant others and children; none have gone to rehab or even needed to; most don’t do any drugs anymore. Maybe the occasional indulgence, once a year at a party.

I would argue that none of us even ran up close to the edge of addiction, though I suppose by some 12-step descriptions we were all in need of some rehabilitation. There were a few outliers, not close friends, who ultimately 12-stepped it; but my close partying friends survived without scars or life interruptions. We had regular jobs, never missed a day of work, were honored with promotions and/or graduate degrees. We maintained relationships – romantic and friendly, we never stole, we never turned tricks, we never lived on the street and begged for money. We never indulged during work hours or even during weekdays. We took drugs with our cocktails and beers on weekends. We sometimes stayed up all night and danced at Raves. We had a lot of fun. It lasted for a few years and I don’t regret it. All of this is not to romanticize drug use. It’s just what happened.

I just finished reading a book called “Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff, which lays bare a parent's survival of his son’s meth addiction. (The son, Nic Sheff, also wrote a book called “Tweak” about his travails.) The story takes place in the Bay Area. The father was liberal as a parent, more of a friend than a dad, some would say, those who are looking for a ‘reason’ for his son’s problems. He took his son to places I often take my kids. Haight Street for records, art houses for films, galleries and museums, sushi restaurants, cafés in North Beach. They were a sophisticated pair traipsing through Russian Hill, the Mission, Haight Ashbury. He confided to his son that he’d experimented with drugs as a young man; he thought, I’m not going to lie to him. I’ll take the mystery out of this whole affair. He assumed his son would give things a whirl; try some pot in high school, maybe a little somethin' else in college.

David’s own drug use perhaps made the whole thing more acceptable when he found pot in Nic's room while his son was still in junior high. The father was alarmed for sure, but allowed himself to be convinced that it was no big deal. He himself had smoked pot regularly in high school and college, after all. So his son started a few years earlier. No harm in that, likely. Or so went the thinking.

And of course, that was the beginning. Nic went on to smoke pot everyday throughout high school. And try everything else. By the time he graduated from the twelfth grade, he was pretty far gone. When he went to college, his meth addiction blossomed. It’s a typical cautionary tale: a single use of crystal seduced him, he was shooting it in no time, he went on to steal and prostitute himself to get his fix.

I think that this is what people who have never done drugs think happens every time a person tries drugs. It is certainly what the "say no" people/ads etc, would have you believe. It must be why some people now want to know about my drug use. Perhaps they think there is some deep, dark addiction/rehab secret in my past that I haven’t shared. Or maybe they are confounded by the fact that I did drugs and didn’t fall into a black hole. Some suggest I could write a book about my experience with drugs. I explain that these drug years were boring. No one would want to read such a book. Nothing happened. Not compared to Nick Sheff, James Frey, Augusten Burroughs, Elizabeth Wurtzel. These folks DID drugs and suffered immensely because of it, as did their families. I dallied. Like David Paterson (Governor of New York), Barack Obama (you know who he is) and lets face it, Bill Clinton, I enjoyed drugs without doing anything completely outrageous, going to jail or becoming addicted.

I’ve always believed, because of my own experience, it was possible to try drugs, even do them with some regularity, and not have it become a problem. Not for everyone (some step off that cliff and just fall), but for some. I’ve even been sort of distrustful of some people who’ve never tried anything. "What squares!" I've thought. Are they afraid to delve into their subconscious minds, confront their demons? Afraid to lose control and have some fun?

But reading Mr. Sheff’s book makes me worried for my youngest son who is only five, but seems to take things very hard. Like Nic, he’s a sensitive kid, loves to draw. He’s an introvert. He’s at risk for never feeling quite like he fits in because he very well may not. Could be a recipe for disaster, as it was with Nic. And we live in San Francisco, less than a half-mile from Haight Street. Scoring is less than a ten-minute walk away.

His saving grace might be that he won’t care whether or not people like him. He seems fairly satisfied with his internal life. He’s the kid at the playground who plays by himself for hours, never needing to engage the other kids in a game.

But I wonder: should I be dishonest with him about my own dabbling with drugs if I want to steer him away from experimenting? If he knows I partook and came out just fine, will that make it easier for him to say yes, when offered pot, acid, booze in the sixth or seventh grade? If he can see that it has had no obvious adverse affect on me, might it seem more acceptable, less dangerous? I really don’t want him starting that early, if at all. I’d always thought: he’ll drink in high school, maybe try pot; he’ll try whatever he wants to try in college (especially if he goes to Berkeley); maybe have a bit more fun after college; but by his late twenties, he’ll have gotten it out of his system. He’ll be a serious and proper adult. Maybe not. Maybe he’ll be like poor Nic. He’ll try something once – who knows what: coke, meth, heroin – and never look back. Perhaps it really is best if he never even gets a taste.

I’ve made a habit of being honest in my life, with my kids, in my writing. But I’m considering lying about this one fact. Maybe I’ll tell my kids: Nope never did it. And don’t you do it either!

Doesn’t really roll off the tongue. It’s too late, I suppose. It’s in my book. It’s right here in this stupid blog entry which will somehow live on forever in cached heaven, cut and pasted from here to eternity. I’ll have to do my best to instill good judgment and a passion for other things requiring sobriety and take comfort in the fact that my kids are not descendants of addicts, so hopefully they don’t have the gene. But things happen. Dangers are everywhere for my children to encounter.

Parenting, as with life, is a harrowing ordeal. While I don’t plan on lighting up with my kids, I will probably admit I tried some stuff ‘back in the day’, once I was old enough to exercise some judgment about its affects. I’ll warn them about the dangers of drugs. And I’ll gauge their moods, their reactions, their general states of mind without any reluctance in asking, “Are you okay?

If I’ve learned anything from David Sheff’s book it is that there is often no one to blame for a child’s drug use. Teen drug addicts are kids of divorce, kids of married parents; kids who were loners and kids who were popular; kids who were engaged in every activity under the sun and kids who had too much free time. The world is a minefield and our kids are their own people. Just as I’ve learned that my gymnastics was my own choice – no one could have made me starve myself and work on half healed bones – my kids will make their own choices. All I can do is equip them to survive those choices.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Do you remember...?

I’ve recently reconnected with some old friends from The Philadelphia School, my progressive hippie dippy elementary educational school.

It started with Jacob (now Jake) Tapper. He found me on, where else, Facebook. Apparently we had our first date in junior high. We went to see “Jaws II” and he put his hand in my Coke; not like the movie “Diner” where, well, something else markedly un-hand like went in the popcorn. I believe his hand in my Coke was accidental. Though I can’t be sure because I don’t remember this so-called date that turned into a non-date because we were somehow joined by several other kids from TPS, as we called our beloved school. Today, he’s mock heartbroken that I don’t recall this monumental date of ours. After much prodding I do remember him in his Philadelphia Fliers jersey doing Richard Nixon impressions. His political astuteness has served him well; he's a national correspondent for ABC News. I'm sure he was quite a kid - smart, interesting, funny, kind - as he's quite an adult. I wish I remembered more.

Jake re-introduced me to Liz Cohen. Now Elisabeth LaMotte. I nearly choked to death on a butterscotch candy at her house in seventh grade. Someone - her mother? - performed the Heimlich and the candy was gently and un-dramatically brought forth, allowing me to breathe again. My throat was bruised for days after, a reminder of my near-death experience in her oh-so-swanky center city townhouse. We both remember this incident with fondness, despite the scariness of it back then. Liz, however, also quite impressively remembers every word of a student-scribed song we used to sing at TPS about our favorite Phillie baseball player, Steve Carlton. I have no recollection of this ditty though I do remember our city’s famous lefty pitcher.

His number's thirty two and he makes the batters boo; He always strikes them out with never any doubt; He comes to every game and he's gained a lot of fame; He doesn't hesitate to close the gate and win the game; Steve Carlton, always doin fine Steve Carlton, fastest of his kind Steve Carlton, will never be outdone Steve Carlton, always -- number one!

Liz re-introduced me to Susan Levine, Zahavah or “Z” today. Susan was impossibly cool and sophisticated. She was in the KISS club (Ace Frehley), had a boyfriend, took public transportation and taught me the ways of crank phone calls. We spent an afternoon in “Is your refrigerator running” hysterics after school one day when, I apparently did not have gymnastics practice. I recently got in touch with Zahavah through Liz. She lives in San Francisco, about 2 miles from me. She is impressively accomplished as legal counsel for YouTube and just as cool as ever.

And finally, they all brought me to Liz Spikol. Another TPS-er, Liz was recently featured in the New York Times for her writing, video blogging and general outspoken-ness on bipolar disorder. She fondly remembers my favorite teacher from back then, Lisa. I recall Lisa being worldly and enthusiastic, a curly-haired hippie in flowy skirts. Liz remembers her outfits differently, though we agree on her general appearance.

"She had brown wavy hair. She was really nice and was quick to laugh. She used to wear an off-white sweater and brown pants."

I guess Lisa had brown pants and hippie skirts. Or maybe not.

Liz Lamotte seems to recall that I, along with Zahavah, killed our class bird Chico, the Spanish-speaking parrot. Z and I let him out of the cage, allowing him to walk atop the lattice, where he fell between the bars and hurt his little bird legs. He died soon thereafter, I’m told. Liz felt left out, not having been bonded for life with Z and me in this tragedy. I don’t remember any of this. Not the faintest, “Yeah, that sounds familiar.” Nothing. In fact, I am likely getting the details of this avian murder all wrong because I don’t remember there even being a linguistically gifted Latino "pajaro" in our classroom. Still, I have no doubt this poor flapper died because of my carelessness.

Apparently, I don't remember every detail of my youth. I killed a bird, went on a date with the now famous Jake Tapper and had a whole bunch of teachers that I have only the fuzziest, if any, recollection of. They include: John the mountain man, Betsy somebody with red hair, Nancy someone with who knows what color hair, Tossi the music teacher (remember the name but not her – how could you forget that name?!) and Ellen the principal. There were also disco skating parties, spin the bottle sessions, ice skating at the Farm (our urban school’s way of getting us in touch with nature) and dramatic performances of Antigone. Nope. No memory. Perhaps I just wasn’t invited which jibes more with my recollection of not feeling like I fit in with all these cool city kids. Though I now know they didn't see me as I saw myself (nerdy suburban doofus with no idea who KISS was); to them I was some sort of flipping golden girl with loads of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and a mom who drove a white Camaro (still not sure if kids thought this was cool or pathetic) to haul me off to gymnastics practice before class was officially dismissed.

Funny thing, memory. Perspective driven, it is strange and slippery and prismatic. What is indelible to some, is non-existent to others. Two people can stand side by side and experience an event completely differently. Or one may not remember it at all. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. May Chico rest in peace.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Am I a liar?

While the bulk of the responses that I’ve gotten to the book have been positive, ranging from empathetic to outright cheers (You’re brave. Thank goodness, finally!), there have been those that claim my depiction of the sport is not accurate. That it is filled with lies. There are even those who go so far as to assert that because I wasn’t a very good National Champ - perhaps even the worst ever (in the words of a few bloggers) – I am vengeful and antagonistic. They argue that my incompetence as a gymnast is evidence that the book is a retaliation, proof of my bitterness. I’ll concede, I wasn’t the best ever. Not sure that mediocre child champion = adult prevaricator. Seems like a tenuous connection.

I suppose I’ll just carry on saying what I’ve been saying: this is my story. Not an indictment of the sport. This was my personal experience, 20 years ago. Not drawing any conclusions that this is what everyone who participates in the sport experiences, now or back then.

What I find most distressing is people saying: releasing it now, before the Olympics, is bad for the sport. They don’t take issue with the content, per se, rather the timing. Vehement dissenters offer that the “marketing” of CHALKED UP – timing its release before the Olympics – is a ploy to optimize sales.

I wrote the book when it spilled forth, back in 2006. It’s just when it came out of me, after ‘cooking’ for over twenty years. There was no intent to time it for the Olympics which are every four years after all, so any book is pre or post Olympics, if you think about it. The fact is my kids were finally old enough that I was getting enough sleep to concentrate for extended periods of time. I wrote it when I wrote it; and I sold it when it sold. No control there. There is a standard delay of 12-18 months between when a book sells to a publisher and when it is released. That time allows for editing, typesetting, etc. That meant the release was going to be early 2008.

Thus, I take issue with the accusatory, finger-pointy “marketing!” claims.

And, it prompts me to ask: So you think marketing is opportunistic, huh, presenting facts in a manner intended to seduce the consumer? Sounds to me kind of like how gymnastics is marketed on television to secure ad revenue and attract new children to the sport. How only the cutest pixies bouncing happily and seemingly without effort are showcased. Viewers rarely, if ever, get to feast their eyes on those who ‘lose’, falling outside the top ranks; girls who plunge to the ground on their heads, faces, backs, bottoms, sometimes incurring unwatchable injuries. Eye-shielding falls are standard operating procedure in gymnastics as it is an incredibly dangerous sport. In football, we are exposed to the bone bashing, as it is somewhat palatable when it happens to big, scary, fully grown adult men. And because it is part of that sport's appeal, it is celebrated to an extent. But no one wants to see a broken-hearted, broken boned sprite sobbing in devastating disappointment or being removed from the competition floor on a stretcher.

Do objectors mean to suggest that my book is ‘marketed’ like gymnastics itself?

Rest assured, marketing or no marketing of this book, the sport will survive as it did after Kristy Heinrich’s death (and the attendant ‘bad PR’) and Joan Ryan’s LITTLE GIRLS IN PRETTY BOXES. Because most people that participate in the sport have positive experiences and most coaches have the best intentions. Just because that is so, does that mean I am ‘not allowed’ to share what wasn’t carefree and unspoiled about my personal experience? Just because most teachers are kind and giving and committed to providing an education to children, does that imply that if a teacher sexually abuses a student that that student shouldn’t speak up? Because it would hurt the education system? Prevent people from going to school?

The sport has a vast and enthusiastic fan base; they are passionate about gymnastics and offended by my story. But it doesn’t mean I made it up or falsely marketed it. And it doesn’t mean the sport will be irreparably harmed. Other sports have come under harsh criticism and flourished just the same. Football and baseball and ice skating. Each of these sports has been thrown into the spotlight for bad behavior (illegal dog fighting, steroid use, knee bashing) and has thrived. Blights on a sport often cause the community to turn introspective, to say, is there something here we need to examine?

When I broke my leg at World Championships, the rules changed soon thereafter, with the intent of keeping the girls safer. When a young gymnast by the name of Julissa Gomez fell on vault in warm up for competition and was rendered paralyzed (and later died from complications), the equipment was modified to accommodate new skills and protect the athletes from unnecessary injuries. These are good things. I’d hope that the community would ask themselves upon reading the book, do any of these conditions still exist and if so, what can we do about it?

Was I obligated to present both sides in a memoir? I don’t believe so. If I was writing a journalistic piece, then yes. But this is a story of personal experience. To suggest that I was morally obliged to illustrate that there are also good coaches with good intentions (which I do include, note: Lolo) would be to suggest that anyone who writes a book about growing up in middle class suburbia and becoming a drug addict must also present the case that some people from the ‘burbs don’t become drug addicts. Isn’t that obvious?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I was in Houston a few days ago for a reading. It was a great little independent bookstore, my favorite kind. I was not insignificantly concerned that no one would show up except my escort, the lovely man hired to drive me around, to and from media appointments. On the other hand, I harbored anxiety that a bevy of ex-Karolyi gymnasts (his gym is located in Houston) would show up and pelt me with rotten tomatoes and epithets. I’d prefer the no one-showing-up scenario.

As I entered, a few women lingered near the stack of my books. It was quite a stack. Could they possibly sell all of these? One introduced herself as Nicky. She was instructed to be there by my aunt Jill. Whew. At least there was one. Another had heard about the book on TV and thought she’d pop in. Nice. Ok. Two friendly faces. No empty bookstore. No rotten vegetables.

The manager of the bookstore had moved a few chairs into a circle, a couch centering the arrangement. Just as we all meandered towards the sitting area, a woman about my age wandered in. She eyed me. I felt compelled to introduce myself. With an outstretched hand, I said, “Jen.”

“Jen! It’s Stacey!” No fucking way. Stacey trained with me in New Jersey before I made the move to Allentown. I remember her being very small, talented, fast, acrobatic; she had a father that hovered, monitoring her every move. And more importantly he watched the coaches with eagle eyes, to ensure they gave her enough attention and paid the respect for her talent that he believed she deserved. She left Will-Moor about the time I went to Parkettes. She chose Karolyi’s. When I was competing as a senior, she was still a junior. She came into her own when I was downward spiraling; she went to the ’88 Olympic Trials but failed to make the team. It was good to see her.

She came with her brother. They were glad I’d written this story, they said. Someone needed to and they’d been waiting for it for some time. Stacey and her dad had even talked about writing a book, from both perspectives. Parent and child, on the same path, viewing it from different sides.

We all sat down. I told everyone a little bit about why I wrote the book, about who I was and why I had some authority to speak about the world of nationally and internationally competitive gymnastics in the 1980s. And then another woman entered. Her face was so familiar, I stopped mid-sentence.

“I know you,” I said.

“Robin --” I got up and hugged her. I remember her as a little girl. All skinny legs and grace. She had also trained at Karolyi’s and then later, SCATs, though only briefly. She was a few years younger than me as well. When she failed to make the ’88 Olympics, she quit. Before finishing high school, she walked away. Good move.

I read an excerpt about moving away from my parents into a coach’s house. Stacey seemed saddened by it. She must have felt the same way, when she left her New Jersey home for Texas.

The non-gymnasts asked lots of questions. The three of us answered them together. Our experiences had been remarkably similar. Injuries, loneliness, physical pain, emotional struggle, some triumph and pride. Yet, our relationship to the sport while doing it was a bit different.

I was driven and competitive. I wanted to be in it, up until the final 18 months. Stacey never had her heart in it, but it was important to her father and it came easily to her (she was SO talented), so she went along. Robin was on the fence. And after too many injuries, she gave it up and her dad cheered the decision. Remarkably, she went on to compete nationally in both rhythmic gymnastics and diving. Talented girl.

We had dinner after – Stacey, Robin, Stacey’s brother, and I. We talked about all the people we knew from back then. The names! Sabrina, Marie, Julissa, Denise, Rhonda, Kristy, Phoebe, Scott, Mary, Heather. These girls and coaches from a lifetime ago! We talked about how we sort of ran away from each other when it was over, needing to define who we were without the sport and without any connection to it or those who did it. Stacey had tried to maintain ties, to extract some good from the friendships tainted by competitiveness. She was hurt when she found girls – now women – not interested. But she understood. We agreed it was nice to find each other again, the hurt of it all having faded.

We talked heavy-heartedly about how lonely and scared we all were; but how, as self involved teens, all riddled with guilt in feeling we were less able to endure the rigors than our training mates, we never reached out to each other. To each of us, the other had seemed stoic. And, ironically, we were all losing it to some extent. How, as mere children, were we able to mask such devastation with poise? I’ll never know.

We marveled that as important as the Olympics seemed back then, having gone or not gone seemed to have very little impact on our adult lives. While the three of us did not go, we certainly know many who did. They don’t seem better or worse off than any of us. Other than Mary Lou whose fame from the ’84 Olympics has, in some ways, defined her career path. Not her life, certainly. But her vocation. Even Olympians go on to get regular jobs, get married, have kids. Normal stuff. I doubt they wear their Olympic medals around the house but I’m sure they take pride in peeking at them from time to time, as they should.

But, that thing, those fabled noble Olympics, that we were all willing to practically kill ourselves over - to starve, and work on near broken bones, popping pain killers like Skittles, to endure screaming, angry coaches and/or parents – it didn’t matter in the long run. These two women seemed happy, accomplished, impressive. Stacey is a mom of two with a graduate degree in pyschology; Robin runs her own business after securing her MBA and learning the ropes at the Coca Cola Corporation. These two have it together. I suppose I'm doing ok as well. Great job, lovely kids, happy marriage. Things are all A-OK for the three of us. No bitterness looking back. Just pride and a touch of wistfullness over having wished we'd known we had each other.

If only to have had visibility to the fact that gymnastics - as important as it felt - was child's play. Olympics or no Olympics our real lives would happen as adults. What sadness and shame would have been averted if we'd understood this then.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Player Haters

I always get myself in trouble when I worry too much about what people think of me. When I strive to please EVERYBODY. That’s what I did back when I was doing gymnastics and it turned on me. I tried so hard to continue extracting approval from my coaches and parents that I denied my own best interest. The tension between wanting or believing something different than what others do and also desiring to have these people ‘like me’, creates havoc on my body and brain. I internalize their displeasure and it rots inside my gut.

I find myself struggling with this now but I am fighting to have learned from past experiences. I’m really trying to just be okay with some folks thinking that I suck. It’s impossible to have EVERYONE approve of you, right? What progress I will have made if I can shrug disapproval off with a smile and an ‘Oh well! You can’t win ‘em all!” avowal.

Recently, I was promoted at work. I now carry the hefty burden of the title, “Vice President, Worldwide Marketing, Levi Strauss & Co.”. Yikes. I fought hard for this position. I know that I can do it and do it well. I interviewed for months on end, took tests - psychological, IQ, leadership – to validate my worthiness. And after being poked and prodded for almost 4 months, I was handed the position the same week that my book came out. What a week! (As I left on book tour, I thought to myself as I boarded the plane, “I’m going to crash. I’ve had too much good fortune of late.” Neurotic? Yes.)

The first week in my new job and I’m on a vacation that I’ve planned for many months. Not much of a vacation really; I’ve been on a plane every day for 5 days, on book tour. Going from city to city doing readings and local press. This is a well-earned ‘vacation’, as I’ve ‘banked’ at least 7 weeks of time off at Levi’s, not having taken a break in the past year, in my effort to prove myself worthy of this new job. Yet, I am riddled with guilt at taking time off the first week of my new job. Thus, I’ve made myself available in every possible way – blackberry, email, phone, etc. I ring and vibrate from every pocket as I walk through the airport. I’m going to need a vacation from this vacation, for sure.

Despite my best efforts to stay connected to things at work, to push things forward - things like TV commercial shoots and such - there’s been a bit of a dust up over some issues not worth getting into. Some of my colleagues aren’t very happy with me. And so it goes, I feel more guilt. I feel practically buried by it at times as I sit on the runway waiting for my plane to take off for Houston or Cincinnati or home. One week into this job and I have convinced myself that people will be clamoring for my resignation in no time. Oh the humiliation. I am sure they are going to rescind this promotion. To say, “We’re sorry. You aren’t right for this after all. We’ve found another, more worthy. And, we can’t offer you your old job back either. Bye-bye. Best of luck to you and those children you’re responsible for!”

And then there’s the book hoo-ha. The nay-sayers (and it seems there are just a very vocal few) regarding the book are adding fuel to my self-destructive fire. The ‘you’re a liar!’, ‘you’re a pathetic loser and you’re just bitter because you never made the Olympics!’, and 'you must really need money!' types of comments can’t help but sting a girl.

But I’m in a new phase of my life. I’m nearly 40 years old. I’ve had therapy. Not truckloads of it, but enough to question my usual response to things; to suggest to myself there may be another way to handle disapproval; to steer myself clear of self-loathing. I’m attempting to have learned from my mistakes. I’m fighting to accept that sometimes people just don’t like me or what I have to say. I won’t cow to people at work that say I’ve not done my job well. Are there things I could do better? Sure! But overall, we disagree on this fact that I’ve really mucked things up irreparably. We don’t have to always agree. We don’t have to like each other, we just have to work together. In past years, I would have practically gotten on bended knee, bowing in apology and shame over having pissed some folks off. Not gonna happen this time. I’m going to stand my ground.

And so it is with the book. Not everyone will like it. Or me for having written it. But that doesn’t make it untrue and it certainly doesn’t make me a charlatan, cheater, liar, desperate-for-money loser, as I’ve been called. If I’d lied and been called on it, I’d feel shame. I don’t.

This is not easy for me, accepting that there are those who kind of dislike me right now. But I will live with it. I have to. Otherwise, I go back to being a 16-year old so desperate to please that she nearly self-destructs in a muddy jumbled mess of anxiety and depression and desperation and shame.

Hate me if you will. I’ll be just fine with it. I’ll try to be anyway. Given that there are people I don’t like a whole lot either, it seems only fair that I should have to endure being disliked too. I’m aiming for empathy – rather than disdain - towards those who are angry with me. I try for understanding. For calm.

In the words of my husband and some rapper I don’t know, I’m striving to not hate the player, rather, hate the game. (Best when pronounced “playah”, of course.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My Escort

I just got back from Ohio. A book tour stop in Dayton and Cincinnati led me there. Apparently, when you go to a market for a book stop, you get an “escort”. Not THAT kind of an escort. Not Eliot Spitzer style. The traditional kind: a single person accompanying another or others for protection, guidance, or courtesy.

Her name was Barbara. She was probably in her early 70’s. But she could have been anywhere from mid-60’s to late 70’s I’m guessing. She was, by far, one of the most interesting people I have ever met. I felt like Ira Glass, sans tape recorder. She drove me back and forth from Cincinnati to Dayton to Cincinnati to Dayton and back to Cincinnati within the span of about 10 hours. We probably covered a good 250 miles, at least. She did all of this with a knee that was recently replaced.

Here’s just a tad of what made her interesting... no…not interesting. She was more than that. She was insightful, opinionated, outspoken, resillient, tough. She was cool.

1) She shared some of the most personal moments of her life with me; and we’d only just met.

2) She married her husband at 21, mere months after meeting him. While perhaps it began as a marriage of convenience (when he was told he was being transferred, he told his boss he couldn’t be, he was getting married. And then she married him so he wouldn’t have to move), she grew to love him.

3) In the early 70s, while dining in a restaurant, a car came through the window and ran over her legs. She got less than $1000 in the settlement. And she's not bitter.

4) She has two daughters. One left Ohio and lived in Europe for ten years working for the UN.

5) She has one granddaughter. And she lost one grandchild. And she's not bitter.

6) Her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer at 59. He died three years later.

7) After mourning his death, she decided she needed some "new experiences." She went to work at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving. She was disgusted by all the ‘do – gooders’ who came once a year to help the homeless so she decided to become a regular.

8) While working there, it was the first time she experienced being the only white person in the room. She developed some serious empathy for black folks.

9) She befriended a black man who volunteered there as well. When he took ill and had a leg amputated (he was diabetic), she volunteered to ‘help’ him. She became his caretaker. She brought him food, took him to the doctor, was his friend for many years.

10) They went to Niagara Falls together on a whim and he suffered a heart attack. She took care of him after that as well.

11) She received a letter from the man’s son, thanking her for taking care of his father. The son was in prison for shooting two people. They didn't die. But he shot 'em just the same.

12) She corresponded with the son and visited him often. When he got out on parole after 14 years (2 years early), she invited him to live with her. She got him a job operating a forklift. He held it for a while. But then he tested positive for drugs. Lost the job. She doesn't regret helping him, but it was time for him to go.

13) He moved away to Atlanta – didn’t go back to prison – to look for work with a friend. She talks to him regularly. On the phone and through letters.

14) She has worked as a dancer, chef, food stylist, writer–escort and Lord knows what else.

15) She loves Barack Obama. She does not like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly.

16) Each time we drove past this totally bizarre church - it had a giant Jesus waist deep in the grass in front of a sprawling, modern evangelical house of God that resembled a stadium more than a place of worship - she said: “Look, there’s butter Jesus! Doesn’t he look like he was carved from butter? Up the road there's a church with a Starbucks and a soccer field! Can you believe that?”

17) She’s driven Suze Ormann, Nora Roberts, Denis Lahane and many other people I’d never heard of. And seemed thoroughly unimpressed.

18) She's been to China, Hong Kong, Belgium, France. The list goes on. Paris and Florence are her favorite places on earth.

Damn, people are interesting! What a woman. Her openness prompted me to share some stuff too. We talked about the book, gymnastics, my work, my family. But I kept the fact that I voted for Hillary to myself. I feared she might pull over and ask me to get out if I were to convey that little tid bit. She really really doesn't like Hillary.

Monday, May 5, 2008


I'm overwhelmed by all of the positive letters, emails and blog posts in response to the book. Glad to have touched so many of you, who claim to have had similar experiences. Have even gotten notes from people who were never gymnasts who say the story resonates with them. The feelings of inadequacy turned inward and self-destructive.
Thank you all for your support. I feel I've made many new 'friends'.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The blogosphere

I'm trying not to troll the blogs and websites with reactions to my book. It's all a little too much. But I've peeked at some. There are those that seem upset by the book, claiming it's all lies, that I'm a hopeless, pathetic pessimist that never got over not making the 1988 Olympic Team. In truth, I pulled myself out of that race, as it just didn't matter to me anymore. Seemed pointless suddenly, after having dedicated my young life to the sport. I've never once felt a single pang of regret, sorrow, sadness over not having made that team though parents and coaches promised I would.

In point of fact, I am more of a hopeless optimist than most people I encounter; friends would likely vouch for me on this. How else could I believe that I could write a book while maintaining a demanding job and full family life? And do so with no formal writing training, no 'ghost writer' and then, upon completion, have the perseverance to find an agent and get it published? I have a shoe box full of rejection letters from agents. But I kept going as I did back when I was a gymnast. I pulled it off through sheer force of optimistic will. Gymnastics taught me that and I am grateful.

I take offense at being called a pessimist more than I take offense at being called a liar. Isn't that something? I just learned that about myself this week when I found this post on a gymnastics website:

"... the Parkette's are very upset...much like when they were blindsighted with that CNN documentary, which was supposed to showcase what a wonderful club it was (and of couse made Donna look like a horrible person) The whole lot of us from the 80's....Gina Stallone, Tracy Butler, Tracy Calore, Jamie Raines, Sarah Balagosh, Cindy Rosenberry, Lisa Panzeroni...even on to Hope Spivy and Kim Kelly etc...all recall things a lot differently. My time at Parkettes was great and we all go back for Alumni programs and still all keep in touch.

I really do think that a lot of on'es perception of inicidents has to do with the outcome for them, as well as their general outlook on life. Some people are genreally psimistic and are going to see any little negative thing as so much bigger than it was, where optimists are the opposite, and can shrug off the negative ... It seems maybe Sey never got past that one letdown ['88 Olympics], and htat is really sad.

Ok. A few things I have to point out about this post, none of them related to the typos that I've left in for authenticity's sake (and I'm sorry for being a tad snarky):

1) The Strausses weren't made to look bad. They behaved badly and it was aired on national television. There is a difference. Editing can't force the insults and epithets from their mouths.

2) I am in touch with some of the women she cites above as her friends. They have been wholly supportive about the book, as have many other former and current gymnasts, some I don't even know. One of the Tracys referred to above wrote me this email the day after the book came out:

"Hey, Jen. I just finished the book. I really enjoyed it....yes, I cried and laughed...You took me back to a different time and place. At times I could feel the gym again. But I also realized how alone we all felt. Interesting how we all internalized so much of it...and tried to battle the demons within us alone. I wish we could have been there more for each other! "

I stay in touch with many of my friends from Parkettes as well as other gymnasts from the 1980's that I competed with and against. The women that I speak with look back on that time with some fondness and some sadness. Same as me. There were hard times, filled with triumph as well as tears and devastating physical pain. We don't feel the need to whitewash the whole experience in order to feel good about it. We are proud of our accomplishments as gymnasts. And prouder of those after. The hard times are what made us the people we've grown up to be. I, along with my former gymnast friends, embrace it all. The whole kit and kaboodle.

Now that's a positive outlook!