Life with an engineer at Christmas

We take our victories where we can find them

We weren’t going to have a tree because covid has killed all the joy in life but then we thought we shouldn’t let covid and the anti-vax idiots ruin everything so we got one.

Mr T hauled the decorations down from the attic and started sorting the lights.

The first two strings he tested didn’t work.

On the third, only half the lights would illuminate.

He was getting a bit cranky, but I did not suggest that we buy new lights.

We are of the Tribe That Does Not Waste

I mean, I never would suggest buying new to replace something that still sort of works. The only things I buy new these days are underwear and socks. But I should be able to make it until I die on the blue jeans I have now and if I do need more before then, I will get them on eBay for about ten or 15 dollars.

(I heard someone say that once you’ve tried the $180 jeans, you never go back, but this person had family money.)

I got the lights for 25 cents a strand at the Episcopal ladies’ thrift shop in Colorado Springs in 2006 so we have not yet gotten our money’s worth and will be darned it we are going to replace them.

Mr T finally found a strand that worked and, after we had rotated the tree several times trying to find the best spot – we did not buy the symmetrical tree, he carefully placed the lights on the tree.

“Carefully” is how he does things. It’s good to be married to someone who has that characteristic for when it matters.

(It usually doesn’t matter. Dishes don’t need to be scrubbed for a minute each. They can be put away even if there are a few drops of water clinging to them. But I digress.)

Mr T put the lights on the tree and plugged them in and it was beautiful.

The next morning, the bottom half of the strand went dark.

Mr T did something – I left the room – to repair it. The repair involved being grumpy, which is why I left.

The next morning, same thing.

More grumpiness ensued.

I suggested removing the Bad Strand and replacing it with one of the remaining 10 ten strands of Episcopal Ladies Lights.

No, that was a Very Bad Suggestion! Removing and replacing implies loss and surrender, I suppose.

In which The Lights Become A Symbol of All That Is Going Wrong

“Everything I do is going backward,” he said.

“Every time I think I have finished with the trust, there’s a new issue. Every time I think I am done with my brother, there’s another issue.”


In Mr T’s defense, his brother is a total nightmare. Mr T’s parents disinherited him but made him the executor of their will and the trustee for the money, which went to their grandchildren and which has required that Mr T deal with his brother on a lot of stuff.

Don’t do this, OK? Leave your money to whomever you want – it’s OK not to leave money to your kids, but don’t make your kid the executor of your will and the trustee for the trusts. It’s a ton of work and if you are leaving any amount of money, you can pay a lawyer to do the work.

Especially don’t make your child the executor if you are disinheriting him. That’s just an asshole move.


“Every time we think we are getting close to maybe getting back to normal,” he said, “there’s another issue. Now we have Omicron. The whole world is going backwards.”

A few hours later, Mr T announced he was going to Lowe’s.

To buy a new tool.

A new tool that would help him identify – something about currents and bad currents vs bad bulbs or something.

“It’s sold out everywhere, but Lowe’s has a store brand version of the tool and it’s on sale,” he said.

When the hardware store is your Happy Place

Is there anything that makes a man (or some men – maybe some women – the desire to fix things is not a trait associated with sex and here I am repeating sexist stereotypes – I should be ashamed of myself) happier than going to the hardware store?

My former boss used to leave the office occasionally when he needed a break and would go to Menards to wander the aisles.

Another former boss told me, “I’m tired of all this corporate drama. I just want to be a floor manager at Home Depot.”

Two hours later, Mr T returned, triumphant. He had also stopped at Aldi and gotten German butter cookies from the Christmas aisle, so the trip was worth it just for that.

He pulled out the new tool.

“Watch!” he said. “Watch this! It tells me [stuff that I don’t remember but is about electricity etc etc]!”

The tool flashed green and red as he moved it from bulb to bulb. He replaced the bulbs where it flashed red, but the rest of the strand remained stubbornly dark.

“Maybe this one?” he said as he replaced another bulb.

I got bored and went downstairs to watch TV.

Fifteen minutes later, he came downstairs in triumph.

“IT WORKED!” he said. “IT WORKED!”

And now we have a tool that can be used in the future for – I don’t know what. We have a highly-specialized tool that we may never need again.

But for one small moment, we made a step forward.

Happy holidays, everyone. Enjoy the victories, no matter how small.

Will nobody think about the white male sexual harassers?

In a world without men, women would be fat and happy and we would never wait to pee. But we would settle for a world without sexual harassers.

Yes, an older man at work once started massaging my neck and shoulders. I was wearing a suit, but even if I had been showing my shoulders, that is not permission for a man to touch a woman at work.

Old (male) friend: I miss Al Franken. I wish he hadn’t resigned.

Me: But – that photo of him, pretending to grab that woman’s breasts!

Friend: But aren’t there so many worse men? And it would be so good to have him in politics now.

Me: There are worse men, yes. My friend R, when she was an associate at an Austin law firm, pushed back on a sexist comment a partner made. The partner answered, “Don’t forget I’m the one who does your performance evaluation.” She found a new job out of state.

Friend (who is a lawyer in Texas): I would never do something like that!

Me: I know, but every single woman my age – every single woman you see here – Mary, Karen, Stephanie – has experienced some kind of sexism and sexual harassment at work. Every single one. So I for one am glad to see the harassers finally getting what they deserve.

Friend: But if we get rid of all those men, there won’t be anyone left!

Me:

Me:

Me: Did you really just say that if we get rid of all the harassers, there won’t be anyone left?

Friend: Oh. Right!

Me: There will be me. There will be Mary. There will be Karen. There will be Stephanie. If we had power, I don’t think we would do any worse than the harassers.


A few years ago, Mr T was running for the state legislature. He had run for the seat before, unsuccessfully. But this looked like it might be the year.

He announced in November, a year before the election. This, apparently, is a common strategy in the political world: announce early to dissuade others.

He started campaigning in March, which includes collecting signatures for the nominating papers.

(Where we live, a candidate must collect a certain number of signatures to get on the ballot. I think it’s like that in most places in the US, which is why I am always so confused at movies where someone decides to run for office right before the election and voila! they’re on the ballot. That’s not how it works, Hollywood!)

In May, a woman announced that she, too, was running.

She was running against Mr T in the primary, not against Mr T in the general.

Mr T was frustrated. This woman was an unknown. She had not participated in party activities. She had not volunteered on other campaigns. She was not playing by The Rules.

We tried to figure out how to defeat her in the primary.

Turned out she and Mr T agreed on all the issues.

If you agree on the issues, then you have to make your campaign personal.

Mr T did not want to go there.

He did not want to make any personal attacks, even personal attacks veiled in nice language.

Then he met her.

“I LIKE her,” he told me. “I don’t want to like her but I do.”


Fitbit started in 2010.

It took them until 2018 to add a period tracker.

(And even then, they didn’t do it right: “Fitbit’s period tracking feature only allows women to log their menstrual cycle if it lasted for 10 days or fewer.“)


By Bestrossi – Self-photographed

In Katrine Marcal’s latest book, Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men, she talks about Aina Wifalk, the inventor of the walker you see above.

Wifalk was training to be a nurse when she contracted polio. She invented the walker to help herself and others with her physical challenges.

She made almost no money from her invention.

How could she? As Marcal points out, 97% of venture capital goes to men – and that’s a current figure. Wifalk invented the walker in the 60s.

Would a man have invented this same thing?

Maybe.

Maybe.

But how many men do the shopping? How many men do the daily errands? Would men have thought, “I need a basket so I can get the groceries home?”

Maybe.

And if a man had invented it, he could have gotten venture capital and developed the product himself and gotten rich.


It took Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successful challenge of a sexist IRS deduction to start changing sexist laws in the US.

In the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court ruled that women had neither the right to practice law nor the right to vote. In the mid-twentieth century, the Court approved “beneficial” practices by states making women’s service on juries optional and approved Michigan’s law preventing women from working in bars unless a male relative was present when they were working.

Harvard Law Review

If these sexist laws did not apply in your lifetime, they probably applied in your mother’s lifetime.

It took a woman to challenge these injustices.

I know I know I know. Not all men are like that. Not all men.

But in general I don’t see men leading the fight to end sex discrimination.


Mr T withdrew from the race so the opponent could run unopposed.

“I agree with her,” he said. “I like her. And I think she has a better chance of getting elected. All I want is to have our views represented in the legislature.”


Let’s try a world where women are in charge, OK?

When you see your college boyfriend/fiancé for the first time in 30something years

How many people can we hold in our hearts?

When I was 19, I fell in love for the first time.

I thought it would also be the last time.

I thought my college boyfriend – CB, let’s call him – and I would get married and have children and live happily ever after.

We took long walks around campus late at night and named our children. We went two-stepping with our friends. We went to movies in the chemistry lecture hall. We talked about how lucky we were to have found Our Person at college. So sad for all those other people who would go through life unmatched!

(Also, he kissed great. This is important. To me, anyhow. It’s important to me. And he was an amazing kisser.)


(I mean – he was an AMAZING kisser.)


We planned to get married after he graduated, a year after I graduated.

Our parents had met. We had the church and I had the dress.

I had gone through the Catholic pre-Cana stuff, muttering to myself as I signed the papers promising to raise my children Catholic (he was not Catholic), “when they let women become priests.”


The Catholic Church, 35 years later, is still not letting women become priests.


I had a job in Houston, but I was going to move with him to wherever he got into grad school. His parents were worried that if he married me, he might not complete grad school, but I was willing to move for love! And CB was (and still is, I expect) an extraordinarily focused man.


He was so nice. He was a kind person who is still friends today with the friends he had back then. He was a good man.


He did get his PhD. Even if he had been married to me, he would have gotten his PhD. I have no doubt.


At our recent homecoming, I ran into a friend I had not seen in a long time.

“Half my conversations this weekend,” he said, “have started with, ‘I am so sorry for’ – whatever it was. All I am doing is apologizing for horrible things I did when we were students.”

“Me, too,” I said. “Me, too.”


Before I started dating CB, I went out one time with a very sweet guy who took me to Gilley’s.

On the way back to campus, his car broke down. We were in the middle of nowhere, still far from Houston, back when there was space between Houston and Pasadena. I was scared. We were out in the country. It was dark. I didn’t know how we were going to get back. I was sure there was an ax murderer waiting for us.

Even once we found a pay phone, no taxi would come because we didn’t have an address. He finally had to call his roommate to get us.

I would not talk to him again. He called and left messages. I did not return his calls. We had a class together that next year and I wouldn’t even look at him when I walked in the room. There were only about 20 students in the class, so it was obvious when one student was giving another the cold shoulder.

At our 15-year reunion, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

It was Gilley’s Guy.

“I AM SO SORRY FOR BEING SUCH A BITCH TO YOU!” I gasped.

And I meant it. Lord have mercy he was just a sweet boy who was trying to impress me and I wouldn’t even talk to him. I don’t even remember if he accepted my apology, but we did talk for about 15 minutes, so I guess maybe he did? I hope so.


I hadn’t dated much (except for Gilley’s Guy and two guys in high school, one of whom turned out to be gay – Hi Keith!) when CB and I started dating.

I definitely had never been in love. I definitely had not had a long relationship.

I started working after graduation and meeting new people (ie, men), some of whom I thought were cute, and I started wondering if maybe I really wanted to get married.


I decided I did not want to get married.

It was absolutely nothing that CB did. He was a good person. We didn’t have a big fight. One of us didn’t cheat on the other. I didn’t discover he was an addict or an alcoholic or bad with money.

We were so, so young. We had Things, but everyone has Things. We were babies.

I broke up with him a few months before the wedding and – well, it wasn’t an easy time.


I have had long relationships since CB. I have even had marriage proposals. (From men other than Mr T, that is.)

One of the worst things about breaking up with someone is disappointing my family. After I broke up with Tom, the boyfriend who came after CB, my mother said, “Please don’t bring home any more boyfriends until you find the one you’re actually going to marry. I can’t take getting to know another one and then having to lose him again.”


On Monday, when I passed on CB’s greetings from this weekend to my mom, she wrote back immediately, “And I MISS CB, too! I had mentioned to someone just recently how sad it was ‘lose’ him after his being a part of our family.”

Thirty five years and my mom still misses him.


Another bad thing about a breakup is not knowing how the story ends.


Who among us hasn’t googled an old boyfriend to see what’s happened in his life? It’s not just me, right? I’m not the only one who is insanely curious about what happened? Who they married – their children – their careers? Please tell me I’m not the only one.


So of course I knew a bit of what CB was up to. I can see things online and we have a lot of mutual friends. I knew he had married and had children and was doing the work he had always wanted to do from the first time I met him. But he had never come to a reunion before. I hadn’t seen him in decades.


Am I the only one – even though I am very happily married – who wonders what it would be like to run into an old boyfriend?

Please tell me I’m not the only one who pictures stepping outside of the party into the quiet courtyard, still and lit only by the moon. I’m alone and I look great because this time, unlike real life, I actually did lose 20 pounds before the reunion. I’m wearing something immensely flattering, including high heels that don’t even hurt. My hair looks fabulous – no grey! – despite the Houston humidity and my skin is only 20 years old. I have mastered makeup.

I sigh and look up at the moon, wistfully – holding a glass of champagne? Only I don’t like champagne and if I had a glass of it, it would be in a plastic cup, which isn’t quite the same.

Suddenly, a shadow falls in front of me. I hear a voice. It’s CB!

And – I can never figure out what he says, probably because I’m the one who broke up with him so it would really be on me to approach him except there’s no way I would do that because I wouldn’t impose like that on someone who is now happily married to someone who is not me. You don’t get to have romantic scenes when you’re the one who did the breaking.

But really, the key part of this story is that I look great. Hold that thought.


I met Mr T at our 20-year class reunion.

I love him.

I am happy with him.

He’s a hottie and he’s my friend.

But – I like reading alternative histories.

Not only do I want to know how the story ends, I also want to know how it might have ended. What if I had taken Path A instead of Path B?


At our reunion party on Friday, I saw a classmate I had not seen since we were undergrads. We were not friends, but we both worked in the faculty club. I remembered him because his twin brother was also at our school.

We spent 20 minutes talking. What had happened over the past years? How had the story ended?

He said one of the nicest things I think someone could say about me. He told me, “You were always kind to me when I worked at the faculty club, and I always remembered that.”



Saturday morning, before the football game, I was talking to one of the friends CB and I have in common. He said, “Just so you know, CB is here.”

“Oh!” I said. “Oh.”

I didn’t know what to think.

This was not how I had planned it.

Not that I had planned it – but you know.

I was not expecting this.

But.

“It’s been 35 years,” I said. “That was a lifetime ago.”

Which it was. It’s more than half my life ago.

But do you ever really stop loving your first love, even when you have found your last love?


Every reunion, Mr T sees his first love. He has seen her when he’s had to go to her city for work.

They did not date in college, but were close friends and he was in deep love with her.

He has not stopped loving her.

But he also loves me.

Is there room in our hearts for our first and our last loves at the same time? And maybe even for some of the loves in between?

Are these loves all the paths we could have taken? Would we have been equally happy with any of them?


PS I like Mr T’s first love. I consider her my friend.


I was nervous. What do you say to someone you have not seen for decades who was once the most important person in your life? What do you say to someone you hurt deeply? What do you say to someone who you know has moved on – as he should! – but is such an important part of your history? Someone who shares a biography with you? The older I get, the harder it is to develop deep relationships – we don’t make those emotional connections the same way, I don’t think.

What do you say when you don’t want to think that this person has dwelled on you, because of course he hasn’t, but when you want to acknowledge that you caused pain?


Also, I thought, REALLY? THIS is the year I see him? The year with COVID hair and wrinkles and the 20 pounds not lost and not one stitch of makeup on my face because I decided I am done with all that but perhaps just a little bit of mascara and some light eyeshadow might have made me look not so washed out.

Old jeans, a black t-shirt, hiking boots.

REALLY?

Yes I am superficial and vain. Not vain enough to dress up or fix my hair, but still vain. Lazy vain.


“Do you wish you had married him instead of me?” Mr T asks.


I saw someone come up behind me. (A shadow fell…)

I turned – and there was CB.

“Hi,” he said. “Remember me?”

I didn’t know what to say.

He looked the same. Exactly the same.

Only he didn’t – he was the same man but older – but when you look at a memory, maybe time freezes?

He smiled, so it seemed safe to ask, “Is it OK if I hug you?”

And I hugged him and he hugged me back and I thought, “I think maybe he’s forgiven me” and I felt a weight leave me that I didn’t even know I was carrying.

When we see ourselves in art

Those who control art control how the world sees us and how we see the world

Mr T and I saw an amazing play last week: The Cake, by Bekah Brunstetter.

The story itself is good, but what’s really wonderful is that the lead is a middle-aged woman who GETS NAKED ON STAGE.

Wait.

It gets better.

She gets naked on stage and SHE HAS A NORMAL BODY.

Tara Mullan plays the lead, Della.

Della and her husband, Tim, have not gotten busy for a long time, so Della tries to spice things up by covering her essential bits with buttercream frosting and telling Tim to meet her after hours in the bakery she owns.

We see Della naked except for strategically-placed buttercream.

We see a normal, middle-aged woman naked.

They did not cast someone who looks like Christy Brinkley or Brooke Shields.

They cast a normal, middle-aged woman.

Don’t get me wrong: Tara Mullan is very very pretty, but she has the body of a 50something woman in the upper Midwest, a body that says, “I live in a place that has really good food and that happens to get ice cold in the winters and we are into the second year of a global pandemic where all the rules changed, so you bet your bippie I’m going to eat.”

That is, she is normal.

She is us.

I think we are all there right now. We are all at, Seriously, why did we ever think dieting was important?

She gets naked.

And I saw myself in her.


I have been watching a lot of TV and movies during all this and what I have noticed is that even without makeup (or makeup made to look like they’re not wearing makeup), almost all of the the young female cops on Chicago PD and the female firefighters on Chicago Fire are all stunningly beautiful with super-firm, slim bodies.

I don’t begrudge this of them – they look wonderful – but the only female character on Chicago PD who makes me nod my head and say, “You are my people” is Trudy Platt, played by Amy Morton.

If Trudy Platt is not your favorite character on Chicago PD, we cannot be friends. Also, I love her hair.

Coincidentally, both Amy and Tara are from Chicago. Maybe this is a Chicago thing?


Don’t get me wrong: I love what Reese Witherspoon is doing and I love her work. There are other amazing actresses out there as well, but when I do see a Hollywood actress in her 50s or older, it’s Nicole Kidman and Viola Davis and Jennifer Aniston and Kyra Sedgwick and Salma Hayak and Jennifer Lopez and Emma Thompson and Laura Linney.

These are all lovely lovely women.

But – dang. Even on my best day in my 20s, I don’t look as good as they do in their 50s.


The nurse who gave me my covid booster shot last week had beautiful silver hair. When I complimented her on it, she answered, “For the longest time, I thought my hair was an ugly yellowish gray, even though my daughter kept telling me it was pretty. I thought she was saying that just because she’s my daughter.”

“But then, I had my cataracts done. After the first one, I got home and closed the other eye – and suddenly, my hair was a pretty color!”

“I closed that eye and looked with the cataract eye. My hair was ugly again!”

All along, it was the filter she was using that told her that her hair was not pretty.


I don’t want this to sound like I think Amy Morton and Tara Mullan are unattractive because that’s not the case at all. I think they are both super attractive. But they are normal attractive and they draw me into the story in a way that Hollywood perfect never can.

And they make me feel like our stories matter – the stories of women who are no longer 21.

Most importantly, Tara’s nakedness made me think that maybe I, too, look good naked even though I am no longer 21.


In Blonde Roots, by Bernadine Evaristo, the protagonist is a white woman who has been enslaved by the powerful Africans. The white woman laments her limp, colorless hair, her thin lips, her pallid skin, and longs to have full, dark hair, lush lips, and rich, dark, warm skin.

The dominant culture decides what’s beautiful and what’s not.


Even when I was 21, on my very best day, I never looked as good as a woman in Hollywood. This, I think, is the reality for most of us.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t look good. It just means that we are told we don’t look good.

Someone is trying to make money off our insecurities looking at you beauty industry.


I watched Mare of Eastown. There is no way to make Kate Winslet unattractive.

Mr T (Kate W is on his List and you know what I mean by that): Would I like that show?

Me: Maybe? She is not glamorous – no makeup, doesn’t even comb her hair.

Mr T: What about anything in my past would make you think I care if a woman wears makeup or looks glamorous?

Me: Oh. Right. I mean, you married ME.


Geena Davis produced a documentary, This Changes Everything, about how women are shut out of producing and directing in Hollywood and how this lack of representation shows in the stories Hollywood tells.

The best part of the documentary is how many well-known actresses are trying to fight the system. And I have started to notice the little things – like in on-screen sex scenes, women wear bras.

That’s not, if my experience is any guide, how real life works.

But women in Hollywood are pushing back and they are starting to win.


Tara Mullan is fighting back, too. She founded an entire theatre company dedicated to telling women’s stories.

I founded Rivendell Theatre Ensemble with the specific goal of expanding the role of women in theater. I knew that society could come to view women differently only if our real struggles and experiences were reflected on stage, not just the two-dimensional versions Hollywood spits out.

Tara Mullan (read the full interview here)

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is dedicated to advancing the lives of women through theatre….An award winning, critically acclaimed professional theatre company Rivendell’s productions explore the unique female perspectives of everyday stories in an intimate, salon environment. Since our inception, Rivendell has grown to fill an important role in the Chicago theatre community as the only Equity theatre in Chicago committed to women’s stories. Rivendell has become a leader in new play development, a major port for new writers, and today, offers a brick and mortar artistic home for women theater artists to develop their work.

Rivendell Theatre

When women are the storytellers, the human story changes.

Elizabeth Lesser