Talk to me

I must have an invisible sign taped to my forehead, or some code encrypted in my voice, that says, "Hey! If you want to talk about abortion, come talk to me!"

Some back story. A couple of weeks ago, I developed a weird, very painful sensation in my neck, near where I'd had a surgery several years ago. Being mildly obsessed with my own medical history, and also prone to worry, I called my old doctor many states away, who had presided over that surgery. I left a message. No one called back.

Until today. The phone rang. It was the doctor's nurse, returning my call. The pain disappeared a few days after it started, but I explained the situation anyway and asked a few questions. She said she'd consult with the doctor and call me back. Then, as we were saying goodbye, she said, "Where do you live now, by the way?"

"Madison, Wisconsin," I said.

She grew up in nearby Chicago. "I remember Wisconsin being a very free-thinking state," she said. I tried to ramble something about how yes, it's free-thinking, anything-goes, not Alabama, very refreshing, yadda yadda yadda.

But she kept talking.

"This was back in the 1970s," she said. "You know, there was a time before abortion was legal across the country. It was left up to each state, and some states had laws that outlawed abortion, and other states had laws making it legal."

"Mmhmm, I know," I said.

"But Wisconsin didn't have a law either way. And this was really important to a lot of the women I went to school with. We were college students then, and we talked to our mothers, and none of them had had access to laws that allowed them to control how many kids they had. And if you looked at how many children they thought they wanted before they started a family, and compared that to the actual number, you'd see a big difference."

I asked her whether the lack of a law in Wisconsin had made abortion either more or less available.

"What it did," she said, "was it made it less shameful. And it made the women who needed it feel less like it was the disgraceful thing to do. The state said, 'We're not going to make a statement about this.' So it wasn't political. It was just a fact. If a doctor wanted to provide abortions, they could; and if they didn't, they didn't."

I don't know anything about the history of abortion law in Wisconsin, but I thought this woman's take on things was really interesting. It really was unlike any other conversation I've had with a health care provider. Most fascinating of all was how close to the surface this was for her. I mention I live in Wisconsin, and she launches into a five-minute monologue on how Wisconsin's approach to reproductive laws affected her 30 years ago. She could have simply made a joke about cheese.

So I told her a little about the clinic in Alabama; and the women who called there all the time, asking whether abortion was actually legal; and the men who smoked cigarettes in the parking lot while their daughters went inside, who nodded at the volunteer escorts and told us things like, "I think this is wrong, but my kid's situation is different. She's not a welfare queen or a whore," expecting us to understand their point.

"I know," she said, "I know." I could almost hear her shaking her head. Then she said she'd call me back.



For people who read this online and not via email, can somebody tell me how long those weird "Alabama" and "Feminism on Trial" webrings have been on here? I just discovered them tonight. Maybe JK thought he'd play a bad joke, but I doubt it. I have no idea where they came from.

I deleted the code, problem solved. But seriously. If you ever see any creepy we-hate-women links here at Rage Is Good, lemme know. I doubt we've been infiltrated by the far-right (they have way bigger things to worry about), but I would be kinda sad if Rage got hijacked.

As my old friend Dr. J says, thank you for letting me share. And good night!


Ladies' Night

You know that feeling when you've encountered something that very well may be a Very Good Idea? Sort of hopeful and excited and buzzy? Yeah. That's me right now. Tentatively jazzed even, which doesn't happen easily.

I just got back from a brainstorming meeting of people interested in starting a women's theater in Madison. About 25 of us crowded into the meeting space at a local coffee shop. Most of the people in the room (not me) had fairly extensive theater backgrounds. Many had years of organizing and activism experience. All were artists in some way. One was a judge. And almost all of us, save three or four men, were women.

There were black women, lesbian women, straight women, butch women, old women, white women, young women, Wisconsin-born women and transplants. It was one of the more diverse groups I've been in since landing in Madison. And it felt SO GOOD to be in their midst, with so many different voices and experiences and backgrounds coalescing around one very cool idea.

This was the first meeting. The mood in the room was electric. Some of the women came from more traditional theater backgrounds and simply wanted a space to showcase their work. But most of the people there, it seemed to me, came to the meeting because they saw something that felt transformative. The organizer -- a woman I met through a writing group last fall -- shared with us the statistic that less than 20% of all plays staged in the U.S. by either professional or community theaters are directed or written by women.

I was in a couple of stage productions in high school and really got interested in technical theater for a while, but I was never serious about it. Then, in 2004, I saw a staging of The Laramie Project. I was in documentary journalism school at the time, and the play -- based on interviews with real people in Laramie, Wyoming, in the wake of Matthew Shepard's murder -- opened my eyes to the power and beauty of extrapolating the notion of "documentary" to the stage. It wasn't a new idea, but I hadn't seen anything like it before. And I thought, I could do this. But then I didn't. And now I can.

The thing I miss most about Alabama is the feeling of connection in those small groups of people working to change the system. The feminists and the LGBTQ community and the racial reconciliation workshops happening in living rooms. The urgency in those circles is something I hadn't found in Madison.

I had looked here for something like the reproductive justice work I did in Alabama -- the clinic defense and Christian Coalition protests. But so much of that work has been done in this town. The pro-choice leafleting at the farmer's market doesn't really cut it. But tonight I realized that by living for a few years in a place like Alabama, where activism happens so close to the quick and in the dirty trenches, I had forgotten that things like art and theater can be revolutionary. Some might say the only true art is revolutionary.

And so maybe I have found a circle where I can help push a transformative agenda and have fun at the same time. And maybe I'll get to learn how to work the light board. That would be cool, too.


Boob Toob

On Sunday, JK and I became quasi-Americans.

American, in that we broke down and bought a television.

Quasi, in that a) we got it used and on the cheap, and b) it's attached solely to the DVD player -- no cable, no rabbit ears, no Law & Order SVU.

It's my fault. If I hadn't been working late last Friday -- and, therefore, running late to fetch JK from his office -- this wouldn't have happened. Because JK wouldn't have had the time, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for me, to wander around Craigslist looking at the used television ads.

"Check this out," he emailed, with a link for an RCA SDTV TruFlat. "It's only 27 inches."

It looked so shiny in the picture.

And, it came with its very own TV stand, complete with a smoked-glass door for hiding stereo components and cords. I hate cords.

"It's pretty," I emailed back absent-mindedly. Those were the wrong two words. I should have said, "No way," or "Whatever, man," or, "Ha! Right."

The Great TV Debate started almost the minute we decided to combine our lives and possessions. I'd always said I never wanted a television to be the focal point of any room in my house. Especially not my living room, which is for lounging and talking and reading and drinking wine. Not brainlessly staring into the giant, gaping screen taking up half the wall.

My 13" Sony, which I'd owned for years, fit the bill perfectly.

Then JK came around. With, apparently, less than stellar eyesight and an aversion to watching action movies on a screen slightly bigger than a milk carton. The conversation usually went something like this: "I hate your TV." "I love my TV!" "You can't see anything on it." "I can see it fine! Maybe you need new glasses." "Arrrrrgh."

And so we compromised. Someday, we said, we'd live in a house big enough for a room dedicated solely to a giant television set, with a door I could shut so I could pretend it wasn't there.

The back of my car sports a bumper sticker that says, "Kill your TV". I suspect it's probably more offensive to the average American than the peace sign decal and the other bumper sticker next to it that says, "Well-behaved woman rarely make history." More than one person has raised an eyebrow and given me an odd look, to which I respond with defiance. Last year, before we'd finished unpacking boxes, we happily joined our local coffee shop in celebrating Turn Off Your TV Week.

But I had said, "It's pretty," the wrong two words, which inspired an email to the guy selling the RCA TruFlat. He emailed back. It was still available. And, he added, he'd give us a discount, since we'd have to drive 30 miles outside of town to get to his house.

It was sitting in the guy's garage when we arrived, plugged in, turned on, showing an Adam Sandler movie. In person it was shiny, too. And huge.

"Only 27 inches?" I whispered to JK, shooting him a narrow-eyed look. He gave me a sheepish, apologetic smile and shrugged.

An hour later, my small Sony looked forlorn, waiting in the corner to be dragged down to the basement. "I feel bad for it," I told JK as I handed him a speaker cord.

Later that afternoon, he called me into the room. "Look!" he said. He'd popped in a DVD of The Matrix Reloaded. It was beautiful. "Law & Order would look great on this," I said.

"For someone who hates televisions," JK told me, "you sure love to watch TV."

"Hmmph," I scowled. But he's right. I hate television sets the way some people hate drug dealers. I could flip through the channels until my mind turned to pudding. Law & Order all day long? The only thing that would make me happier is a room full of puppies. TV is like McDonald's French fries or chocolate martinis or Chapstick. A little just makes me think I need more.

JK hit play on the DVD remote.

"It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon," I protested. "Let's do this later! It's gorgeous outside! We could take the dog to the--"

The highway scene came on. A car blew up in slow motion. "What did you say?" JK asked.

I spoke without taking my eyes from the screen. "Close the windows. I'll make the popcorn."