A Brief Content Warning List for The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu (Episodes 1-3)

Backlit woman dressed modestly The Handmaid's Tale
Actress Elizabeth Moss as Offred in her room at the Commander’s house. (Photo: Hulu)


EPISODES 1, 2, and 3


A NOTE: Everything shown in this TV show—and the original book is happening or has happened historically to women in real life.

If you find you need a real life example for something shown in the program, please feel free to ask me as I know a fair amount of women’s history and current events.


These items / themes are present in the book.

(If you haven’t read Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece, this list is a little spoiler-y, but does not tell you anything about the story itself.)

    -torture

    -brainwashing (religious, blaming the victim)

    -gender-based violence

    -infertility (this is shown in much more emotional detail than the book)

    -state violence against women (laws, punitive punishment)

    -sexual slavery (rape, aftermath of rape, and human trafficking)

    -anti-LGBT+ laws, violence, language (it’s emotionally wrenching)

    -women-on-women violence

    -restrictive clothing

    -deliberately circuitous language

    -religion used as a reason for violence (sexual and physical)

    -attempted baby theft


Young woman in wide white bonnet stares straight ahead in close-up
Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) kneeling on pillow prior to a Salvaging. (Photo: Hulu)


These items were not discussed / shown in the book (at all, or in other cases, mentioned but never discussed at length).

Again, spoiler-y, but this list will tell you little about the story.

    —paramilitary violence against protestors

    -kidnapping of a child

    -genital mutilation (implied)

    -mistreatment of the mentally ill (coersion, violence)

    -tagging (branding) of women


If I think of anything else that should be added to this list—or you do—please let me know.

As I watch each new episode, I will create a new post with content warnings and link it back to this one.

I Was a Teenage Irish Stepdancer! Or, A Few Notes on Irish Stepdancing That I’ve Been Meaning to Write Down for Years Now

Michael Flatley in "Feet of Flames" wearing leather trousers.
STOP! Did someone in the audience call Irish Dancing FOLK DANCING? We will show our displeasure through this interpretive Treble Reel!


I am a former Irish Dancer.

I do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

(But you can! And I love you for it.)

Today will be a day of quiet and rest for me.

Because every St. Patrick’s Day of my childhood, youth, and young adult years felt like an eternity.

And in some ways—it was.


For seventeen years’ worth of St. Patrick’s Days, I performed without pay (because I was still an amateur competitor) starting at 6 a.m. on the 17th and ending somewhere around 3 a.m. on the 18th. This was expected of me, and sometimes I enjoyed it.

Typically, there was some driving and waiting around between shows, and we had some sort of long dinner break around six p.m. to just before eight o’clock.

But, from eight p.m. to three or four the next morning, we’d begin performing again at this large restaurant/bar with a teeny stage. Hour after hour.

This audience loved us more than the other eighteen or nineteen other audiences of the day put together because this audience was really, really, really drunk.


Enough time has lapsed that I don’t feel nearly so grouchy about St. Patrick’s Day.

I’ve got three things I’ve been wanting to say for years.

And I finally feel ready to share these thoughts with you.


1) Irish Dancing is not folk dancing.

The steps are as new as hip-hop, or any other contemporary dance form. In the world of Irish stepdancing, people come out with new ways to move every year.

In folk dancing the steps and the music do not change. Ever. No one adds new movements and you dance to a specific time signature. Typically in a costume of clothes that people in the old country wore for celebrations.

Irish stepdancing has one folk dance equivalent.

There are four plodding “set dances” with slooo-ooow hard shoe steps that every dancer has to learn. We had to do them in competition. I don’t think the generation that’s competing now has to use them at all, but I could be wrong.

Learning the “Trad. sets” helps you appreciate the modern swift-changing form that Irish step dancing has always been, and will always be. It’s also a way for adjudicators to line up four competitors stripped of their fancy choreography and see, in one flick of the eyes, whether the dancers have correct form, timing, and style.

The rest of the dances you encounter are a horn o’plenty of reels and jigs and hornpipes of the soft and hard shoe variety. More bounty: Each soloist will have their own choreography made up of many different steps in combination.

Some of those steps will be new. In the “no one has moved their feet that way in Irish Dancing before I just saw you do it right now” school of newness.


Now, let’s talk about those new steps in Irish Stepdancing.

Where do new steps come from? How do new steps get passed around?

Someone does some cool new thing on stage at the World Championships, and every big competitor and their teachers sees the step, and they steal it.

That original competitor will place no higher than third because brand new steps are not acceptable. Last year’s new step is okay. And everyone is required to do the new step from four years ago with the double-Swiss variation.

But for that first guy: Woe to ye who thought it was a good idea to bring that step to Worlds!

Next year, everyone’s using his new step in their winning solo.

The following year, someone will add three extra somethings to the new step, a movement defying both physics and human anatomy. Gasps all around. And all the teachers and all the dancers steal the souped-up version of the step.

We’ve all got to learn to do the quadruple-doohickey the year after that. It’s become standard for your level of competition.

In the meantime, a dancer and her teacher have come out with “the Swan” which is a crosskey done backwards with a flick both ways, and a boy in a dance school in Killarney just added three twists to it.

That’s what we get to learn next year for our competitions. I hope your kneecaps are double jointed!


2) It’s not called “Riverdancing.” That’s a show.

Irish stepdancing as culture goes way past Michael Flatley. What Flatley (and Marie Duffy and about ten others) did, is loosen up some of the rules of performance.

To be fair, Riverdance was such a phenomenon, former champions were finally able to make a non-competition, non-teaching career out of Irish Dance. Dance teachers were able to fill all their student slots, and probably for the first time, keep a waiting list of would-be students.

However, Flatley created some unfortunate precedents for female dancers— he created a thin body culture Irish Dancing didn’t have and didn’t need.

Before Riverdance, some of the best “power competitors” were built like Muhammad Ali, and they had his considerable physical grace too. I once nearly cried watching this muscular dancer perform. She was a rather famous World Champion, and she was doing things my body would never be able to do.

So there’s that.

With the new “thin” Irish Dance culture, came the weirdly dichotomous femininity—also a Flatley specialty—in which you were either a withering swan or this naughty, naughty girl.

Luckily, I was heading for the exit by then. I had a university degree and I was going off to graduate school.

I didn’t have an interest in dressing up as one of Flatley’s female chorus members: Three wigs sewn together to make one super-wig, six slickery coats of spray tan, and a beauty pageant tiara, all tied together visually by a dress made from wisps of fresh Irish mist.

Male dancers had it worse. I don’t even know what to say about those “masculine” leather pants Flatley stuffed his male dancers into for his next show, “Lord of the Dance,” but I can tell you those pants looked damned uncomfortable. And so did the performers wearing them.


I said I was heading towards the exit. Check that. I was sprinting.

As I wrapped up my solo career, women in any audience got in the habit of grabbing at my solo costume (worth more than my first car) and, yes, weeping because they loved Riverdancing so much.

To be fair, it was HUGE at the time. Commercials. Specials on PBS. Some people really identified with this show. I felt bad for these women and their genuine gigantic feelings for Michael Flatley, and Irish Dance, and me, who they thought danced just like Michael Flatley, and should be in Riverdance, but all of it really freaked me out.

So I thanked them and I thanked them, and gently removed their hands from the only new solo dress I ever owned.

For the record— I wouldn’t have made the first round of cuts for the corps of any of the three touring Riverdance shows. I wasn’t good enough and that was fine by me. (No super-wig!)

If you are out and about today, for goodness’ sakes don’t call it Riverdancing. Irish dancers get really ticked about this, but they’re too polite to say anything—usually because you’re all so nice and earnest and genuinely heartfelt that no one wants to correct you.

Nor should they. Dancing for an enthusiastic audience is one of the most visceral pleasures of an Irish dancer’s life.

After more than a decade out of my ghillies*, I can afford to be frank this once. (No super-wig!)


3) This is going to blow your mind, but the national color of Ireland until late in the 20th century was actually blue.

This national color was about three to six different colors of blue because various groups in the two countries that make up Ireland couldn’t decide which blue was the right blue, so instead of picking one, they named a bunch of them St. Patrick’s Blue and called it a day.

It naturally follows that the flag that represents St. Patrick—(There are three of him too!)— is a carefully chosen symbol called the “Saltire of St. Patrick” and also the “Standard of St. Patrick.” (Though there’s fighting about that, also. Lots of history of fighting over stuff in Ireland.)

Then it certainly is at all points logical that this St. Patrick’s flag, or Saltire, or Standard is, in fact, colored bright red and blinding white with no blue to speak of whatsoever.


Today, I will not be watching a bunch of St. Patricky things on TV or singing any of those songs about “a ragtag rambling rover from Donegal who wore a black band in his Guinness black hair” or any other Irish tune stuck in my head until always. I will never, ever wax nostalgic about what it was like to be an Irish Dancer because there is always this:

My stress dreams involve Irish dancing. Every time. And that’s enough to keep me from pulling out my last pair of unbroken Rutherfords* and strapping them on for ‘ould times’ sake.

Because late next week, when I’m worried about something, I’ll be looking for those damned hard shoes in my dreams as the PA is announcing the callbacks in a competition I’m in.

While I’m frantically peeking under chairs for my shoes, a lady with a fixation for Riverdance will grab at my costume and rip it— massive points off for me. And I’ll get to the stage and remember that on orange days cats don’t wear garbage cans. They wear St. Patrick’s Blue, or nothing at all.




END NOTES

*soft shoes, or ghillies, are what female dancers wear. They’re also called poms for some reason, and most likely, six newer names I haven’t heard yet. Male dancers wear soft shoes as well. Those shoes don’t have nicknames at all.

**a brand of hard shoe. Irish dancing has hard shoes and soft shoes for both men and women.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photograph of Michael Flatley in his Marie Duffy co-choreographed production, “Feet of Flames,” was made available by the photographer MaxGuy and by Wikimedia Commons.


This post was originally published on March 17, 2013.


Essay :: Stripped for Parts

Stern man in Homburg hat staring at camera in black and white photo.
Courtesy of the Australian Maritime Museum.


I lived next to a boy, years ago, who did time for stealing cars.

When he got out, he worked at a restaurant downtown.

He wasn’t the first person I ever met who had a story to tell, but he was the first boy I ever met who bought his girlfriend flowers every Friday afternoon on his way home from work.

His kitchen whites were splattered with an astonishing amount of raw ingredients. He smelled like pie crusts and warm milk.


Like many folks you meet, this boy’s life was bifurcated by a singular event.

There was a before and an after made up of two different sets of choices, two different lives.

He stole cars. Then he went to juvie for three, four years. Afterwards, he got out and he did not steal cars. Instead, he made pastries.

He didn’t even like cars. He liked his job in the kitchen of a small upscale bakery. He liked his girlfriend. He liked to sun himself like a house cat on the steps of the turn-of-the century porch attached to the ancient duplex where we lived.

What this boy did as a teenager was not a secret— otherwise, I would not be telling you this story now— neither the stealing, nor the part afterward, where the boy that smelled like pie would sit in the sun and wait for his girl to get home.


You see, writers tend to steal little things off of people—

a complete set of figured naval buttons on a man’s patched pea coat; a certain way a woman pushes back her bobbed silver hair; a child that can whistle with two fingers like a man.

Writers pocket these moments and pull them out to look at later under a lamp with a notebook. This is fine with me— it’s magpie stealing. It is general and gestural and often sweet.

There’s another kind of stealing that happens, though, where a writer will pick the lock on your life story, touch a couple of wires together, and roll your life down the driveway before you even know your story is gone.

One day, your life may turn up in a book— it may have a new paint job and four white wall tires, but you’ll know it’s your story. You’ll know. Trust me. And you’ll feel mugged.


Joan Didion once said that you’re not a writer unless you’re selling somebody out.

In theory, that makes sense. Writers tell stories about people.

But when Didion says these words, it sounds even more tough and souped up and justified. Like they had it coming to them. Those people. For talking and telling their stories.

She was young, or youngish, when she made this pronouncement in the prologue of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and I was young when I read it.

I believed, and believe many things Didion said, and says, but I never bought this one part, not really.

And I wonder, sometimes, I really wonder what it cost Didion to sell out so many people’s stories with a practiced flick.


This boy from all those years ago did not keep this side jaunt from his own story a secret from anyone.

And I’ve met people before, and since, who have done more astonishing things than stealing a car with a team of teenagers in the middle of the night for a living.

What I like to remember about that boy is a moment every Friday when we would have the same conversation.

I lived behind the house in the old servant’s quarters above the garage. Most days, I would back down the driveway with the windows down. And most days I would stop because the neighbor boy would wave at me and pop his chin in my direction.

“Hey girl! What’s up? A— ‘s gonna be home soon.”

“Lotta nada! Gotta work.”

“You’re always working.”

“Don’t I know it. You need me to bring you all anything?”

“No, I got dinner for A— and I bought her some Zinnias today. Gonna sit here in the sun ’til she gets home.

“Lucky you! Give A— my best.”

His eyes would close. His smile would widen, and his chin tilted back to the sun. He knew what lucky was.


I once lived next to a boy who stole cars and went to jail.

But, this? This is not the remarkable part of the story.

What is remarkable is that he bought his girlfriend flowers every Friday afternoon, without fail.

Zinnias. Orchids. Gerber daisies. Tulips.

He never bought her roses. Not once.

He said that roses lacked imagination, and he loved his girl too much to be lazy.

So he bought her Calla lilies— blooms that smelled as rich as a warm Friday afternoon spent daydreaming, daydreaming in the sun.


Young woman with bobbed hair looking off into the distance in black and white portrait photo.
Photographer William Hall. Courtesy of the Australian Maritime Museum.

This story has been revised. Originally published on May 4, 2012.

Editorial :: It’s not about Kellyanne on the couch—it’s about the circumstances

bb-editorial-kellyanne-couch-oval-office-2

It’s not about the couch, y’all. It’s about how Kellyanne Conway turfed up in that room in the first place.


Given the record number of bomb threats called into Jewish schools and community centers yesterday and the excitement of the 50th Academy Awards the day before, some people might be surprised that the public seemed most interested in a picture of Kellyanne Conway kneeling on a couch in the Oval Office fiddling with her cell phone.

Some media outlets rolled their eyes at the Kellyanne Conway couch controversy. Other commentators found her informality in the Oval Office itself to be an egregious breach of basic White House etiquette. It’s a serious topic. Let me tell you why.


Here’s the reason the pic of Kellyanne Conway’s couch crouching moment is a big deal:

The room is filled with the presidents of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in their tailored suits meeting a president who has shown in many ways that he has no respect for people of color, regardless of their accomplishments and accolades.

A tense moment, at best.

Then there’s Kellyanne Conway herself, showing visible disrespect by kneeling on the couch in her short dress in order to take pictures of some of the most important people in the entire country with the current head of state.


Presidents, like the ambassadors they deploy, are expected to afford visiting guests all of the respect and honor that is befitting of their stature. The best world leaders make everyday people feel as though their presence is just as important as that of a visiting king.

Those sorts of leaders make sure they have a professional photographer on staff to take pictures of every visitor to commemorate their meeting.


This administration thought it fitting to have a controversial member of the president’s staff take snapshots with her phone of this historical moment.

It’s not “just” her feet on the couch. It’s everything that put Kellyanne Conway and her cellphone in that room filled with HBCU presidents in the first place, a choice that was inappropriate at best, deeply disrespectful at worst.

What do you think?


bb-editorial-kellyanne-couch-oval-office-1

If you decide to comment, please be civil and courteous. Remember, you’re talking about people and to other people—not faceless entities on the internet. No name-calling. No trolling. No viciousness. Thank you.

BB’s Personality Quiz :: Are you savvy about Valentine’s Day?


Skeptical looking woman holding a photograph of a man.
This was the last guy who tried to give me tangelos for Valentine’s Day. Don’t be that guy.
This quiz was originally published on Feb. 8, 2013.


Are you a know-nothing when it comes to Cupid’s cuddliest holiday? Take this quiz and find out!


VALENTINE’S DAY CELEBRATES:

 

    a) the invention of the colors pink and red by known international scientists,  who were actually trying to find a cure for the common rhinosinusitis infection.

    b) I want chocolate. Let’s celebrate that.

    c) St. … Something-or-other. And the creator of “accordion style” holiday decorations.  So pretty!

    d) the discovery that a woman’s uterus does not travel freely around her body when it’s not anchored down by marriage. So we give each other non-anatomically correct hearts and chocolate to remind ourselves that uteruses. . . don’t roam anymore? That doesn’t sound right.


FOR VALENTINE’S DAY, I PLAN TO:

 

    a) dress in pink and red, and walk around with a decorated basket full of loose Necco Conversation Candy Hearts that I will throw violently at my coworkers. And then I’ll get arrested like I do every year.

    b) Shhhh. I’m listening for the UPS driver who is bringing me a quarter-ton of chocolate assortments sometime today.

    c) get eighteen boxes of Kleenex and twenty extra-squishy romantic comedies and some sort of blanket-poncho. I am going to cry myself dehydrated. My skin will look like fruit leather afterwards, but I will feel sooooo much better.

    d) This year, I’m going to twirl in a bed sheet in front of the public library. Gonna Isadora Duncan up this joint! Wanna come with?


THE BEST VALENTINE’S GIFT IS:

 

    a) When you care enough to give the very best you put in wall-to-ceiling pink shag carpeting in the master bathroom. Like Jayne Mansfield’s classy bath in her Pink Palace.

    b) That UPS driver is late. And I’m jonesing. Where’s my secret chocolate stash?!? I HATE EVERYTHING.

    c) I dunno. Nineteen boxes of Kleenex? Twenty-one romantic comedies? Crying ’til you throw up? I’m pretty set on my own plan, here.

    d) (Singing.) I gave my love/ a bucket of tangelos. / Oh, why did she go? / Oh why did she go/and smash up my Chevrolet?


WHAT’S THE WORST VALENTINE’S OUTFIT?

 

    a) There is no such thing. Please help me put on my gigantic pink leghorn hat. My pink lace gloves make everything too slippy.

    b) This is a sweatpants only household on this holy day. Now, shush! I’m calling @#*%ing UPS.

    c) Just dress like Julia Roberts in any of her movies and you’ll be fine.

    d) Dude, I’m wearing a pink leotard and a blanket poncho for my impromptu library performance. You bring the sparklers! See ya!


DO YOU DECORATE YOUR HOUSE FOR VALENTINE’S DAY?

 

    a) I always do a scale-replica mosaic of The Rokeby Venus using Necco Conversation Candy Hearts on my front door. And then I’ll get fined by the neighborhood association like I do every year.

    b) I want that delayed UPS driver’s head on a pike on my lawn. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    c) Only with my tears, darling.

    d) One word: Bongos. Where do you put them? Everywhere. (Singing.) I gave my love / a bushel of bongos. / She drummed my head / with her pointy young hands. / Oh, why did she go? / Oh, why did she go? / And eat all the tangelos with another young man?


HOW TO TALLY YOUR RESULTS:

 
Make a printout of this quiz. Ball it up. Put it in a blender with PLENTY of water and puree for one minute. Then count the pieces of paper in the blender. Read the key below to figure out your results!

    0-25 PIECES (MOSTLY A’S): You are a Valentine’s Traditionalist. In a perfect world, you’d have a battalion of concrete reproductions of Michelangelo’s David on your front lawn. Barring that, you should get all the candy hears your little heart desires this year. Go and mosaic in peace, my friend.

    26-60 PIECES (MOSTLY B’S): You are Valentine’s Oblivious. Your personality is entirely constructed out of milk chocolate, and therefore should not be left out in the sun. I know you’re not actually reading this right now, because you’re busy using your chocnoculars out the front window to spot that errant UPS driver. Hey, UPS driver—drop that package and run like hell!

    61-90 PIECES (MOSTLY C’S): You are a True Valentine. Grab your blanket poncho and your Kleenex and go out to the movies this year. You need to be surrounded by other romantic comedy enthusiasts with similar, uh, needs as your own.

    91-1000 PIECES (MOSTLY D’S): You are a Valentine Improvisationalist. (Singing.) My true love tried/to give me fruit. / For Valentine’s Day / For Valentine’s Day / My true love tried / to give me drums. / For Valentine’s Day / For Valentine’s Day / I burned up his car / and now I date Arnold / who gives me flowers / For Valentine’s Day / For Valentine’s Daaaaaaay!

Editorial :: Getting Along in Difficult Times

Child's cupped hands holding the bud of a rose beginning to flower.

A friend of mine on social media posted a question today that preoccupies many of us.

Why can’t we just get along?

It’s a good question but a difficult one, as there are many ways to answer that will diverge in vastly different directions.

Below is my reply to that friend, which I later shared on social media. Now I’m sharing it with you.

I hope it helps.



I think it’s important to examine why you feel the need to “get along” as well as considering what it is specifically that makes you feel unable to sit with the discomfort caused by “not getting along.”

I bring this up because history has shown us numerous instances where friction and social discomfort had the potential to stop genocide, but the societies in which these actions were happening—often in full view of other citizens—chose to get along instead of raising alarm, which, ultimately caused an unnecessary loss of precious life as well as the permanent warping of those societies who had preferred social niceties over direct action.


The great men and women who have used the tactic of non-violence to change social norms did not (and do not) get along with people in societies that have done great harm to their fellow humans.

It is a mistake to view these people as saints. MLK Jr. didn’t get along with a whole lot of people. If you read more about his life, you’d find that he was constantly pointing out the ill actions of people, cities, companies, and countries, and would visibly work against these entities for the greater good.

The same could be said for Gandhi and Mother Teresa—as well as many other figures who fought for people’s rights against societies’ norms.


Right now in the U.S. and the world, we find ourselves living in one of those moments in which the future of entire vulnerable populations will be ultimately decided upon by you, the individual. For anyone who ever said that they would have fought the Nazis or struck back at Stalinist Russia had they been there, you are standing in the middle of the same ethical dilemma that other societies have faced to good and bad ends for centuries:

Do we go along and hope things will be better for some of us at the expense of others? Or do we go through the pain, discomfort, and ultimately transformative experience of exacting change for a great many people, knowing in the interim that making these higher choices will disrupt families and long-held friendships in the process?

If you have been afforded the luxury of being able to ask this question of yourself and your community, you have a great deal more privilege than those who will—and are already—the object of great anger, poisonous rhetoric, dehumanizing discrimination, and the will to violence.


But for those of you graced with choice, you have a decision to make that no one can make for you—and “getting along” is one part of that question.

Meanwhile, history awaits.


Smiling German Resistance fighter Sophie Scholl
Sophie Scholl helped create one of the most daring resistance movements in Nazi Germany while many fellow citizens maintained their silence. Scholl was executed for treason at the age of 22.

Photo Credit: [Top] “Child’s Hands Holding White Rose for Peace” by D. Sharon Pruitt / Wikimedia. [Bottom] Graphic design based on photograph of Sophie Scholl. by Courtenay Bluebird for Bluebird Blvd.

Editorial :: So you think your country might be fascist: A quiz

Close-up of Josef Stalin mustache and collar.

Have you ever found yourself in this dilemma?

You’re a citizen of ______________.

  1. America, the UK, Turkey, or Greece
  2. Hungary, the Philippines, or Venezuela
  3. Poland, Germany, or France
  4. Slovakia, Romania, or Russia.

A group of people who call themselves ______________ have come to power in your country.

  1. nationalists
  2. true patriots
  3. concerned citizens


If you read the national news, headlines have mostly nice things to say about your new ______________.

  1. prime minister
  2. president
  3. premier
  4. ruling party

When you read international news elsewhere, you find yourself confused because the information is different, even opposite, of what your own newspapers seem to be saying.


Your neighbors appear to have completely conflicting ideas about how your country should be run.

Some of them believe this is the best thing that has ever happened in the history of your nation. They may also believe these politicians might return your country to its days of glory. They do not specify which days were the glorious ones.

Other neighbors tell you they are terrified that this new ruling power might remove their rights, maybe even ______________ them because of their ______________.

  1. jail
  2. disappear
  3. deport
  4. kill
  1. culture
  2. skin color
  3. religion
  4. gender
  5. sexual preference
  6. political beliefs
  7. class
  8. profession


Sometimes these neighbors mention a thing that has happened to them or people that they know, but when you try to look up the incident in the paper, you find nothing there.

If it is in the news at all, it’s because the journalists say ______________ or ______________.

  1. the crime never existed
  2. it was a hoax
  3. fabricated by their enemies
  4. highly exaggerated
  5. a prank
  1. it’s not possible
  2. they don’t have enough information
  3. an investigation is pending

You are not sure what to believe because these two groups don’t even seem to be talking about the same country or the same events, much less the same politicians.


The ______________ has/have gone out of their way to assure you that they will not harm anyone and that they are here to rule everyone fairly.

Yet, every person appointed to office by that ruling party has a history of behaving in ways that your country has formerly found unacceptable.

  1. prime minister
  2. president
  3. premier
  4. ruling party

At least, you think they found it unacceptable.


The newspapers suggest you give these new political officeholders a chance before you cast judgment. They don’t seem to talk much about the other things these politicians did anymore.

When they do, newspapers use language that sounds much softer and friendlier than you remember. The facts don’t seem so harsh. The once-condemned quotes by these people are bracketed with new explanations.


Even the photos are different. Everyone is smiling and friendly. The sun is out. Well-dressed citizens are in the picture, not the paramilitary groups you remember, the ones who dragged people out in the middle of the night and made them disappear.

There are other pictures: the pretty children of the ruling party, the arenas full of supporters with their hands raised and cheering, the ruling party politicians at events with ordinary people—because they are ordinary people, like you.

But you’re not sure what ordinary is right now.


Another strange thing: During the election campaign, the ruling party claimed their opponents were fundamentally dishonest. That they ______________.

  1. lied
  2. cheated
  3. said terrible things
  4. should be in jail
  5. may be prosecuted
  6. could be exiled
  7. will be reprimanded

You keep looking in the paper to see whether the ruling party has brought charges against their opponents, especially given how grievous their crimes are supposed to be. Yet you find nothing.

It’s like they disappeared or ______________.

  1. the ruling party forgave them
  2. it never happened in the first place.


There is new legislation. The ruling party says this will help them keep your homeland safe from attacks ______________. They say the legislation will never be used against ______________.

  1. at the border
  2. outside of your country
  3. within your country
  1. honest citizens
  2. their allies

You seem to remember that the ruling party had offered up this legislation before they had power, but it was never made a law. Or that it was ruled unfair and punitive. Or maybe it was made a law when they were in power before and then not made a law when their opponents were in power last year.

Still, you can’t remember and you can’t seem to find any explanation about it on the news.


After this legislation is put in place, half of your neighbors stand in their yards with their arms crossed looking at the neighbors who ______________.  They have ______________ to call them.

  1. did not support the opposition
  2. will have to carry special papers
  3. are called “dissidents.”
  1. new names
  2. old names
  3. special terms

You feel a little uneasy about this, but you can’t quite find the words to explain how you feel.


The other neighbors never come outside of their house anymore. Their drapes are drawn tight. You’re not even sure their children are in school. One day their child came home with a black eye, crying. You have not seen them outside since.

Some of your neighbors have even disappeared. Their things are still there, but they have been gone for months and months.


Neighbors from the ruling party have put ______________ proclaiming their love for their ______________ and you see many posters and pictures of your nation’s leader everywhere. He looks ______________.

  1. flags on their houses
  2. placards in their window
  3. bumper stickers on their car
  1. premier
  2. president
  3. general secretary
  4. leader
  5. ruler
  1. fatherly
  2. stern
  3. friendly
  4. wise
  5. kind

These images are posted in government buildings and shops and on the street. You are not used to so many painted eyes looking at you all the time. You tell no one this because you’re concerned they will misunderstand you.


Your neighbors who love him say that he’s the best thing that ever happened to your country. They say there will be new jobs and better homes and everyone will feel more secure and safe. It’s just a few new laws, they say. They’re for our protection.

You cannot read their faces. The sun is out. The flags are flying. Their children are playing on their green lawns with new toys.

“Nothing can go wrong now, “ your next-door-neighbor says. “Nothing. It’s going to be sunny days all the time.”

You feel a chill.

You excuse yourself and go inside.

You pull a sweater from a drawer and put it on.

You’re still cold though, and you don’t know why.




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5-Minute Dance Party :: Daily Itineraries Featuring Melissa Villaseñor (as Owen Wilson!)


Nine a.m.: Drink Ayahuasca and say ‘hi’ to the birdie outside my window. His name is Tyrone. (Pause.) He knows how to rap!

Saturday Night Live should consider itself quite lucky to have snagged new cast member Melissa Villaseñor. This multifaceted comedian can sing in the style of any of the great paint-peeling pop stars, do uncanny imitations of a strange and wide variety of famous people, and can write comedy in a variety of styles and moods.

What is also notable about the addition of Villaseñor to the cast is that she is the first Latina in 42 seasons to ever work on the famed sketch comedy show, which is ridiculous, considering the wealth of Latinx comedic talent in America (and the world).

Back to native Californian Villaseñor: You can get a taste of her immense talent on her (website) and her ( YouTube).

Enjoy!

Instant Bluebird :: You best be born tricky



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Can I point out that I often disrupt adjectival word order in order to create tension, build rhythm, devise a MacGuffin, and more?

In technical writing, you don’t want anything to jump out at the reader except for direct meaning.

If you’re a journalist, the word count and the publication style offer constraints. However, long-form (features) writing is designed with some clever maneuvering in mind.

With creative writing, it is in your best interest to be born tricky with language.

It is probably better to not think of writing exclusively as “story” and “grammar” and to consider it more akin to, say, card tricks and close magic.

Keep it quick; make it tricky; never obfuscate for obscurity’s sake: go make those words dance in your hands.

Poem :: Murder-Suicide

B&W photograph of blonde woman with crossed arms and sunglasses, staring directly at camera.
Photo Credit: George Eastman House

There was a man. The paper says ‘troubled.’

His sister says ‘sweet.’ The neighbors say ‘quiet.’

There was a knife. The paper says ‘sharp.’

His mother says ‘hidden.’ The store adds ‘purchased.’

There was a woman. She was his wife,

an object he troubled, an extra appendage.

There were some children. The paper says ‘boys.’

The school says ‘darling.’ An aunt writes ‘mourned.’

Their mother adored them. She kept them close:

for there was a man—a troubling man.

He was her husband; he was their father.

His voice ran hard; his fist swung wide.

But the paper can’t say that: there’s no one talking.

‘Cos there’s no one living. So it’s ‘troubled.’

So it’s ‘quiet.’ They’re ‘deceased.’ No one says murder.

But we have questions: There was a knife.

Did it trouble her flesh? Why was she so quiet?

This was a woman: Did she exist? Or is she a prop

to sadden his story? Did she have a mother?

Where is her history? For she was a woman—

like we are women. For she was a person

like we are persons. The paper says ‘family.’

The village says ‘neighbors.’ The priest says ‘angels.’

But we know better: She was a woman,

in death a mystery, in light a wonder. But still:

a woman. Another woman (of many women)

whose ‘troubled’ man ended her life.




This poem was inspired by writer Linea Dunne’s insightful “Rest in peace, invisible woman,” which is about media coverage of the recent murder-suicide of Clodagh Hawe (née Coll) and her three sons by her husband. Here’s a fair example of the coverage of her murder (as well as many other murders like Clodagh Hawe’s): Heartbreaking first picture of tragic mum and wife Clodagh Hawe killed in murder-suicide in Cavan. Note that this story discusses at length the life of the murderer, but fails to mention much about the people he actually murdered. While the poem is not explicitly about Hawe or any particular woman of recent memory, it is dedicated to her family. Rest in power, Clodagh Hawe.