Dear Monica, We Are The Villains

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New York Times Insider

I saw HBO’s 2002 documentary on Monica Lewinsky, Monica In Black and White, not too long ago. I wanted to understand her. I’m in a different place in my life now. Was she, as I thought at the time, a seductress, a home wrecker, or was she, as I thought now, a victim of male dominance and power? The truth is simpler and far less sinister.

Monica fell in love. She doesn’t see herself as a victim. She was a woman who reached for what she wanted and got it. “I have a crush on you,” she said to him that snowy day when the building was nearly empty. He took her into his office and the two of them passed the time.

Following the Ken Starr witch trials, she went on to give interviews and pose, scantily clad, in every major fashion magazine, which seemed unseemly to a world working so hard to shame her. How dare she. Show some regret, woman. Who do you think you are? You’re not above our wrath. And she wasn’t. Because we won. After that she tried to live a normal life. But the joke’s on her.

What do you mean you’re not going to give us sex, Monica? You have no purpose.

She received her Master’s at the London School of Economics, but when she returned home, she couldn’t get a job, even as a volunteer. Some hiring managers went so far as to interview her just to see what she was like.

She’s the circus freak. The Bearded Lady. All because she had sexual relations with the most powerful man on the planet, who unceremoniously dumped her, because for all of his power, he was as much a coward about ending things as any man.

My journalism instructor, once the AP Entertainment reporter, said he’d been one of the army of journalists camped outside her Beverly Hills home. I shared this piece from the Guardian. Monica has put her life together and, as the first cyber-shamed person in the world, uses her story as a spring board for an anti-bullying campaign. Her talks have put her in front of audiences on the Ted stage and at Facebook headquarters. They’re taught in schools alongside Harriet Tubman. She has created an anti-bullying app. It’s a hug. Two arms wrapped around a shaking heart. She hopes to spread empathy, and, to save kids from suicide.

In his email my professor wrote back, “None of us really thought of her or what she was going through. I’m sorry about that now.”

Nobody wants to think about her, but it’s a problem for us. Monica may not have been Bill’s victim, but she’s ours. We shamed her. We scarlet letter A’d her. She should be part of the national conversation about slut shaming, but she’s not even a footnote.  We’d have to admit we were wrong. And we’d all, especially those of us on the Left, prefer to think of ourselves as better than that. Right about now, we should be asking her for forgiveness.

She’d give it. One gets the sense that she’s generous and loving.

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The New York Post

Nevertheless, Monica’s 22-year-old specter lingers over Hillary and Bill, perhaps not directly, and not for everyone, but for those of us who lived through it. Ken Starr ripped a hole in the nation’s fabric, and sealed a Monica, Hillary, Bill-shaped scar there. Can’t you see it? There, just out of the corner of your eye. Yeah, when you’re least expecting it, her image flits across your awareness. You wonder, what happened there? What really happened? Did Hillary really forgive Bill? Did she know about all of his indiscretions? Why did she really stay with him?

Inquiring feminists want to know.

Monica was a child. Hillary was a wife and mother. Bill was the leader of the free world. I imagine he did it because he could. Monica did it because who wouldn’t? Hillary stayed, perhaps, to heal the country.

And we? We’re the real villains here. Our drive empowered Ken Starr and created a media landscape that would go on to look more like the Enquirer in twenty years, partisan, salacious, vicious and grievance driven.

We slut shame. We call one another bitches and cunts. And when a guy says, “You’re too needy,” or after sleeping with you, “I’m not looking for a relationship right now,” or goes missing for days or weeks at a time, it’s fine. His momentary needs matter more. Even if they outweigh the needs of the entire country.

In spite of us Hillary has shaken off the filth of those days and remade herself. But, as Obama’s presidency blasted a klieg light onto the rabid racism that still seethes in the dark places of our continent, we’ve only just begun to see the effect a woman president will have on the culture. It will divide us and hurt us while lifting us to new grounds of strength and hope. She will show how we are strong, while we reveal how we are foul.

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The Los Angeles Times, Mark Fritz

And Monica? Her narrative is tied to Hillary’s as well. She’s a model for 21st Century strength in different ways. She survived the burning at the stake.

I’m not sure what’s in store for us. We are the mob. We destroy with impunity.  It just feels good. Perhaps I’m just being pessimistic. If we can elect a black men, and now a white woman, perhaps there’s hope for us still. I’m just not sure.

Fiction Friday: The Lipstick Chronicles, Adventures in Retail Cosmetics

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Each Friday I’ll be posting a new installment of the Lipstick Chronicles. This is the pilot. Follow Jennifer, a third generation Japanese-American single mother, as she navigates the perilous waters of the retail cosmetics world in a Southern California mall. 

“Can you pick a lipstick for me?”

Jennifer turned around and peered over the black unit stacked high with lipsticks to see a middle-aged, razor thin, rat-faced woman with slick, dark hair. Her accent was distinctly New York, which was not unusual in Southern California. New Yorkers moved out and, after decades of residency, held onto their accent as a point of pride.

“What color did you have in mind?” She asked the woman.

“Neutral. Isn’t that what’s in this season?”

Jennifer held up a brown one. “Here’s a nice neutral.”

“Every lipstick I own looks like that. Pick another one.”

“Is there a certain look you had in mind?”

“You’re the professional. You tell me what would look best for my skin tone.”

“OK, how about this one?” Jennifer held up a soft pink.

The woman let out a sigh of disgust and pointed at another. “I said NEW-trall,” She stretched her mouth around the word as if Jennifer was the moron. “What about this one?” She pointed at a dark shade.

“Ma’am, that one is red.”

“No it’s not.”

Jennifer held it up for her to see the color written on the bottom of the tube. “Red,” she said.

“Well then, pick one for me.” The woman demanded.

“Ma’am, I don’t know what you already have in your collection. If you could offer some assistance I might be better able to help you.”

“Don’t get sassy with me, young lady. I’m the paying customer. Isn’t this what you do? Aren’t you capable of picking out a simple lipstick? Don’t they teach you how to do that in makeup school?”

Jennifer smiled. “This one is perfect for you.” She held up Blue Mocha, the lipstick for dummies, the one the girls selected to make the most difficult customers go away. It had an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of effect. It looked good on almost everyone because it barely had any color. All people saw then, was their own lip color with a bit of gloss. Not too sticky. Not too color-y.

The rat-faced woman put it on and worked it into her lips. “Is it long-wearing?”

“It has a patented hydration technology. Long-wearing lip colors are drying. The hydration is a particular benefit as we head into winter.”

That seemed to satisfy the woman. She was dry as hell. “I’ll take it.”

“Cocoa Moon Dust is the perfect liner for that.”

“I’ll take that too.”

“Great, I’ll meet you at the cash wrap down at the end here.” Jennifer pointed to the register to her left past the mirrored shelves of foundation bottles and multi-colored eye shadows.

Lipstick customers were the highest maintenance, lowest return on her investment of time and energy. Lipstick customers wanted to treat themselves, but usually didn’t want to or didn’t have the thirty or so dollars to spend on a lipstick. Yet, they’d convinced themselves, that for the perfect lipstick, it was worth it.

But “perfect” was as illusive as a fairy tale ending, the very thing, incidentally, the cosmetic industry trafficked in.

Every season launched “The Same But Different!” Every Christmas was “More Sparkle! More Chocolate! More Burgundy!” Every Spring and Summer was, “More Nude!” And if more of the same wasn’t enough, just add more in general. This season the look was clumpy, gloppy, stiff and sloppy mascara. In other words, make your lashes look as gross as possible. No kidding. The sticks stomping down the New York runways looked like they had spiders growing out of their eyes.

Amelia, Jennifer’s co-worker waved her down. A blonde, heavy-set customer with dark-rimmed glasses stood at the counter frowning impatiently. This was the woman who tried to return a foundation that was two thirds empty because she thought it had gotten old. When Jennifer had refused, this person went all the way to the store manager, who took it back. Since than Jennifer took everything back, even products from other stores, just to spite the store manager.

“Oh god, kill me now,” Jennifer said passing Amelia.

“Yeah, good luck with that one,” Amelia said.

Jennifer approached beaming a big smile. “Hi!” she chirpped. “What can I get for you today? Would you like a foundation? Maybe I can match you to make sure it’s new!”

Amelia let out an audible gasp. The heavy-set woman’s mouth dropped open. “Is your manager here?!” She huffed.

“Sure. Probably. Let me get her for you.” She left the counter. Amelia followed her.

“Oh my god, girl. Why do you keep doing shit like this? You’re so going to get yourself fired.”

“It’s fine. Who’s on?”

“Sandra.”

“Great. Then I have nothing to worry about.”

“Jesus, Jennifer. You can’t count on that.”

Jennifer opened the door to the manager’s office. Sandra was at her desk. “Sandy, can you come see a customer? She’s that one who returned the empty foundation. Do you remember her?”

“How could I forget?” Sandra rolled her eyes. “You need me for this?”

“She wants to feel special.”

Sandra sighed and got up shaking her head.

“I owe you,” Jennifer smiled.

“Yeah, ya do.” Sandra said and marched passed her.

I Apologize For Not Reciprocating

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This photo just felt right. 

I’m a makeup artist, of sorts. Technically, I’m a writer by trade, a makeup artist out of economic necessity. It’s the only job I’ve ever had that allows me time to write and doesn’t drain me creatively or intellectually. Not that I’ve been writing. I’ll get to that.

In high school and college I was an artist. I specialized in charcoal and pastel portraits. My artistry is not without merit. People say I do “pretty makeup.” Which is why I resisted learning to contour, that horrendous technique that makes women look like drag queens. (I’m all for it on drag queens.) You shade out the hollow of the cheek and sides of the nose with a brown hue and paint the high points of the face with a white or very light pink color. It’s best for photos and on camera work, but ghoulish in the daylight.

Nevertheless, it’s not going away, as I’d hoped. I have to learn it to stay employed.

Continue reading “I Apologize For Not Reciprocating”

WordPress Meet and Greet – All Bloggers Welcome

This blog is a wonderful demonstration of what a global community looks like. In it thousands share their work, connect with like minds, and find inspiration. Please visit and post there. All are welcome.

The Song Of David

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Sunlight shot through her dorm room windows and burned a spotlight onto her bed. No more time in bed. It was Sunday, the day for renewal. God’s day. She’d planned a reunion with him. For weeks she’d been visiting churches on Sunday mornings but they’d each left her dry. She’d even tried to commit to one, a hip one, one that offered worship songs that swung and a pastor with a knack for storytelling. Her mother said sometimes you have to commit to one for a while, sow the seeds, for a time, in order to make connections that bear fruit down the line. A community doesn’t emerge overnight. It had taken a full four years for her high school friends to grow into a family.

Continue reading “The Song Of David”

The Multiple Lives Of Sergeant Tom Dewar

“We finally got the wounded out on the first day and uh, we’re like holy crap, when is this going to be over? When’s the mission going to be over? And we stayed there. It went on day after day. It just became so like, we’re never leaving this place. Just kill as much Taliban as you can. It never got better. I prayed to God, please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. And then it rains. And then it snowed and then it hailed.”

This is 23 year-old Thomas Dewar, Sergeant in the US Army 101st Airborne Division, 1st Brigade, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion. He fought two tours of duty in Afghanistan, the first, 2010-2011, the bloodiest year on record.

We’re sitting in a sunny café facing the San Gabriel Mountains. Patrons chat happily as they drink their cappuccino’s. Dewar could be any all-American boy. Sandy blonde hair, sun-tanned skin.

But look more closely and his body tells a different story. Muscles coiled, eyes darting, a double blink, an involuntary twitch.  His injuries may not be  visible, but they’re debilitating at times. A door slam makes him run for cover. Rain throws him into spasms of depression. When he looks at the mountains he once played in, he scans for Taliban. He never slept more than a two to three hours a night his entire two years of duty. When he wasn’t under enemy fire, he suffered torrential downpours, or oven-like temperatures.

The worst of it was Strong Eagle III. But we’ll get to that.

Continue reading “The Multiple Lives Of Sergeant Tom Dewar”

Women’s Appendages

Obsessed with Prince since his passing, each morning I awoke with an ache so heavy it was hard to breath. His death stole the possibility of something for me. Something I’ve been chasing since. In the dark moments before dawn, as I once rose to study scripture, I opened my phone to read every story on Prince— as if more information might reveal more, lead me into his presence. It only blurred the edges of him further.

His belief in conspiracy theories. His recent celibacy. His mercurial relationship with scheduled meetings, time, and saying goodbye. One never seemed to know if he’d show up or when he was gone, if he was gone for good. In his penetrating Prince biography, I Would Die 4 U, Touré recounts the time he interviewed Prince at Paisley Park. Abruptly, Prince left him without saying a word. Touré waited for him to return. Finally someone came out and told him it was time to leave. Prince didn’t do goodbyes.

Today I finally stopped. My obsession soured to disgust. I’d become a cliche. One of those middle-aged women in the office with Twilight posters pinned to the walls of their cubicles. Continue reading “Women’s Appendages”

No Place For Alice

alice-in-wonderland-30327__340A former student wanted help breaking into the entertainment industry. Her plan included calling studios and setting up appointments with studio executives.

I’m mystified why people imagine they can navigate the entertainment industry with ease. Particularly my students. Haven’t I warned them enough? Didn’t I tell them repeatedly they need a body of work before they come to L.A.? And none of it matters if they don’t have the right introductions. And none of that matters if they don’t have the right experience.

Make your own path, I pled. Shoot your own films. Get a presence that draws talented people to you. Then network the hell out of yourself. Continue reading “No Place For Alice”

Shadow Moment

Seeds of doubt

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This was me as a shadow girl.

At 16, after careful study of the Bible and much prayer, I took an oath in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning in June. To me it was as serious as joining a convent. I pledged to give my life to the church and save my body for marriage.

Continue reading “Shadow Moment”

We Strive To Be Ourselves

Hunter Thompson’s work is a beacon in the black. This letter, written to a friend in 1958, might have been written to all blind souls tossing about in the midnight sea. Here is a brief piece.

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Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude at having found these words tonight. Now if that could just pay my bills.