Tag: zoe fitzgerald carter

A Tribute to Kara Kennedy and Eleanor Mondale

September 26th, 2011 — 5:20pm

Kara, Joan, Ted and Edward Kennedy, circa 1968

Kara Kennedy, daughter of Senator Ted Kennedy, died last Friday, September 16th at the age of fifty-one of a heart attack. A day later, Eleanor Mondale, daughter of former vice president Walter Mondale, also fifty-one, died of brain cancer.

As a fifty-one-year-old native of Washington D.C. who tangentially knew both these women, their deaths hit uncomfortably close to home. While Eleanor existed only fleetingly at the edge of my social circle, a glamorous blond presence so unlike her somber, mournful-eyed father, Kara was a childhood friend. We both attended the Beauvoir School, a warm, child-friendly K-3 school just steps from the National Cathedral.

My most vivid memory of Kara is the night we were angels in our third grade Christmas play. We wore long, brightly colored robes and halos festooned with gold foil. She was bubbly and full of fun despite the fact that, as angels, our sole responsibility was to look on serenely as Mary and Joseph approached the inn, and occasionally break into celestial song.

If I were a different kind of writer, I might follow this by saying something about Kara and Eleanor being “taken by angels.” In fact, in a statement released by Eleanor’s parents, they wrote: “After her long and gutsy battle with cancer, (Eleanor) went up to heaven last night to be with her angel.” The problem is, I don’t believe in angels — or heaven, or life after death, or bromides about God “taking people home.” I believe that some people have the misfortune to die way too young and that, when it happens, it is sad, awful, and patently unfair.

It also forces those of us left behind to grapple with the crapshoot nature of illness and death. How else to explain the fact that some people are randomly dealt such a rotten hand? In Kara’s case, she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at the age of 42. After having part of her right lung removed and enduring grueling medical treatments, she made a remarkable recovery. But then eight years later, she died of a heart attack after working out at her gym. (Friends have speculated that her heart was damaged by the cancer treatments.)

Eleanor was also hit with a devastating disease at a young age. A seizure on a camping trip in 2005 led to a diagnosis of brain cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy bought her a few more years, but the tumor returned in 2009 and, despite surgery and more medical treatments, she died in hospice care at her home in Minnesota.

Kara’s death especially haunts me. There is something particularly jarring about losing a childhood friend. Because I lost track of her years ago, to me, Kara is still a child, forever running across a sunny schoolyard, or bouncing on a trampoline. The kind of girl who hugged you fiercely and liked to laugh. Of course, I know she grew up, got married, had two children — just as I did — but in my mind, she is still that bright-eyed girl.

I remember making doll clothes with her in art class, and taking ballet with Mme Lateur, an elderly Frenchwoman who kept a bad-tempered Chihuahua tucked in her purse. I remember how agile and athletic Kara was, always the first to reach the end of the blacktop, or the top of the jungle gym. I also remember going to her house and being baffled by the somber, deserted feeling of its well-appointed rooms, so at odds with Kara’s exuberant nature.

Sadly, I lost touch with Kara after we left Beauvoir’s nurturing walls. And it is only in retrospect that I realize how difficult the next few years must have been for her: Chappaquiddick, her brother Edward’s bout with cancer, her mother’s public struggles with alcohol, and her father’s fame and notoriety. Not to mention all the many lost cousins, uncles and aunts, the so-called “Kennedy curse.”

Reading about her over the last few days, I’ve also been struck by how private she was. Unlike many of the members of her family, she chose to stay entirely out of the public sphere. I was glad to hear she had found meaningful work at “Very Special Arts,” an adjunct to the Special Olympics started by her aunt Jean Kennedy Smith, and as a filmmaker. She was also, by all accounts, a devoted mother to her two children, Grace, 17, and Max, 14.

Like most people hitting midlife, I’ve lost a number of friends and acquaintances and I recognize that this is one of the consequences of getting older. But every time it happens, I experience a small frisson of fear, an irrational certainty that death has just taken a step closer to me. There is grief, of course, and a sense of loss. But underneath is always the nagging question: Why them and not me?

In the end it may be madness to try and wrest some deeper meaning from Kara and Eleanor’s deaths, but this is exactly what makes them so difficult to process. Without religion, or angels — except perhaps the ones we played in our polyester robes — I am left to rail at the arbitrariness of nature, the cruel alchemy of genetics and environment that cut their lives short. And so, for them, I rail.

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Passing On A Love of Words: A Mother’s Day Tribute

May 8th, 2011 — 7:59pm

If childhood had a soundtrack, mine would be the hammering keys and intermittent “ping” of a busy typewriter.

From as far back as I can remember, my mother would regularly disappear into her study to write on her IBM Selectric, emerging hours later with piles of papers and empty coffee cups, with a dreamy, satisfied expression on her face. When I was in elementary school, she was working on a master’s degree in literature, and, by the time I started high school, she had begun an autobiographical novel that would consume her for the rest of her life.

To read the rest of this piece, go to AOL’s ParentDish:

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When the Apple Turns: A Mac User’s Broken Heart

April 21st, 2011 — 1:00pm

After years of trusty service and almost no repair issues, my beloved ibook finally gave up the ghost – the hinge between keyboard and screen had actually self-destructed from overuse  – and so, with great excitement, I bought a sleek, sexy new 15-inch MacBook Pro.

I figured that the MacBook Pro, like the ibook, would be my trusted companion for years to come. We would troll the net, write fabulous books and articles, make new Facebook friends, and sing along to itunes together. And despite the threat from rogue viruses and unsecured networks, I was confident that my powerful new computer would stand guard over my vast kingdom of photos and songs, my stories and ideas, like a loyal and brave sentinel. I felt giddy at the thought of our beautiful future together, basking in the anticipation of unlimited possibility.

Basically, it was like falling in love with someone new after years spent in a boring — if stable — relationship.

Sadly, the honeymoon didn’t last. Exactly a year after it came into my life, my handsome new machine began sending me cryptic signs that all was not well. First there was the inexplicable gray screen that appeared when I booted up at my sister’s house in rural Vermont in early March. (I would later learn that Macbook Pro users refer to this as “The Gray Screen of Death,” but at the time, I was still operating on the assumption that, unlike users of PCs who always seemed to have viruses and system crashes, I was safe. I had a Mac! A new, super cool, powerful Mac!)

I chalked it up to being on a “foreign” network in a remote location and, indeed, the gray wall disappeared when I got home. All continued uneventfully for the next three weeks although, in retrospect, the telltale signs were there: the strangely long intervals to boot up, the spinning color wheel while waiting for a new page to upload, but still, nothing to unduly alarm me. And so I went about my business, which happened to include getting struck by one of those rare lightening flashes of inspiration which rapidly developed into an idea for a new novel. Excitedly, I tore through a rough draft of the first chapter and stayed up late outlining the rest of the book.

Three weeks later, my daughter Mira and I boarded a plane for the East Coast and I decided to take advantage of the onboard wifi. But as soon as I got myself signed in and began working, things got strange: the color wheel kept interrupting my writing, applications kept quitting, and the whole machine seemed to be sputtering and limping. Baffled, I turned it off, but once again assumed it was a network issue. Or, who knows – maybe it was sunspots. People weren’t meant to send emails from 30,000 feet in the air anyway, I thought, as I settled comfortably back to watch a movie.

At this point, you’d think my blind faith in my new computer would have wavered just a little. At least enough to start worrying about the fact that I hadn’t backed it up for the previous six weeks. But no, I had a BRAND NEW MACBOOK PRO. I was untouchable.

I didn’t give it another thought until I booted up at our hotel and there it was: The Gray Screen of Death!

Okay, everyone knows where this is going so I’ll cut to the chase. After countless hours on the phone with Applecare trying various key combos to somehow cajole my machine into fixing itself, and then more hours with the so-called geniuses at the Genius Bar back in California, the diagnosis was not good. The hard drive on my gorgeous one-year-old Mac was shot and – sorry — they could not recover any of my data.  The only thing they could offer me was a new hard drive. Fortunately, I had Mozy, which backs everything up wirelessly as you create it. Oh, except – oops, Mozy inexplicably stopped backing up my data on March 14th,, three weeks before my fateful plane ride.

Still, I consider myself lucky: all my operating systems and most of my data were on my external drive and I was able to recover at least a few additional weeks of work from Mozy.

But my faith in Mac?  Gone forever. Along with that fabulous first chapter…

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Doing Time for “Doing A Kevorkian”

April 6th, 2011 — 5:24pm

Most people convicted of murder are understood to have stolen their victim’s life. To have violently ripped it away against the person’s will. Not so Kenneth Minor, a 38-year-old man who was sentenced to 20 years to life this week for killing 52-year-old Jeffrey Locker. Minor’s defense? Locker begged Minor to “do a Kevorkian” on him. According to Minor, he was only helping the guy out.

The story offers a bizarre new twist on the assisted suicide debate currently playing out in courtrooms and hospitals all over this country. Locker was certainly not the typical candidate for ending one’s life via assisted suicide. He wasn’t old or suffering from unremitting physical pain. He wasn’t battling a chronic illness.  He was, in fact, in his prime, a seemingly successful motivational speaker and “behavior modification expert” who lived with his wife and three children in Valley Stream, New York.

So why did he want to die, and why did he insist on involving a complete stranger?

While I don’t profess to know the inner workings of Locker’s mind, according to testimony in the trial, he was in serious financial trouble due to investments in a Ponzi scheme. Rather than face the consequences of his financial misdeeds, he began trolling East Harlem looking for men who would murder him in exchange for money. One of these men, Melvin Fleming, testified that Locker told him he was “looking for someone to make him dead.”

According to evidence presented in the trial, Locker’s determination to make it appear he’d been murdered also had a logical – if morally questionable — explanation: He wanted to make sure his family got the millions of dollars in insurance money he’d left for them. (Insurance companies generally don’t pay out in the case of a suicide, thus the need for a staged murder.)

And so, on a July night in 2009, after a couple of months of looking, Mr. Locker found a willing accomplice: Kenneth Minor. According to Minor, Locker instructed him to bind his hands and then hold a knife against the steering wheel while Locker repeatedly thrust his chest into the blade. This strange act of mercy may have gone undetected — buried beneath an already-steep pile of unsolved murders in New York City — if not for a surveillance tape, which caught Minor entering Locker’s car. (Minor was also later caught using Locker’s A.T.M. card. It was his payment, Minor claimed: the reward Mr. Locker had promised him for assisting in his suicide.)

One can’t help but wonder if Locker’s family might have preferred him to “help” them less, but instead, stay alive and face the financial and legal fallout from his alledged misdeeds.  But none of them were in the courtroom on Monday when Minor was sentenced. Instead, Minor had the last word. Fighting back tears, he offered his condolences to Mr. Locker’s family and begged the judge for leniency.

“Only two people in the world know what happened that night,” Mr. Minor said. “And one of them is not here no more. But he did not want this for me, for me to lose the rest of my life.” He added: “In the end, Mr. Locker is where he wanted to be. I can’t take that back now, but I’m no animal. And I ain’t got no malice in my heart.”

While the jury did not buy Kenneth Minor’s defense and the judge ended up giving him 20 years to life, arguing that he’d been willing to commit an act of extreme violence for money, I think it’s only fair that — in the press anyway — Locker and his choices were also put on trial.

I have never understood the view that committing suicide is a selfish act. How can the motivations of someone who is acting out of extreme pain – either mental or physical – be criticized and judged by normal standards of behavior? But killing yourself to avoid the shame of facing your own wrong doings, engineering your death for the material gain of those left behind, and then involving an outsider in your own violent, bloody end, is enough to make me reconsider my position. Yes, I feel sorry for Locker and his desperate quest for “assistance,” but I feel sorrier still for Mr. Minor who was desperate enough to think that helping someone to die would be worth any amount of money.

In the end, does this case tell us anything important about the meaning of assisted suicide, as it is normally defined?  Perhaps only this.  I don’t think anyone, including the most rabid right-to-die advocates, would say that what happened on the street in east Harlem two years ago was an acceptable form of assisted suicide. And whatever reasons Mr. Minor had for agreeing to accommodate Mr. Locker’s brutal final request, our legal system soundly rejected them. How could it do otherwise?

One only hopes that this case will not distract us from the more important issues surrounding assisted suicide or make it more difficult for those who make this choice — not from selfishness or shame — but from courage and strength, and who choose to do so surrounded by loving helpers, not paid strangers.

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The Ghost in My Quilt

March 15th, 2011 — 3:50pm
mother's quilt, Vermont

My Mother's Quilt, Vermont, March 2011

After a whirlwind 24-hours in New York City to promote my book and attend an award ceremony, I arrived at my sister Sarah’s farmhouse in Northern Vermont ready to relax and enjoy the deep piles of New England snow.

Straight out of a Vermont Life calendar, Sarah’s house is a gorgeous 1850’s era farmhouse with a large pond and spectacular three-story red barn, and my first evening was spent enjoying a meal with some close friends who live nearby. But as we put away the leftovers and prepared to turn in, my good mood was abruptly punctured when my sister said: “I hope you don’t mind that I have Momma’s quilt on the bed where you’re sleeping. I’ve never brought it out before but I realized that the blue was a perfect match for the trim so I stuck it in your room.”

My mind instantly flashed on the blue-and-white quilt that had covered my mother’s bed during the final months of her life. “My God, I think she even died under it,” I thought uneasily, although not wanting to be overly dramatic, I kept the thought to myself. But I could feel my body recoil. Because I did mind. A lot.

“I’m not so sure I do want it on my bed,” I finally replied, not sure how to explain why I felt such an intense aversion to the idea. I’m not superstitious and I could have viewed this remnant of my mother’s life as a comfort, an opportunity to feel her presence in a loving and peaceful way. But I didn’t. Instead, I felt a painful stab of memory as scenes from the days leading up to her suicide flipped through my mind. In distressing detail, I saw her lying in her bed, lonely and unhappy, plotting how to kill herself — and all the time covered by that damn quilt!

“Really?” My sister looked over at me with surprise and perhaps a slight trace of impatience. “Well, maybe you should get over that,” she suggested. “Think of it as a nice thing.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, still not wanting it on my bed but reluctant to insist she give me a different quilt.

Gathering up my suitcase and preparing to go upstairs, I realized that my mother’s old patchwork quilt — an item I’d described in my memoir, Imperfect Endings — was an emblem to me of her entrapment. Entrapment in her room; in her bed; and in her illness. To her, death was the means to free herself from that entrapment, something I came to understand and even sympathize with. But knowing that she’d chosen death because she no longer felt life worth living was still painful for me to confront, even after all these years.

And I couldn’t help feeling that if I slid under that same quilt, I would find myself similarly – scarily – yoked by it. I don’t believe in ghosts but I wondered: Wouldn’t this most intimate of her possessions, the very cloth she’d touched and lain under day after day, night after night, contain some energetic memory of her? Some psychic imprint of her spirit, her personhood? And not just of her, but of her pain, her desperate desire to escape.

Uneasily, I headed up the stairs and entered the room. There was the quilt. A lighter blue than I remember. Pretty. Simple. Just a quilt, I told myself. A quilt that matches the trim.

But the uneasiness stirred again as I climbed in underneath it and I had to resist the urge to unfold the extra wool blanket at the foot of the bed and cover it up. Drifting off to sleep, I wondered if I would dream of her and who she would be in those dreams. Would she be the mother I’d had as a child? The tall, beautiful woman with thick dark hair and broad shoulders who’d made me cocoa and tucked me in at night? Or the depleted, stiff woman who’d lain under this quilt at the end of her life, longing to escape the confines of her body, of the earthly realm itself?

It turned out that none of these ghosts would appear, imaginary or otherwise. Instead, as the snow fell outside my window, adding to the already impressive drifts piled up against the house, I slept as heavily as a child. And a funny thing happened. By the second night, the quilt no longer seemed to hold its aura of entrapment or pain. It was… just a quilt – simple, pretty. A good match for the trim. An object that happened to have belonged to my mother.

And as I pulled it up around me on my last night, ran my fingers along its soft edges, I felt myself held lightly in its embrace.

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Drinking the Kombucha Kool-Aid

February 16th, 2011 — 2:22pm

When I first heard about Kombucha, it was from a friend who told me it was made from fermented mushrooms, a piece of misinformation I promptly passed on to numerous friends and acquaintances.

I later found out that the “mushroom” used to make Kombucha is actually a ball of yeast and bacteria called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria And Yeast). While this struck me as being a tad disgusting, it didn’t matter: I was already hooked on the stuff.

Part of it is the taste. Once the SCOBY is mixed with tea and sugar, it creates an effervescent sweet-sour drink with just a slight undercurrent of alcohol — a little like hard cider — that I find strangely delicious. So much so that I am willing to overlook the occasional unidentifiable floating blob (UFB) that is part of the Kombucha drinking experience. Not only do I enjoy the taste, I buy the hype: I am convinced that drinking Kombucha is going to make me a healthier — and yes, better — person.

Maybe it’s the fact that the words “reawaken, rethink, retain, reactivate, relive, rebirth, repurpose, rebuild, reclaim, and restart,” wend themselves across the label of my bottle of G.T.’s Enlightened Organic Raw Kombucha. Or that slogans like “Live long and Thrive” and “Living Food for the Living Body” can also be found there.

You see, Kombucha-drinkers don’t just imbibe this stuff, we believe in it. We are convinced that it is going to detoxify our livers, balance our metabolism and cure us of cancer. I mean, it says so right on the label, right? And even though there is no credible evidence that Kombucha does any of these things – in fact, the Mayo Clinic advices against drinking Kombucha — that does not stop us. (Mayo is not a credible source of information for Kombucha-drinkers; Dr. Mercola and Dr. Weil are our online health gurus.)

Drinking Kombucha is like subscribing to The New Yorker, or listening to NPR; it places one in a very specific cultural/consumer demographic. You will recognize us by our yoga mats and canvas bags, our Priuses and non-paraben body products. You will pass us buying sacks of organic apples at the local Farmer’s Market or scouring the aisles of Whole Foods for gluten-free bread. We drink raw milk and eat grass-fed beef. We don’t believe in flu shots. Our health practitioners are homeopaths and acupuncturists and we nurse our children until they are old enough to ask politely. (It will come as no surprise that many of us reside here in the People’s Republic of Berkeley where I live.)

It’s easy to laugh at us — I laugh at us – but that still doesn’t stop me. Because while it may seem like nothing more than tea and fermented bacteria to you, to me Kombucha is pretty much the elixir of life. Just read the label.

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The Bullies Won… Again

January 10th, 2011 — 2:05pm

In a hugely disappointing move, the Obama administration has abruptly backed away from supporting a frank and open discussion about end-of-life planning between doctors and their elderly patients.

Only three days after implementing a new regulation that provided Medicare coverage for doctors to talk to their patients about what kind of care they wanted at the end of their lives, the White House announced on Wednesday that they were reversing it.

Why the short order flip-flop? Why disappoint the thousands of hospice workers, geriatricians, doctors, caregivers and seniors who had been working towards and supporting this kind of coverage, some of them for years?

Simple: Obama buckled to the bullies. As soon as the loud and vociferous opponents of end-of-life choice began their usual scare mongering and name-calling, he stood down. Instead of sticking to his principles, he chose the politically expedient response and caved…. again.

Yep, because these are the exact same folks who hijacked the healthcare reform debate in 2009 by telling us that Obamacare would result in “death panels” and that Big Government would decide whether or not your granny got to live or die. The same rabid conservatives and “Got you in our crosshairs” Palin supporters who managed to wrest our president’s lunch money away from him two years ago — only this time they just had to yell a little and he handed it right over.

The news is a devastating blow to anyone whose work involves helping people make decisions about end-of-life care. And it will mean millions of the sick and elderly will enter the final chapter of their lives woefully unprepared.

Only 20 or 30 percent of patients at the most have an advance directive in place in this country. The new regulation would have increased that number substantially. It would also have empowered dying patients to think about and choose the kind of death they wanted in advance. Instead, most of us will find ourselves at the mercy of a healthcare system that knows how to keep throwing drugs and procedures at us — insisting on unnecessary “heroic measures” right up to our final painful breath — but isn’t very good at helping us find comfort and peace at the end.

The implications of this cowardly backing down for our healthcare system and our aging population are devastating. It also reveals a most disappointing truth: our political system is being taken over by bullies and the leaders we elected with such high hopes to stand up to them are letting them do it.

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Overspending: A Tale of Christmas Past

December 5th, 2010 — 3:36pm

It may be hard to find the silver lining in the current economic downturn, but the recession has given me at least one important gift: It has cured me of my shameful habit of overspending at Christmas.
Read more at AOL’s Daily Finance:

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Memories, Lies and Sex Abuse: A Cautionary Tale

October 19th, 2010 — 7:21pm

Having known a number of incest survivors over the years, including a close friend who suffered from horrific abuse as a child, I find the notion that women might fabricate their stories of sexual abuse both unbelievable and offensive. In fact, I have always assumed that anyone who doubted these stories was simply not educated about the prevalence of incest. So what to make of Meredith Maran’s book about falsely accusing her father of sexually molesting her as a child: My Lie: A True Story of False Memory?

A journalist and author of several critically acclaimed books, Maran writes about how she became convinced that her father had molested her, despite no specific memories of abuse. While she did not take any legal action, the repercussions of her accusations were profound: family members regarded her father with suspicion, his second wife nearly left him, and for years neither she nor her two sons saw or spoke to him. Although Maran eventually realized that the abuse never happened and apologized, close to ten years had passed and her father was by then in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Having met Maran and read her previous books, I believe her to be both intelligent and emotionally astute. So, how did she go so far off the deep end? And if someone as smart and perceptive as Maran could be so dramatically led astray how many other “survivors” might be similarly deluded? Even more troubling: How is her retraction going to affect the real victims of incest? (Just needing to add the word “real” here makes me cringe.) Doesn’t this public apologia empower the perpetrators by suggesting that hysterical women can make this stuff up?

Then I read Maran’s book and realized, much to my chagrin, that the personal and political milieu that gave rise to her accusations was entirely familiar to me. While I never accused anyone of abuse, I was certainly influenced by the sex abuse hysteria that swept the country in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Not only did I feel honor-bound to believe any woman (or man, for that matter) who claimed to have been sexually abused, if anyone questioned these stories in my presence, I deemed them insensitive and sexist. I was, like Maran, a true believer.

Also, like Maran, I identified strongly as a feminist and, in my work as a journalist, wrote about women’s mental health issues from a feminist perspective. At one point, I considered writing a book about Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), a controversial diagnosis that is most often associated with prolonged sexual abuse. And like Maran, I read The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, which basically states that if you think you might have been abused, you were.

Reading Maran’s book, I was reminded of how childhood sexual abuse – including some truly bizarre stuff — was the hot news story of the day. I’ll never forget the descriptions of satanic rituals, underground tunnels, and dead animals that were reported on during the McMartin preschool trial in Los Angeles in 1988. And while I wondered if some of the details had been exaggerated, I never doubted that terrible things had happened there. And I never doubted that women like Holly Ramona, who claimed to have “recovered memories” of her father, a wealthy California wine executive, of raping her as a child, was telling the truth.

I had no direct involvement in cases like this, but Maran was actually in the courtroom, reporting on trials like Ramona’s. She was also given access to therapeutic sessions with perpetrators of incest. And, as if her professional life wasn’t already keeping her in the epicenter of “Planet Incest,” as she calls it, she was living with a woman whose existence revolved around her identity as an incest survivor. But even without “Jane” and her thrice-weekly therapy sessions and escalating stories of ritual abuse, as a feminist living in Berkeley, Maran was often in the company of women for whom incest was the embodiment of women’s political oppression. To question or deny an accusation of sexual abuse in this crowd meant you were siding with the oppressive – and silencing — patriarch.

Again, this perspective resonates with me. I remember being furious with my husband for questioning the concept of recovered memory, a phenomenon in which victims recall being abused years after it happened. I chalked it up to the fact that he had not had his feminist consciousness sufficently raised.

I also remember being asked by a therapist in my late twenties if I thought I’d been abused and immediately wondering if I had. My father was a complicated guy; he’d been unfaithful to my mother and was occasionally sexually inappropriate: Could something have happened and I just didn’t remember? The possibility tortured me for months before I finally let it go. Is it hard for me to imagine going further down this road and actually accusing my father of something? Well, yes it is, frankly, but not that hard.

Of course, just when it seemed like there was a child molester in every closet, the backlash began. After nine weeks of deliberation, a jury acquitted the owners of the McMartin preschool on all counts. In 1992, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) was formed to help the thousands of parents who’d been falsely accused by family members claiming to have “recovered” memories of childhood abuse.

Books and articles debunking the more extreme stories and statistics on child sexual abuse soon followed, including a 1993 article in The New York Times entitled “Beware the Incest-Survivor Machine.” In May of 1994, Holly Ramona’s father was awarded $500,000 in a suit against the psychotherapists who treated his daughter.

As the zeitgeist around incest began to shift to a less hysterical, more measured response, Maran too began to question her allegations. Or, rather, she began to listen to the doubts that had plagued her from the start — doubts she had pushed aside because to doubt herself meant to doubt all the victims around her. It might also mean the end of her relationship with Jane and ejection from “the Sisterhood.” In what is by far the most emotionally harrowing section of the book, she attempts to make amends, first and foremost to her father, who seems to accept it with enormous good grace, and then to the rest of her family.

While thankfully I do not have any retractions or amends to make, reading this book was a sobering exercise. It made me realize that Maran — like myself, and many women I know  — were wading in some pretty murky waters. I don’t fault myself for being sympathetic to the victims of incest or wanting to speak out on their behalf — I still believe that incest is an all too common and horrifying crime — but I regret being so willing to revile anyone who even raised the possibility than an accusation of incest, any accusation, might have been false. Call it group-think or mass hysteria or witch-hunting, we are all vulnerable to its reach.

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My Life, My Death, My Sense of Humor

July 2nd, 2010 — 10:27pm

Some people just can’t see the humor in death. Not so the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF).

A billboard created by the Final Exit Network (FEN), a controversial right to die organization, was on display for less than a month when it suffered a flash guerrilla attack from the BLF. The billboard, which stood at the corner of Howard and South Van Ness in San Francisco, originally read: “My Life My Death My Choice,” and was followed by the URL for the Final Exit Network’s website.

Once “liberated,” the billboard read: My Life My Death My Choice…. PhillipMorris.com.

In a mocking press release, the BLF wrote that it was “honored to announce a new marketing partnership with Phillip Morris that finally brings together the rugged sense of American independence with your most important choice as a consumer: your death.”

“We’ve always said that the only two things in life that are unavoidable are death and taxes,” commented Michael E. Szymanczyk, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Philip Morris. “This campaign drives home that message where, if you are gonna die, might as well do it on your terms. Just like our Marlboro Men did.”

The press release went on to note that all former Marlboro Men “were unavailable for comment due to their rugged, manly choice of death by lung cancer.”

This is pretty funny, in a dark humor kind of way, and I’m all for getting rid of billboards. But unlike an earlier guerrilla action that took aim at the McDonald’s Corporation – doctoring a McD’s billboard to read: “You have about 10,000 tastebuds. Kill them all.” (instead of use them all) — the BLF used a small and controversial group who are already under legal pressure to make their point. (Four members of the Final Exit Network were arrested last year in Georgia after allegedly aiding a man with terminal suicide to die. The trial is set to begin next month. All four defendants are elderly and this has been an incredibly stressful time for them.)

But the BLF saw a golden opportunity to take a pot shot at Phillip Morris and they took it. And, frankly, who can blame them? FEN’s rather self-righteous slogan was just too good to pass up. But I am sorry FEN got caught in the crosshairs. Given our country’s enormous uneasiness about end-of-life issues (the Terri Schiavo case, talk of death panels, etc.) I think groups like FEN need to be able to get their message out.

But maybe not on billboards. After all, what makes the billboard liberationists so effective is that they use this in-your-face marketing technique against the marketers – and make the point that billboards are obnoxious. And whether you agree or disagree with what FEN is selling, it makes me feel a bit queasy that they are selling anything at all.

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