Feminist Barbie

I was probably born a feminist. People tease me – often – because I love Barbie dolls, and I’m a feminist; they find it inconsistent. I do not. My barbies were doctors and lawyers, and equestrians and vets and bartenders and Moms and every manner of every woman from every walk of life, black, white, Asian, redheads, Eskimos. Barbie even has a pal with MY REAL NAME. And she has a bratty younger sister with crazy hair. All of whom lived together and shared clothes, so it was kind of like a little women’s commune in the Barbie dream house and adjacent castle and apartment complex. I think two of my Ken dolls were straight (I had a fuckton of Barbies). The rest were gay best friends, which I understood because my Mom had a gay best friend, Patrick, and for years the most magical gay men made my summers of awkward adolescence bearable. So a couple of the men lived together on one floor of the apartment complex. It was probably the longest lasting relationship in Barbieville.

But still, my friends prod, what about body image, and on this topic I have some authority. I cannot speak for other women, but no, when my eating disorder started around 13 or 14, I was not struck by this sense that I was imperfect because I did not look like a doll. Or a supermodel. I think if I had daughters I might have different opinions, but things worked out so well in my Barbie commune, with my endless plot twists, costume changes, work drama, that I didn’t really notice their bodies, I was too obsessed with their stories. Also their shoes which I kept far more neatly than I do now, with my two wine carts spilling over with boots, heels, and ballet flats.

At some point Barbieville got dismantled, moved to the basement, I think my Mom gave most of my Barbies away to my cousin, because my cousin was the only girl in her family, and I was a spoiled brat, so off most of it went. Including my President Barbie and most of my horses. My Mom later regretted it, but this was one of the things she did. Decide we have too much stuff (usually at a point when my sister and I were having a lot of fun and also staying out of her hair, I had to wonder if she understood the consequences of her actions, because she required a lot of alone time), get rid of it, feel terrible, then buy more stuff. So I probably got 50 books from my Mom and some Madonna tapes passed under the door from my Dad.

Still, at some point in my mid-twenties, I started collecting Barbies again. It started with Barbie ornaments for my first on my own Christmas tree. Then my Nana, who never stopped wanting to buy the super fancy Christmas Barbie got in on the act. I try to keep it to a few a year, because mostly they live in a vintage trunk, playing with them at thirty-eight is just kinda not the same.


Then we bust out the two Barbie villas she found for me at garage sales, pull the fancy Christmas Barbies out of the Christmas box, round up my Alice from Twilight and Cyndi Lauper Barbies from my study, crack open the trunk, organize the clothes, and start story telling. I need to call her and ask for a Barbie play date.

This was the first year in ages I didn’t get a Barbie for myself, because my best friends and I adopted a family with three daughters. I had the oldest daughter. And in addition to the adorable clothes, games, books, and other things she needed, she got a CEO Barbie. It was her favorite present. I hope she knows it means someday she can be a CEO too. While wearing adorable shoes.

The Tent Girls

Once upon a time …

There was a very blonde princess who lived through a terrible war. It raged and raged and raged, and she wanted to fight, but her wise and caring counselors advised her to stay away and not be involved, lest she be injured. They knew she had a tender heart and despite her very strong armor and her love of dancing with swords, would be easily wounded. So she climbed up many steps into the top of a tower and locked herself inside with her kittens and her books.

She read and read and read, and talked to her kittens, and wrote long letters who her friends, who she missed very much. Time passed and her hair grew very long. Long enough to sweep the floor, and no matter how often she braided it, it grew and grew and grew. She became lonely, despite her letters, and wanted to run outside in the sunshine, splash in puddles, dance with her sword, ride her horse, and, most of all, see her friends.

One morning she was drinking her coffee and reading her books when an anchor came flying through her window!

She looked down and saw a group of girls standing underneath her window, eying each other warily, not because they were enemies, but because they didn’t know one another and times had been tough. The princess smiled so brightly to see her friends, all so different, but still so alike in many ways! They were brave and strong and kind and beautiful in all their different ways. But as she was smiling and waiving at them suddenly she fell back as someone tackled her with a hug. “Oomph,” the princess said, tripping on her hair, and hitting the ground, her arms wrapping tight around the brown-haired girl. “Sweet pea, what are you doing here,” she asked. “Shhh,” Sweet Pea said, “I go by SuperGirl now, princess, and I’ve come to take you home, well, kinda home, sort of, mostly I’ve come to get you.”

The princess hugged SuperGirl and they packed all of her things, “do you really need all of these shoes?” SuperGirl asked. The princess stared because it was a very confusing question. Who doesn’t need shoes? Also, she had a plan. “YES!”

“Do you really need all of these dresses?” Again, the princess stared, but this time tried to explain, without giving away her plan. “Well, yes, I’ve always had 782 dresses. Why wouldn’t I need dresses?” SuperGirl tried to explain that after the war, things were tight before she snapped her fingers and called down STORMBORN!!

“You’ve gotten quite loud haven’t you, SuperGirl SweetPea?”

And in through the window came the princess’s friend Daeni, in her favorite medieval witch dress with a bow strapped to her back.”

“Daeni!” the princess yelled and hugged her very tall friend, who was almost her twin, except they didn’t look at all the same.

“Daeni Stormborn, now” she said proudly.

The princess gave her a surprised look and Stormborn shrugged. “I’m good at battles. But Princess, why is your hair so long, and why do you need 782 dresses?

Again, the Princess simply said, “I just do.”

Her friends were kind and understanding and used to her strange ways, so they heaved armfuls and armfuls of dresses out the window, the pile never ending, each dress dragging the next, SallyDraper yelling up, “she won’t leave ANY of them.”

“Wait till they get to her books,” muttered the magical Scottish princess.

“I heard that Bambs,” the princess yelled throwing a handful of books out the window, and climbing down the rope.

The girls packed all of the dresses together, along with the shoes, and the books, and the kettle, and the tea cups, and the brownie pan, and three tubes of lipstick on the Princess’s horses, and for several days they walked and walked and walked and walked until they found a spot in a little glade surrounded by trees near a bubbling brook.

The girls unpacked their light packs, while the Princess unloaded her horses, settling the dresses in a pile, the books in another, the shoes, and then the tea things.

“I still dinna ken why you needed all those dresses, princess.”

“How do you expect me to make us a home without all of this stuff? It took me long enough to sew it together!”

“I kind of just thought you wanted the dresses because you’re so girly,” SuperGirl SweetPea said. “Isn’t that why your hair is so long?’

The princess smiled a secret smile and shook her head slowly. She pulled her dirk out of her belt and sliced off her long braid, revealing a surprisingly stylish pixie. She pulled off her dress and in her very light riding clothes, climbed two big trees, tying her hair like rope. The, with a flourish, the princess and her friends stretched the 700 dresses sewn together over the rope to create a large and comfortable tent, while the kittens pulled the ends to make them tight, with the other 82 used to make cushions. They organized their library and Stormborn made a sign that said “The Tent Girls.” SallyDraper arranged the tea things and foraged in the woods for snacks with the oldest and bravest of the kittens.

When they finished, SallyDraper asked, “But princess, why did you need the shoes?”

“Oh! As a pathway! So that anyone who is lost or scared or in need of refuge can find the tent and stay with the tent girls.”

The girls cheered and took the horses on a very long canter through the woods before settling down with tea and brownies. They decided to rest a few days before their next adventure.

But in the meantime, they lived happily ever after.


A woman should always have a pair of red shoes.

The third time I meet my best friend Ellen Jean is with my Mom during parents weekend in law school and with these ten words, Ellen falls in love with my Mom.

You can hardly blame her, the woman sparkled and even though she was born with crushed wings and a broken soul, she shined so bright it was hard to look away.

Never mind that Mom’s idea of red shoes was ballet flats, and not the Jezebel red platform heels or peep toe wedges that Ellen and I will spend the next ten years stalking, when she made pronouncements, I didn’t just follow them, I internalized them as if made ex-cathedra.

“A woman should always own red lip stick” Mom said when I came home from the Chanel counter in 1991 with a twenty dollar tube of traffic stop red lipstick, my father’s face matching the color when I told him I blew my spending money on a small square black case with entwined Cs at the top. And she gave him a look, an I fucking dare you to contradict me right now look. He shook his head and walks away, as she and I tried on the matte red stain, too blue for her warm skin, just blue enough for mine. My current tube is Dior, in a shade called Marilyn. I don’t wear it often, but when I do, I stop traffic.

Mom knew from an early age the world was cruel, too cruel, it would turn out, to survive in. Yet for decades, she thrived by making others notice her. Blonder she would say to the man who did her hair, blonder I say to the woman who does mine. Tanner she would say, paler I say, make me paler. I need to sparkle, I think, looking in the mirror and seeing her face look back at me.

She didn’t ask for attention, she took it. She created her own magic. She needed a horse, she got a horse. She needed a job she loved that allowed her to be at home with her girls, she invented one. She needed to breed the top golden retriever, she bred her, and then showed the dog herself, flying around a ring in a navy dress with red shoes. She needed a best friend to travel with her, cackle with her, drink with her, cry with her, she got one and kept her for life.

And with those ten words my Mom bound Ellen and me together with magical cords so firm, so flexible, so resilient that while they have stretched a few times, they have never broken.

Put on your red shoes Ellen says when I text her about something hard.

I do. I create my own magic.

Pieces of Me: #Forever14

I have a squillion pairs of printed knee high boot socks, each printed with kittens or purple lips or pink and green paisley. They go over my breeches and under my riding boots, and sure they come in adult plain prints or neutral colors, but I buy the ones made for the eleven to fourteen year olds, and try as I might, every trip to the tack shop I end up with three more pairs.

This is my forever14 girl. The one who loves her ponies more than anything, who makes up nicknames, who is deeply silly and often mischevious. Who writes fairy tales and splashes in puddles and loves to giggle. Who has **terrible** taste in music (painful for a music snob) and cannot resist a star crossed love story. She is whip smart, but her priorities are different, and those priorities have allowed me to find a life uncharted.

She’s actually a pretty recent discovery in me, peeking out her head for a year around the time I turned thirty, but by thirty five she became a force to be reckoned with, time and again asking me to fulfill old needs and fix old hurts. Asking me to find new ways of fun. Because of her I have been able to heal and process a lot of old, old pain and betrayals, some of which I cannot yet put in words, and because of her I am a significantly better friend and companion. She has her flaws, what fourteen year old girl does not, but she allows me to relive and fix things in my life that were hard to live through.

She is my brave, wild, kind, silly self. She might be the most real me of all of my pieces.


Pieces of Me: Father’s Daughter

At some point after seventeen, there was always a pair of fitted jeans, a tight black top, and ballet flats that seem too adorable for my feet, but somehow always work. If I am too thin, if I am too large, if I am weak, if I am strong, if I am together, if I am a mess, this is my uniform. Kind of surprising, I would have picked a dress or some pulled together pixie at a ladies’ lunch outfit for a Daddy’s girl, but I am my Father’s daughter, which means I am often practical, and this look is both polished and casual, comfortable and confident, and I can adjust it by upgrading or downgrading the jeans and the shoes as needed.

I am ridiculously like my Father, which meant that for most of my life we fought. Incessantly. About everything. Stubborn and relentless. Hurt feelings and charming smiles, and dammit, if that man couldn’t tease me into or out of a mood (usually into). But somewhere in the decades of fighting, moods, anger, boyfriend hating, wife loving, mother divorcing, grandparents hating, food shaming, slut hiding, Daddy-issues from space, I managed to turn out just like my father.

Isn’t it ironic?

With the exception of equestrian sports, I genuinely do not follow any sports teams; however, if any game, of any sport, in any country is playing and anyone is interested, I am as well. If anyone every mentions the University of Missouri athletic system in ANY way, but especially football, I have an opinion, and god help you if you like Nebraska, because I will shun you. I might only watch one football game a year, but if you like Nebraska, you are dead to me.

I am a ridiculously picky eater, but I will try anything (anything – I’m half Scottish, it’s a necessary rule) once and if I like it, I will want to cook it, even if I will not eat it. For years, my Dad suffered through two vegetarian daughters, so as punishment/luck, I learned how to grill from him.

Naturally, since he liked to do it, he had to compete and win (duh?) at it, and so did I – secret sauces, secret sides, secret rubs, secret cuts. Do I eat pork? Like once a year. Why? Does that matter? I’m good at it. Which means people like it. Which means I like it.

I am snarky and I love to laugh. To entertain. To please. To delight. Of course I have to win, but trying to explain why that matters is like trying to explain why I need oxygen. I have since spent a lot of introspective time digesting this, but some core part of me thinks, obviously.

Even as I am writing about him, I am thinking differently, mentally pushing back some of the darkness, smiling more, ready at any moment, to flash teeth. I feel myself become slightly more superficial, slightly less tortured. I hug fiercely, I hand shake firmly, I cry easily. All like him.

It is not Christmas and will never be Christmas until I watch It’s A Wonderful Life (which is how I have successfully rescheduled Christmas three times).

If I have a religion, it’s literature; if I have a system of belief, it’s the Allies versus the Axis; and if I am dark, well let’s just hide that because we don’t tell strangers our secrets.

Or if you must, fine, but then be entertaining about it and be better at it than anyone else.

I’m a Daddy’s girl. And yes, I would love a gin martini, thank you so much!!

the best way to explain anxiety

Originally posted on thebootycaptain:

I just want people to stop judging or assuming stuff about me and maybe this will help.

things we are trying to do all the time:
*be safe

things we can’t help but do all the time:
*second-guess ourselves
*self sabotage, usually unintentionally
*behave impulsively and reactively
*take everything personally
*blow things out of proportion
*have difficulty accepting compliments
*desire attention while also shying away from it
*have difficulty reciprocating friendly gestures
*have difficulty finding the courage to respond
*worry we’re a burden
*have difficulty not being suspicious of others’ intentions
*make a huge deal out of the smallest thing
*think we’re bothering you

things you should keep in mind:
*we’re scared of everything
*pretty much all of the time
*anxiety is not an excuse-it’s an impairment
*it’s an actual disorder
*don’t take our neurosis personally
*seriously it’s not you it’s us
*it manifests as impulsive behavior

View original 786 more words

How to love a broken girl

Originally posted on thebootycaptain:

Its easy to love the carefree girls, the “normal” girls, the confident girls next door, but what about the broken girls? The girls with fortresses around their heart and shields in their eyes? The girls whose souls have aged beyond their earthly years? The girls with bodies and minds that have survived wars which would break the strongest of men? Sometimes these girls should come with a warning label. The warning pendulum swings both ways. This warning is not only for how you must treat her but for all the ways she will ruin you.

1. You cannot love her gently. She does not realize she deserves to be loved. You must love her with a force that can crush mountains. You must burn her soul so hot with your love that doubt melts away. Your love must be unconditional and you must show her on her very worst days.

View original 380 more words

My Jam


I’ve said before, quoting naughty Jonathan Franzen, that literature is my religion, which is mostly true, but I am just as religious, if not a little more addicted. As I shift between yoga morning me to work to the barn, the range, or other activities, to home to sleep, my extremely eclectic, basically weirdo taste in music helps me make the mental shift more smoothly. Perhaps most critical for me is the post-work to barn playlist. It’s a longish drive from downtown STL to my suburban/semi-rural barn where I simultaneously need to shake off the often frantic end of my day, calm down, clear my mind, but also maintain good energy for a long ride. Here’s a typical to the barn jam:

1. Missing Pieces – Jack White (preconcert pic above)
2. Let the Rain – Sarah Bareilles
3. Tonight, Tonight – Smashing Pumpkins
4. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Live version) – Indigo Girls (sorry, Buffy, but Amy owns this song)
5. Where is My Mind – Pixies
6. Gold Lion – yeah yeah yeahs
7. Superwoman – Alicia Keys
8. Come As You Are -Nirvana
9. Burn – Elle Goulding
10. This Charming Man – Smiths
11. Parachute (accoustic version) – Ingrid Michelson
12. Such Great Heights – The Postal Service
13. Nail in My Coffin – The Kills
14. Blister in the Sun – Violent Femmes
15. Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden

It’s a long drive.

To work is a different situation because I need to both calm and center my mind, and get in a good mood. Generally I’ve been up for hours, but I still might be tired.

1. Steady as She Goes – The Racounters (also name of the first filly I breed)
2. So What – Pink
3. Run this Town – Jay-Z
4. Sugar Cane – Missy Higgins
5. Girl Gone Wild – Madonna
6. Fidelity – Rebecca Spector
7. We Are Going to Be Friends – White Stripes (sensing a pattern?)
8. Maps – yeah yeah yeahs
9. Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
10. Come Out & Play – Offspring

Heading home, I am always tired and need to calm down and breathe

1. Sober – Pink
2. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out – Bessie Smith
3. Never Gonna Dance – Fred Astaire
4. All Apologies – Nirvana
5. Samson – Rebecca Spektor
6. The Way I Am – Ingrid Michelson
7. Today – Smashing Pumpkins
8. Fleet of Hope – Indigo Girls
9. Blackbird – Beatles
10. The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
11. Oceans – Jay-Z/Frank Ocean
12. Old Timers – Leslie and the Badgers
13. Bravado – Lorde
14. White Blank Page – Mumford and Sons
15. Workin’ in Corners – Nanci Griffith (second gen blue grass, the original rockabilly songstress)

The rest of the day, either working (when I can) or puttering around the house/garden is classical or jazz. I am a classical junkie, particularly German cello and piano concertos.


Including this brilliant cellist, Daniel Lee, who has a Schumann concerto this weekend.

And jazz, both instrumental and vocal. Sometimes I play Miles Davis’s Someday My Prince will Come for my horse when I’m grooming him, because he is most definitely my Prince Charming. Often I will sing silly Ella songs to him when he’s cantering on his right lead to calm him down or bust out old Gershwin songs.

And if I’m lost and need to find inspiration, I lay under the stars and listen to Rhapsody in Blue and So What and am usually up in a handstand, backbend, or forearm balance against a tree before the grand finale of Rhapsody.

What music gets you through the day?

30 Days of Book Reviews: Day Ten – Atonement

Read in December, 2007
This is sort of a slap-dash review, because I am still digesting Atonement and figuring out what I think about its various intricate parts.

But let me say, I loved Atonement. In fact, I read it because I was not completely happy with the movie and wanted to see why I thought the movie didn’t work for me. It had been on my to-read list forever, but I started reading it almost immediately after I got home. I love the imagery, I love the inner dialog of Briony’s about the nature of being a writer and I especially loved the description of the evacuation of Dunkirk and the resulting chaos at Briony’s hospital. Mostly, though, I loved the ending. I thought it was far superior to the movie’s and made a great deal more sense. Of course, I still envisioned Vanessa Redgrave as Briony, but I liked it better.

Dear Ian:

Seven and a half years later, I decided you deserved a proper review. In part because you are one of my most beloved writers for whom, like Donna Tartt and Margaret Atwood, I wait and wait and wait for your next novel. Curious that I picked Atonement first to properly review, however, since its not actually my most favorite of your novels. But it does have a couple of extra-special awesome parts that I want to dig into with you.

The first is the genesis of the story, which I understand came from Jane Austen’s {book: Northanger Abbey]. Perhaps its your writing style, but unlike Saturday where I could see your conversation with Virginia Woolf jumping off the page, it took me awhile to understand the connection. But in both a little naive girl with dramatic proclivities sees a small things and allows it to bloom into an untruth. Jane shuts the little girl down quickly an redirects her, but you take that kernel of an idea and run with it, leading whole families into ruin and destruction. What makes your conversation with Austen so perfect is that you take a moment in her book and use it as a plot device to say, “what if no one told the girl to stop?” And your plot evolves from there.

The next is the mother of ALL unreliable narrators. Sneaky McEwan gives us some hints that the story may be a literary form created by Briony, but they are sneaky, hidden gems and if one (such as me) is so distracted by the larger story of Dunkirk and England during the blitz misses it, finding out that nothing we’ve read is exactly true is a shock. Briony is an unreliable narrator on two fronts. One, because she is telling a tale, she is recounting things through the lense of her experience, not through a more knowing omniscient narrator, but more importantly Two, because she is largely making the entire novel up to make up for the story that she told early in the book. This i her homage and her apology for the lives she’s ruined. So we can never know the truth. We can only know what Briony wishes had happened.

Except there are some known truths because you report with exquisite and often painful detail the experience of living in England and working as a nurse during WWII to a degree that made my nerdy historian’s heart skip a beat. The time you took on Dunkirk, easily one of the most interesting and courageous battles (I could start crying here thinking of all of the English fishing boats hauling soldiers, starving and thirsty, out of the channel after the German’s drove them into the sea. Okay, fine Ian, a few tears. I can rarely talk about Dunkirk without getting misty). But for such a critically important battle, Dunkirk gets so little attention in modern media. I savored (and sobbed) through every moment. And we know these things are true, despite Briony and her sketchy narration, because they are known historical facts and we know she has little to no incentive to create stories about them. Her job as a nurse is not what drives her to tell this tale – its a desire to give her sister and her lover the life they deserved.

Which is really where the magic comes in because so much of it is true that we can suspend our disbelief and understand maybe Briony sees something that would have happened but for her lie. That would have happened had a grown up questioned her, as the grownup (future boyfriend) did in Northanger Abbey.

Masterful work. And while I prefer your more everyday stories, this is a gem.

When is the next book coming, Ian?

Kisses and hearts.


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30 Days of Book Reviews: Day Nine: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Read from December 12, 2013 to January 11, 2014
I am so obsessed with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier Clay that I am both listening to it and reading it. How did I miss this?

Dear Michael,

Please excuse me while I bat my eye lashes at you a little. I am reading Maps Legends right now and enjoying it so much I actually stopped reading until I had a pen and a cup of tea. Your prose is sick – either in fiction or non-fiction form – and your thoughts on the literary market are like the most trenchant observations taken from years of rants with Rebecca and others. But I should be clear that I only discovered Maps Legends because I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier Clay.

When I was reading K&C, I wondered how I missed it, but you published smack in the middle of law school. Mind you, I still read a ton of novels in law school, but mostly I read a ton of crap. Shameful, shameful pulp, chick lit, mass market mysteries and, oh yes Michael, romance novels. Don’t tell anyone, okay? It’s kind of embarassing for the aspiring queen of Victorian literature to admit the rubbish she’s read. 

K&C was yet another Nikki recommendation (sensing a theme here), but I didn’t pick it up until this winter. In fact, I put off starting The Goldfinch, my literary obsession of the decade, to read K&C. And I’m glad I did, because but for Finch, you would be my Donna. 

With you, I want to talk about place, which probably makes some sense to you, brilliant man that you are, because the physical and metaphyscal place K&C describes is what makes it so enjoyable (and you discuss hit the lack of reading for enjoyment so hard in Maps Legends. K&C has brilliant, richly drawn characters, and a large plot that moves and makes sense, but its magic comes in its places, which you deliver, in large doses, through the use of the golden age of the comic book. 

Honestly, Michael, the use of the comic book as a story device made me want to go back to age 11 or 12 and be a girl who reads comic books, who thinks in terms of drawing and writing in those ways, instead of the larger, messier, and less potent canvas and manuscript. As you know, Joe Kavalier is an artist and magician who escapes Prague as the Germans invade to protect the mythical Golem of Prague (google the legend, readers, if you are not familiar with the story of the jew who breathed life into a clay child by putting God’s name on his tongue. I cannot do it justice here). And that magical place of your Joe’s childhood leaps off the page. Suddenly we are doing illusionist tricks by the river. But once you get out, the place shifts and we are enchanted. 

You end up in New York, sharing a room with your tiny cousin Sammy. Within basically no time, the two of you discover you have a knack for comic book creation. You draw, Sammy writes, you collaborate on ideas. And so many of the great themes of what an American consumer wants come out of these discussions. I could have read another 100 pages of Joe and Sammy writing comic books. But instead you take us from their micro level to the macro level and discuss the development of the comic book genre – the major characters, the sales, the story lines and the companies who publish them – and it becomes a place. Like a corner of Manhattan we might walk around, you take us on a long walk through the places of the golden age of comic books and its a long, epic walk that spans the origin until the senate committee hearings. 

At some point, Joe splits leaving Clay to fend for himself as well as Joe’s pin-up girlfriend. But the place he ends up is its own magical space. A small room in a giant building. So much of this feels like the perfectly shot 1940s/1950s New York film and the characters’ ease and disease in the space creates an epic that spans time, themes, and lives. It is worth every last word.

Thanks again, Michael. See you later in your essays. 

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