Shana Tovah!

Rosh Hashanah has come to a close, so let me be among the first to say: Happy New Year!

We are passing through the days of the Jewish New Year, which will end on Yom Kippur. These are from the Jewish, Israelite, Aramaic speaking early people. They made up some of the most influential stories in our lives. These Holidays are a time to contemplate, atone, celebrate—and, finally, name those who died this past year so their names go in the Big Book.

Rosh Hashanah is meant to mark the anniversary of Adam and Eve’s creation—a story I rewrote through a play called “Eve 2” some years ago.

I find the messages emanating from the Garden of Eden destructive. Adam and Eve is full of admonitions about women seeking Wisdom. There are deadly consequences because Eve bit into an apple. The punishments – loss of immortality, loss of snakes with legs, pain during childbirth. The message? That women should butt out of the Knowledge Thing.

From reading—some Talmudic, some Wiki—here’s the whole myth of Adam and Eve. It starts with Adam’s first wife, Lilith: When g-d made all the creatures, male and female, he made them. There was Adam, and Lilith, appearing as “unnamed female companion.” She wanted sexual parity with her husband, wanted to sometimes be on top when they were making the Human Race. Adam went to g-d and whined that he couldn’t love a woman who was his equal… so g-d turned Lilith out of the Garden, and made a physical female in front of Adam. Here are her kidneys, now the ribs, gall bladder, you get the drift. Adam turned her away disgusted by having seen her created.

Finally, g-d put Adam to sleep, pulled out a rib, and made Eve. Surely Adam couldn’t reject a woman that was made of him. And g-d was right.

As writers, we can use stories to find new ways of seeing life. “Eve 2” let me take this sexist story in a new direction. This time, they both worked at a hospital morgue that lost power in a massive electrical outage. As I love to do in my writing, Time and Space collide—and Eve becomes determined to change the end of her story as told in the Bible.

As we use The Holidays for contemplation, atonement, deep thoughts about how to live life… I want to find new stories about women, men, even critters. Stories that extoll equality, curiosity, and freedom.

On Death and Dying (and Writing)

My friend died three weeks ago, and it’s been like having Covid, Sleeping Sickness, Sorrow blisters on my soul.

And it has made think a lot about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book, ON DEATH AND DYING.

Kubler-Ross infiltrated our sense of grief with words to describe the process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This of course could just describe a bad couple of days with Trump in office. But I do not mean social grief.

People take death in different ways. Lots of people have an afterlife belief that makes everything seem… okay.

I am not one of those people.

I have struggled to deal with death, since I saw a lot of it as a kid with relatives who died way too young. My family handled this with a lot of hair tearing out, and a hysteria from back in the Shtetl that one person dying was the inevitable “sign” that we are all doomed. Good to know.

Books are stories, even a non-fiction book like ON DEATH. And I’ve incorporate Kubler-Ross’ words into my stories, too. They’ve even helped me rewrite that script I learned on death in small but significant ways.

In The Road Not Taken, my first book, the protagonist is recently widowed, and her grief is her gateway out of the suburban shoebox that was her world, and into the cosmos which she tours alongside some immortal friends. Her grief was the beginning of her life.

a club termina table read

My first play after I survived breast cancer, club termina, took place in a nightclub in the clouds where women who succumbed to it were in a weigh station before reconfiguring into a new life. I learned in this play to bring people back from death by writing them a character so I could be with them. It helped me a lot. It was my friend who had just died from breast cancer, after I had been cured, who I had brought back to life on that stage—every night I heard this woman’s story in a comic monologue that had audience members feeling some of what her loss did to all of us who loved her. But Denise was in there too.

club termina is no longer in performance, but books, stories, words—and the memories of those songs—are what I have to keep life filled with some joy. Seeing friends who are gone reappearing on stage and in print is as close to Heaven, or the Bardo, or the Rainbow Bridge, as I can get.

Women’s Stories Fuel Women’s Equality

I am a feminist storyteller and a seeker of Equality, which means my mission is telling stories that change public discourse.

I’ve written before about the books that shaped me, as a writer and a feminist. One I always come back to is Simone de Beauvoir’s novel, All Men Are Mortal. An actress falls for an immortal man, hoping he will make her memory immortal. A story, a history, a love affair. By the end of the book, the stories she hears from her Historian Lover, make her join the struggle for Justice and she becomes heroic. Second Sex, a seminal text on women’s inequality, is packed with truths that most of us are painfully aware of already was still explosive. But for me, it is De Beauvoir’s fiction that shaped my perspective.

The immense power of stories to shape public opinion has been made obvious as of late by the attacks on our speech and our right to speak our truths—think book banning and “Don’t Say Gay” bills.

Anne Frank’s diary rocked my boat and my mind. She has an ultimate belief that people are really good at heart. After six years of dripping ugliness coming off Trump and his Flying Monkeys, I am less sure than she is. But her story moved thousands of people. She had hope. Is it any surprise those who wish to deny the Holocaust, and avoid conversations about the ways hate and fascism can destroy nations, want to make it verboten?

My novel, The Road Not Taken, gives a 50-year-old widow who has bumbled through life doing what is expected of her the chance to see new galaxies, to meet immortal mythological characters, and ultimately to define her opinion of the human race. I would call her (and I call myself) a Material Witness to life. Her voice gets heard and we all admire what she learns and how she changes through this story.

We cannot let our stories be erased. We cannot let our voices be silenced. In moments like these, we all need to become material witnesses. And we need to say, louder than ever, what we’ve seen—and what we envision for the future.

Happy Women’s Equality Day, everybody.

Next Stop: The Feminist Future

What if I told you we could go on a trip through time and space right now—riddled with sex, wine, intelligent ideas—as we wait to see if the earth will keep producing life, and to stop the horrible monsters who run around spouting ugliness and hatred? The best part: There will be no masks, no tickets, no bag checks… no airplanes and no crowds.

First stop: Greenwich Village. I’m smiling already. This is pre-COVID, so you can eat in a restaurant go to a museum, or a show.

From there, your guide will escort you to a gateway to the Pyramids of Giza closer than the nearest subway station. Your new mythological friends will find you there and tell you about Ma’at, the Goddess who decides your fate after death by weighing your heart against a feather. If you have lived well, you go on to a lovely place. If you have failed to fulfill your life’s work, your heart is eaten by Ammit, a goddess who stands watch as your Fate is determined.

Luckily, since you are not part of the small but deadly group of monstrous people in power, your adventure won’t end here.

Instead, we’ll go next to Weimar, Germany, where you can meet the women and men who lived in freedom to love and be with whom they chose… before the dark drums of fascism replaced all of the joy there for women with Kinder, Kuche, Kirche—Children, church, kitchen.

That reminds me… Have you ever tasted Vincent Van Gogh’s onion soup? I can take you to the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and from there you can jump inside Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles, enter his kitchen through the door on the left, and trade him some sips of Absinthe for soup, beginning a great friendship.

Eventually, Van Gogh will send you to a mansion owned by a chubby Russian oligarch in Moscow to pull off an art heist—alongside Berthe Morisot, Picasso, Monet, Matisse and many more artists. Once Van Gogh finds out his paintings hang in private homes, obscuring his own act of Baring Witness to Life from the people, he will enlist you all to make the future look differently.

But don’t worry: You’ll be filled with blinis before you walk in Red Square and fall in love with St. Basil’s Cathedral.

photo by Anton Zelenov

These are just some of the places I took my protagonist, Deborah, to in The Road Not Taken, my debut novel. That book came after years of produced plays, documentaries, blogs, Funny or Die Sketches… And the journey was my way of telling Deborah, and my readers, that it’s never too late to find your Ikigai.

Ikigai is Japanese for Your Life’s Purpose, or Your Life’s Bliss. Mine is writing. (And kissing my cats ‘til they get mad.) My partner is a source of bliss to me, too—but when I need to go to the well of my soul, I turn to my words. And I felt tremendous hope as I wrote a novel illuminating the possibilities we all can reach in different ways—and had a lot of fun writing through the cosmos to do it.

Hope is a powerful remedy to monsters and hatred. Hope is a bucket of water you can pour on the Wicked Witch of the West and melt her right into the ground. And hope doesn’t come from covering our ears and eyes, escaping and never looking back. The kind of hope that keeps us going in the kind of hope that requires confronting the truth—and finding the strength to imagine the future.

Deborah doesn’t escape reality entirely in my pages, despite the jet-setting through the stars and the passage of time. She feels a lovers’ betrayal, fends off an attack by one of Egypt’s major mythological fellows, and witnesses the consequences of the rise of fascism. And she learns to survive.

When you walk The Road Not Taken, I hope you’ll become enamored by some of the scenery. I hope you’ll forget all the mundane in your life and get lost on the page. And I hope you’ll realize that the only thing better than an escape from the moment we’re in is a re-imagination of what comes next.

The summer of rage requires something better than your average beach read—something that will keep you sane and help you find hope. If you’re impatient for the feminist future, grab a copy for your beach bag and join me on The Road Not Taken.

Click here to buy the book at a special reduced price this summer!

Law and Order—and Justice

My first novel,The Road Not Taken, is about a woman who reaches her fifties without knowing much about life… and then learns. Just like the millions of us horrified by the recent dictates by the SCOTUS, who must now learn, rapidly, how to seek justice in a new, and more terrifying, frontier.

A quick note, by the by, to some of those SCOTUS Justices: To swear under oath and lie is perjury, which is against the law. I know this because, much like my protagonist in The Road Not Taken, even if I’ve been doing feminist work for decades, I still need to learn each day, and work to find hope—so I watch “Law and Order.”

Not kidding. It is my sanity clause. Now that things have changed, my ways of staying sane are still in place: if the news gets too hopeless, I turn it off and watch Ben Stone deliver a closing argument.

Among my favorites is his blasting of a phony Man of God leading a group of losers. (No MAGA back then, but you can imagine.) These lost souls follow the phony man’s directives. One blows up a building and destroys an abortion clinic, killing many people inside for pap smears, mammograms, you know, medical treatment. Trust me when I say that hearing Ben’s rage at this injustice is better and less fattening than just buying out the ice cream freezer and going into a sugar coma.

I love justice, even if the moral arc of the universe is arcing a little too slowly toward it. And even though some folks in stolen robes don’t want us to know it, these kinds of triumphant moments, in fiction and in real life, remind me: Justice is Alive. We have to demand and find it together, and work together to welcome it home to the so-called Land of the Free.

I wrote documentaries for 20 years for the Feminist Majority about a range of feminist topics, especially abortion and reproductive rights and attacks on abortion providers like those depicted in that episode of L&O. We knew Roe was in danger. We knew the anti-lifers loved the “pre-born,” but not the babies delivered every day, or the parents who would raise them. (They can starve. They get no affordable childcare or medical attention. If mommy dies in childbirth, it must be God’s will. What BS!) And we also knew, despite it all, that we were in the right—and that we would win.

The man who won by 7 million votes signed an Executive Order late last week putting those who attack our freedom on notice—sending a message that we will fight, and we will win. That we will NOT sit idly by while SCOTUS attempts next to take away birth control, nor criminalize marriage equality, but stand together, and work collectively to put into law the rights they just took away.

It was a message that reminded me that justice is alive. And it was even better than ice cream—and just as worth sharing. Hope is the thing with feathers that we all need right now. So when you find it, pass it on. And turn up the volume.

Pride is Part of My Feminist Future

LGBT pride flag photo via

Happy Pride Month—which sounds odd to say this year, given what is going on for women and LGBTQ+ folks right now. Trans kids are being banned from playing sports with their friends and somehow we’re still talking about which bathrooms people should get to use.

There is an increasingly crazy rage on display—all at people’s freedom to be and love and like who and how they want.

In my book The Road Not Taken, I take my protagonist to Weimar, Germany, on the cusp of WWII, and she glimpses the impact of Nazi rule—with LGBTQ+ folks sent to concentration camps, and women forced into the tight box of Children, Kitchen and Church. The life of the place is removed, turned to gray. The euphoria disappears.

My new book, 44 Horatio Street, also does one of these duel examinations—of sexism and homophobia among the Beat generation. One of them killed a gay man and got away with it. Another killed his wife and served no jail time. And what we see decades later is a virtual erasure, in those spaces, too, of the stories and of the voices of women and LGBTQ+ folks.

In the background, as I work on my third novel, the SCOTUS is preparing to kill Roe v. Wade. And much like the intertwined plots in my stories—in our histories—I see a sinister next aim: the end of marriage equality, among other queer and trans rights.

Cutting off women’s freedom, and LGBTQ+ people’s most essential choices, always go together when a homophobic, male dominant government seeks to control the population. This is why none of us are free until ALL of us are free.

They whisper about banning birth control, allowing no exceptions to terminate pregnancy for women who were raped or victims of incest, and claim it’s because they care about the lives of children—even though they won’t do anything about the guns killing them in classrooms across the country. They storm into drag brunch, threatening violence toward families, and want to investigate parents who provide their kids with gender-affirming care—and then ostracize and exclude the kids they claim to be fighting for.

I have always written in pursuit of a different future. And I will write stories as long as my fingers still move. Because words are mightier than the Cowards who hate everybody who isn’t like them.

In the futures I dream up on the page, women’s equality is enmeshed with LGBTQ+ justice—because it’s like that off the page, too. And if we band together, we can tell stories that allow people the freedom to be and love who they want. We can write feminist stories, scream and march, and together, we will be stronger than they are.

We have the majority of Americans with us. So we get to write the future however we damn well want. And that is something to celebrate.

Remembering Dr. George Tiller

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” — Matthew 7:15-23 

Today I am remembering Dr. George Tiller, a true man of God. He believed in life—and he was killed for it, on May 31, 2009, inside the Christian church in Wichita, Kansas he regularly attended, by anti-abortion extremists.

I met him at a Feminist Majority convention in Washington, D.C. Tiller was an abortion provider—one of only three at the time willing to provide late termination of pregnancy for patients who needed it. When he came in to meet with us, he brought three slides showing fetuses from late term abortions he had performed: one in utero with no brain; one with no lungs; one with no heart. None of them could have survived outside the womb, and giving birth to them put the lives of women at risk. 

In the calmest, most human way, Dr. Tiller presented these tragic images as he explained why he risked his own life to save the mother and prevent the fetus from dying immediately after leaving the womb. No human could watch Dr. Tiller and not see the depth of his concern for the unviable fetuses and the mothers who carried them. But still, he faced attacks and threats to do his work.

Anti-abortion extremists bombed Tiller’s clinic in 1985 and shot him five times in the arms in 1993. I was in the FM offices when we learned they had killed him in 2009. 

Anti-abortion violence has persisted since the 1970’s, when Roe v. Wade finally declared a woman’s right to choose. Before Tiller’s death, he was included in a documentary I wrote, KILLING IN THE NAME OF LIFE, after having survived that shooting in ’93—appearing alongside a slew of other abortion providers and clinic staff who had been attacked, kidnapped, and died as a result of anti-abortion extremists.

The screaming politicians who will outlaw abortion and set bounty hunters to chase down anybody who thinks about or helps somebody else think about terminating a pregnancy are not pro-life. They want control—to protect patriarchy at all costs, including and especially the lives of women.

70% of Americans favor the right to abortion, but a deadly minority are using the Supreme Court to do what no amount of slaughtering pro-choice doctors could accomplish and take away our reproductive freedom.

Today, in Dr. Tiller’s honor, I encourage us all to take action for abortion rights and access. It will take every bit of strength we have to undo the work of the deadly minority attempting to outlaw it.

And while you’re at it: Click here to make a gift to Trust Women, the foundation and women’s clinic named in Tiller’s honor.

My Traveling Companion—Across Time and Space

My first two books take place in Greenwich Village, the third is in New Orleans. The characters are different, the time periods change, but there is one constant: My companion in all the books is my real friend, a Priestess of the Yoruba Tradition—YeYe Luisah Teish.

Luisah and I are from different spiritual traditions. It goes without saying that I don’t follow the Abrahamic religions—Teish follows her tradition and teaches me about a spirituality I can embrace. (Yoruba has gods and goddesses each serve people in different areas of life. They must be treated with respect.)

In The Road Not Taken, Yeye isn’t cast as the main character’s spirit guide—but she appears to my main character and tells of the Yoruba activists in Nigeria who risked their lives to save the kidnapped girls of the Chiboc school. It was a powerful tribute to not taking brutality lying down that Deborah, my protagonist, needed to hear to do what she was called to do.

My second book, tentatively titled 44 Horatio Street, is about a house my family lived in and then rented out in Greenwich Village. Among the tenants were Mikhail Baryshnikov, and the Beats including their coordinator, Lucien Carr, who murdered his lover and got off with a “Gay Panic” conviction. Also in the house was William Burroughs, who, too, had murdered and gotten away with it. YeYe, in this book, works to keep the protagonist safe.

And now, I’m embarking on my third novel—The 15 Maries—and writing Yeye again, this time as my Mambo (rabbi, mentor, guide). This book takes place in 1850’s New Orleans, and present-day Los Angeles, and features the Voodoo Queen and abolitionist Marie LaVeaux. Luisah was recently named the new Marie LaVeaux by the City of New Orleans—so I think you see where this is going.

Luisah is a powerful friend and an astounding woman. The truth is, off the page, she is also a guiding companion—someone who offers me new and powerful perspectives as I chart my own course through this life. She shows up in my books because across time and space, I know that what we all need is a companion like that to guide our travels—spiritual, physical, or otherwise.

PS: Tag the first person you’d invite along on an epic adventure in the comments on THIS Instagram post and you BOTH can win a copy of my novel #TheRoadNotTaken—and a much-needed escape from gestures all this. (Make sure you’re following me, too!)

When Was the Last Time You Checked Your Breasts?

I wrote a play, club termina, about women who had died of breast cancer passing through a nightclub in the clouds. Each woman performed an act, a song, monologue, skit, before she was free to become—What? A new person, I guess. 

Today is the end of National Women’s Health Week—observed every year, apparently, for a week after Mother’s Day, to encourage women to take care of themselves with the same enthusiasm with which they show up for others.

COVID hasn’t helped matters: Nobody wants to go to the doctor’s office. This year, I had to bribe myself to go for my mammogram—even though I know how critical it can be.

I got breast cancer at 38. I am lucky I can write this. I was young for the diagnosis, which was confounding to my doctors, and terrifying to me. I had several friends also in their thirties diagnosed. I am the only survivor. 

Lumpectomy, radiation, and a new form of chemotherapy. I did all of the treatments and at the end of six months of chemo, the protocol I had done was FDA approved as a CURE for early Breast Cancer.

But for two years I looked behind my couch for death, who I was afraid might be hiding there.

I found out I had cancer because when I went to my doctor and told him my family history, we agreed that I would come in quarterly for screenings. I was paying for health insurance, and I used it. That’s why I’m alive.

One day my doctor said, “go down the hall to the breast surgeon.” The surgeon did a needle biopsy. I got the results and hell was mine for the taking.

I keep thinking this week about the fact that many health guidelines suggest women get their first mammogram at 50. Fifty! I would have been dead for 10 years.

Preventive care is only good care if we’re empowered to access it early.

Please don’t wait until you’re 50 to get a test. Get yourself checked, or try palpating your own breasts—you use your fingers in a circular motion to feel for uninvited guests in your breasts by lifting one arm overhead, then switch arms and do the other side.

And let’s keep fighting, too, for more equitable and comprehensive care for all of us.

I (Still) Believe That We Will Win

photo via Will O’Neill, Creative Commons

My reaction to the First Draft of the SCOTUS Fatwa against Roe v Wade was fear. We in the movement for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, POC rights, animal rights, have known eventually Roe would be on the chopping block. The brutality of their position, that a woman in danger of dying if she gives birth still cannot end her pregnancy is beyond the Witch Burnings in Salem and throughout the Spanish Inquisition.

I had to process. Fear serves no purpose, and I knew in my gut, the American people would see this and the GOP lizards would finally be on a train to the Reptile House where I hope they will enjoy life.

I stopped shaking with rage, I spoke to friends, to my cats who seemed unimpressed with the document on so many grounds it cheered me up. 

Then my memory kicked in. 

I worked with the Feminist Majority (FM) writing documentaries on the threat to Roe, violence against abortion providers, and other issues of reproductive justice. When I worked on these, I had a group of women around me who strengthened my resolve and held my beliefs close to their hearts. I miss them in moments like this, especially. But what I learned doing this work, and what I witnessed by showing up in movement spaces, reminds me we are not powerless, and we will win—or can, when we come together. 

One of our documentaries showed Candidate Ronald Reagan in front of evangelicals called Focus on the Family. The GOP knew Reagan wouldn’t be elected POTUS without an influx of new voters—they turned to the growing Evangelical movement. Reagan spoke to the massive audience with a bud in his ear: James Dobson fed Reagan lines in a marriage proposal to the extreme right wing. “You all know that I cannot ask for your endorsement of me, but I assure you I endorse all of you!” Thunderous applause greeted this marriage of GOP and Evangelicals. 

Focus on the Family, Operation Rescue, and the Christian Coalition coagulated into a powerful force for repression against women. But we were powerful too. It felt so fine in our office where peels of laughter rang often. Until Reagan won. We stopped laughing and continued to fight. The founders of the FM went and bought rights to the Morning After pill, RU486 and made it available in the US.

On another cool LA morning, colleagues from The FM formed a team to stop the anti-life pests from blocking clinics. They were cagey about which clinic they would attack. We were cagier: With one woman on a walkie talkie communicating with two others in the field, we got to the clinics first! The antis didn’t bully even one woman from getting in. The sweetness of sisterhood was profound. This action was later made into the FACE Act. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. It helped women get through the crowds of people who insult Jesus Christ by calling themselves Christians.

Some memories, of course, are less sweet. Some harden my resolve. The Evangelical haters resorted to bombing clinics, then shooting abortion doctors. “Killing in the name of Life”, a doc about this violence, will make your blood boil at as men in priest’s collars talk about shedding “rivers of blood” to stop abortion.

But what I’ve learned by now is that together, we find ways forward. Even in the face of forces hellbent on taking us back.

Don’t give up hope. We’re in this together. We are the majority. And we will win.