Mapping the Road Not Taken: Partying Across Time and Space

My book, The Road Not Taken, poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to Self: Always practice what you preach. 

For the holidays, I have been imagining the kind of party Deborah, the protagonist in my novel The Road Not Taken, would throw to celebrate. In the book, Deborah finds herself at a soiree featuring people from across history, most notably women artists long erased by the men who had dominated their world.

I think Deborah’s festivus would go a little like this:

Deborah decides to spend one rotation of the earth creating comfort for every living thing she comes in contact with. 

She takes her friend, and often lover, Tim Carbone with her. Tim being immortal, can grab anything they need out of thin air. They will circle the world looking for people and animals in need – giving food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, and a sense of caring to those forgotten creatures who nobody cares about.

From Manhattan they travel through the air to the South Bronx to a homeless encampment in the snow. The tents and cardboard boxes that take the place of a warm home are blocks long. Inside each ineffective enclosure that provides no warmth or shelter from wind, rain, or snow, the inhabitants range from newly unemployed, still looking much like anybody else on the wintry street, to the ragtag tents and boxes of the long time homeless who have dropped off the face of the earth as far as the earth is concerned.

There are dogs and cats living in these so-called shelters. Tim grabs huge bags of dog and cat kibble out of the air, along with chew toys, cat nip, and bags of litter with boxes to hold it. Human food is handed out, along with soap, blankets, toilet paper, clean water.

There is little point in describing the shock, awe, gratitude, anger and fear they encounter as they “knock” on each home. A puppy licks Deborah’s hand, a cat tries to crawl up Tim’s pant leg. The people are less able to relate to them but many smile and nod.  They move on to townships in Africa, Asia, South America, every place where little villages of people exist with nothing to eat being their daily reality. People with terrible sores on their bodies, their teeth destroyed, their hair, no longer human hair. 

They continue for a full 24 hour rotation, giving food, and solace. They finish in a village in Brazil. Here they are shot at by police until Tim takes one of their guns, break it in half, and hands it back to the terrified cop. In addition to the nourishment, they hope to give a message: humans are awakening to the need to end homelessness and poverty.

This brings me to this week’s magical question:

If you could go anywhere and invite anyone—dead or alive, mythological or mortal—what would your holiday celebration look like this year? (Pandemic be damned.)

Happy Holidays to everybody who is lonely, hungry, sick, grieving, hopeless. We will make this a better world. Or we will end the world completely.

Mapping the Road Not Taken: The Higgs Boson Particle & the Future of Womankind

My book, The Road Not Taken, poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to self: you are angry. Say what you need to say. But remember you have lived through 5 years of human depravity, cowardice, and stupidity.

In my book The Road Not Taken, the protagonist’s arc ends when she gives “an argument” for or against keeping the earth functioning. The founders of the planet check in with one human being every thousand years to see what a smart person assesses as the worth of their species. 

The earth is energy intensive, and there are many other planets and universes: In The Road Not Taken, our planet is up for judgment. The original inhabitants of earth, known as the Lost, keep tabs and can bring in the Boson Particle to end a failing planet or whole solar system. 

Having created Deborah, the protagonist, she became independent of me, acting and speaking in ways I found shocking. I refuse to be one of those authors who fly around their characters with dictates and assumptions: I want to let them teach me something. 

My woman makes a “closing argument” that favors saving the earth with the caveat that human beings can become less cruel. Forgive me while I take a moment to laugh. 

I think her opinion is piffle. If my species could be less cruel, why has it become crueler? As fun as it is to blame one person, or his followers, the human race allowed him to function, we allowed him to live. I am against Capital Punishment, but I am enthusiastically in favor of self- defense, that means not ignoring a toxic, crazy person and his followers who function with reptilian brains.

Many of us have spent 5 years in suicidal dismay over the ugliness (“I’ll put this tiger in a cage, you give me money, and you can shoot it. We’ll drag out its carcass and pretend you risked your life.”). Now the whole planet is at fatal risk from a virus. For some, not wearing a mask is a statement of freedom. For me, not wanting to be safe simply means your penis is too little. As for their women, they are unfathomable to me. 

We are plagued with disease, and millions cannot draw the line between our rape of mother earth, and her revenge in the form of a lethal virus: “It’s just like the flu.” Wrong. “It’s a hoax.” Wrong. “Hillary Clinton is a cannibal.” Must I comment?

If I made a closing argument, I would bring in the Higgs Boson particle—the “God Particle,” which in a billionth of a billionth of a second would take out our planet. No pain. No fear. No sorrow for the young creatures who will never have a life. Just an end to this blithering brutality.

Maybe I’m wrong. Which brings me to today’s question:

What hopes do you have for the future? What changes do you truly believe are on the way?

This election brought out more people than ever, people overwhelmingly against this regime of the reptiles. Maybe my character saw that coming. I can get so angry at injustice and cruelty, that I am as blind as a newborn kitten. And not as cute. Perhaps you can help me regain some optimism.

Mapping the Road Not Taken: Becoming Deborah

My book, The Road Not Taken, poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to Self: some people suffer from a lack of guidance growing up. Some people suffer from a set of guidelines that are way too rigid. My childhood had some of both.

This and Greenwich Village are two of the only things I share with the protagonist of my new book, The Road Not Taken. I don’t give the character any name at the start of the story, and I never give any names to her family.

The absence of names means something, but damned if I know what.

Early in the character’s relationship with her mentor, she is given another name: Deborah. There are no instructions to go with the new name, but Deborah finds a smidgen about herself in the Old Testament. Five lines. What I learned from the five measly biblical lines was that Deborah was a prophet, a judge and a warrior. You’d think that would earn her some ink, but you’d be wrong.

In spite of this, my character is fascinated by how a native New Yorker, used to a deadly but typical life as a wife and mommy, could morph into a judge, a prophet and a warrior. The story in the book lets her do that. First, she is given guides and taken on fantastic trips through Time and Space, and she learns about Weimar Germany on the cusp of Hitler’s rise. (For me, this is the freest women have ever been, and the Nazis took it away from them quicker than you can say “kitchen, children, church.” Which is exactly what the Nazis said to establish the Fatherland and destroy the movement of free people that included women, artists, LGBTQ people.)

In her travel back to 1933 Weimar, Deborah kills a Brown Shirt. She has never used a weapon other than to carve a turkey or pluck her eyebrows, but she kills this bully who is twelve times her size without a second thought. The warrior part of her is immediately accomplished.

The prophet part comes from watching her daughter during a rough patch in her marriage where both partners are cheating on each other and asking Deborah how to fix things. She doesn’t predict the future, but she does give sound advice and remains remarkably detached the way a prophet must if they are going to avoid running around screaming and tearing their hair out as they detail the events they see coming.

The arc of the book is completed when Deborah must decide the fate of our planet: the judge. I won’t say who asks her, you need some surprises. I will say she comes to her decision about the earth through a Yoruba Priestess, who shows her the power of human spirit. It is based on a true story of unarmed people defeating a group of crazy, blood thirty terrorists. It taught me and Deborah that it’s not the size of the gun, but the will of the shooter that always matters. 

Which brings me to today’s magical question:

Why do you believe the world is worth saving?

Tell me, in the comments here or on social media. In the wake of the election and with all the work yet to come, I believe this is an urgent inquiry. Maybe together we can remember what it is we’re really fighting for—and find our own pathways to transformation.

Mapping the Road Not Taken: Do You Want a Do-Over?

My book, The Road Not Taken, poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to self: not everybody sees Time/Space the way I do, the way astrophysicists do—some of them. To me, it’s like a huge DVD and on it is every bit of language, action, emotion, and history that has ever happened on planet earth. I would give a lot to be able to get a copy of it so I could visit places and save people from the horrors they lived through and warn them of horrors to come.

In my book, The Road Not Taken, the Time/Space continuum is a given. And because of that, you can visit with dead loved ones, meet with historic heroes and geniuses. If it has happened on earth, you can revisit it on this DVD.

Which begs a big question: How far back should we go, and how should we behave when we get there?

I could’ve run around New York on September 10, 2001 yelling “get out of the World Trade Center! Something horrible will happen here tomorrow.” And they would’ve listened to me, and nobody would’ve been incinerated by two airplanes. Nobody would’ve jumped out of 58 story windows to escape the flames. 

Or, I could go back to 1692 and ride a horse to Salem, Massachusetts and rush into the courtrooms where the Witch Trials were happening and demand that I be allowed to prove they were killing innocent women who were not witches at all. What a hero I would’ve been. 

So many past lives fascinate me for their heroism, their barbarism, their romanticism, their discovery of life-saving vaccines. Real ones. Why not go to Congo Square when a slave auction was happening? Demand the people for sale be set free immediately. Explain the cost to the human soul that would be incurred for hundreds of years because one group of rich people bought African human beings, dragged them here, enslaved them and created an ugly imbalance that would haunt this country forever. 

As I tried not to watch the Supreme Court hearings of Amy Cony Barrett, I smelled smoke. I smell all the lives shattered and burnt up by people she reminds me of: pious, dishonest, cruel and without a soul. Proclaim that you love Jesus, give yourself stigmata to prove it, but if you are a phony Christian, it will show. 

If I could get back to Time/Space, maybe I could stop the constant flow of wolves in sheep’s clothing: The Evangelicals who love embryos but not human beings they disagree with, the extreme Catholics with their weird sects in which women are subservient to men. Those members of the Muslim faith who burn and explode things thinking it will please Allah. The Jews who steam roll the Palestinians because they are angry and afraid. 

I want a Do Over. I want to stand at the doorway to Time and Space and get to decide what will help my fellow humans, and what will destroy them. So far, I have not been invited to do this. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming.

If you could go back to any moment in history and change the way it unfurled, where on the space/time continuum could I find you?

Tell me, in the comments here or on social media, and I promise to meet you there. There are so many historical wrongs piling up—and so many were already outstanding before we got to even 2016, or, god forbid, right now. I promise I would ride along to fix them all with you, if I could.

Mapping the Road Not Taken: Reclaiming Russian History

My book, The Road Not Taken, poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to self: Lately Russia has just been the ugly thing behind the screen that got the ugly President on everybody’s screens elected. But it’s important to my book. So we’ll take a quick look at old Mother Russia, aka Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, aka Putin-ville. 

Dateline: 1905, the first efforts at deposing the Czarist control of Russia was a failed revolution that got rid of the last dynasty, the Romanovs, and replaced them with Prince Kerensky. In Spring of 1917, the socialist intellectuals tried to overthrow the Prince and failed. But in October, 1917, the Bolshevik party, led by Vlad Lenin, won! Russia made an effort to create a socialist country out of a small group of intellectuals and a huge land mass of peasants who still blew their noses on the street.

From the minute this revolution happened, Western powers and the White Russians, went after the Bolsheviks. The whole world tried to take them down. But in 1924 Lenin died and Stalin took over. Stalin was a crappy, mean spirited man who would remind us of our own crappy, mean spirited current POTUS but Stalin had a nice mustache. 

Meanwhile, the Germans fell under the spell of a small, ugly house painter with the worst hair ever, and a mustache that looked like a slug died on his upper lip and evaporated into just a black smudge. Hitler wanted to take over the world: he attacked everybody in sight including Russia where he was lured into battle during the Russian winter. Uh oh. Russia lost 20 million people defeating the little smudge and his world class army. But Russia defeated the Germans.

The USA could’ve been grateful. Instead we got into a dick thing with them. The Cold War, the McCarthy era where you called somebody a communist and their lives were ruined. The Russians got mad.

This brings us stumbling into the 2016 election and Russian interference to elect Trump. Revenge? Yes. But the Russians had by then degenerated into a country of oligarchs who were as socialistic as Ivanka Trump is smart. From the height of their idealism, they descended into an autocratic, corrupt pile of cruelty where the rich had everything and the poor ate blinis.

In my book, The Road Not Taken, my protagonist and her lover travel to Moscow to recover original Van Gogh paintings that the superrich Russians had hanging in their bathrooms in one or another of their vast mansions. This recognizance mission allowed the character to stare for hours at the most beautiful of all Russian Orthodox cathedrals: St Basil’s in Red Square. It is colored like a Disney cartoon with huge onion domes built one on top of the other. With enough vodka, you could spend a lifetime looking at it. 

My characters, Deborah and Tim, were there to figure out exactly where the Van Goghs were so they could steal them later in the book and replace them with perfect copies. This was a grand gesture to help Deborah’s new BFF, Vincent Van Gogh, who she met on the Time/Space continuum and for whom she promised to retrieve his paintings from the vastly rich owners so they could hang in public places. (It’s all a little complicated unless you read the book. Which I hope you will.)

Which brings us to today’s magical question:

What item of luxury, or thing of beauty, would you like to steal back from the haves and share with the have-nots?

Tell me, in the comments here or on social media. Send photos, even! I believe like Van Gogh that art is public for a reason—that it belongs in the public discourse and in our public lives. It is shared. That is the beauty of it.

We’ve done so much talking about taking back this country. What are we hoping to claim for ourselves that was stolen from us, and hidden away? When we make the future better, we should also make it more beautiful, and more creative.

Mapping the Road Not Taken: The Nearest Department Store Cosmetics Counter

Note to self: As the role of women in society changes, many things will be examined. Among them: Cosmetics. 

Do you want to smear your lips with a product that was developed by gouging out a rabbit’s eye? People might tell you it makes you beautiful. Who first decided to skin a cat and see if the fur grew back? (Putting lipstick on Donald Trump in the oldest gamble on Earth: Can you gussy up a pig with a nice shade of red?)

Women have long been told the answers to their legitimate and existential questions belong in the hands of the closest attendants behind a department store’s cosmetics counters. In The Road Not Taken, my protagonist meets someone who looks like her identical twin and turns out to be her mentor at the Gift with Purchase counter for the company hawking it that month.

That meeting place remains a thread—throughout her travels back 5,000 years in time, through her intense friendship with Vincent Van Gogh, through her visit to planets that have been archived because they had unsolvable problems. I wanted to include it because I knew the fun of that hunt, and I wanted my character, even if she later becomes a warrior across the space/time continuum, to be rooted in the reality of her social circumstances when she was still stuck here with us on Earth.

Beyond the cosmetics counter, my protagonist learns her power. She also gains more perspective. But she doesn’t necessarily get all the answers just by leaving the local Bloomingdale’s—and her contradictions, as a woman and as a warrior, never fade, either.

What if a planet had no contradictions? Can there be good without evil? I don’t subscribe to the Abrahamic throw up about Eve coming from Adam’s rib or the attainment of virgins after a particularly enthusiastic bombing of live people. Another time for that discussion of whether there could be a world of joy, without anguish and sorrow. This would mean immortality, and apparently Eve ruined that for us, too, or so they say.

I have my doubts that even without curious women the human race would’ve been mortal. Look at yourself every ten years and see if you don’t notice that your body, like the plants in your yard, looks like it’s dying back.

I believe the spirit goes on in some form. I know that everybody’s molecules go on in new configurations. But that’s small comfort if I want to see my father again. It’s more comforting that I don’t expect my mother to show up in her original form. Sorry. The truth is astral, and often unpleasant.

If you have read this far, here’s an offer: Buy a copy of The Road Not Taken, and then tell me about it on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter or @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram. In return, I have a mysterious gift to offer with that purchase. (The gift is not lipstick, but it is fun!) Send a screenshot of the receipt, a photo of the book on your table—anything!

Malls and maybe department stores are going the way of the dinosaur. This might be your last chance for something free while you’re having a good time reading The Road Not Taken.

Mapping the Road Not Taken: Yoruba Priestesses, Chibok Schoolgirls, and the Human Spirit

My book, The Road Not Taken, poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to self: Good job! You wrote a book about hard things and made them palatable, entertaining even. The book is filled with hope even as our world gets drenched in poison. 

There is a story in The Road Not Taken about a Yoruba ceremony that took place in the Sambisa Forest in Kenya after Boko Haram terrorists had kidnapped 300 teenaged girls and held them captive—making some their wives and killing some, too.

Nobody in Kenya (or anywhere else) did anything to free the girls. They could have entered the forest and freed these child brides, but they did nothing. The prime minister, unfortunately named Good Luck Jonathan, was afraid of the Sambisa Forest, as was most of his army.

One night, I was told by a Yoruba Priestess, a group of Yoruba priests went to that forest armed with drums and nothing else. They waited until night fall, when the terrorists were eating dinner served by their captive slaves. Then, they began to drum and chant. They invoked the spirit of the war gods of their pantheon. They invoked terrible powers by chanting and drumming.

They kept on all night. In the morning, Boko Haram was gone. Wives and small children were left behind as the Big Brave Terrorist Men ran for their lives. 

The human spirit is the strongest force on Earth. When it is raised in a harmonious way, when it is used to right an injustice, there is no armament that can fell it. The human spirit is stronger than a nuclear bomb, inured to various deadly poisons, afraid of nothing. It is the core of what makes human beings worth anything.

Human spirit drove out the Boko Haram terrorists. Human spirit fills the Washington, D.C. mall in moments of mass upheaval. Human spirit will toss onto the bonfire of history the legitimized terrorists that sit in blue suits with red ties and squander human lives as if they were beef jerky in the halls of power across the country and around the world.

The only way through the smoke and mirrors of the human cruelty brought out by the current men in power in the U.S. and elsewhere, the only response that will defeat them, is the human spirit. I bet my life on this every day.

Which brings us to today’s magical question:

What are you willing to face your fears to fight for?

Have you stood in the forest waiting to scream at your enemies? Have you found yourself summoning strength you didn’t realize you had in the heat of a political moment? Is the radicalization happening around us all the time fueling your own ascendance to power?

Tell me what is firing you up and empowering you to stand up, in the comments here or on social media. Together, we may be strong enough to crush the forces that have held us in fear for too long.

Mapping the Road Not Taken: My Cousin Vinny’s House in Arles

When I used to drive my car, I would look into the windows of houses or first floor apartments. If the curtains were open, you could see a whole lifetime that wasn’t yours. I’d pick an interesting place and make up a fantasy about who lived there, what their life was like.

But I never imagined going inside. Too risky—they’re a family of serial killers; or worse, they might recognize me and invite me in. I have no idea who they are or who they think I am. I just stared at windows and kept driving.

The same voyeurism is with me when I look at paintings. Scenes of bedrooms, cafes, pool rooms, and dance halls really pique my curiosity. This has always been especially true of a certain painter from the Netherlands with one and a half ears, and a bedroom in rural France.

It didn’t surprise me when I was writing The Road Not Taken that my character climbed into a painting of a bedroom in Arles, France by Vincent Van Gogh. It wasn’t shocking that she could just step onto the canvas and enter the painting, walking through the bedroom and into the kitchen. I wrote her into that scene for a reason.

The painter and the fictional woman immediately began to drink what she thought was white wine. She gulped down a big glass, and then he asked her if she had brought more. As the absinthe hit her, and the colors in the kitchen turned bright yellow, she realized her mistake. She had no more absinthe. And no, she hadn’t just gulped down a nice Chardonnay.

Her friend was irate. Their visit seemed like it might be short lived, but he pointed his paint-stained finger out his back door. Like any smart protagonist, she followed his finger—and outside, in the darkness, saw a store filled with bottles of absinthe. The proprietor gave her a bottle, and then the store disappeared, but the bottle was firmly in her grip as she re-entered the kitchen.

He was dishing out onion soup. They ate and drank. He asked her if she knew he was a painter? In her absinthe state of mind, she blurted out the whole story of what happened to his paintings after he left the present (which was the past) and moved into the Time/Space continuum.

He began to cry. Then he shrieked that he had been silenced: If his paintings had been sold to private owners, they were not seen by people, and his “words” were never heard. He asked her to leave. Reluctantly with permission to return, my character crawled back out of his canvas, and landed on the museum floor.

This visit, across time and space and, indeed, artistic mediums, is at the core of The Road Not Taken. It’s the single place she must go to begin her journey, to begin her life.

Which brings me to today’s magical question:

Have you ever wished you could go to another time and space—a different century, country, someplace unknown, maybe unreal?

I have. If you have, too, please tell me about it so we can compare notes on what was seductive about that particular alternate reality.

In the Kitchen with Me: Guest Blog at The Creatively Green Write at Home Mom!

As part of my virtual book tour, I published a particularly hilarious and very true piece at The Creatively Green Write at Home Mom about my complete lack of cooking skills whatsoever.

When I was younger and ate a lot of meat, I was famous for cooking chicken breasts until they were so dried out and well done that my then boyfriend referred to them as chicken boots. I loved them. Nobody else would eat them.

After I left college I moved to the countryside in Western Massachusetts where my rural Mother in the Woods image took over for a very short time. I was within weeks, commuting back to New York to be in a play. But four days a week I was in the most beautiful, bucolic countryside with a tiny cottage where my boyfriend was supposed to sit and write a novel. He never wrote anything and I fear that is because I had inadvertently poisoned him with what cooking I had tried.

But I did try. I hadn’t yet mastered the chicken boot idea, but I was still eating red meat that amounted to about a cow a week for just me. We rarely bought steak, but I found a recipe for hamburger Stroganoff that I think was created by a cardiologist looking for his next heart attack patient. It involved a quart of sour cream, a stick of butter, a pound of ground beef, and if I felt like it, some onions. 

My boyfriend was so shamed by the lack of writing he was doing that I think he decided eating my cooking was what he deserved. So he doggedly ate any garbage I put out. I made the Stroganoff three times a week, and I was only with him for dinner four nights a week. 

Click here to read it in full. Click here for more press clips. And click here to pre-order my book, The Road Not Taken!

Mapping the Road Not Taken: Three German Words That Threatened Women’s Freedom

My book, The Road Not Taken, poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to self: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose” is a great lyric, but not the truth.

As a woman, I have fought for freedom my whole life. The feminist movement which I entered in the seventies gave women the freedom to pretend we were equal, but there were a few telltale signs that we were not: Abbie Hoffman said the place of women in our movement is on their backs. The popular slogan “make love not war” never included, in word or deed, “if the woman you’re with wants to.”

I was 16-ish when I was set up to meet a man for coffee. We climbed up endless stairs to his greasy apartment near Sheridan Square. He closed the door and, without even offering me a glass of water, jumped on me and started slobbering. I had ridden the IRT subway for too many years to take this shit, so I pushed him off. He looked at me with shock and asked: “Are you afraid of a man’s penis?”

He was lucky that I simply stomped out the door; I could have said “only big things scare me.” My mother had trained me not to fear the myriad men on the downtown local who would show me their dicks. I’d run home and tell her and she’d laugh. “Forget about it, he’s just a sex fiend.”

That might have been bad parenting, but it was a great life lesson. I was not afraid of a man’s penis. I wasn’t even afraid of men. But that didn’t mean I was free.

I’ve been searching through history to find a time when women were free. My favorite episode on the long march towards equality happened in Weimar, Germany, right on the cusp of WWII. In Weimar, the bars and nightclubs were jammed with men and women dressed to the nines—smoking their heads off and drinking so much that it killed any cancer the cigarettes, cigarillos, and cigars might’ve contained.

There was live music. There were raucous costumes in fantastic colors and loud discussions about art and politics. (Full stop: If you don’t want to hear about politics, I’ve heard that tired old statement more times than I’ve had to pee really bad and couldn’t find a toilet. To me, politics is life. It’s not about political parties, or candidates, it’s about where we are on the way to a Just and Equal society. If you don’t care about that, get a pet.)

Back to Weimar: It was exciting! Women were out at night without their husbands—free (and not just another word for nothing left to lose), they argued vehemently about the rise of a little house painter with a funny mustache and the worst haircut ever. Weimar was at its height in the early 1930’s before the tiny monster became chancellor, but exactly when the frog was put in the water and the heat turned on. Many Germans did not see him as a threat. He was too ridiculous. But they failed to notice that the people surrounding him were demonically brilliant.

He spit out a new way of life: Kinder, Küche, Kirche. Kitchen, Children and Church. Hitler’s promoters saw Weimar and knew that, in order to sell their homunculus candidate, they had to get women back in the house. In order to create the Fatherland, they crafted an effective propaganda campaign. The women in Weimar, they insisted, “weren’t doing their jobs as mothers, wives, Christians.”

They won. Hitler came to power, and women’s roles were relegated to something the 18th century Hamish would have found suffocating. LGBTQ people and artists were called degenerate and forced to flee for their lives. The music stopped. The conversation was stifled.

There’s a lot about Weimar in The Road Not Taken. (There’s even an excerpt of some of those chapters up at Ms. magazine!) To this day, I haven’t seen an environment in which women were so free—and I grew up in Greenwich Village.

This brings me to today’s magical question:

What three words define your freedom?

Maybe you chose mothering, wife-ing and going to Church. If so, did it make you feel full? Maybe you didn’t, and you never looked back. What did you worship instead?

You tell me, in the comments here or on social media,. and I’ll tell you more about the men who tried to scare me with their penises. (It went on for a long time. But I’m still not scared.)