The Story of Mildred’s Umbrella, the Evolution of Houston Theatre, and Why I Chose Samuel Beckett.

As most of my friends are aware, I founded a theater in 2001 with a friend of mine, John Harvey. I was acting, and he wrote a play and wondered if I might be interested in helping him produce it. Like most actors, I really didn’t have a full concept of everything that had to happen to actually produce one. If I had, the story might have turned out differently. 

Long story short.. I figured it out…. I lost 20 pounds, wasn’t sleeping and almost lost my mind, but a show happened. We called the company Mildred’s Umbrella Theater, after a poem by Gertrude Stein that was in a textbook John was using for a class he was teaching, and we liked the sound of it. 

Our theatre was small scale, and there wasn’t a ton of theatre in Houston back then.  The things we did were edgy, gritty and everyone involved got their hands dirty making it happen. Also, it was cheap. People who owned bars would let us use their upstairs, or another theatre would rent to us for $500 for the run. We often had to tear down our set every night after the show and get out before 10pm so the band could set up to play in the bar, or have someone guard the door so a tipsy bar patron didn’t crash into the backstage area looking for the bathroom. But we had nothing to lose.  John was writing experimental black comedies that we would (as a group) tweak and adjust along the way to create a show. 

From Mac Wellman’s DRACULA, 2004 (photo by David Brown)

Nothing we did was about getting press (although, we were thrilled if that happened, we didn’t care if it didn’t). It wasn’t about selling a lot of tickets (we didn’t have enough money invested to lose anything) or getting personal glory from it. 

Often someone in the press would sort of ‘assign’ someone as the star, and we’d  laugh about it and roll our eyes, because it really always was an organic, collaborative effort, and no one person ever truly deserved that title. I’ll admit, sometimes it made me mad because I was doing a lot of the creating and would sometimes be left out of things in favor of the men I was working with, but that was just the way it was. They seemed to feel the need to do that, and we couldn’t stop them. I guess not a lot of people really understand collaborative art. We were punk rock. We didn’t need a star. 

From Mac Wellman’s A MURDER OF CROWS , 2006. Photos by Anthony Rathbun

Over the years, the city grew, and the theatre scene grew with it. Spaces are expensive and hard to come by.  We can’t just throw something up in a warehouse or the fire marshal might shut us down. We can’t just throw up some pipe and drape curtains and do a fabulous performance in front of them without someone criticizing us for not having a set. We have to pay actors and designers decently now if we want the best people,  because theatres with more funding are able to do that. Don’t get me wrong, paying artists is a good thing. Our stipends are still too low for what the artists deserve, but I’m pretty sure percentage-wise, my company pays more of our small budget to artists than anyone else in town, so I’m trying. I STILL don’t get paid for my full time work in the theatre, but I do always make sure the others do. It’s just hard to raise the money for it all. 

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from NEEDFUL CREATURES, 2005. I”m in this one!

We were nomadic for the first 11 years. Then we had leased space  for a while, and the rent payments almost broke us. I was non-stop raising money for overhead, and it had gotten to where I could no longer really participate in the art. I was farming it out and doing a lot of projects other people wanted me to do.  I started forgetting why I ever did it in the first place. So now… 19 years later, we are back to being nomadic. Full circle. 

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RED DEATH, 2014 , photo by VJ Arizpe

Our budget is still very small. Producing full shows on a shoestring is hard, and I have to personally pick up slack in every area we can’t afford to pay someone to do a job. I have to choose people I know can create within our very restricted budgets, and they often don’t truly understand until we’re pretty far into the process what that means.



ROME 2015, photo by VJ Arizpe

So, recently, I was trying to figure out a project we could do without a lot of frills. I needed a show that I could really create and not kill myself with the non artistic side of things. Our mission has evolved (through urging from local funding sources) to a focus on women.  A lot of the things I find interesting and writers that do the experimental work that I love no longer fit into our mission. Fair enough. There’s a lot of other stuff that works. But then my husband suggested some shorts written by Samuel Beckett that are specifically written for female actors to perform. Not only does that fit our mission, but it’s in my wheelhouse. I was excited at the idea so I contacted two of my friends, Greg and Jeff, (Greg was with me back in the trenches and was a key person in the collaborations we used to have), and we all decided to do it together. 

Together, the three of us chose the actors and discussed our plans. Then, without competition or conflict, we each took the lead on specific plays in the series and brought it together as one show.  We did it in a small, awesome, edgy little space downtown. We built the “set” ourselves out of whatever we found lying around (and some borrowed pipe and drape). The money spent was almost all focused on the space and the performers and not on a bunch of stuff that is going to go in the dumpster afterwards due to lack of storage. We each did our thing and helped each other when one of us needed something. Everyone involved in the process had a hand in the creation of this. We didn’t care if anyone came.

NOT I, ROCKABY, FOOTFALLS (from the Beckett shorts), 2020, photo by Gentle Bear Photography 

We have been largely ignored by the press for it, in spite of the rarity of this kind of thing happening, which only makes me think they just don’t care or understand this kind of work. Whatever. We didn’t do it for them. The one that did came gave us a glowing review, as have many of our patrons and theatre peers, so that was nice, but it wasn’t why we did it. We did it because it was art that needed to happen. We did it because it was in us and had to come out. And we have gotten more polished since 2001. So this show is just fabulous, and if nobody said anything about it, I would still know it. 

COME AND GO (from the Beckett shorts), 2020, photo by Gentle Bear Photography

Here’s that review, in case you’re interested:

I have missed this. It is making me remember why I do it. I want to go back to doing this all the time.  I don’t know how it will happen, but I think it needs to happen. At least some of the time. The whole experience has renewed my reasons for being in all this in the first place, and I don’t  want to let it go. 

Facebook Rage and Kindness



In the last month,  I’ve seen something that triggers me a lot.  Someone lashes out or vents about something  on social media that is obviously distressing them, and other people will say  scold them or even diminish their vent (‘you’re so negative,’ ‘get over it’, “cheer up’). Now, we all know it’s best not to emotionally vent on social media. It’s not necessarily dignified to air dirty laundry when you’ve just been fired or you’ve been dumped or  are just having a mental health crisis. However, because this is a big way we communicate now, it happens to the best of us, and I think it is important to be mindful of how we respond.




A few years ago, I was having a totally crap time of it. I was getting divorced right after turning 40, and immediately panicked that I was suddenly alone, falling into a series of very wrong relationships that made me feel like I would never feel worthy of respect again. I was also suddenly paying twice the bills I’d had previously, and very stressed out working full time as a college teacher, while also running my non profit theatre, an extra full time job that I don’t get paid for, and rarely get personal validation for doing. I felt like my brain was in absolute chaos for a long time, and I felt totally isolated in my misery. 


We all have our own responses to trauma, and I responded to that one by drinking too much wine and lashing out in my Facebook posts. Hardly anyone asked me if I was ok. Most people responded by either deleting me as a friend, telling me I was negative and needed to ‘cheer up’, or just ignoring me, which I guess was the kindest of the three. Some people would ‘like’ the post, which I guess meant they were at least trying to be supportive. One or two would reach out personally and let me talk to them about it until I calmed down and felt better and felt more positive for the moment, but afterwards I usually felt ashamed that I needed that. That wasn’t my real personality. I was temporarily in distress. Occasionally,  I felt like just giving up on life, and that was my scream for help. I ended up struggling through it, and coming out on the other side, after a lot of time and work on myself. I thank the people who tolerated me and stayed my friend through all that. I owe you one, and I will remember it if you ever find yourself in a similar position. 

This article on NPR’s website describes how a person who was lashing out in anger was turned around completely when the object of his venting responded with kindness, instead of retaliating with more angry words.

Inspired by this exchange, I recently saw a person I don’t know that well posting angrily about how his life sucks, posting things like ‘what the hell is the fucking point?’ a few times over several days. People were doing the usual ‘cheer up’ and ‘why are you so negative?’, which was making him more angry and the conversation got really nasty a couple of times.  Scrolling through the person’s page, I saw that he’d been unemployed after losing a job, and he’d been forced to move in with relatives because he was having trouble finding employment. I didn’t feel like I knew him well enough to reach out with a message and offer help, but I tried some supportive comments on the angry posts, commiserating with him, rather than criticizing him, and he immediately opened up to me and started sharing what was wrong. We had a  conversation that ended with him seeming much calmer about it all. If I, a relative stranger, could find that information within a few minutes and react with kindness, why couldn’t someone who knows and sees this guy in person take him aside and say ‘I’ve noticed you seem to be in distress. What is going on, and how can I help you fix it?” I suppose sometimes a person is just a negative person, and reaching out won’t help, but I’d be willing to bet most of the time it’s not that. The person just needs a friend to vent to and doesn’t have anyone they feel comfortable reaching out to directly. It’s worth taking the chance to find out.  If you can’t do that, unfollow the person until the crisis is over. That’s the least you can do. 


Recently, I’ve had 2 different people say to me in some way, ‘you’ve really come a long way with your attitude’. These are people who don’t really see me in day to day life, but seem to have defined what my personality and attitude is like based on a short time period of watching my facebook posts during a terrible time in my life and judging me accordingly. No, I haven’t changed as a person. I was always this person. I was just having a really hard time for a little while, and now my life is much better. Maybe next time you see someone lashing out, try to see if they need help instead of deciding they’re just too negative to be around.  React with kindness and you might find that you can help be a solution to someone’s real problem, instead of just judging a whole person based on Facebook. 

On being inclusive

We all know what it feels like to be left out. It happens to me all the time, especially since social media was invented. In the old days, you might find out about things you weren’t invited to, but it was usually after the fact, and though it might sting just a bit, you didn’t have it rubbed in your face by people posting photos online, sometimes in real time, of whatever you were excluded from. I guess I’m not really left out any more than I used to be, but it feels like more when I can see everyone posting about everything they are doing constantly. 

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It feels good to be included

 Recently, I read this article, and I was forced to remember that  I’m not alone to feel like this. Almost everyone probably feels this way from time to time. 


 It’s hard not to take it personally when everyone you know is invited to a wedding, and you weren’t. Or when you see close friends posting pictures of their group outings and you weren’t included. Or when you see some industry related event happening that you weren’t invited to. It hurts, and it makes you feel very isolated if you dwell on it. When I’ve reflected on those moments after the hurt wore off, I had to realize that I’ve probably made someone feel that way too without even knowing it, and that makes me feel even worse than being left out myself. It also teaches me to forgive the people who didn’t think of me.  

It is important to remember that sometimes you are one of the people in those photos.

My nature is to try to include everyone, and this has sometimes caused me trouble, to be honest. 

One issue I’ve had is that many people think that if you are a leader who is open to sharing the glory, treating people as equals and giving others a chance to shine, it means you are not confident or strong, and therefore not deserving of respect. If you don’t hold self promotion above collaboration, you must be a hack. 

People who are good at self promotion are able to put themselves on a pedestal and therefore require others to see them that way. I am in awe of this, and have always wanted to be that way, but never have the ability to pull it off.  Recently, a friend of mine who is very good at self promotion and maintaining respect as a leader told me that she thinks people don’t like her, and that I should be happy that so many people like me and that I’m popular. I was like.. “What?? I  thought YOU were popular! Everyone respects you!” I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the meadow, but neither of us is going to be able to be a different person than who we are. I guess all we can do is to try to do better in areas where we are not so proficient, but also to nurture our own gifts and stop being frustrated that we are not like someone else. 

Being inclusive has left me open to other trouble from time to time. For example, when I have  let an enthusiastic artist have too much of a voice in my theatre, only to find out the person is unstable and can’t work with others, stirring up trouble every time they are involved in something. On those occasions,  others in my circle have told me not to be so open, and I didn’t heed the warnings because it isn’t in my nature to be exclusive, but my lack of boundaries with people like that ends up negatively affecting others, so after a few times of that happening, I have been forced to become a bit more hesitant to include people too quickly.  This sometimes also happens in friendships, where I have let someone in too fast only to be tossed aside when I’m no longer useful. These experiences have forced me to learn to go against my nature, and to try harder to require people to prove that they deserve entry into my world. 

On the other hand, my tendency to include people has helped me to nurture many grateful artists, as well as led me to some of the most important friendships in my life. I also have a lot of connections with interesting people who enrich my life in a number of ways because I’ve given them a chance.  I think there’s a fine line I haven’t quite found, but that I really can’t have the good parts of a generous nature without occasionally encountering the bad. 

It is a goal of mine to continue to be the kind of person who tries to make room for everyone, without compromising herself in the process. Sometimes, I’m just muddled or too full of things to do and I lose my path a bit, but I am trying to do better not to ever make anyone feel left out without losing my grip on myself in the process. 


“If you wanna be one of the non-conformists, all you have to do is dress just like us and listen to the same music we do.” – Southpark

Who decides what is ‘weird’ anyway? 


Quite a few years ago, my friend John and I went to see a play in the upstairs room of a bar in Montrose. This is when Montrose was still weird and wonderful and we were just starting an experimental theater together. We were scouting out the bar for a play we were going to create.  It was a black comedy that had incest, cannibalism, bondage and murder in it. Basically it was him emptying his head of all kinds of demons, and me relating to it enough to want to direct/produce it (and I added plenty of weirdness to it, too). The play we had just seen was also very weird, and we loved it. We felt like we’d found the perfect weird place to do it. 

As we were leaving, we had to walk past a row of people in green, red or blue mohawks, facial piercings and tattoos. They were all dressed up for some concert that was happening in the space after the play. As we passed, one of them said  loudly, looking down his nose at us with total disdain,  “look at the cookie cutter people!” Obviously, he said that because we both had natural hair, no visible tattoos (I don’t think he has any. I don’t), no facial piercings, and we both were wearing pretty mainstream, gender-specific clothes.  However, we didn’t look as much like each other as all those people looked alike, so I just laughed at the guy who said it. Inside, I was a little offended, though. To be honest, I thought.. “you would be shaking in your fake combat boots if you knew how scary we are.” I didn’t say it, because there were a lot of them and only 2 of us. 

But as I always do after I’ve gotten mad at someone for hurting my feelings, I went back and thought about what it was about me would make someone react that way, and what about that other person would make them want to be mean like that towards me.  I knew that John and I were quite possibly among the strangest people I knew. We had both been odd our whole lives. We both had difficult, traumatic childhoods and had become the kind of people who made art as a necessity because it was the only thing that kept us tethered to the world.  We didn’t need costumes to prove to anyone we were bizarro freaks.  In fact, you could say we had spent our whole lives trying to disguise ourselves as ‘normal people’ in a desperate attempt to blend in.

John and Me acting together in a show by Dos Chicas Theater Commune (a Sadomasochistic XMas)

I wondered if the people in those goth/punk costumes felt ordinary on the inside, so they had to be as expressive as possible on the outside so they could feel unique? Or was this just another way of blending in, but just blending in with specific people?  Or were they all just really so bold that they didn’t mind showing an outward expression of their weirdness to the world, like they were flipping the bird to everyone else? I don’t know for sure what is in someone else’s heart, but I wondered why someone who seemed to want to embrace the right to be who they wanted to be would judge anyone else so harshly for the way they dressed.  I only know that if I had tried to do that goth thing, I most definitely would have gotten it wrong. It was too specific for me in its rules to ever be able to pull it off. I also would have gotten really freaked out if people had stared at me because of the way I looked. I would worry they could see the inside of my head. 

Also.. if they were trying to be ‘unique’, they totally failed, because they were the true cookie cutter people that day.  They were just like the ‘cool kids’ in high school who taunt the weirdos. We were the weirdos, like we always are.

It’s like that SOUTHPARK episode, when Stan is depressed and makes friends with the goth kids, and one of them tells him: “If you wanna be one of the non-conformists, all you have to do is dress just like us and listen to the same music we do.” 

Anyway, just a story of an epiphany I had one time.  Everyone’s just trying to find a way to be special. Maybe we’re all weird inside and nobody is weird, and we all just do different things about it.

Here’s some pictures of the art John and I made together, with other weirdos helping us, of course. We all find each other eventually.  Photos courtesy of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company (

‘Night of The Giant’, by John Harvey.. with me and Amy Warren.
Dan Laden, Me and Josh Gray in ‘Eros: A Circus” , by John Harvey
‘Rome’ , by John Harvey, directed by me (Christie Guidry and HR Bradford)
Us pretending to be normal


Inspiring Women

Happy Sunday,

I haven’t blogged in a bit. I’ve been busy-busy and a little bogged down mentally lately, and also feeling like I’m always struggling against impossible obstacles. Today, I read some inspiring stories about 5 women in the world’s largest refugee camps in Kenya. Apparently, the ‘average length of displacement’ in these camps has risen to an estimated 26 years. These 5 women have seemingly insurmountable challenges thrown at them by their situation, and still, they have managed to flourish, and instead of just waiting around for a better future, they have created their own present. There’s a self-made filmmaker, a mechanic, a stove maker, a dress maker and an aspiring software engineer.

I’m sharing the link here in case anyone else (my 5 followers :)) wants to read about it in Danai Gurira’s newsletter. I love her, so I get her newsletter. She is an amazing human.

Read it here   Learn about some bad-ass women.

This picture/logo is from the newsletter on the site. I hope I’m allowed to use it. If you like the story, you can sign up to get emails from them.







I GOT A HANDMAID’S TALE JACKET!#BlessedBeTheFight #HandmaidsTale

So.. less than a week ago, I got this email from Hulu, saying:

“We know you’re a big fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, so we wanted to thank you for being with the show since the beginning. We partnered with Levi’s® to create an exclusive, limited-edition Handmaid’s Tale jacket to give to a select number of dedicated fans, including you.

This jacket is free (seriously!). To get yours, just use the link and code below. You’ll be able to select your size and tell us where to send it – but please hurry because we only made 2,020 of these jackets and are gifting on a first-come-first-served basis (and sizes are getting limited).”

Then there was a claim code to put in.

I almost deleted it because I thought it was spam, but it came from Hulu, and I do watch Handmaid’s Tale, so I thought ‘what the heck’ and I replied with my size and my claim code. Five days later.. I got the cutest denim jacket delivered to me with patches to put on it if I wanted. For free! Come to find out, many people covet this, and I was very lucky to be chosen!

Y’all, this never happens to me. I literally never win anything. I won a couple of medals for playing the flute in high school, and an essay contest when I was 10, but that’s about it. Chance drawings.. forget it. I do not have luck. So I feel super chosen right now.

There was a note in the box asking recipients to post selfies ‘styling the jacket’. Sounds like a small thing to do for a free jacket.

So here’s me styling the jacket! I haven’t put the patches on yet because they wouldn’t iron on like the instructions said, so I’ll sew them when I have time.


Photos by Steven Wolfe (my husband).

And here are the patches. Handmaid’s Tale watchers will get what they mean..


So… that was me having luck for once! Have a nice rest of the week!


Childhood Trauma and PTSD- My Journey

I’m opening up about this because it has been a hard journey of self-discovery for the last few years.  It took a series of unwise and toxic relationships, a few years of self-medicating by having drinks almost every day, and finally cutting the cord on how much work and other people were allowed to dominate my life to really start focusing inward and working on this. 

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 I’m saying this out loud, partly to let people have a bit more understanding of me and people like me, but also to maybe help someone else who hasn’t yet realized these same things about themself. Yes, I’ve been to therapy. I was told by a few therapists that I don’t have an actual ‘mental illness’, I have childhood trauma that has caused a form of PTSD. Being able to know what it is has helped me help myself.  I can’t take a pill to help it. I have to deal with it in my brain pretty much daily if I don’t want it to take control of my life. 

To be honest, I don’t remember most of the details of my childhood. This is a common defense response in people who suffered abuse. I had a stepfather who was pretty terrible to me during my formative years, and I have a few specific incidents that stay in my catalogue of memories that I can relate if asked, but many of them are just woven into the fabric of my brain, and not really stories I can tell as a narrative.  I just know I spent most of my childhood feeling like I could be in a lot of serious trouble without warning for things that were just normal kid behavior (like talking too loud, leaving a light on by accident, forgetting a chore, and more than once just for reading in my room when my presence was requested elsewhere) or I could be ridiculed in a sudden and humiliating manner for something natural I was doing or reacting to. There was some physical abuse disguised as discipline, but mostly I was just emotionally and mentally under attack without warning almost all the time when he was around. If you grew up like that,  and you survived it to be a relatively successful and productive adult, you might not understand how it changed you from who you might have been to who you actually are. It’s not something you can change back, but you have to learn to manage it for your own good. 

I’ve been reading a lot about how childhood trauma, particularly when it comes from abuse,  can cause a form of PTSD. When the world is unstable and dangerous while your personality is forming, you develop a heightened awareness of anything potentially dangerous around you. It is a defense mechanism to survive your childhood as a helpless person in constant danger. For me, noise, light, crowds and even just the wrong situation at an unplanned moment can trigger it.  If a baby is crying in a restaurant, or a phone is ringing without being answered, other people show normal levels of annoyance, but I actually feel like I’m under a real and dangerous attack, and I panic. I get hot, my fear level goes up, and my anxiety is so high that I often feel like I’m shaking inside. If it happens on a TV show or a movie, I have to mute it until it’s over.  Like if it doesn’t stop soon, I will actually lose my mind and run out screaming so I won’t die. I know if I verbalize it or show my distress, other people will think I am unreasonable, so I often have to actually just shut down as much as I can until it stops so I don’t seem unreasonable to other people, including my husband who just silently tolerates me if I verbalize it too intensely, which to me often feels like judging, and that makes my reaction even worse. Strangely, it can pass as fast as it happens once the source of the issue is away from me. Then I just feel unreasonable, bad, flawed and ugly about it in the aftermath. 

This also happens in crowds where people are too close to me for too long and I feel like I am having a panic attack just trying to maintain my personal space, or when anything is too loud or light is too bright. I always just thought I was just very sensitive (which  always seemed like a weakness to me), but it is actually more like people who have been in war-zones who go into full panic mode when someone sets off firecrackers or a car backfires. 

All of this is apparently called ‘Hypervigilance’, which is extreme or excessive vigilance : the state of being highly or abnormally alert to potential danger or threat.”(merriam-webster).  It might result in a severe state of anxiety that eventually causes exhaustion, because the person experiencing it is constantly looking for danger in a particular situation. This is a fight or flight response that develops in childhood to protect you from the dangers in your home with your family.  Some people are apparently like this all the time, which I imagine is absolutely miserable for them. With me, it is triggered by certain environments and situations, and I’ve largely learned to avoid situations that might make me feel that way as much as I can. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, however, and I have what probably seems like an unreasonable meltdown to anyone who is around when it happens. 

If I get overwhelmed with too many things that I have to do, I sometimes get panicked that I will forget something. Because I am a full time college instructor and I run a theatre that doesn’t have the budget for a real staff, I am constantly working if I don’t just force myself to stop. I have gotten pretty good at managing everything, by keeping to-do lists for when I have a million balls in the air and can’t get finished with anything because other people won’t give me the information I need to cross something off, or I just run out of time that day and need to rest my head.  I answer people who need things from me as immediately as I can to avoid a pileup at an inconvenient time. I can usually just move something to another day to finish and forget about it in that moment so I don’t get so overwhelmed with unfinished things on my mind that I melt down over it. Sometimes other people control the situation, though, and too many extra things are sprung on me at once that are unexpected and I don’t have time to sort them on my lists. Or people are in my face when a lot of things come up at the same time, and it throws off all my plans and I panic, and lash out or melt down because I can’t physically remove myself from the situation. It’s not completely unreasonable, because most people would be stressed by the amount of work that piles up on a person with 2 full jobs, but people without PTSD can walk away from it more easily or control the stress reaction more manageably. I can most of the time control it enough on the surface to get through the situation. Once in a while, I can’t. Then I spend days obsessing about how I upset someone over it. 

The other thing that happens as a result of this PTSD is a hyper-awareness of other people’s reactions or feelings toward you. You develop an almost psychic sense of when someone is displeased or doesn’t like you, and it can be distressing in a way that most people would see as silly. I realized along the way that when someone didn’t like me or was upset with me, I would panic and spend an unreasonable amount of energy feeling upset about it, and trying hard to counter it by giving that person too much in an attempt to win them somehow. If I am slighted in a situation where I feel  I should have been noticed, I often suffer hard for that emotionally for days. That’s a response to a parent (in my case, a step parent) always disapproving, showing disdain and never giving praise for any accomplishment. You grow up depending on other people’s opinions and reactions to let you know how you’re doing in the world, because you never really get a sense of how to gauge it on your own. On the other hand, one little accolade or nice thing someone says can feed my soul and keep me basking in sunlight for weeks, provided I don’t decide it’s not true and try to give the credit to everyone else. I’m happy to say that I”ve gotten much better at blocking out people who don’t like or approve of me, and moving on. I really have to work hard on the other part of this, though. Every time I’m triggered. 


I know that this is part of my personality and my brain, and I cannot remove it. I know that the only reason I did not develop something worse is that I am naturally resilient, and for that, I am thankful. Knowing what it is helps me, and I have gotten to where I can control my responses, at least on the surface, most of the time. Sometimes I feel it terribly, but I’m able to not show it, which is a huge thing for me, and honestly that is the best I can hope for. Once in a while, I don’t do such a good job. I apologize to people who suffer or feel confusion when that happens.  Trust me, when I mess up, I feel a lot worse about it for a lot longer than anyone who got caught in the crossfire. It’s a lifelong journey for anyone to work on themselves, and it’s no different for me, but I will keep working. 

(photos courtesy of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company,  by Anthony Rathbun, 2007).

“Can a Woman Be Elected President?” How is this Even a Question?

At the moment, everyone I happen to know is discussing the democratic candidates, in person and all over social media. This is the first time we’ve had multiple women running in the primaries,  which is exciting to many of us, but it boggles the mind if we are calling ourselves a modern country. How have women been kept out of that job for so long? “The Patriarchy” is the usual response to that question. That enemy.. “The patriarchy’” is familiar. We know we have to struggle against male power to have our voices heard, or to maintain our rights. But what about the women who join the men to oppress other women? Why do they do that, and how do we make them understand that they have the power to help us change things to benefit all of us, including them? 

From what I understand,  47% of white women voted for Donald Trump. This was after he made fun of handicapped people, talked about ‘grabbing pussies ‘and was accused of sexual assault. Not to mention all the times he was hateful, racist or downright stupid on twitter or in a comment he made about something.  Yet, multiple times this week, I have seen women saying they agree with Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren’s policies, but they won’t vote for her because she is too ‘aggressive’ or ‘brash’. I’ve heard similar statements about Kamala Harris.  

Wait.. isn’t being assertive and strong kind of a requirement for leading a country?  All of the assertive and confident men who have been president were chosen partly because they possess those qualities, but  when the same tone is coming from a woman, it is ‘brash’. Would they seem like good leaders if they came across soft spoken and submissive?  I feel like they would simply be dismissed, as we have seen happen to others before them. This discussion is not limited to my social media pages. A New York Times article just last was focused on the question, “Do you really think a woman could be elected president?” 

How is this still a question in this country? Why are we not ready for this when all across Europe, women have been leaders for decades? Even countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia and many other parts of the world reached this milestone long ago. What is our problem with this, and why do even women join in keeping this progress from happening? 

 I don’t think the negative responses to female candidates is always a conscious one.  I think this is deeply imbedded, learned thinking, trained into us since childhood to keep women in their place as second class citizens. 

When I was seven, a boy pushed me down on the playground because I wouldn’t let him kiss me.  I got up and pushed him back and a female teacher saw the exchange and instead of asking what happened, she scolded me for fighting, because girls are not supposed to fight. I then got a number of disapproving looks from other girls, who seemed to already know this rule. I don’t remember if the teacher said anything to the boy, but I do remember feeling very ashamed and betrayed,  and learning at that moment that I had to control myself more than a boy did. This was often reinforced in my own house when it came to myself and my brother, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that it applied elsewhere, as well. 

In fifth grade, two kids in my class both acted up in the same week. One was a boy named Moses, who was always acting up, and the other was a girl named Loretta. Time and time again, the female teacher mildly scolded Moses for his constant antics, but when Loretta acted up one time, she was spanked with a paddle in front of the class. We all learned that acting out was not tolerated when a girl did it the same as when a boy did. By age 11, other women had firmly taught me that girls were held to a different standard than boys. 

There are all kinds of ways society’s expectations divide women from other women. Recently, I decided to chime in on a conversation about a Netflix show that people were talking about called ‘Insatiable’, in which an overweight girl’s life changes when an accident forces her on a liquid diet, and she ends up a skinny beauty queen. The discussion was mostly about whether it was politically correct to make it clear that the girl’s life is better after she loses weight, instead of just accepting herself as she is. I didn’t chime in until the quality of the work was being discussed, and then I said ‘I watched it, and I thought the writing was over the top and a little ridiculous.” I was immediately shut down by a woman acquaintance who said ‘your opinion isn’t really relevant.  You’ve never had a weight problem.” She was supported almost immediately by another woman.  

There were men involved in that conversation, and nobody shut them down.  They were allowed to have all kinds of opinions on women and their body acceptance, as well as on the quality of the show, but I was the enemy when I spoke, because I was perceived as a woman who didn’t understand being in that particular group of marginalized women, and therefore, I had to be shut down.  This kind of micro-aggression from women to other women happens all the time in everyday life. It is just one more division we’ve created ourselves by our society’s expectations of us. 

As I pondered of these women who shut down other women, I was reminded of Jocelyn,  who briefly dated a friend of mine when I was in my 20’s. She was new to our area and didn’t know anyone, and came into our group of friends because she was dating one of the guys that hung out with us. She wore a lot of makeup and sexy clothes all the time, even when we went for picnics in the park. She obviously spent a lot of time and money on her looks. She would literally ignore the other girls when we all hung out together. I actually saw her turn her head away and pretend she didn’t hear when another young woman asked her a question in an attempt to include her in a conversation. She only talked to the men, and hung on their every word.  We all figured out quickly what she was about, and we just stopped trying. We didn’t invite her to ‘ladies only’ events, but bashed her whenever we got together. When the guy broke up with her, she had nobody. I felt a little bad for her, because that is a time when you rely on your girlfriends for emotional support, and none of us wanted anything to do with her. One of the other men might have slept with her once, but the rest of them forgot about her the minute their friend tossed her aside, and I don’t even know what happened to her. At the next girl’s night, we all collectively decided she got what she deserved . I do wonder if she learned from it, or if she spent her life feeling like she was only valued for what men saw in her. I hope she learned. 

 Now, I see her kind everywhere I look, and I think I understand that deep down, they are just afraid of not being on the winning side. Aligning themselves with men is safe. Fighting against the patriarchy by supporting other women is risky. Dismissing them and writing them off like my friends and I did to that sexpot years ago is not going to fix anything. We have to show them how to empower and value themselves first, and then they will have the confidence to empower other women. 

We have been divided by our patriarchal society. In the NY Times article, people were worried mostly about whether a woman ‘could win’ and they didn’t want to waste their votes.  The people I see on social media seem to be afraid of voting for a woman who doesn’t follow the rules of how a woman should come across personally. That insecurity is further dividing us. Nobody is asking you to invite Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris to dinner at your house or to your girls’ night happy hour, although I totally would invite them myself. We have to think about whether those ‘aggressive’ and ‘outspoken’ qualities that we might shy away from in a friend are strong qualities for a leader. If you really disagree with their politics, then don’t vote for them. All I’m saying is, judge them as leaders with the same gauge as you would judge a man, and maybe one of them can have a chance to answer that question, ‘“Do you really think a woman could be elected president?” 

— Jennifer Decker


I made this video in a workshop. I think it came out pretty good.

This was a digital storytelling workshop, to learn to tell stories my making videos of them to share with students or allow students to use as a tool in class. I was told to have a story in mind ahead of time, with images. I had two ideas.. 1) how my dog rescued me, 2) my childhood refuge from chaos at my grandmother’s house. When I got there, I suddenly realized that, though this one was far more painful and personal, it was definitely a more important issue in my life than anything else I had thought of. So on the spot, I changed it, and the story flowed out quickly.

Anyway, this is it if anyone is actually looking at this blog that I forget about for months at a time.


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