The Shimmy


Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

In 2008, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was defined by a teary-eyedmoment in New Hampshire. This time around, it might be the shimmy.

When we look back on Monday night’s Trump-Clinton debate, that’s the image that’s going to stick: Clinton, having listened calmly to long and largely incoherent ramble from her opponent, finally got her turn to speak, and launched with a little involuntary “Whoo! OK!” and a shoulder shake.

Within nanoseconds, the video had been turned into countless GIFs. By morning, it was mocked on Breitbart, with the all-caps headline: “WATCH: HILLARY CLINTON SHIMMY AT PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE GOES ON A FEW SECONDS TOO LONG.”

Did it? Who cares? It was perhaps the first moment in the entire campaign when Clinton looked like she was actually enjoying herself. When she seemed to be thinking, “I’ve got this.”

Read the rest here


In the Boston Globe: The Toll of Duty


On May 25, just shy of 4 p.m., an e-mail showed up in the inbox of every Boston Police Department officer. The subject line was “A Message from the Police Commissioner — Peer Support.” It began with a cryptic reference to “several recent sudden deaths within our ranks. Members that we have lost too soon.”

Officers in the trenches knew precisely what that meant. In the past month, the close community of New England law enforcement had seen several suicides, in different jurisdictions, in quick succession. Official department announcements used euphemistic terms like “sudden passing,” but first responders knew better. They were attuned to clues that came over the scanners: the middle-aged man with the gunshot wound in the neighborhood filled with cops.

Over the past few months and years, police officers have become one of the most talked-about groups of American professionals, courted and cited by politicians, scrutinized for their culture and tactics, honored for their bravery. The public understands that police work is dangerous, subject at times to acute risk and life-altering decisions.

But there’s another persistent threat to the safety of police and first responders, many officers and academics say: their own mental health.

Read the rest of the article, originally published in the Boston Globe, here.


In Politico Magazine: Why my daughter isn’t excited about Hillary

The night Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination, as TV anchors gushed about the penultimate crack in the highest glass ceiling, I tried to lure my 12-year-old daughter into the living room. I wanted her to witness history. She wanted to play a quiz on her phone. So when I put her to bed, I gave her a personal history lesson.

Yes, I’d had plenty of career opportunities, and she would, too. But her grandmother, born in Hillary’s generation, had to fight to go to college, and her options afterward were limited to jobs considered suitable for a woman. Even for those of us who grew up with wider horizons, a female president often seemed like a fantasy, reserved for TV characters and aspirational Barbie dolls. And now, here on TV was an actual, live woman on the brink.

Clinton’s nomination, long coming as it was, still seemed to sock 40-something women like me with a wallop last week. I was a rarity among my peers in the 1980s, a latchkey kid with a working mom, so my thrill might have been especially acute. But it wasn’t just me: My social feeds are filled with attestations of tears and unexpectedly deep joy.

But to women younger than I am, to say nothing of girls my daughter’s age, the ramp-up to history has been decidedly ho-hum…and in what Gen Xers like me would recognize as a profound irony, enthusiasm for Hillary’s groundbreaking campaign has, in large part, been a casualty of empowerment culture itself.
Read the rest of the article, originally published in Politico, here:



In Cognoscenti: Our national Venn Diagram


We’ve seen mass shootings. We’ve seen terror attacks. We’ve seen hate crimes. Orlando is all of these: one giant Venn Diagram of woe. It’s amazing how many major themes of politics and culture are at play, how many agendas intersect.

But a tragedy can be an opportunity. In the heat of crisis, people come together. They embrace. They give blood. They hold vigils. They talk. They behave in character, and out of character: In between making racist statements about Muslims this week, Donald Trump managed to voice the most full-throated embrace of the LGBT community that we’ve heard from a Republican presidential candidate. It’s hard to know whom he swayed with either argument.

It’s also hard, in this age of Trump, to imagine much good coming from the swirl of rhetoric. But this is the moment to find common ground — and there’s plenty of opportunity, ample space in the intersecting center of our national Venn Diagram. So in the interest of solidarity, a backlash to polarization, an end to the gridlock that has eroded Americans’ confidence in their leaders, here is a proposed, bipartisan shortlist of things we should be able to agree on, post-Orlando:

Read the rest of the article, which originally appeared in Cognoscenti, here.


In the Boston Globe: RIP, old friend


IT WAS a Sony Dream Machine, model ICF-C120, purchased in the fall of 1990, when I was heading off to college. At the time, it was the latest in clock-radio technology: a white cube with digital numbers and analog FM/AM dials. It didn’t do the things future clock radios would do — play a CD, dock an iPod, connect to the cloud.

But it lasted, making its way through dorm rooms, apartments, and houses, surviving so many falls from the nightstand that, by the end, four pieces of duct tape held it together. And then, one day this winter, it took a final spill and its numbers disappeared. All that remained was a lonely green colon, flashing the absence of time.

What do you do when you suffer a loss in 2016? You post a requiem on Facebook. The outpouring surprised me. College friends waxed poetic about their own ’90s-era Dream Machines. A former coworker confessed that she’d retired hers prematurely and never figured out how to work the replacement. We might love the next big thing, but we still marvel at a household appliance that measures its lifespan in decades.

Read the rest of this piece, originally published in the Boston Globe, here.

Chicken update: To every hen there is a season

In the winter, chickens get sick. Sometimes, you see it happening. A year ago, during Boston’s Winter of Unfathomable Show, I spotted Dee Dee looking wan and wobbly took her to the animal ER. It wasn’t the smartest financial decision of my life, but at least she turned out to be fine.

In the summer, chickens dig. They can’t squeeze too much knowledge into their small chicken brains, but they know there might be a tasty grub beneath every square inch of dirt in the backyard. Their dinosaur feet turn out to be excellent at digging for grubs, but not so good for grass. This is a problem with letting them roam free. Also: they fertilize the patio. In August, tired of sweeping poop and staring at our denuded lawn, we grounded the chickens in a fenced-in run. Sorry.

In the fall, chickens change. One day last October, we come home to discover feathers scattered all over the run. Had a predator come? Was there a scuffle? No. The hens were molting. Here’s how Dee Dee looked in her balding days. Fortunately, it grew back.

In the second winter, the chickens stop laying. Also, they get sick. One February morning, only two birds descended from the henhouse. The third was in a nesting box, stiff and cold. My husband identified her as Dee Dee. He told me in the morning as I was getting ready for work. She was the underdog, the outcast, the low bird on the totem pole, and I mourned all day for her sad chicken life. And then, the next morning, I opened the henhouse and Dee Dee came down.

The deceased, it turns out, was BeBe. Did she look just like Dee Dee? Not exactly. Her crown was floppier. See?

BeBe closeup

RIP, BeBe. She was the alpha bird, the food hoarder, the one who pecked at her sisters and monopolized the snacks. But she was also the chicken most likely to jump into your lap. Every creature is complex.

The rest of the winter is cold and sad. And then, one day in February, these appeared in the henhouse:

fresh eggs

It happened to be the same week that pitchers and catchers report. Forget about the calendar. These are the signs of spring.



‘Star Wars’ – because I said so

TO MY DEAREST children, on the occasion of the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”:

Like most parents today, I am dedicated to your general bliss, encouraged to support your choices and desires. To this end, I have endured many hours of “Caillou,” several increasingly inane Chipmunk movies, and a limited number of episodes of “Dance Moms.”

And yet, after all of that, you refuse to accompany me to “Star Wars.”

Seriously: I am the only person in the family who’s remotely excited about AARP Han Solo, or rusty R2D2, or an orange droid and some other intergalactic people. I’ve tried not to spoil myself too much, as I am holding out hope that I can get you to sit beside me in a darkened theater for 136 minutes, bribed with Milk Duds and Dots.

But you claim not to care about Dots. I guess the dentist finally got to you. And yes, I understand that you’re not sci-fi people. I’m the only one in the family who got physically upset over Cylon unveilings on “Battlestar Galactica,” and who once — OK, maybe more than once — set up a small shrine to Jean-Luc Picard.

But here’s the tragedy of modern parenting: It’s a lot harder now to impose culture by force.


Read the full Boston Globe column here.


Jon Stewart’s accidental legacy of snideness

Don’t get me wrong: I love Jon Stewart, and I’ll miss him. He’s witty, he hires great writers, his eye roll delivery is consistently pitch-perfect. For years, he’s been the nation’s best media critic. His brief monologue after the Charlie Hebdo slayings, about remembering who the true enemy is, was breathtaking.

But sometimes I worry that, without meaning to, he helped to spawn a couple of depressing trends in modern civic life. The first is the blurring of the lines between sarcasm and news. The second is the inevitable creep from sarcasm to snideness.

Read the full column from the Boston Globe here.

In ‘Fifty Shades,’ it’s not the sex, it’s the stuff

There are several kinds of porn in “Fifty Shades of Grey”: house porn, clothes porn, closet porn, helicopter porn, all of them more interesting than the sex scenes that have caused so much breathless anticipation. Those come across as stiffly academic, a cataloguing of body parts and equipment. The passion is largely missing.

The real appeal is the stuff. Imagine Christian Grey as a brooding freegan, who stalks our heroine in a beat-up Hyundai, lures her to his tiny house, then pulls a stash of whips and chains from a compartment under the bed-slash-sofa-slash-kitchen-table — and the whole thing falls apart.

Read the full column from the Boston Globe here.