Let’s Keep it Going (Or: Ode to Gloria)

I worry that 20- and 30-somethings all believe that it was always like this. That all jobs were always open to women as well as men, that education was an equal opportunity for women, that women’s sports programs were always available in schools, that women could always choose whatever last name they wanted to go by after marriage – keeping their own, adopting their husband’s, or hyphenating. That they always had the choices we have now.

I’m here to remind them that we didn’t. Having lived through the ‘60s and ‘70s, I can recall the blatant, unquestioned sex discrimination, the limited choices, and the contempt for women who wanted more. “More” meaning   to not have to deal with obstacles erected because of gender or custom.

I am grateful that my own transition into adulthood coincided with the rise of such brilliant and brave women as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, and the numerous others who risked everything by not taking no for an answer. (Read Gloria’s DTBF story, “On Self Esteem.”)

Before I even heard their names, I and many other girls my age had already experienced the frustration of being shut out from opportunities that were readily available to the boys our age. I remember specifically applying for a summer internship with the government that would allow the successful candidate to spend time in each department, to include a week’s ride-along with the city police. Because I had planned to major in the political and social sciences and was an honor student, I knew the internship would be a perfect fit. At least something I could shoot for.

I was not even allowed to apply for the internship because, I was told, “you’re a girl.” Hard to believe now, but true. Ever the optimist, on the day the interviews were scheduled, I put on my best interview outfit and reported to the guidance counselor’s office, asking to be seen. Told no again “because I was a girl,” I asked him why that was the policy and why that precluded me, a perfect candidate for the position, from even having an interview. The guidance counselor then patiently and explained to me that the police ride-along was the issue.

Not comprehending, I asked the reason for that. He looked uncomfortable. It was because, he said, it would entail me, a 16-year-old girl, being alone in a squad car with a male police officer. What would his wife think? What if we were in a compromising position? OK, I was still lost. I had never even heard the phrase “compromising position” before.  But I knew it must be something unsavory that was somehow my fault for being female.

Looking back, I realized that I and every other female student was refused that opportunity because either : a) all men are too unprofessional and bent on attacking 16-year-old girls at the first opportunity; or b) we were all tempting little tartlets just waiting to seduce an older man in uniform with a paunch and a three-pack-a-day habit. Nice.  I wonder they didn’t make us wear burkhas.

Angry about this and other injustices I experienced against myself and other girls and women, I remember the wonderful epiphany of hearing women like Gloria and  the resonance of the wonderful new word “Feminist.” Like the suffragists before them, these women were reviled and ridiculed, subject to the cruelest and most debasing insults and criticisms. Not to mention torture, imprisonment, and commitment to insane asylums. All resonant of Medieval or Calvinistic witch burnings. And still they kept on. They kept speaking. They kept writing. They kept leading.

In college, in the male-dominated major of law enforcement, I was constantly having to justify my presence to the majority male students, but I was now lucky to have the support of a more enlightened faculty. I felt buoyed by Gloria – I almost wanted to be her. I wore aviator-framed glasses just like hers  with  jeans, turtlenecks and boots (Gloria’s uniform), and reveled in the kinship I felt.

Things progressed for women as the ‘70s progressed, but the going was still tough . After marrying, I kept my own name (I refuse to use the ridiculous, laughably archaic term “maiden name.”) Thus began my battle with the IRS. It seemed that a couple could not file a joint return if they had different last names. I continued to refuse to use my husband’s last name on our return until after months, they finally I think just got sick of me and just gave up. After all, they couldn’t make me change my name, even though that at first seemed like kind of a revelation to them.

I’m proud to have been at the forefront of change. I am just sad that younger women today have no idea how we even got here, and are so willing to even give some of it back.  They have no idea how much thanks are due women like Gloria Steinem and others who were willing to risk everything to bring the rest of us forward. I am grateful for their fearlessness and their fabulousness. I am grateful for their leadership and their strength.


Two important websites  I  recommend: Name It. Change It and   Vital Voices

While we’re making other plans

In his song, “Beautiful Boy,” written for his son Sean, John Lennon sings,“life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  I love that quote. It’s a great statement; simple and profoundly true.

The unexpected is part of the deal, whether we like it or not. We simply can’t control everything.  Shit happens and stupendous “good luck” happens, too. Most of the time, it’s something in-between.  Life is meant to be a little bit messy.  If nothing else, experience teaches us this.

When I was seven, I had spent my entire life in Madrid. I considered myself a Spaniard, despite my American father and Canadian mother, because I spoke only Spanish and attended Spanish schools. To my dismay, my parents announced that we would be leaving my beloved España and moving to India. It was time for me to learn English, they told me, because we would soon be attending an international school. I was shocked.  How could this be? I vowed not to make any effort to learn English that summer.  I had a terrible attitude in class and purposely failed my tests in protest. Did it help? Naah. We moved anyway.

It was a harsh and quick lesson. My life was going to be influenced by a lot more than any of my construed desires. Flowing with change, particularly when there was no control, and choosing assimilation, was the best way to go. Of course, I was a child, so I wasn’t capable of planning a damn thing; I was just along for the ride. But I immediately learned the value of accepting change, if not even trying to embrace it a little. In a matter of months, I became pliant. No longer the solid Oak, but the flexible Maple, as it were. In fact, what I had struggled so hard against happening actually became an unexpectedly exciting journey.

My family moved to new countries several more times after that, and each new country, each new school, each new culture and home, reinforced the value of pliancy. Lots of things didn’t go as planned or hoped, but what I learned with experience, was that the more flexible I was, the more in the moment I could be. I enjoyed honing  my improvisational and personal skills that arose in response to doses of the unplanned or unforeseen. The stimulus of change also began to make me feel alive and renewed. I even felt constrained by a certain degree of self-definition that arose after too much time in one place, and too much routine. Each time we moved, I discovered new aspects of myself.  I wasn’t just Johanna to new friends. I was Yojana, Yoyo, Jo, Yoey, or Yo, depending on the country.

Malleability to new surroundings has been a key ingredient to finding serenity in my own life. Tragedies have also struck, as they do with all of us.  My dad passed away unexpectedly when he was only 54 years old. I had just turned 21 when that happened.  A few years later, my mother’s home burned down in the Oakland hills fire and all the physical remnants of our family history turned to ash. A Korean chest filled with over 30 photo albums from all of our years abroad was gone. Our furniture, art, and all of our collected memorabilia and history disappeared in a great flash. We were left with absolutamente nada to reflect our previous existence in a physical way.

Any sense of permanency in life remained absent. I never counted on anything, but I didn’t see that as being cynical. I chose to focus on what was in front of me and tried to fully appreciate it in the here and now. Everything was ephemeral and I treated it as such.

Though I have come to a different place in life, with many years of stability and routine, I still keep in mind that nothing is permanent and I continue to go with the flow as best I can. Shit certainly happens. Unfortunately, there ain’t no getting away from that, unless you’re a true Yogi.  But it’s equally important to note that unexpected good things happen, too  All the time. It’s important to remember that, especially if fear gets the best of us or if we start to feel rigid about wanting things to happen exactly the way we planned.

I figure the best we can do is try to go with the flow as best we can, pay attention to the here and the now and value that as the ‘present’ that it is, and to remain open to the new and unexpected.  We might as well, right?


Granny D was a walking example

On March 9, long time political activist and fabulous DTBF contributor Doris “Granny D” Haddock passed away.  She was 100 years old.   “Granny D” started generating media attention at the tender young age of 89.   That was in 1999, when this amazing woman decided to walk across America in an effort to raise awareness of campaign finance reform.  During this cross-continental walk, Haddock slept in tents, scaled mountain peaks, walked through deserts and gave lots of passionate speeches on the need for reform.   Just after turning 90, and 3,200 miles later, she reached her final destination of Washington, D.C., greeting thousands of supporters upon her arrival.  (Read Granny D’s DTBF story, an excerpt from her book, “Walking Across America in My Ninetieth Year.”)

A few years later, after turning 94,  Haddock ran as a Democratic nominee for a newly opened Senate seat in New Hampshire.  Her campaign for this seat was documented by film-maker Marlo Poras in “Run Granny Run.” Poras was in her early ’20’s at that time and says, “filming her was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done – and the most inspiring.”

For a longer bio, read Haddock’s Obituary notice from the Associated Press.  We also encourage you to watch some of her inspiring video clips on our DTBF youtube channel! (Look in our celebrated contributor playlist.)

May Haddock continue to be an inspiration to people everywhere!


Bigelow for the Oscar

As the 2010 Academy Awards approach on Sunday and we round the corner to “International Women’s Day” on Monday, March 8, I thought I’d take this opportunity to champion the few fabulous female film directors who have received a Best Director nomination for the Oscars in its 61-year history. May this year mark a first WIN.

The Swiss born Lina Wertmuller was the first of the female Best Director Oscar nominees, when she was nominated for the 1976 Italian film, “Seven Beauties.” Her film was up for four Oscars and won for Best Screenplay, which she also wrote. New Zealand-born Jane Campion came next, as the director of the 1993 award winning film, “The Piano,” which received a total of eight Academy Award nominations and won three (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Screenplay, also written by Campion.) The next nominee was America’s Sofia Coppola, nominated for “Lost in Translation” in 2003. This film garnered four nominations and like the others, also won the Oscar for Best Screenplay, written by Coppola . This year, Kathryn Bigelow, an American, has been nominated for the film, “The Hurt Locker” which has a total of nine Oscar nominations.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Bigelow being a novelty of sorts, due to the fact that she directed a movie about war and has a track record of choosing films that are fast paced and action centered. She takes a little umbrage at this “novelty” angle and simply describes herself as a film maker, gender aside, who happens to have an interest and a knack for this genre of film. She’s fielding journalistic queries by talking simply about her personal style. Her gender, she says, should be irrelevant.

I believe Bigelow deserves to win the Oscar for Best Director this year. Her film idea came about after she read a series of articles by journalist Mark Boal, who was embedded with a bomb squad unit in Iraq. She found the subject compelling and Boal came on board as her screenwriter. In making the film, Bigelow’s mission was to make everything as realistic as possible- to viscerally bring the audience into the bomb squad’s experience, instead of granting them a safe sense of detachment. To this end, she cast relatively unknown actors in principal roles, with better known actors playing the smaller characters. In addition, she shot the film almost entirely in Jordan, under extreme 110-150 degree heat, with the actors seeking cover inside Bedouin tents when they weren’t working.

I have watched several interviews with Bigelow and she references her background as a painter and multi-media artist as a big influence in her style as a film director. It’s definitely notable here. In “The Hurt Locker” she uses hand-held cameras to bring the audience into the story and to give it a documentary feel. This is not a film shot with beautiful, velvety cinematography. It is gritty, jumpy and rough. The soundtrack, too, is well considered. It draws you in. It’s pulsating, like your heart beat and it stokes that feeling in the pit of your stomach that something dangerous is looming. You feel like you’re among the soldiers, facing the situation equally.

“The Hurt Locker” is not a shoot-’em-up, bang, bang kind of film. This is a film that depicts what being at war is like in Iraq (and now, for that matter, in Afghanistan,) where the extreme heat and rugged topography challenge you daily; where your enemy is often hidden among civilians; and where every step you take can result in tripping an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) and causing a massive explosion. Bigelow captures it all and has your heart racing with suspense and fear from the very beginning of the film.

If you haven’t seen this film, do so. If you don’t like war films in general, then this might be the argument for why her gender makes a difference. It’s not like other war films. Yes, it’s gritty and it’s suspenseful and it has all the makings of the genre in this way, but Bigelow’s directorial touches and the film’s central focus on the characteristics of individuals who actually choose to be on an Army bomb squad…moving toward the danger every day…makes it riveting in a whole new way.



Brave in Ribbons by Patti Howard

This post is from Patti Howard.

“Then up rose Mrs Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out
but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons,
which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and
she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of
her daughters, also brave in ribbons … .”

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

This is my favorite Dickens quote. I’ve always wanted to write about it because, to my knowledge, it has been inexplicably overlooked. Yet the very first time I read it, it struck me deeply. In its simplicity and seemingly throwaway description of a hardworking and stoic woman waiting cheerfully for her beleaguered husband to come home so they can begin their meager, heartfelt Christmas celebration, volumes are said about the resilience of women in general.

A twice-turned gown – meaning it the skirt, sleeves, and neckline have been rehemmed more than once to hide fraying and wear – is a testament to Mrs. Cratchit’s pride, and sense of pride in herself, that she is not defeated by the poverty and appalling working conditions that typified not only her husband Bob Cratchit’s at the hands of Ebenezer Scrooge, but the conditions of workers and families in newly industrialized England itself. And, further, she adorns the gown with ribbons – cheap and pretty – that undoubtedly lifted her spirits for the celebration of the holiday that she was determined to make memorable for her family. She was indeed brave. And brave in ribbons.

I love Mrs. Cratchit. She is a minor character in A Christmas Carol, yet she epitomizes the best in women – the strength, the ability to take care of as many as need caring for in whatever situation, the ability to take charge, and the depth of the commitment they are able to show loved ones. And to occasionally look pretty while doing it all. (Which, let’s face it, makes everyone feel better.)

The year is ending. She has endured the trials and tribulations of yet another one. She is ready to celebrate. And the nicest part for me is that she has clearly even passed this on to her daughter, Belinda, “ … also brave in ribbons.”

Whatever we have been through during the year, it’s nearly at an end. We’re still here. We’ve survived it in some fashion or other, at least for now. We tended to those we care about, and maybe even made someone happy, whether we knew it or not. We can fly our flags – our pretty ribbons of endurance. At least we should. I urge you all to just say “I did it”! It might not have been much in your eyes or the eyes of others, but I’ll bet it really was. And then put on the clothes that make you feel special, however old and worn or new and sparkly they might be.

You are brave. Now be brave in ribbons. And tell your daughters.


Photo: Hermione Baddeley, A Christmas Carol, 1951.

Fab Celeb Updates

Check out our Celebrated Contributors page for an updated roster of notable women who have shared (or plan to share) their own DTBF stories. Below are some of their latest updates. (Click on their names to link to their DTBF stories!)

Ginny Lambrix

“I am now the Director of Winemaking and Viticulture at Truett Hurst. We have launched a new brand- VML- named after me and dedicated to Pinot. Very cool… And I have a nice little flock of goats and sheep… Perhaps the biggest news is that Jon and I are expecting a baby boy in February…. So lots of changes, all good. My first company picture was wearing my DTBF tee shirt!”

Renel Brooks Moon

Renel on the mike during her last show on Kiss FM

After 25 years of hosting 98.1 KISS FM’s “Renel in the Morning,” Renel Brooks-Moon has decided to step down. The radio station hosted a party in her honor and pictures and message boards are linked on their website, linked above, for her fans to visit. Meanwhile, Renel continues to be the public announcer for the San Francisco Giants. It’s been 10 years and she’s enjoying every minute! Read a recent interview with Renel, “Off radio but still at microphone,” published in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 27th.

Jill Robinson

Jill addressing the audience at the Second China International Animal and Nature Film Festival


Jill was in Chengdu for workshop meetings and events on site, then in Southern China as an invited participant for the Second China International Animal and Nature Film Festival in Sichuan province. Her China team was invited to join the event, which recognizes local and international filmmakers. The following quote is an excerpt from Jill’s blog:

“On the last night, it was like a scene out of Hollywood, with thousands of people crowded together in a huge auditorium, together with film crews shooting for live transmission on TV. “ While on stage to hand out a documentary award, Jill used the opportunity to discuss the endangerment of sharks and pandas along with re-iterating the need for China to stop the cruel practices inflected on her beautiful moon bears. She continues in her blog, “Now, since the festival, we’ve had several fairly high-profile people in both local and international film and media asking if they can come along and visit the bears – and so the message widens and perhaps our little piece of heaven in Chengdu will convince them to do more.”

Never resting, Jill then headed to Europe where she will be for another 3 weeks.

Terri Lyne Carrington


“My new CD “More To Say” is finally out after nearly 2 years in the making! I am real proud of it and hope that other folks like it too! Most of my time these days is spent chasing my 3 year old around or teaching at Berklee, as well as gigs and session, so I am busier than a one armed paper hanger! All good – I am not complaining…. Until next time….” Terri Lyne

Check out Tavis Smiley’s recent interview with Terri Lyne regarding her new CD.

Rory Freedman

Rory in her kitchen, as seen in the New York Times

Rory just returned from a two-month backpacking jaunt around Europe and has never been so inspired creatively. She’s ready to get crackin’ on another book—maybe even one that’s fiction.


Nalini Nadkarni

Nalini speaking at the TED Conference.


I gave a talk at the TED Conference in Long Beach this spring. It is a high-profile conference with many “idea people” who talk about their work, dreams, and accomplishments. Each talk is only 18 minutes, and it is hard to cram all the things one wants to say into that time. It has been seen by many people around the world, and nearly all of the feedback has been about people who are excited about trees and forests and trying to save them. That is very hopeful to me.

There were some good developments in terms of science outreach beyond science. Several of my projects were featured on the splash page of the National Science Foundation website. One of them was the “canopy rap” project I created, in which I hired a rap singer to accompany me and two other scientists with 40 urban youth (middle school aged) into the forest to learn about the plants and animals. The rap singer made up songs about the forest, and the kids did, too! They ended up making a CD of their songs in the sound studios of my college, and each student took home a copy of it for their friends and family.

In addition to these, I was really happy to be in the forest this summer. My family (husband and two teenage kids, Gus and Erika) took a six day backpacking trip to a remote area of the North Cascades National Park. We saw only 4 people in the six days we were there. And just last week, I took my annual solo backpacking trip to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness for six days. It was great to be out there on my own, just hiking, watching marmots, eating simple food, watching the starts, and letting my thoughts quiet and settle away from the everyday hubbub of life. But I’m glad to be back with my family and garden and work!



Ingrid Newkirk


“I’ve been on tour with a book lately. I’m asking people to consider loaning a copy to that person at work who loves dogs but who doesn’t think about other animals, that neighbor with the fur coat in the back of the closet – too embarrassed to wear it again; and that relative who insists you have “just a little” of the turkey at Thanksgiving, as well as to that wonderful kid on your block who rescues the birds fallen out of trees or who won’t cut up the frog in class. I’ve used real life stories to bring the individual animals alive and give them a voice and the book is packed with great resources, simple options, and compassionate solutions to rid our lives of the casual cruelty that wheedles its way into what we buy, eat, do and wear. I hope you take a peek and enjoy it a lot!



Dianne Reeves


Dianne Reeves can be seen on tour throughout the rest of this year . She is also recording a new album which will be out next year. We’ll announce it as soon as it’s out!

Kamala Lopez

Kamala at the New York Latino International Film Festival.


“The good news is that A Single Woman won the Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus in DC!

Also, I am developing a TV series about girls and gangs and I wrote a related article on Huff Po about what’s going on with that.




Kelly Dobbins


Kelly is currently training to compete in the NPC National Bodybuilding and Figure Championships this November.



Julia Butterfly Hill

Julia’s recent photo in the SF Chronicle.


Julia continues to inspire people to speak up, take action and make a difference in this world. Check out “Catching up with…Julia Butterfly Hill,” an article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle last April. Julia also continues to update on her own blog.

“We did it!”

When I was in high school, my friend Cara and I would share our dreams and enthusiastically coach each other into believing them into truth. We concurred that thinking of our dreams as having already happened and speaking of them in the past tense, telling each other stories about what had already occurred, was one way to take them further into manifestation. Thus was borne our mutual and enthusiastic cheer, “We did it!” We would say this to each other whenever we parted. When my family moved away at the end of my junior year, we gave each other silver bracelets with this phrase engraved on top, and our names on the back.

Sometimes, I wondered if telling each other stories and using the past tense might not be such a positive exercise. I wondered if perhaps it was simply a case of two girls descending further into the Lala land of our imaginations … and further away from a focus on ‘reality.’ Now, however, I realize there was something to it. There’s a lot to be said for moving into belief. (Mind you, I’m also an actress and Lala Land was exactly where I ended up. So hey, maybe it worked!)

There are many ways to affirm the vision of one’s future. Affirmations, in general, tend to get a little ridiculed, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with the idea of feeding yourself positive statements throughout the course of the day. (Frankly, the negative ones seem to come all too naturally for most people.)

Some life coaches will tell you this: when you want to realize something in your life, get very specific on how you want that to look. See it in your head. Affirm it constantly. Personally, I don’t tend to set my sights on results. For me, it’s the journey that I want to affirm. (That probably comes from how I grew up, moving from country to country and never knowing how long I’d be in one place.) My feeling is we’re always in the journey. Right? We may experience temporary bliss upon having achieved a particular goal, but then, we’re back into the journey almost instantly. There is no there there.

So given this, I want to affirm a joyous and fulfilling journey. A journey that leads to many wonderful surprises and discoveries. A journey filled with love and laughter. A journey where my inner being feels whole and at peace. I actually like not knowing exactly where I’m going. I steer myself as best I can, but I like to stay open and to let the rest reveal itself. I even do this when I go on a long hike. I don’t like to look at the destined peak ahead and factor in the distance between us. I know it’s there and I know that’s where I’ll be eventually, but unless I need to look at a map or track my path, I like to be in the moment to experience the unfolding of the journey. I’ll look back and see the course behind me later. I’m better at that. Then, that course is a known and experienced entity.

Positive thinking is something we all could use. I made an affirmation tape for myself years ago, when I was living in L.A. I would listen to it in the car as I drove to and from auditions. The affirmations I chose for myself were based on the general themes of creative fulfillment, health, happiness and love. I recorded them in my own voice. I used the first person and the present tense and affirmed all the qualities of a life that I wanted to fully realize. I listened to that tape when I went to meet with a top commercial agent in L.A. and I felt really upbeat during our meeting. She signed me on. I listened to that tape on the way to an audition for Star Trek, and I remember feeling really grounded, really connected, when I waited in the hallway to go in and read. Later that day, they called to tell me I got the role.

Mind you, there were many more days and many more car trips to audition after audition after audition that I didn’t land too; and there were days when I couldn’t bring myself to listen to that damn tape again. It bored me. It was repetitive and it felt ridiculous and I told myself that it didn’t work. But I forced myself to listen anyway, thinking of it like I would if I was going to the gym; it was my daily mental and emotional exercise. By exercising my brain this way, I allowed myself to default to a more positive place on a more frequent basis. And that could only help me in the long run.

Affirmations can be created in a number of ways. From the positive statements we repeat to ourselves each day, to the visualizations of something we want in our future, or even to using the present tense to talk about these things as if they’ve already happened. Positive thinking is always a good idea. It beats telling ourselves we’re not good enough, we aren’t liked and problems are all that await us. I say bring ’em on.
Dare to be fabulous every day.



Goodbye to Simon Chaitowitz

Almost a month and a half ago, we lost one of our great contributors and supporters to complications stemming from treatments for breast cancer.

Simon Chaitowitz was a dear friend to both Johanna and me and someone who continually kept the wind under the sails for many. Rather than writing about her on this site immediately after her passing, Johanna and I both felt the need to sit with this one for a bit and just absorb what the loss of Simon meant to both of us.

Simon was an enabler in the very best sense of the word. Though a brilliant thinker and writer herself, she was forever excited about what others were doing to make the world a better place – especially for animals, women, and the environment. She provided encouragement for any and all projects of her friends and colleagues. She was completely nonjudgmental and saw only the best in everyone. Simon was a great cheerleader for Dare To Be Fabulous as well. It meant a lot to us that such an incredible person and writing talent would take the time for us, especially at such a challenging point in her life.

Johanna and I have both known Simon for years. I first met her when I was organizing a fundraising event for a sanctuary in Cameroon that took in orphaned chimpanzees – victims of that country’s brutal bush meat trade which butchered their mothers for food right in front of their infants. Desperate for volunteer help, I put out an APB and Simon answered – enthusiastic, capable, and inspired no job too small for her, including finding a babysitter for the sanctuary founder’s baby daughter. She again came through for me when I was later organizing and animal advocacy conference in Washington, D.C., a short time later. Simon and I have been both friends and colleagues since that time.

I know Johanna has similar feelings, if I may speak for her. Simon was a great champion of Johanna’s advocacy work in getting vegetarian options into professional sports arenas across the country, SoyHappy.org. And in spite of her own precarious health, she was a wealth of knowledge, encouragement, and support for both of us with our own health issues a – a side of Simon I saw manifest with many other women who were also diagnosed with cancer.

Our greatest gift from Simon was her example of living fully each day, as well as she could, no matter what. Until she could absolutely no longer manage it, she kept up her wonderful blog with stories about her treatment, her hiking and kayaking, her getaways, and beautiful photos that she took herself of the nature around her that she loved so much. She continued to publish op-eds and letters to the editor, and had a column featured in the Huffington Post a month before her death.

Simon lived more fully than many of us ever will. Her time was too short and her value to all of us great. People often say the loss of someone is untimely, but in Simon’s case it is especially true.

Simon is the second member of the DTBF family we have lost since our inception. The other is the incomparable Gretchen Wyler whom we also lost to complications from breast cancer. Both of these amazing women believed in the power of encouraging other women to be who they are and do what they were put on the planet to do, without letting the opinions of others get in their way. They were both clear in their focus, clear in their dreams, and clear in their world view. They were both immeasurably fabulous.

We miss you, Simon. Say hello to Gretchen for us.


Click here to read Simon’s obituary in the Washington Post.

The Upper Hand

I read a column in Time Magazine about a month ago that has since been resonating with me. The column was about how the current economic crisis has given many employers the upper hand. With unemployment numbers increasing daily, and job opportunities shrinking, individuals who still hold jobs and benefits are feeling more grateful than ever. They know that their options are limited at best, and that simply keeping a job in this market has provided them with a very fortunate circumstance. Feeling beholden to their employers, they are aiming to please at all costs.

Many employers have tightened their budgets to compensate for the economic downturn. To this end, some have had to let go of employees and/or have implemented a hiring freeze. If the business is still keeping pace, this means that existing employees are carrying more of the load than they did before the economy turned sour. They are working harder and longer hours than ever expected and they are being asked to do more than their original job description ever outlined. All this without an increase in pay, I might add. And here’s the thing: they don’t dare quit or speak up, because they don’t want to lose their jobs. They have families to feed and bills to pay.

It’s become easy to take advantage of workers, so it’s important to keep this in check. People who have jobs are willing to take on extra duties or to work extra hard because they are focused solely on the gratitude of having a paying gig in the first place. That’s how things get unbalanced. The stress level alone takes a huge toll on them. And the fact that they aren’t being assertive in a way they might’ve been before, takes a further toll on their self esteem. They may have work and they may be able to pay the bills when their neighbors can’t, but that doesn’t make it okay.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame business owners for cutting back on their budgets right now. Many businesses are simply trying to stay afloat and, for the most part, they’re just trying to be pragmatic around the current circumstances. It makes absolute sense. There’s no arguing with limited funds and the prospect of a possible or likely decrease in business. However, there are temporary solutions that can be implemented to keep hard working employees fulfilled, if not at least, truly grateful.

An office I know has approached it this way. Though the staff may work long hours on some days, they’ve been granted the opportunity to come late or leave early on the days when it’s less busy. This has helped pick up their spirits significantly. They get to recoup and recharge, and their appreciation is palpable. They smile more often. They come into the office looking rejuvenated. They joyfully talk about what they were able to do with that extra time. There are other options that can be considered, too. What about extending them a few more days of vacation for this fiscal year? Or, if that isn’t viable, what about getting them gift certificates for an hour massage? After all, employers can easily write that off for next year’s taxes. And their staff will appreciate being given the opportunity to truly relax during this stressful time.

At the very least, employers should remember to give thanks. Employees are doing most of the thanking these days because they’re grateful to have a job and be spared the experience of standing in long unemployment lines. However, it’s just as vital for employers to realize when their workers are putting in that extra mile for them. Pats on the back and warm words of appreciation go a long way. Acknowledgement of the situation on both sides is key.

One thing we’re all learning as we watch the fall out of banks and auto manufacturers and investment groups is not to take anything for granted. Nothing comes with an absolute guarantee. So let’s take the time to express gratitude for what we do have, and to extend a helping hand in both directions. We’re all in this together.

I canceled my wedding

When I was 24, I canceled my wedding ten days before it was to happen. For a long time, I had a hard time talking about it. Whenever it came up, people would generally be supportive or sympathetic and I’d smile slightly with appreciation, but I winced at the same time. It took more than ten years to get over my feelings of shame and guilt. It took me that long to look back on my actions with any amount of objectivity or compassion.

Mark was my first boyfriend. He was adorable, odd, fun. I fell in love with him when I was a sophomore at Duke, and he had just graduated. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to pursue as a career, so he continued working in his previous summer job as a big rig driver with a local moving company. I think he’d concur that our shared adventures in that 18-wheeler were probably the highlight of our relationship. (I wrote briefly about that in my story “Truckin'”)

One year after my own graduation from Duke, Mark was accepted into law school in Sacramento, so we moved to California together. At the law school’s new student orientation, one of the speakers offered the depressing statistic that most couples at the onset of law school are unlikely to stay together through graduation. We looked at each other. “Not us,” we scoffed. A few months later, we became engaged.

While Mark attended law classes during the day, I worked at a children’s theatre company. While he studied diligently every night,  I attended rehearsals for roles I landed in local theatre productions. As I re-discovered creative expression through acting, Mark immersed himself in facts, logic and argument. His quirky humor and adventurous spirit began to give way to a stoic and serious demeanor. I knew the rigors of law school were tough, so I tried to provide him with support and encouragement. Yet, I felt restless. I yearned to expand and explore. I shared few of my own experiences with Mark, because law school was all-consuming. If he wasn’t in class, he was in the library or with a study group. Weekends were no different. I barely saw him. He’d apologize for his distracted state and his full-throttle focus on the law and I’d tell him that I understood.

I could make excuses about our situation being temporary, but at the same time, I felt like our paths were becoming more and more divergent. I’d been determined to support him, but now I was wondering, what about me?  I began to feel like two people: my old, predictable self with Mark, and my new, growing self in his absence. I began thinking about the fact that he was my first and only boyfriend; that we were still young and finding our way. I loved him, but getting married suddenly felt like a bad idea.

Our wedding day was fast approaching. Plans had been made and guests invited. I felt queasy and riddled with fear. He’d been my everything for five solid years. What was I going to do? For the first time since we’d been together, I felt utterly alone, facing the world and my life head on. I felt like I was living in a thick gray fog of foreboding.

Two weeks before the wedding, I called my mother.  When she asked me how I was feeling as the wedding approached,  I tried to lightly express my feelings of apprehension, as if they were probably normal or not to be taken too seriously. She  immediately got to the heart of the matter. She made it simple and practical and real. “This is your life, Johanna,” she said. “You need to do what your heart dictates. It’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. Don’t go through with it if you’re not ready.” Her sympathetic and loving tone touched me deeply. Then, she dared to present the option of a cancellation, as if it wasn’t a big deal. “It’s only money,” she said. “I think I can get deposits back, and if I don’t, it’s okay.” Perhaps this was why I had called her in the first place, a sub-conscious need to get consent.

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I hadn’t even thought about the deposits. These things were frankly the least of my concerns. The anxiety over possibly canceling our wedding had nothing to do with money or with canceling all the scheduled plans. I barely even thought about the guests, actually. The only thing on my mind was Mark. How was I going to tell Mark. I was about to devastate the person I loved most. He had been my best friend for five years and now . . . what?

Time was ticking. Every time I pushed myself to say something, I got sick to my stomach and could barely open my mouth to talk. The wedding was now ten days away and the pressure was overwhelming. I was swimming in so much anxiety that I couldn’t eat. No one else was going to do this for me. I had to battle my overwhelming anxiety and speak up.

I pushed myself to speak after dinner one night. My entire body was shaking, but I pretended to be calm. “How are you feeling about the wedding?” I asked, while we were washing dishes. I was hoping he’d give me an easy out. “Fine,” he replied matter-of-factly. He looked at me. “Why?” he asked. I felt woozy. I wanted to take really deep breaths, but I continued to control my voice and sound calm. “Oh, I guess I’m just having those feelings people talk about.” And from there it went. Second by agonizing second.

“What feelings?” he asked. “You know, second thoughts. Fear. Haven’t you had any?” I tried to ask innocently. “No,” he said. He couldn’t have made it any more difficult. A panicked conviction took over and I realized that I had to pounce right in. NOW OR NEVER. I honestly don’t recall what I said next. It’s like when you’re in an accident and you don’t remember the moment of impact. I remember rambling and mumbling and trying to temper my beating heart until he finally asked me the question: “Do you want to call it off?”  This is when my memory kicks back in. Like the moment after the accident, when you come to. “Yeah,” I said, shaking, and now crying, apologetic.

He was calm. He did not get angry or turn inside himself and brood, which was more common for him. Remarkably, his focus was on my own well-being. I guess my agony was palpable.

We stayed up through the entire night. It felt like we were on a hallucinogenic drug or living in a twilight zone. Both of our emotions were raw. We talked, we cried, we chain smoked, we held each other. When I finally fell asleep just before dawn, Mark stayed up. I awoke a few hours later to see him kneeling before me with a breakfast tray holding a five-page letter, a plate of food, and flowers. In the letter, Mark expressed his deep love for me and beckoned for me to give him another chance. It was like beauty and pain blended in a horrible and exhilarating cocktail. The horrible feeling of knowing this man loved me so much, and the awareness that I was still going to call it off, was horrid. And you talk about courage. His letter was an act of love that I will never forget.

“I think we should still go to Durham,” Mark said about the location where we were to wed. “The flight cancellation fee will be ridiculous. We might as well go. We can visit with my family. It’ll be good.” I couldn’t believe that he thought this would be a good idea. The last thing I wanted to do was bring myself that close to the plans I’d canceled, to be around his family at such a vulnerable time. How could Mark consider it? I even wondered if I felt worse as the canceller than he did as the cancellee.

He was determined to keep his itinerary and fly to Durham, with or without me. I understood that he needed to be with his family, but I couldn’t bear the pain of going along.  My friend’s dad, a doctor, kindly offered to write a medical note to the airline (I don’t recall what he wrote, something about an infection and not being able to fly), so I could avoid the cancellation fee for my ticket.

The flight was a red-eye. I drove Mark to the airport and parked in the lot, wanting to be by his side until the last possible minute. He took his small bag of clothes from the trunk and half-smiled as I closed it. “There should be two of these,” he said. I had been forcing the tears back, forcing the tears back, forcing the tears back through the drive there, but now, with those words uttered, I could do it no longer. He laughed a little when he realized how raw we both were, how difficult it was to find a way through this emotional process. We held hands and walked to the airline counter, where he presented both of our tickets and I presented my letter from the doctor. As the airline attendant read the letter, Mark looked at me. “You can still go,” he whispered. I shook my head, not wanting the attendant to realize it was really an option.

The doctor’s letter served its purpose and I got a voucher. Mark got a boarding pass. With fifteen minutes to spare before he had to board, we walked outside and leaned on a railing watching the planes in the dark beyond. He gave it one more shot. “Come,” he said. “It’ll be fine. Come.” I kept nodding my head no. I began to cry again and the valves wouldn’t close this time. We hugged our goodbyes and he turned to go inside and board the plane.

Alone, detached, I walked back to my car, acutely aware that this moment marked the start of another chapter in my life. I started the engine, crying so hard now that I was gulping for air. I thought perhaps I could wait a few minutes and compose myself, but it wasn’t happening, so I began to drive very slowly down the freeway. A plane engine sounded in the black expanse above and I looked out the window to see a blinking light in the sky. Maybe it was his plane, maybe it was another. I was now bawling so heavily that I couldn’t see the road in front of me. I was in no shape to drive, so I immediately pulled over to the shoulder of the freeway. It was 11:00pm on a weeknight and there were barely any cars on the road, but I felt safer there. I remained there for ten more minutes before I was ready to drive again.

A few weeks after that fateful night, I moved into my own apartment, and several months later, we officially broke up. I moved to Los Angeles to study acting, and he graduated from law school and began working as an attorney. We dated other people, but missed each other, realizing how rare it is to find the kind of connection we’d had. We began talking on the phone. Then, we began to visit each other on the weekends. Another year later, over the phone one night, he joked about becoming engaged again, and in a careless moment, I agreed.

When I got the role of Catherine in “A View from the Bridge” at Palm Springs Playhouse, we decided I’d move in with him, since he was now an attorney in Palm Springs and his place was just 20 minutes away. It took no time to realize that there we were again; him in his world of fact, proof and precedent, away during the days; and me in my world of emotion, creativity and catharsis, away during the evenings. It occurred to me finally that what we had most in common was the connection from our past. It was a very special and rare kind of connection, as I realized after dating other people, but those magical days in college and that particular time in our lives was the reason it took hold. Years and experiences had taken us in other directions.  We’d changed and grown in our own ways and were no longer quite as in synch. Without any hesitation, I initiated the conversation about canceling our second engagement, and Mark again was calm in his response, though this time, he agreed.

We broke up for good then. I moved back to L.A. where I proceeded to make a living as an actor and Mark eventually opened his own law practice. We stayed in touch and occasionally talked on the phone. Once, when he was in L.A. on business, we met for lunch. I didn’t feel comfortable telling him about my own love life, but he shared stories about the woman he was dating. He’d been seeing her for a while and  I liked hearing that. I wanted him to be happy.

About a year later, I got word from a mutual friend that Mark had eloped. Just hearing that felt like heavy sandbags of shame toppling off of my shoulders. Within mere seconds of this news, I was breathing easier and standing taller. It truly was as if I’d been holding my breath all that time. (Mark later told me how it happened. His girlfriend had dared him to get married one sunny afternoon while working on their garden, and he took the dare, driving her straight to the courthouse. It happened on October 16, he told me. My birthday. I joked, “were you thinking ‘happy fucking birthday!'”)

People tend to respond to my canceled wedding story with a congratulatory tone. A surprising number of married people have also added, “I wish I’d done that.” It’s shocking to hear that said so plainly and so often. Talk about a reality check; evidence that my act of canceling had served as a powerful, pre-emptive strike.

Canceling a wedding so close to the date is nothing I will ever care to congratulate myself for doing. I was trying to avoid emotional angst by not saying anything, but all that happened was that time passed and created even more angst. I will share this. I learned a very difficult lesson: to thine own self be true; even if it’s excruciatingly painful.