The Forgotten American

If I read one more think piece about what constitutes a ‘real’ American, or what alphabetized or categorized or hypothesized list of attributes define a ‘real’ American, I’m going to scream.

If I read one more newspaper article, or book blurb, or journal piece by men and women with glasses and thoughtful looks in their bio pictures extolling the plight of the ‘forgotten’ American I am going to lose my shit.

If I have to listen to one more pundit, one more punter, one more pontificator blindly reaching into the ether to grasp the imaginary coattails or the slippery bootstraps of the “real” American I am going to go pull my hair out.

Look–I am not denying this truth: millions upon millions upon millions of Americans have been forgotten. By corporations and government, by their neighbors and communities, by Congress and politicians. What I am disputing is the mythical notion of the one-size fits all American. The hurtful and degrading insinuation that anything or anyone deviating from a caricature, a caricature which is now decked out in a red MAGA hat and living somewhere between the coasts is somehow…what? A fake American? Not real enough? Semi-real…like Veleeta?

Let’s not play dumb. When you hear or see the phrase “All-American”, there is a certain image which comes to mind. It’s the same image that populates these news articles and books and think pieces.

And it’s not the inner-city Detroit kid or the Hasid from Brooklyn or the teenage girl from Nebraska who’s transitioning to a teenage boy.


The notion that rural, white Americans who are living in towns decimated by opioids or lost industry have any more claim to the title of ‘forgotten American’ than the inner city families decimated by the crack epidemic and rampant unemployment in the 1980s is preposterous. Yet one is now wearing the mantle of Americana while the other is held up as a giant American don’t. One is seen as a failure of the government and services, of trade agreements and globalization. The other?

The other was…and is…hyped as a failure of morality.

The rural American narrative sings a merry tune. Yet inner-city America (that’s fancy government code for black, by the way) is a cacophony. Only one is courted. Only one is being studied and endlessly scrutinized.

Only one of those is granted the title of American.


There is no such thing as a ‘real’ American. Trying to chase down some elusive, mythical one-piece will be about as successful as chasing down a Hypogriff.

It’s a fool’s errand.


To be sure, there are stereotypes. Hollywoodized and memorialized in books and films and television shows.

The shy cow-poke with hair the color of Iowa wheat-fields who ‘aw shucks, ma’am’s his way through life.

The inner-city single mother who’s struggling to keep her kids off the corner.

The perfect suburban family, picket fence, whitened smiles, baseball games and apple pie on a Sunday afternoon.

But what of the ones which don’t spring easily to mind?

The naturalized immigrant who works two jobs to save enough for his daughter to go to college.

The successful black doctor who lives in the suburbs and listens to Kendrick Lamar in secret so his white neighbors don’t think he’s ‘too black’.

The drug dealer’s daughter who recognizes the only reason there’s a roof over their heads and food on the table is because of her father’s illegal activity.

The reservation-dwelling kid who fights to claw his way out of the drain of poverty.

They’re all Americans. And they’ve all been left behind in one way or another. They’ve been shoved to the margins, erased.



You can’t take away someone else’s story because it doesn’t fit the neat plot structure you’ve outlined.

Those stories are just as American. If you cut them, will they not bleed red, white, and blue?


Try to paint American and you’re not going to get a picture, but a mosaic. Like the US itself, it’s a hodgepodge. A glorious haphazard. States were tacked on willy-nilly, here and there, a geographical mish-mash of mountainous terrain and coastline and fields of wheat-filled glory in-between. Swamplands and badlands and your land and my land and all the land in between.

There is NO one America. It’s too big. It’s too diverse, in every way imaginable. Just as there is not one American.

Yes, we’re full of stereotypes, camera snapping socks and sandal shod gun-toting chino wearing chitlin eating sweet tea drinking stereotypes. They stretch 3,000 miles across and half as many again up and down. It’s a land which encompasses indigenous tribal tradition and oral spiritual from slaves just as much as it does the heartland. It embraces co-opted foods and bastardized traditions from the steady streams of immigrants which have washed upon its shores for the past two-hundred and fifty years just as much as it does 4H fairs and VFW halls.

In reality the real forgotten Americans are the ones conveniently forgotten to be included in our definition of forgotten.

The snotty East side of Manhattan trust fund baby is just as much an American as the corn-fed blue-eyed Joe from Iowa. The California Latina and the heroin addict from Ohio. The out-of work coal-miner, the upper middle class neighbor. The dish-washer. The super-market bagger. The hedge-fund manager. The activist. The millions of children living in poverty and the millions of children living in privilege. They are all Americans.

No one person or group gets to define what makes an American.


The immigrant who gave up her homeland to take a pledge to a country which doesn’t want her is no less of an American because she wasn’t born in the heartland or on the coast. Choosing a country, giving up the soil you first walked on, is no easy feat, regardless of what’s happening on the shores you left behind. To believe enough in a new home to give up identity, culture, homeland, family, language. It’s a witch relinquishing her familiar. And yet these are the very folks who some would consider not ‘real’ Americans. They are forgotten.

Native tribes who were shoved to the corners of the country, into dust bowls and barren lands. They are forgotten.

Black Americans, dragged here in chains against their will, still rising up against a different set of chains. They are forgotten.

Yet no one is chasing down their stories in the quest to hear from the forgotten American.

There is no litmus test. There is no purity test. There is no financial means test. The family who needs help from the government is just as American as the one who funds university libraries. There is no single set of criteria one must meet.

And so you’ll forgive me if I am weary of so many Americans forgetting about so many Americans in the search to track down the forgotten American.






Best of Men and Best of Husbands

Occasionally people ask me if I hate men.

Playing a feminist version of the old “Bloody Mary” game of slumber parties past, I’ve stood with eyes squeezed shut and asked a mirror the same question.

“Do I hate men?”
“Do I hate men?”
“Do I hate men?”

When I’ve opened my eyes, the answer is the same as it’s always been.


Of course I don’t hate men.

Look, there’s a world of difference between being pro-woman and being anti-man. They are not two sides of the same coin, one does not necessitate the other. But those are thoughts for another post.

But this post? This one goes out to the ones I love.

I suppose in a way, following the logical conclusion of REM lyrics, it goes out to the ones I’ve left behind as well. After all, the long trail of tears from adolescence to late twenties led me directly to the kind of man I could spend my life with, raise children with, and move across continents with. It’s led me to forming friendships with the kind of men I’m comfortable with.

The point is, I know good men. My husband, friends, random people I’ve met on the internet….

What I’ve realized of late is that sometimes in this never-ending battle of the sexes, we don’t follow the Marine Corp. code. Often those few good men do get left behind.

So, if you are one of them, if you’re married to one or raised one, if your daughter married one, if you know one, make sure you give them a quick nod of thanks before we go up over the trench for the next skirmish.

Who are these men? They are men who understand their life as a male grants them the mother of all hall passes: the opportunity to walk through life unburdened by the albatross of constantly playing catch up. The ones who, all else being equal, can expend their energy chasing white whales and windmills. And before anyone gets indignant, defiant, or defensive, I don’t mean to imply men do not face their own set of challenges–because they absolutely do, but that’s for another post.

It would seem I have a lot of writing to do.

But these men, the best of men and best of husbands? They know that a fluke of sperm and chromosome has given them a platform. The height I–or any other woman–gets from a pair of stilettos, doesn’t begin to come close.

These are the men who are willing to listen and learn, to expand their views, and most importantly, to change the way they use the hall pass which is perpetually tucked into the back pocket of their man pants.

My husband? He understands that opening the world up for women means opening the world up for him as well. A wider world of opportunity for ME means a wider world of opportunity for him and for our sons as well.

Never going to be tall enough

It means my kids can belt out the soundtrack to Hamilton at full blast and not be concerned with whether or not it’s ok for men to sing Broadway musicals. It means my oldest son can draw rainbows and unicorns without worrying about being called feminine or an LGBTQ slur. It means my youngest can wear pink football boots without being called a pussy. It means allowing them the freedom to explore a richer emotional life without being told to man up. It means encouraging to do the things they love, not just the limited options on the male approved list. It means seeking out things that will bring them fulfillment, not just ticking the boxes of what success means.

As much as it means I find and demand value beyond being a mother, it means my husband gets to find value in being a father.

The men I am talking about? They aren’t afraid to put their money where their mouth is. I have witnessed these men change the language they use, I have listened to them not only talk about the importance of diversity quotas but actually put them into practice. I have watched the lightbulb moment of recognition in some where they have come to realize women are not simply making this shit up. I have watched them enter into online dialogues to call out sexism. I have watched them dig below the layer that is so often presented to them to find a female example, a female candidate, a female adviser–not just to score brownie points, but because they recognize that expanding their own circle of knowledge to include experiences beyond their own is going to enrich their own experience.

It’s like adding new cuisine to a meat and potatoes diet. Does meat and potatoes taste good? Sure. Will it sustain you? Sure. But how do you know your new favorite meal isn’t going to be something you’ve never tried before?

I don’t hate men. I want men to be better. Having said that, there are many I know who are already there.

The best of men and best of husbands, this is for you.



Buy One, Get One of Lesser Value Free

Last week James Cameron caused a million female eyeballs to roll skyward when he opined that contrary to what millions of women were proving with their dollars, Wonder Woman was not a strong female protagonist. Cameron then went on to list female characters he felt were better representations of strong women.

It should come as no surprise he listed his characters from his own movies. (See: Sarah Connor form The Terminator franchise)

It should come as no surprise I spent hours  I will never get back spent arguing with strangers on the internet.

Fast forward and the word on the corner of Hollywood and Vine is a remake of Lord of the Flies. The catch? It’s going to be made with girls instead of boys! How very…

Blindingly oblivious?

The entire premise of Lord of the Flies is a rebuke of the toxic masculinity endemic in English public-school mentality. Once you consider that it seems odd to try to remake it with..girls.

Come on, Hollywood!  You can’t remake Lord of the Flies with girls without changing the entire plot. Because girls? Wait for it….

are not boys.

An island full of girls would not behave the same way an island full of boys would. They would organize themselves differently. That is not to say they would sit down and sing Kumbaya around a campfire braiding each other’s hair, but it would be a different story. You know why?

Because girls and boys, women and men are not interchangeable.

You can’t give a woman arm muscles and a giant gun and call her a strong protagonist. You can’t swap out girls for boys and say, “look how feminist we are!”.

I accept the blame for a lot of this confusion, and what I must assume are well-meant intentions. There seems to be a general misunderstanding regarding equality and equity. Perhaps it’s the framing of the feminist message itself.

Because in our strive for equality, what we sometimes neglect to mention is this: we are not trying to be interchangeable. We do not want to be swapped out for boys. We do not want to take the place of men. We don’t want or need male assigned characteristics simply transferred to us and slapped with a sticker proclaiming “equal”. We do not want to be judged on whether or not we can compete with, act like, govern like, or look like men.

Women don’t want to be men.

What we are looking for is equal value.

A woman with defined biceps is not necessarily strong, just as a man without them is not necessarily weak. What so many women right now are seeking is not apples for apples equality, but apples to oranges value.

Feminists are looking to reframe what is viewed as important, good, worthy, valued.

Men, on the whole and individually, have their own ideas of what strength is. Those ideas often differ from a woman’s idea of strength. And that is ok. What’s not ok is assuming one is better than the other, assigning one importance and the other half-off status.

This is what many feminists are talking about when they speak of assigning value.

I don’t want to be a man. I don’t want to look like a man, or act like a man, or pretend to be a man. Neither do any of the women I know. Writing or creating women with masculine characteristics does not automatically confer equality on women (I’m looking at you, Brienne of Tarth). Taking a story viewed through a masculine filter and merely swapping out the sexes does not make for a compelling story.


Because we have our own stories.

Male stories are often epic in scale. Physical journeys across ice caps and continents. Covered wagons and perilous ocean journeys. The drive to explore, conquer. Stories of courage in the trenches and theaters of war.

My disinterest in those stories does not take away from their value. It is merely to say this: there are other stories which are no less important simply because they may not be as grand in scope.

Often the stories of women are the stories in between the lines. The ones left behind to continuously mend the fabric of a society rent by constant war. The stories of the sometimes small, but excruciating choices women face to keep their families safe. When we watch movies about the horrors of war, it is often confined to the horrors of bloodshed and battle. Rarely are we exposed to the internal horrors faced by those left behind, the ones tasked with keeping not so much the home fires burning, but the will to continue.

How often do we hear the stories of the internal struggles of women to manage their own desires against the weight of motherhood? How often do we see movies about the quiet friendships of women which sustain them through the perils of their own lives? While male stories are told through the metaphor of chasing whales and galloping to poles, women’s stories are told in tea leaves and conversations.

It’s ok if men are not particularly interested in those stories. I get it. I’ve never been interested in Apocalypse Now or reading Hemingway because those stories, told through the filter of maleness, simply do not resonate with me.

What I resent is those male stories being the yardstick from which everything else is measured. What I resent is the implication there is something intrinsically wrong with me because I don’t enjoy David Foster Wallace or The Big Lebowski. That I am lacking the intelligence to appreciate these very masculine stories or that the stories I enjoy, watch, read, and yes, write, are merely a derivative. Less than.

If stories are buy one get one half-off? Women’s stories are the cheap designer knock off.

When I speak of equality, it is this: I want our stories to count as much. Not more than. Not less than. Equal value.

What I want is to acknowledge that our stories are just as valuable to the human experience and deserve the same space. I don’t want my stories merely to be a copy of or a derivative of, the stories of men.

I want them to be valued in their own right.

Buy one, get one of equal value.






Nine (More) Expats You’ll Meet Abroad

Victoria the Veteran Victoria has seen generations of expats come…and go. She’s been around long enough that she’s practically part of the furniture. She knows her way around, navigating not only the place, but the relationships that make up the place. Vic has ten different toes dipped in ten different circles–because she knows just how fleeting expat friendships can be. Some think she’s ice-cold because the constant goodbyes don’t seem to faze her, but it’s more that years on the scene have hardened her….just a little.

Freak-out Frannie. Frannie finds it hard to breathe deep and…relax, no matter how many hot yoga classes she signs up for. It doesn’t matter how smooth things seem to be going, there’s always cause for a freak-out. If it’s not the math curriculum, it’s the school lunches. Or something on the news. Or the cost of living. Or the way the traffic light doesn’t give you enough time to cross. The local propensity for liberally dropping the f-bomb into conversation sends her into convulsions. Her heart’s in the right place–it’s just always beating too fast, set to semi-permanent outrage mode.

Homesick Harriet  Harry gets monthly parcels sent from home, keeps up all her magazine instructions at exorbitant prices, and subscribes to whatever local cable package that lets her watch her favorite shows. She travels home at every given opportunity and brings food back in her luggage. She shops online–from stores in her own country. First-year Freyas are usually half-Harriet by default, but true Harriets never really embrace living abroad, they always have one foot where they’re living and another one firmly planted at home.

Traveling Tony It’s a stretch to call Tony an expat, as he’s usually not in town long enough to sleep in his own bed more than three nights in a row. Tony usually heads up family of ‘lifeboat expats’–women and children only–who stay behind in one place while he plies his trade all over the globe. Sometimes it’s hard for Tony’s spouse to convince others he actually exists. Perhaps those wedding photos you see when you go to their amazingly furnished house are just props after all?

Never-Going-Back Niamh. Niamh, like many expats, was skeptical at first, but took to expat life like a fish outta the Atlantic and relocated to the Pacific. So much so that Niamh never plans on going back home. Ever. In fact, Niamh will do anything, including moving internationally three times in a year, just to avoid it. Whether it’s the life, the opportunities, or the bonds, Niamh has embraced life as expat to the fullest extent and you’ll have to pry it out of her cold, dead hands.

Repatriating Rena–While Niamh settles in for a life of transient relocation, Rena is getting ready to move home and experiencing the nausea of the repatriation rollercoaster. Whether she’s been gone one year or ten, life outside has made her question what life will like back ‘inside’. Will she re-fit in? Will her kids be ok? Rena’s worries often gets lost in the two-step expat shuffle because people assume going home is easier….but as Rena worries, it may be anything but.

Pam the Polyglot A round in Russian? Да! A stint in Shang-hai? 好! A post in Paraguay? Si! Pam picks up the local language wherever she lands–and not just enough to order a coffee and a cup of the Bolshoi borscht. Pam can carry on conversations with the locals, understand and answer when folks stop her on the street, and get around by taxi no problem. Pam’s linguistic gymnastics often make her English-speaking compatriots feel guilty for not trying harder-the ones who rely solely on their mother tongue to get by without making much of an effort beyond nej, tak…

Superiority Complex Sam Sam never has a good word to say about the place she’s landed. Not one. Oh sure, there’s nothing an expat coffee klatch likes more than a little bitch about little annoyances and cultural quirks, but Sam’s insults take a much broader focus. There’s nothing about her adopted country that suits her, everything is better where she comes from.

Fay the Fantasy Fay is the expat we all aspire to be…and fail miserably at. The one who settles in with ease. Who speaks the language within months. Who has no trouble finding the expensive cheese she likes at the market in Uruguay that doesn’t even sell cheese. She travels extensively, her kids are involved in local sports programs, and she still Skypes her family back home twice a week. She takes every shock that a new culture sends up her spine with a smile and can pack up her family and move at the drop of a hat. With grace. Fay doesn’t really exist outside our collective expat imagination–but it doesn’t stop us from wanting to be her anyway.

Since I penned  Nine Expats You’ll Meet Abroad a few years ago, and watched it circulate the globe itself, I’ve cycled through a few more of these stages myself. And some of these as well…Nine Expats You’ll Meet in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. As for where I am now…well, it depends on any given day, really.

More importantly though, which expat are you?