Dec 7 2017

Me Too two

Okay! That’s it! I’ve had enough. This Me Too thing has just gone too far.

Al Franken resigns.
A man who has admitted, all on his own, that he feels free to grab a woman’s pussy simply because he is famous sits in the White House and another man who chases after young, underage teenage girls when he himself is in his 30s has a good chance to become elected to the Senate and Al Franken is the one who resigns and leaves politics.  A man who during his two terms in office has fought “for the people who needed his help. Kids facing bullying, seniors worried about the price of prescription drugs, Native Americans who have been overlooked for far too long. Working people who have been taking it on the chin for a generation. Everyone in the middle class and everyone aspiring to join it.”

That is who is resigning and I am so angry!

It started with Leeann Tweeden. She claimed that it happened at a USO show. It was a USO show! And, following in the fine tradition of USO shows since the time of Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe, it was going to be raunchy. It was supposed to be raunchy! What other kind of jokes or skits do you do in front of a bunch of young military guys but off-color, bad taste and sexy ones? Just so you know, that was a rhetorical question. Franken wrote a bunch of the skits – they included kissing and probably touching. But Tweeden claims that Franken kissed her without her consent and that he groped her tits while she was asleep. I’ve seen that picture. He’s not even touching her – his hands have shadows under them, and I doubt she is actually asleep. It looks like the kind of posed, goofy fooling around that one does when you’re supposed to be tasteless.  And I’ve seen a video of Tweeden on stage next to a country western singer trying to do his part of the show – make music. She sidled up to him, rubbed her body against his and grabbed his ass. Maybe he should complain Me Too too. Because that is also “sexual harassment” isn’t it? In any case, Ms Tweeden knew what she was getting into when she signed up to do a USO show. I don’t believe her one bit.

But the floodgate opened and a number of other accusers raised their voices to claim he grabbed their asses while taking pictures with him. Al Franken is a shrimpy guy, he’s pretty short. Yeah, I know, every guy is short to me. But he is only 5 foot 6 inches tall. When asked to take a picture with someone, you might put your arm around their waist. And if you don’t bother to raise your arm, there’s a good chance it goes below someones waist and ends up near the ass. Especially if you’re a short guy like Al. When you’re asked to take hundreds of pictures in a day – real quick like – you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about where to put your hand. It just lands where it lands and then you’re on to the next photo-op.

Another accuser says he put his hand around her waist and that she felt that was inappropriate “groping”. Another claimed he tried to give her a kiss. She described it as a “wet” kiss. We have only her allegations to go by as to how “wet” she thought it was.  Still another claims he tried to get her to go into a bathroom with him. This he denies categorically and says, “I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom.”  Another accuser claims he demanded he get a kiss from her as his right as an entertainer. This accusation he also absolutely says is completely untrue and he could never even imagine saying something like that. I think maybe this woman is getting him confused with the man who does believe that, Donald Trump.  Four of these accusers are anomalous. And I think that stinks too. Especially in America where you have the right to meet your accuser face to face.

I read somewhere that someone said that these accusations against Franken must be true because they have a lot in common. Well, there is another reason that they might sound the same – someone coached them to say what they said. There wasn’t anything to accuse him of that was really bad – no outright rape or threats to end their careers if they didn’t let him have his way with them, no actual pussy grabbing or physical threats – just a few misplaced arms and hands, actions not even serious enough to remember doing. And if you can’t remember doing them, how can you prove you didn’t?

But then Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Tammy Baldwin, and Heidi Heitkamp and other Democratic senators came out demanding he resign. Shame on you, ladies, and men too!  I’m sure they are trying to show they are taking the high road, to prove their finely tuned sense of morality.  But the Republicans, who have no sense of morality at all, as proven by their support of Trump and Moore and the despicable tax bill they are trying to ram down America’s throat, are just sitting there laughing at them. The Republicans don’t even have to win an election to get rid of one of the most aggressively anti-Trump Democratic senators. The Democrats are doing their work for them. The R’s are laughing all the way back home to their big money donors.

Probably since we humans were still living in our caves, men have been able to be the ones who decided everything; first, because of their greater physical strength,  then their greater economic power and greater political power.  After all, we shouldn’t forget that it’s probably not much more than 100 years since women were still considered the legal property of men and in many places in the world still are. So we women have been getting used to being raped, beat up, killed and harassed in zillions of ways, for a pretty long time. But things are changing. In some parts of the world, mainly the industrialized west, women are no-one’s property any longer. They own themselves. They can decide for themselves what they want to do, how they want to live and how they want to use their brains. And just now they are willing to stand up and tell how they have been abused and harassed and they are being listened to for like probably the first time! And I think that is fantastic. But there is something to remember. Even women can lie – for lots of different reasons. And not all men are guilty. Even if a woman says so.

Now, even more so due to the influence of Donald Trump, the US is undergoing a period of isolationism (Trump’s America only), religious extremism (in the Republican Party), false accusations (fake news), and lapses in due process (Lock her up). The last thing we need is a kind of mass hysteria like what happened in the 17th century, during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. I applaud women who are willing to speak up about rape, abuse of power and true sexual harassment. But, please, equating a mis-placed hand, a kiss, a hug, or a bad joke with these things makes the rapes, the abuse and the truly awful harassment seem trivial. Standing out in the public square screaming Me Too and pointing a finger at someone is not the way to make true changes. You have to judge a person, Man or Woman by what they stand for. What the lives of Trump, Moore or Harvey stand for is not the same thing as what Al Franken has worked for his entire political life.

Don’t let Me Too confuse you too.

Dec 2 2017

Naming cats

In these days of darkness, when the hours of light are still lessening and humanity seems to be heading towards its own metaphysical darkness, two little sparks of light have entered my life. They have only been with us for a short time and from the beginning, before they arrived, I was very hesitant to give my approval. The thought of having to think about and take care of even one more living creature with needs, just seemed too much for me. But I was overruled. My boys wanted cats.

It’s taken the past week to decide on names for our new family members. Names are important. Names have power to shape the world, to create, to give form to an idea. And at the very least, to shape the living creature that belongs to the name. When I was 11 I hated my name. I so longed to be named Mary, or Susan or Barbara or Carol – names that were popular in the classrooms of my childhood. Who was named Hilarie? No one I knew at least. My mother used to console me by telling me that when I grew up, if I still didn’t like Hilarie, then I could use my middle name Ruth instead. I found that very comforting back then. It lasted me until I arrived at art school and had finally grown into Hilarie. But I sometimes wonder who I would be if I had been named one of those popular names of the 1950s – a name that when the teacher called it at least 2 or 3 girls in the class looked up. When the teacher called Hilarie, it was only me. And I think that has shaped me greatly. I have always felt unique, unusual, different from the rest, for lots of reasons, my name being just one among them.

So, since their arrival, the battle over the names to give our two new family members, our 12-week old kittens, a brother and sister pair, has raged on – spreading itself past our family and out over social media. Food names seemed to be topping the list, often based on color. The male kittie is your perfect “cute cat” shape with a round head and very dark eyes. He’s a very pale creamy yellow with faint tiger stripes on the lower part of his legs. The female was the one who caught Håkan’s attention when he first saw photos of them on his friend’s Facebook page. She reminded him of one of our first cats, Tingeling. She’s painted in mottled shades of dark browns on a rather skinny body with touches of tan in places. She has dark eyes in a dark face which has a splash of lighter tan across one side and she seems more nervous and hyper than her brother who is the epitome of cool, calm and collected. Except of course when he is attacking someone’s feet.

Because of his round, pale yellow head I wanted to name him Chickpea – not a very masculine name perhaps but cute. Håkan wasn’t too fond of it though. Janet Suslick suggested Garbanzo instead, a slightly more masculine sounding alternative. I wanted to name the girl Splotch because of the splotch of color on her face. Håkan didn’t like that at all. He claimed he had trouble saying it. He prefered Coco but I kept thinking of Coco Channel or coconuts and wasn’t happy. So the search was on.

Ebony and Ivory was a Håkan suggestion but he kept pronouncing it Ivie and emergency rooms kept coming to my mind, so no. I jokingly suggested Seven and Eight because they were the seventh and eighth cats I have owned in my life (and as a life-long Star Trek fan it made me think of Seven of Nine). Håkan started coming up with more This and That names but I wanted each to have their own name so I shot down Jack and Jill, Salt and Pepper, Punch and Judy, even Him and Her. Danielle Shevin started suggesting camera/photography related names so Nikon and Leica or Canon and Leica, and Agfa and Kodak were put forward.

Then I suggested Custard for the male instead of Chickpea – he looked like a vanilla custard – and the list of food names flooded in:
Linda Rosen suggested Hummos and Olive. Christin Walth suggested Root Beer as homage to Pepsi our late demised cat. Roz Davis said Ginger Ale to go along with the Root Beer. Maria Lindgren suggested Curry and Cinnamon. Nicole de Jong liked Custard and came up with Licorice for the dark one.

There were also suggestions of real names (of a sort) coming in:
Rich Bertrand suggested Frick and Frack. Emma Ockert said she named her cat Uma but had wanted Linus if it had been a boy so she thought we should use that. Cecillia Haglund had the audacity to suggest Trump and Kim Jon Un but I said I didn’t want to gag each time I called their names. Gunilla Langetz suggested Lisa and Sluggo which is the Swedish equivalent of the American cartoon strip characters Nancy and Sluggo. Lisa Tallroth suggested Smike and Suzie. Bo G Erikson suggested Fred and Ginger but since the ginger cat was the male that would have been confusing. Karel Littman suggested Wheatie and Wink but I wasn’t sure who would be Wheatie and who would be Wink. Danielle Shevin also came in with French names, Minette och Minou. Anne-Lise Christoffersen Schjetne suggested Kattastrofe and Sebastian. Kay Johannes suggested Patch instead of Splotch.

Finally we were worn down. Håkan was willing to go with Custard for the male and I was willing to call our dark brown girl Coco but spelled Cocoa like chocolate, instead of coconuts. Hopefully we have chosen correctly and they will grow into these names like I grew into mine until eventually we won’t even be able to imagine calling them anything else.

Cocoa and Custard

Cocoa and Custard

Its been almost 30 years since the last time we had baby kitties. These two will keep us on our toes. We can no longer leave our clothes laying about or they will be covered with cat fur. Pill bottles (or anything small enough to be moved by lightweight balls of fur) can’t be left out on the table or we find them lying on the floor. We have to shower with the bathroom door partly open so Custard or Cocoa can come in and use the facilities if they want. To wake up early in the morning and have a tiny cat climbing on my head tangled in my mass of hair is, in a weird way, comforting. I love watching them play cat hockey as they battle for the plastic milk cap across the living room playing field. Their tiny bodys are so filled with warmth and energy that they give me hope for our world and bring joy into our home.

I am glad I said yes.

Nov 21 2017

Me too

I put those words at the top of this post with a great deal of hesitancy. Not because I have some truly terrible horror story that I hesitate to reveal but rather because I don’t. I don’t know if that is due to my inborn suspicious nature or just plain luck. I am sure there were opportunities though.

Back when I was young and probably more naive than I wanted to think I was, I was once approached by a “photographer” while I sat at the cash register in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We have all heard of famous actresses being discovered at the counter in Schwabs so why not while working a cash register at the Met. He told me he could take “head shots” of me that I could use to take round to modeling agencies. So I agreed to meet him at his “Studio”. When I arrived I found myself in a small one bedroom apartment, not a photo studio at all. Through the bedroom door I could see bikinis that he said I should wear all laid out on the bed. I turned around and walked out the front door. Now, who knows what might have happened if I had given him the benefit of the doubt that I sincerely doubt he would have deserved.

Like most other women living in New York, I too was subjected to the never-ending stream of catcalls from the construction workers lining the streets. The variety and repertoire of the calls was vast and I have to admit not always horrible. A good-looking young guy calling out “Hi beautiful, give us a smile.” more often than not got his smile from me. But much ruder and more vile comments from disgusting old guys were more the norm and formed the gauntlet that women had to stream past on the NY streets. All of that stopped when I moved to Stockholm. Swedish men didn’t catcall. Boy what a relief that was.

And now comes Harvey Weinstein plummeting down from his heights awakening all this righteous indignation. The casting couch wasn’t invented by Harvey. It’s been around since Hollywood started making moving pictures with actresses in them. Actually probably since God invented Adam. The first woman that God made, according to the Bible, was Lilith, and she said “no”. So God made Eve and she said, “Yeah, OK”. That was probably what started all the problems.

But for people to act indignant and claim to not know about it – come on – give me a break. That to me is like all those Germans and Poles saying they didn’t know that all that smoke was because they were burning Jewish bodies. People might not always have first-hand knowledge but they knew. Scott Rosenberg says on his Facebook page that everybody knew and the reason he knows that is because he knew everybody there who knew.  But I’m pretty sure Harvey isn’t the only one. He’s just the latest scapegoat – which doesn’t mean I think anyone should feel sorry for him. Absolutely not! But I am also pretty sure there are a lot of men out there thinking “Thank god they are all looking at Harvey and not looking at me.”  Tread carefully there, guys.

So back to my hesitantly putting up Me Too on the top of this post – I think it’s terrible that so many women have had such horrible experiences, that they were in a position where they couldn’t turn around and walk out that door, where they couldn’t say no or when no had no meaning. It truly sucks. But I don’t think putting Me Too up on a Facebook post will really do anything to change that. Not in the long run. There will always be schmucks. And there will always be schmucks in positions of power. So the only real thing that women can do is be smarter than the schmucks and reach those positions of power themselves. And don’t turn into schmucks themselves.

But anyway, Me too!

Jun 2 2017


The PhobiaI think most of us have some kind of phobia of one sort of another. Trying to understand someone else’s phobia if you don’t share it is often difficult to do. I have friends who are extremely bothered by spiders, for instance. It’s a real phobia that they have and they would probably be the first to admit their fear of spiders is a bit irrational. Now, while I can’t say that spiders are something I particularly like, I don’t really get all that worked up about them. As long as they aren’t involved in some fast moves aimed at my direction that is. If they are just sitting on the wall or in the middle of their webs, minding their own spider-business, that’s OK with me. I draw the line at them living inside with me, though. Being the murderous kind of person I am, if I find them sharing my home I can quite easily just swat them to death. But if it’s not too difficult, I can kindly show them the door, without much squirming or screaming on my part. Maybe I’ll be making one of those faces you make when touching something icky, while I do the removing.

No, spiders are not my phobia. Mice either (unless they are involved in that moving-rapidly-towards-me action). No, my big phobia is the telephone. I don’t mean the telephone itself, I don’t mind telephones or even the actual part involving conversation on a telephone. But having to pick up the phone and make the call – that’s the really difficult part for me.

When I still lived in New York City, back in the olden days of the 1970s that were pre-digital, and the newest, coolest gadget one could own was an answering machine, I was a freelancer. That meant that I didn’t need to get up early every day, get showered and dressed and go out the door to travel to work at the same job every morning. I worked from home. But in order to rustle up new work, as a freelancer, I had to make telephone calls. And that’s where my telephone phobia kicked in. I would have to call art directors at ad agencies or publishing houses to see if I could wrangle an appointment to come in to show them my portfolio. And it was so hard for me to do! I had to develop methods to get around my fear of picking up the phone and making that call. Sometimes I would call my mother. She spent her days sitting at her desk in an office so she was pretty much always available. Calling my mother was outside the bounds of my fear phobia so it was easy. We would talk for a few minutes about pretty much nothing important and as soon as I hung up, I would make my other call, without giving my phobic brain time to kick in. I think part of my phobia was founded on my fear that I would not remember what I wanted to say and that I would just end up babbling stupidly into the handset. So my other tactic was to write down on paper my entire spiel – often starting with “Hi, my name is Hilarie Cutler and I’m an illustrator”. I don’t know why I had to write that down. Was I afraid I would forget my name? Anyway that’s what I would do. I would write down everything I was planning on saying. Even thinking up in advance, answers to what they might possibly ask me. Then I would sit in front of my phone, with the name and phone number of who I was planning on calling in front of me on the paper with what I was going to say, for however long it took me to actually pick up the phone and dial the number. Sometimes I would sit there for an hour or more working up the courage, or whatever it was that I lacked, to make that call. The odd thing was that once they answered the phone and I had to actually talk, there was rarely a problem. The phobia was over. I rarely have a problem talking. And the whole process of going out to the interview with my portfolio case in hand was not a problem either. I actually liked that part: going outside my place, taking the subway downtown, walking into the posh offices, going up to the receptionist and telling her who I was to meet and having the meeting, was all rather fun. It was that first step of picking up the phone that was the problem. It even applied to calling friends – so hard to just pick up the phone and dial their number.

By the time I left New York in 1987 to move to Stockholm, I thought I had pretty much licked my picking-up-the-phone-phobia. I could do it.

At least that’s what I thought.

And then I found myself in a completely new country with a new language. A language which it took me a while to learn to speak (not being one of those linguistically talented types who pick up a new language in weeks) Here in Stockholm, most people who I would need to call actually spoke very good English so the not-speaking-Swedish part shouldn’t really have been a problem. Nope. The real problem was that the phone phobia thing was back, in all its glory. And I had to start all over again, from the beginning. But that was almost 30 years ago and I managed to find ways to deal with the phone. It rarely involved calling my mother. She was a very expensive phone call away. It frequently involved getting my Swedish husband to make the call for me. I am now able to make those phone calls, in whatever language is required, when I have to. It still does take me a while to work up the “courage” to pick up the phone but I don’t have to write down the phone number on a piece of paper anymore. It’s usually programmed into my smart phone these days. And I don’t have to write down what I want to say anymore (though I sometimes discuss with my Swede just how to say in correct Swedish what I want to say).

But lately, something else is going on. It’s been over a year now since I stopped working my staff job as designer at IGBP. I am for all intents and purposes, officially retired. I don’t have to get up to go to a job anymore. I don’t even have to get up and make phone calls to rustle up work any more either. I basically don’t have to get up. And there lies the problem. Three days ago I didn’t get up. I stayed in bed all day. Never got dressed. Never even brushed my teeth. I know some of you might say, “Well, good for you! It’s nice to just relax once in a while.” But relaxing was not what I was doing. I spent most of the time with my eyes aimed at my smart phone, reading Twitter, Facebook and occasionally the Outlander sub-Reddit. Checked my email but it was mainly junk to be deleted. Tried reading my Kindle for a bit. I kept dozing off. Till I finally decided to take a nap and then all I did was lie there unable to fall asleep.  I wasn’t relaxing. I was playing dead. I told myself that tomorrow would be a better day. That tomorrow I would be able to engage again. But I wasn’t really sure I believed me.

I think I was having problems picking up the phone. To get up out of bed, to get dressed, to brush your teeth, you have to believe that it’s worth doing. I think my belief was wavering. I was having a lot of problems answering the big question, WHY? What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Why bother? My mother used to tell me, “Hilarie, you just think too much.” And she was probably right. Most people just get up and go about doing the stuff they do in their lives, without needing to ask why.

The day after my lying-in-bed-all-day-day I got up. I got dressed. I brushed my teeth. I went out. My cat needed me. My son needed me. My husband needed me. The people and organizations I’m involved with needed me.

So I guess its just a matter of picking up that phone and making that call, one day at a time.

Apr 15 2017

Passover minyan 2017

As I sit here writing this post, the 5th day of Passover is almost over. My supply of matzah is already half eaten, though there is still more than enough left to do a matzah brei tomorow. This year, as usual, I attended 2 Seders.  The first one was a Swedish one – Progressiv Judendom i Stockholm’s Seder. I’ve been on the board of PJS for over 10 years and as a board member, I help out with all the activities we have done through the years. This year we did an especially good Seder. Eva Ekselius, with the help of Marianne Prager and Mats Frisk, led us through the Haggadah and even added other interesting tidbits of information. Marianne’s singing and Mats’ guitar playing were wonderful and helped to make it a fun evening in spite of the fact that I was in the middle of having a horrible cold. I can only hope I didn’t infect everyone I talked to that evening. Oh, and the food was good too!

And then, a few days later on Good Friday, I led my J.A.P.S.* Seder as I have been doing for almost the past 20 years. These people are my minyan, my family, that I feel like I gave birth to here in my adopted homeland. The Jewish People have a long history of moving from one country to another (not always as voluntarily as my choice was) and building from scratch, a full Jewish life in the new place. It wasn’t until I moved to the land of the blue-eyed blond that I discovered just how much the Jewish life I left behind in New York City meant to me. And how much I needed it. I knew I would miss friends and family but I didn’t know I would miss Jewishness. So I set out to rebuild it for myself and for my son. And 20 years down the line I feel I have succeeded.

The kids

The kids

At this point, we are 7 families with children (can we still call them children if most of them are not even teenagers any longer?) and a few who come on their own. This year the group was smaller than usual because a number of us were traveling to other places. But still we filled my Co-op’s party house with 20 people.

Before we start the seder proper, I always welcome my minyan with a little speech and even though I was sick and stressed and just plain tired and thought I would just skip the talk, I couldn’t let it go. As usual I had to say a few words. These are the words I said:

Welcome everyone
I won’t bore you with a long speech. I have a cold and don’t feel really up to long speeches.

We are a rather small group this year. A lot of our young people are not able to be with us. Many of our children are now old enough to have their own agendas, not just what their parents want them to do. This absence of our youngsters, made me think of the reason we are commanded to celebrate the Passover – to teach our children. To tell them the story of the Exodus, to remind them that once we, as Jews, were slaves and now we are free.

The oldies

The oldies

By commanding us to tell our children, the entire process of Passover becomes a generational event. To tell our children, we need to also have the mothers and fathers at the Passover table – mothers and fathers who once were themselves children, listening to the story their parents told.

My grandparents, immigrants from Poland before the second world war, were the first people whose Seder I remember being at. They didn’t do much story telling – mainly because they really didn’t know much about it themselves. But it always somehow felt very authentic to my child’s mind though my mother told me that my grandfather basically just said Kiddush and then we ate. But he said it with a strong Yiddish accent so I guess it just felt more real. After my grandfather died when I was ten, my mother and my aunt took over hosting the Seder – alternating years between them. By then, our families had graduated to using the free Maxwell House Haggadahs that many American Jewish families in the 1950s and 60s grew up with. Each year we would take turns going around the table reading portions from the color-coded and illustrated texts. It was a sort of Haggadah for Dummies. It told you with detailed instructions what you were supposed to do and when. We sat there and endured the boringness of the ritual, once again just waiting for the food without really understanding what the words meant.

It wasn’t till I was no longer a child and, on the outside at least, finally a grown-up, that I was invited to a Seder led by someone who actually knew what the whole thing was about. It was then that I realized that it didn’t have to be that meaningless mumble that it had always been my whole life. Since then, I have tried to lead a Seder that had meaning. I don’t know if I always succeeded but I tried. It has to be about more than just waiting for the food to show up.

Passover is truly about generations of parents passing on this story to their children and then they to their own children and so on and so on. My greatest hope (well maybe not my greatest hope but at least as it applies to Jewishness and Passover) is that my passing on of the Seder story to our next generation will continue into the future as it has for several thousand years past.

In addition to the absence of some of our children, when I look around this group I remember some who have celebrated with us who are no longer able to be here. Last year Marina’s mother, Rachel was here with us. Before that Danielle’s mom, Lydia celebrated with us and even further back my own mother, Evelyn. Now they are no longer able to share in our Seder or pass on what they know to their daughters who are still here.

So I want to start this year’s Seder by asking Danielle and Marina to join  me in lighting the candles, in memory of our mothers, as we once again start the yearly telling of the story of the Exodus  – of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom.

Chag sameach.

*Jewish American Parents in Stockholm

Photos are all courtesy of Danielle Shevin