Where Can You Find Me?

Hi Friends of Outlaw Mama,

I’ve been a little quiet here for a few years.  Mostly that’s because I started writing a novel.  It was terrible.  A guy in my group therapy told me it was “unreadable.”  He was right, though I’m still not speaking to him because ohmygod, what a dick.

But I wrote another novel, and that one was better, but it needed so much editing that I got scared and put it away.  Also, I learned that I don’t know how to write fiction and prefer memoir.

You know where this is going, right?  Yep, I wrote third book.  This time a memoir about how group therapy straightened out my love life….after a mere 800 sessions.   I hope there comes a day in the near future when you can find it at Costco or any other fine place you buy books (independent and woman-owned preferably) and that you buy a bunch of copies and then rate it (highly) on GoodReads and Amazon.  I hope you’ll Tweet at me and challenge me and tell me what you liked and what totally didn’t work.  Unless you’re one of my ex-boyfriends, then I hope you never see my memoir so you won’t sue me for talking about how small your you-know-what(FN 1) is.

But I’m still writing.  Please come see me here— it’s my new writer website.

Thank you for giving me some of my best writing memories to date.

FN 1: For one guy it was his bank account, for one it was his general fund of knowledge, and for one it was his sexual appetite.


This entry was posted on August 16, 2017. 4 Comments

Change the Names to Protect the Innocent


He’s angry. I can tell because raised pink welts speckle his arms. His tell.  I’ve seen him angry dozens of times. It’s gotten easier to bear his seething petulance. It no longer slays me when other people don’t like what I do. I sit up taller.  Almost proud that I danced far enough from my comfort zone to step on some toes.

And I didn’t do anything wrong. I stage a protest in my head. Guilt and fear fight a gladiator battle in my mind.

“You’ve known about this since November. Why is this coming up now?”

It’s true. I told the group I was writing about them one month after I started. At our  therapist’s insistence, I sent them the first 14,000 words. The opening chapters have been sitting in his in box for 90 days.

The first draft is done now.  My beautiful, bloated, crammed-up first draft. They’re in there. They all are, because they’re part of the story. Right now they appear with their given names, their actual hair color. I’m told (by the therapist and the writing people) I’ll have to make them composites: change their genders, move them from the city to far western suburbs, change their struggles from fidelity to chronic debt.

That’s all coming. But right  now it’s my story and I need to tell it unencumbered by pseudonyms and scrambled voices.

“Do you want a say in the name I give you in the book?”  I’m not kidding, not exactly. He doesn’t laugh.

“As if that will work,” he says.

I resent him for making me fight for the story. I should be free to wallow in a single pool of fear about whether I’ll ever see a book through to publication. I don’t wait to divide my time between who am I hurting? and will I ever?

He sulks; I fume. The therapist says this is a great reenactment. A corrective experience on a silver platter. “For all the times you were in trouble for telling.”  He’s right.  The biggest crime I ever committed before I started swiping Jacksons from other people’s wallets was telling what happened, saying what I saw.

The next time I open the document I edit scenes and make changes my writing coach suggests. I stare at the names.  It would take 20 seconds to do a find-and-replace for each. I try it on his name.  I christen him Brad.  I don’t save the changes

A week later, I give the therapist a pseudonym. I hate how it looks. It feels coy and cutesy. I change it to initials and hate it more. I leave it as it was originally.

In her memoir Negroland, Margo Jefferson wrote that it was her policy to “use initials when I recall the mishaps or misdeeds of my peers.  Their words and acts belong to me; their names belong to them.”  The names that Jefferson whittled down to single letters belonged to people guilty of racism.  My angry group mate has done nothing more than ask for privacy when it comes to his mental health treatment.

The next time I open the document I give him a new name, not one chosen out of revenge (like Brad).  It feels awkward but not wrong. Like writing with my left hand instead of my right. I think long and hard about a name that protects him and honors the story.

I save the changes.  He can have his name.  I keep the story for myself.




Feminist on a Road Trip


Every time we passed a sign for Des Moines I said it over and over in my head so many times that it started to sound like “Desdemona.” This pleased me.  Thinking about a Shakespearian heroine proved I was smart. A goddman woman of letters.

I suspected that at some point I would write about this word-morphing and “forget” to mention that I had to Google Desdemona to confirm that she was, indeed, Othello’s wife. I wasn’t 100% sure.  When I Googled her, I was disappointed to read that she was not black, as I had remembered her. She was described by Wikipedia as a “Venetian beauty.” Her husband, the Moor, was believed to be black.

These are the thoughts of a well-read person, Google or no, I thought.

We drove past Iowa City.  I waved to Jane Smiley and whatever remains of Ann Patchett’s essence after her graduate school stint at the famed writing program.

Look at me! I’m an enthusiastic celebrant of all things literary! Supporter of women in the arts!

Once Des Moines was in the rear view mirror, I succumbed to uncharitable thoughts about the Iowa State Fair goers who feasted on hunks of livestock impaled on sticks. I myself ate corn kernels with a fork and a roasted turkey wrap on a gluten-free tortilla, ThankYouVeryMuch.  Like a total asshole– I mean, who eats like that at a state fair?  When Jeff asked the pimple-faced vendor for the gluten-free turkey wrap, she stared blankly.  “Do we serve that?” she asked her shift supervisor.  We pointed to the menu; they both looked surprised.

On the final long stretch of the road trip, I fell in love with a book of essays. The pieces were well-written, darkly humorous, and made me feel smart for enjoying them. No beach reads for this woman of the world traveling through exotic Nebraska while a grating narration of Ramona and Beezus filled the mini-van.

By the time I was half way done with the book, I had a definite picture of the author in my head. She’d mentioned that she was blonde three times, so I started there. My imagination gave her blonde-but-stringy hair, an ample bosom, and a no-make-up earthiness that I assumed from her hobbies: antiquing and summering in Maine. I also assumed she was older than me by at least a generation.

Basically, I made her a funky, lovably eccentric Kathy Bates with longer, more Nordic hair.

Jeff exited near Altoona. “Can you drive?” His eye lids sagged; he’d be asleep before I merged back onto the highway. As he put the car in park, I Googled the author of the essays.

Big mistake.

She was most certainly not Kathy fucking Bates. She was Gwyneth Paltrow, but—worse—she was way less vanilla. Her face was more angular; her glasses had that “I live in Manhattan” cool that felt (and was) thousands of miles away. She looked younger than me.  Oh great– she was also a professor at a fancy New York college. She definitely knows all about Desdemona; I doubt this author ever vacationed at the Iowa State Fair.

I hated her. I hated the essays. I hated myself for enjoying them. Why couldn’t she at least be portly? Or old? Or mean? Or not funny? I was so totally jealous of her that it consumed me for miles, across the borders of the flattest states, isolated and hostile to me now, though before the Googling, I thought they were majestic and soul-stirring.

I seethed across Iowa. I seethed into Illinois. I stared at the horizon and begged myself to be, not undone by her beauty, talent, wit, and success, but inspired! vivified! energized!  I prayed for the ability to stuff the image of the real author back through the wireless airwaves so I could have my original back.

Back home, I forced myself to finish the book.  It’s not her fault she’s beautiful and friends with David Eggers.  It’s certainly not her fault my heart is shriveled by jealousy and impotent rage.

It was a really good book.

No Leaving Sandra Bland Behind


The morning of the race was the sticky hot that reminded me of Houston in August.  Think: running a half marathon in a steam room with 13,000 people.  I never thought of not running because of (1) the 150.00 fee for the privilege of running down the street so hell no I’m not going back to bed, and (2) a masochistic streak I’ve been cultivating over four decades.

I elbowed my way to my starting corral, fine-tuning my running mix and arranging my energy gels in my pocket.  I was focused on me, myself, and I.

The temperature soared over 80 degrees at 6:15 a.m..  Houston in late July.

I saw a downed runner at mile eight just past an aid station.  Someone in an official-looking red vest (Red Cross?—did I really pay to participate in an event where the Red Cross was called in?) was putting an ice pack on the woman’s neck.  I didn’t stop because … well, I didn’t have a red vest.  The overheated runner was in good hands.  I wondered where her people were.  Was she alone? That must be scary.

At miles ten and eleven, where the unshaded white concrete shimmered in the heat, I saw two more runners down.  One was being dragged over to a shady spot on King Drive; the other was sitting on a curb with cheeks the color of stop signs.  No red vests in sight.  Still I didn’t stop.  The litany in my head: I’m not a doctor; I don’t have any water; and I was voted the person most likely to hide in a closet and binge on Dorito’s during a crisis.

No, they were better off without me.

Half a mile from the end, after an uphill on a particularly punishing stretch, I saw another runner down.  This guy—a kid, actually—was out cold.  Right as I approached, someone hooked their hands under his arm pits and lifted him up.  If you would have told me he was dead, I would have believed it.  He was surrounded by four people. Maybe five.

You know I didn’t stop.  After I passed him, I saw his running mentor, someone I actually know well, racing against the tide of finishers lurching toward their post-race Gatorade.  The panic look on his face said it all.

It was an emergency.

I didn’t stop.

I keep replaying that morning and my inexcusable inaction.  “I’m a mother, for God’s sake. If I don’t stop, who will?  One of them was just a kid.”

I’ve blogged about so many things over the years, most of them trivial, vain, absurd, obscure, or flat-out ridiculous.  I’ve never once blogged about race. It’s the most glaring hallmark of my white privilege.  I’ve let other bloggers cover Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jr., Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Rumain Brisbon, Tony Robinson, Jordan Davis. There are others.  Sadly, we know there will be more.


Am I really about to pass Sandra (Sandy) Bland, like a downed runner who’s not my responsibility?

No, I’m not.  No more focusing on the finish line while other people around me are perishing.  No more hiding behind feeble, “I’ve got nothing to offer” excuses.  No more criticizing Lena Dunham for saying so little about race, while churning out another blog post about Willie Nelson.  No more forwarding other #BlackLivesMatter posts on Facebook without generating any of my own.

She was all alone in a jail cell in Texas, about to start a new job as a student ambassador at Prairie View A&M.  Something about the promise of her working with young students tears me up.  I can’t bear the thought of leaving her by the side of the road for someone else to pick on the pages of her blog.  Roxanne Gay wrote that “we all should [feel this tragedy in the marrow of our bones], regardless of the identities we inhabit.”

I’m scared to fuck up being an ally. But I’m in the comfort of my air-conditioned home; Ms. Bland was all by herself staring down a man acting under the color of (Texas) state law who was goading her.  Hers was real, life-and-death terror. I’ll never know what that feels like, which is exactly why I must give my own anxiety the finger and step up.

This is my start. This is my fumbling over to a critical situation saying, “I’m here.  I’m engaged. I’m educating myself.  I’m an ally.”

Because Sandra Bland’s life matters.  #BlackLivesMatter

Something to Put a Pickle On

I want something to put a pickle on.

That’s my whine every night as I ride home on the crowded #3 bus.  At least it is ever since Jeff and I decided to eat vegan.  I’ve never said it out loud, this pickle prayer, but if I did, it would sound ridiculous.

Why are you eating vegan?  That’s the question everyone asks.  If I had a better answer to that, then this whole thing would be going better.

Animal rights? Um, nope. It’s shameful, but I don’t particularly care about animals. No, I don’t gun the gas when I see a broken-winged bird in the street.  But I can’t pretend that my vegan experiment stems from a crystallizing moment when I stared into the eyes of a gorilla at the zoo and just knew.  Actually, the fact that I willingly visit zoos probably points away from a deep communion with the animal kingdom, Amiright?

Health benefits? Another great answer, but also false. I’m fairly reckless with my health. Exhibit A: I run home in pitch dark during the winter.  Exhibit B: I don’t always wear sunscreen because GREASY.   I think the China Study is compelling and believe that animal products spell big problems for our hearts and the size of our asses, but none of that is as compelling as a tasty hunk of brie or milk chocolate.

So, basically, I agreed to go vegan for all the wrong reasons.

First, I wanted to beat Jeff.  I knew he’d be more moderate in his approach.  I, knowing nothing of moderation, planned to out-vegan my husband and raise my fists in victory.  On day four he caved at a business meeting while I was home eating quinoa and asparagus.  Victory was mine in less than 96 hours.

Second, I love talking about food.  And of all the conversations I’ve started about food– including ones with an opening salvo about my anorexic and bulimic past– nothing gets people more riled up than talking about plant-based eating.  Ooooh eeeeeh, I’ve heard some mouthfuls on this.  Vegan enthusiasts at work stopped by to give me tips on new ways to eat beans.  Ardent champions of meat stopped by with their sausage McMuffins to taunt me and describe their grandma’s thick-cut bacon.  Friends expressed their concern when I posted a picture of vegan cheese on Facebook:

Nachos.  "Nachos." Not chos.  Not chosen to be eaten because vegan cheese is puke.

Nachos. “Nachos.” Not chos. Not chosen to be eaten because vegan cheese is puke.

(I was trying to make nachos.)  I liked the attention.  I liked the discussion about the ethics of eating, mindfulness about food, and the health benefits of food choices.  It was enjoyable to watch other people froth at the mouth in defense of their own food choices.

(For the record, I’m not judging others.  I’m too busy grieving the loss of cheese in my life.)

Third, I’d been in a rut for a while with the chopped/cobb/Caesar salad routine, so it was a novelty to order the hummus with pita toast points and carrots.  I started eating an avocado every single day.  I replaced my afternoon yogurt with nuts and a mango.  I wept with joy when I found something called Soy Chorizo at Trader Joe’s.  Now of course I’m in a vegan rut.  I’ve eaten a criminal portion of beans over the past twenty eight days.  Lentils now remind me of the mushy hairballs I’ve pulled from the pipes in my sink. I had a crisis of faith when all the avocados at the store were rock hard.

I’ve put pickles on the black-bean-and-corn “burgers” that Jeff has perfected.  Folks, it’s not the same.  Think about putting a pickle on a loosely packed pile of beans and corn.  See? Not appetizing.

I’m willing to stick with vegan eating for all kinds of morally muddy reasons.  But please, someone, help me find something to put a pickle on.


If Loving Willie Nelson Makes Me a Redneck, Then Pass The Canned Meat

Willie Nelson photographed for Rolling Stone, in his main building ... I think they call it the saloon, outside of Austin TX on November 4, 2013 Display or On Page credit: Photograph by LeAnn Mueller CAPITAL 'A' in LeAnn

Willie Nelson photographed for Rolling Stone, in his main building … I think they call it the saloon, outside of Austin TX on November 4, 2013
Display or On Page credit: Photograph by LeAnn Mueller
CAPITAL ‘A’ in LeAnn

Last month I was at a swanky luncheon for a birthday party.  Never very good at small talk, I leaned over to a virtual stranger and posed this question: “Does having an obsession with Willie Nelson make me white trash?”  To her credit, she blinked only once and gave me an emphatic, ” ‘Fraid so.” She wasn’t kidding.  She’s also ten years my junior and a thousand times hipper (like I’m pretty sure she doesn’t drive a mini-van or turn in at 9:30 at night), so I know she was telling the truth.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  My friend Robert has been referring for years to the “redneck Willie Nelson thing” I do.

At summer camp one year we had a white trash day (is that racist? tasteless?) and I remember lots of jokes about canned meat, like Vienna sausages, and marrying family members with no teeth.  If that’s what people think of when they think of Willie and his music, well, I can’t stop ’em.

But let me say this:

It’s not easy being a fan of an 82-year-old country music legend.

First, people assume I like country music.  For the record, I hate country music.  Hate. It.  I’m serious.  As a genre it ranks just after Gregorian chant and only slightly above Yo Gabba Gabba.  I really only like Willie.  I can tolerate Johnny Cash.  Waylon Jennings is alright.  I enjoy Kris Kristofferson, but he’s a Rhodes scholar who studied literature at Oxford, and he has a gorgeous head of hair to boot.  There’s nothing trash about that.

But contemporary country.  Yuck.  I have no opinion on Miranda Lambert and that tall guy she’s married to.  Or Eric Church.  I’ll cop to a soft spot for all Texas-born musicians, which is roughly 4/5 of them, but I don’t want to listen to them.  I will also declare my undying devotion to Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, but they’re not country. They’re “singer songwriters.”

Wait. I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, I’m a Dolly Parton fan, but that’s technically blue grass, so fuck off.

My point is that 99% of country music can go have a cocktail with Bill Cosby for all I care.

Second, and way worse than being mistaken for a country music fan (*shudder*), is that octogenarians who tour sometimes have to cancel their shows.  Like last Friday, when Willie’s undisclosed health issue forced him to cancel a show in Hammon, Indiana.  I had second row (center) seats for that show at the Horseshoe Casino.  (Classy, thy name is Christie.)

I got the email about the cancellation in the middle of the work day.  I pounded on my desk so hard and let out a barbaric yawp so loud and pathetic that my next-door neighbor coworker ran into my office to check on me.

It’s pretty amazing to tell someone who thinks you just erased a day’s worth of work or blew a court-ordered deadline that, no, you’re just having a conniption fit because Willie Nelson canceled his show. (God, just writing that sentence makes me well up.)

“Hi, coworker who is still trying to decide if I’m cool, don’t mind me having a complete episode of decompensation over the status of Willie Nelson’s health.  Move along.”

I moped around all night, then crawled into bed to read his just-released memoir It’s A Long Story.  I find comfort where I can get it.

There is hope: the show’s been rescheduled to September.  I’m saying the rosary every night that Willie is healthy and strong enough to play that night.   In the meantime, I’m picking up the pieces and moving on the best I can, but not eating potted meats or listening to twangy, Nashville country “music.”


Cake Balls Make You Popular

I’m popular right now.   Here’s why:

Mommy! We've never loved you more! We forgive you for yelling all the damn time.

Mommy! We’ve never loved you more! We forgive you for yelling all the damn time.

Those are chocolate-covered strawberries, and they taste like a farmers’ market collided with an artisanal chocolate stand in some remote South American country.  But these are better because they weren’t procured under the corruption of a FARC-like guerilla group that terrorizes the countryside.  And because my “treat policy” at home is ever-shifting, in violation of the number one rule of parenting– BE CONSISTENT!– my kids were shocked I let them pick one and eat it.  They’re not stupid, they popped them in their mouths before I could flip-flop on them and start talking about the evils of sugar in the American childhood diet.

For a brief sixteen minute period, I was not only their favorite parent, but their favorite person in the world.  (Besides their beloved nanny, who Sadie wishes was her mom, but that’s another post I promise I’ll write when I get that dagger out of my aorta.)

Since I like feeling like the most loved person in the room, I decided to take some to work.  Funny, when you tell your co-workers you have specialty cake truffles in your office, suddenly they’re all, “hey, can I get you some paperclips?” Or “Want me to create a fax cover sheet for you?”

We gathered around my desk and popped those truffles in our maws and never looked back.  The soothing effects of delicious, bite-sized confections distracted us from the flurry of emails about the “roach problem” in the office.  “Roaches? Who cares? I have an almond joy truffle in my mouth.”

Not gonna lie, it felt really good.  Like Oprah, I was all, “There’s a cake truffle for you, Marcie from accounting! And you, Jim from procurement! And you, Big Bruce from…(well, none of us know what Bruce does) the cubicle by the bathroom.”


Cake balls. Delivered.

Cake balls. Delivered.


The packaging was super pretty.  Sadie’s going to take the insert into here classroom for show-and-tell.  Not the actual food, but the pretty pictures, so she may not win friends and influence her fellow kindergarteners with that.  Whatever. It’s not about her, it’s about me.

Back to me.

I’m grateful that Shari’s Berries offered to let me pick out some of their products.  These opinions are all my own, but they did send me these treats gratis– they arrived in boxes with fun cooling packs (ala Blue Apron).

I got my 15 minutes of fame and stardom in my little circle.  I’m must saying that if you want yours, you could get your own goodies and head to work.


Each bite was MOIST (my coworker said I had to stop saying that or she would stop letting me feed her cake pops) and delish.

Each bite was MOIST (my coworker said I had to stop saying that or she would stop letting me feed her cake pops) and delish.


Do you deserve this? Yes you do.


Not quite a little blue box, but not too shabby.

Not quite a little blue box, but not too shabby.