Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fire And Rain

Grieving for a friend is rough. Grieving for a suicide adds new layers of harshness. Grieving for a 21-year-old suicide defies words. For a week after the phone call, my emotional range was too elemental for language, a visceral spectrum of fire and rain.

I think of this young man relaxing on the floor of our family room, bantering with my son, and I hope he’s at peace. I think of him curled up in his favorite red blanket, asleep on our couch, and I hope he’s resting in comfort. I think of how he sang and danced with my daughter, strumming a wooden stirring spoon. I don’t know if kitchen utensils are available through eternity, so if he needs one, I hope he finds a way to send a message. I’ll figure out how to launch a wooden spoon into the beyond.

Since he was close to my family, his parents kindly invited me to speak at his memorial. I thought of his helping me learn the unfamiliar inflections of The South, how we laughed over my many miscommunications when I first moved from California. I thought of his vibrant curiosity, his questions, his eagerness to explore — from writing novels to urban development, from bovine medical research to gender equality. I thought of the outstanding meals he cooked with my daughter and son and I smiled, remembering the chocolate and avocado cake he and my son somehow decided they had to bake — and yes, the result was as appalling as my daughter warned them it would be. I cried as I wrote his eulogy. I practiced my speech and broke down every time. I paused, trying to translate my grief into words. But I could only feel fire and rain.

At his memorial service, I expected to deliver the eulogy through tears, but I didn’t. My voice held strangely steady. However, my hands shook so violently that they felt like an alien appendage, detached and overwrought. I looked over the large room filled with his family and friends — bewildered, shattered, alive — and the notion that he was dead, truly dead, felt utterly absurd.

He was a young man of action, so I wish him Godspeed. But I’m not sure what that means. Maybe he’s a powerful current in an ocean’s depth, or the foamy rush in a river’s whitewater. Perhaps he’s a different kind of force — the drive within a poet to write, or the push within a scientist to discover.

I hope he rests in peace. But I don’t know what that means, either. Maybe his spirit quietly enriches the minerals of the soil, or gently guides the first spring tendrils toward the light. Although these thoughts are comforting, I’m painfully aware that I can conceive of his eternity only in the limited terms of my familiar world. Eternity is a place beyond the parameters of my imagination.

So I’ll stick to what I know: fire and rain — rage and cold, heat and water, warmth and sustenance, life and life.

 

TO ALL READERS:

If you are suicidal or fear for the safety of another person, please reach out.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-8255 

The Trevor Project Lifeline  866-488-7386 

You can also call 911 for emergency assistance.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. She has written two novels, both available on Amazon. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable follows a group of friends through one year of high school, as they navigate the challenges of adolescence. Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern as she treats her first patient, a young man who discovers that therapy can help him confront a past filled with secrets, and move forward with strength and empowerment.

Amy’s Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Grieving, Suicide Prevention, Uncategorized

Curse With Care

As a mother of three, raising two sons and one daughter into adulthood, I grappled with the expected challenges of their developing speech — too loud, too soft, your turn to talk, your turn to listen, let’s find words. As they grew older, words became more complicated, especially during their high school years in The South. I stepped in several times, not with my children, but with their friends. A handful of teenagers (all Caucasian and male) thought it was “cool” (or worse, normal) to drop homophobic, transphobic or racially bigoted comments. Invariably, they were startled when I explained that in my home, hate-speech wasn’t allowed. But they were more surprised by my attitude toward cursing. They expected cussing to be outlawed, a transgression under any circumstance. Instead, I chose a different approach: Curse with care.

Cursing in itself doesn’t offend me, but it carries responsibility. The speaker needs to take into account many factors. The environment needs to be okay with it. All words, including curse words, should serve a productive purpose. Curse words should never be used as weapons — to shock, to offend, to frighten, to intimidate. Curse words carry more risk than other vocabulary, so those specific words need to be chosen with extra care.

Since Anthony Scaramucci’s ten days in President Trump’s inner circle, I’ve been thinking about curse words. As a liberal democrat, I’ve struggled with the values and policies of Donald Trump’s White House since he took office. I wasn’t surprised to find myself appalled by Mr. Scaramucci’s beliefs. But I was quite surprised at how deeply offensive I found his language. My reaction caught me off guard because bluntly: I’m hard to offend with curse words.

Just like there are different styles of speaking, there are different styles of cursing. My problem was not Anthony Scaramucci’s words in themselves. It was the context, the layers, the implications, the undercurrent. He trash-talked people simply because he could, which is a type of bullying behavior. He was provocative for the shock factor, which is a form of using words as weapons. He was pointlessly crude, which is just plain obnoxious.

As a writer, words are my tools of the trade. I consider every sound, inflection, meaning, rhythm, cadence. I include curse words in my writing, but only when they make sense. I think carefully, choosing words that are true to the character and necessary for the integrity of the story.

Words matter. So I try to write and speak with care. And always, to curse with care.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including the resistance, parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum. 

To learn more about Amy’s novels, visit her Author Page on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under anthony scaramucci, curse words, language, resistance, Uncategorized

Mika, Joe, Lady Gaga

I can’t keep up with The White House.

As I work on this post about President Trump’s twitter attack on Mika Brzezinski, the next barrage of banner headlines is underway: Russian interference, Islamophobia, first-children crashing international meetings, more Russian interference. Each day, as I open my laptop to write, I wonder what calamity the next 24 hours will bring.

But as I scramble to keep up, I don’t want to lose track of Mika Brzezinski, because if those tweets were her “punishment,” I feel compelled to define her “crime.” First (and bad), she expressed an opinion different from President Trump’s. Second (and worse), she was critical. Third (and apparently worst of all), she’s a she. Tossing ideas around my head, deciding how to approach this post, my thoughts turned in a direction that surprised me: The Academy Awards.

In the aftermath of every night-at-the-Oscars, people revel in unbridled criticism. The tabloids trash outfits and hairstyles. Speeches are lauded and vilified. Subjects I find important (racism and gender equality) and those I find ridiculous (unflattering ball gowns) are reported as “Breaking News.” Usually, I find myself annoyed by the Oscar-aftermath, and I quickly move on. But I’ll never forget the 88th Academy Awards, when Lady Gaga and Joe Biden raised a collective voice against sexual assault.

Sexual assault is non-partisan. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, racial heritage, gender, political affiliation. The after for survivors is often private and hidden, and if they choose to come forward, many don’t find the support they deserve. While I respect Mika  Brzezinski’s public reaction to President’s Trump’s tweets, I hope she’s doing okay in private as well, because our Commander-In-Chief’s words were assaultive.

As a novelist, I ask myself repeatedly how I can effectively address real issues through pretend fiction. After careful consideration, I decided to include sexual assault in both of my novels. But again, I can’t keep up. Even if I wrote from dawn to dusk, every day, for the next century, I couldn’t cover the broad scope. This topic is loaded and layered, individual and complex, unique and universal. Possibly most damaging — it’s often forbidden. The gag order imposed on survivors, the code of silence among potential supporters, can be as emotionally damaging as the assault itself. And that’s why I chose to write about it.

I hope my novels (fiction) and blog posts (non-fiction) pave the way to open conversations, because a productive conversation forms a team. We don’t have to speak the same dialect, or identify as the same gender, or be in the same age group, or share partisan political beliefs, or worship in the same way, or look the least bit alike to form a strong team – case in point: Lady Gaga and Joe Biden.

I don’t wear make-up. My favorite sport is reading. I’ll never run for political office. I can’t manage to dredge up even a micro-fantasy about a blow-your-mind mic drop. And I’m joining the Lady-Gaga-and-Joe-Biden team.

You can join, too.

____

Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

A 15-year-old girl, Caroline Black, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written in support of healthy sex and Marriage Equality, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under He For She, Joe Biden, Lady Gaga, Mika Brzezinski, NoMore, Uncategorized

From GRID To AIDS

July, early 1980s, San Francisco.

A month before my 25th birthday, I began my clinical training in mental health. I was doing a rotation in a crisis clinic, a small psych emergency room affiliated with a larger hospital. I was eager to get out of the classroom and start working with clients. I had no idea that the nation’s health care community was at a crossroads, entirely unprepared for what was about to unfold.

Within a few weeks, we began to see a new presentation, which quickly developed into a dreadful pattern. A young man would be brought in, overtly psychotic or confused and delirious. We’d ask questions and find out that he had a steady job, a strong friendship group, sometimes a partner, and no psych history. Further questions would rule out recreational drugs as the cause. He’d also have a recent medical history that made no sense – sometimes a rare form of cancer, sometimes terrible skin lesions, sometimes a parasite only seen in sheep. He would have lost an alarming amount of weight in a startlingly short period of time. He would be in his 20s and gay. He was a healthy young man, who was inexplicably dying.

Initially, we didn’t understand the cause (single agent? combination?), or how the virus was transmitted (sexual contact? airborne? insect bite?). Until that point, “Safe Sex” meant preventing pregnancy; the idea of gay men using “protection” during sex was ludicrous. As the medical community realized that HIV was sexually transmitted, many people put up huge resistance to precautions like using condoms and closing the famous San Francisco bath houses. With our nation’s bruised history of homophobia (which is sadly ongoing), with self-proclaimed religious leaders ranting that AIDS was a “scourge” from God, folks in the gay community understandably wondered if these “protective measures” were the actually the next bigoted attempts to shut down gay sex.

I remember having lunch with a group of residents at the hospital. We were all in training, in different fields of medicine. One woman in pediatrics – bright, dedicated and decent to the bone — asked if the patients I had seen were truly all gay men, or if that was homophobic propaganda. I assured her it was true — which made no sense to any of us. We sat around our table and brainstormed, wondering if there could be some sort of Andromeda Strain phenomenon, making males in their 20s more vulnerable than females in their 90s. But that didn’t help us understand the gay factor or the sheep. One of the residents grew up on a farm, and we questioned him about rare illnesses in animals…which of course clarified nothing.  In all of the patients I had seen, 100% were gay and male; 0% had contact with sheep. Looking back, it seems like an idiotic discussion; at that time, we were scrambling – sharply aware that as we ate our sandwiches, people were dying.

Over time, the diagnosis evolved from Gay Cancer or GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) to AIDS. But we still had no medication to manage the condition. AIDS was a death sentence, and the path from diagnosis to death was brutal.

The following year, my training program offered the opportunity to work on the “AIDS Ward” at San Francisco General Hospital. This unit was set up solely for AIDS patients, staffed entirely by people who chose to be there. Even as a trainee, I was given the choice to opt out, because everyone was so frightened. But I figured if I asked my patients to step up and deal with their fear, then the least I could do was step up and deal with my own. To this day, I’ve never seen a better-run unit in any hospital. I’ve never been in an environment with a stronger sense of teamwork, with more exemplary patient care. Working on the AIDS Ward was a privilege.

It was also a heart-break. As a psych trainee, I was called in for mental health issues. Some patients needed meds when the virus attacked their brain, but most needed to talk. They asked questions, trying to understand. Sometimes I had answers; usually I didn’t. I listened to their stories, each unique, each the same.

My main role was to help them catch up to themselves. AIDS had slammed them, a blitzkrieg assault with such force that they had no time to adjust. Some showed me photographs, pre-AIDS, smiling and strong.  The pictures captured an experience that defied language, as they grieved for their former selves. I helped them build an emotional bridge between their then and their now.

I’ll always remember those young men who lived, loved, fought, lost. I’m grateful to them, to their friends and to their families for allowing me into their lives and into their deaths. I wish I could tell them, all these years later, that they paved the way for others to survive. I hope they know how valuable they were to me. I dedicate this post to them.

____

Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying at school, and follows a girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and find individual paths to becoming LGBT allies.

Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of clinical training, treating a stormy and talented young man. This book tracks a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight. Two other important characters are a lesbian couple, raising two children, who become role model parents to the main character. This is a story of the importance of becoming your full self.

Click here to check out Amy’s recent blog posts, read reviews, purchase her novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under AIDS awareness, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, Uncategorized

Something About Singers

There’s something about singers.

For those of us who sing in the shower and wisely nowhere else, the bond among singers is difficult to understand.

My husband and I met in college at Yale, but I wasn’t his first love. A year before our paths converged, he was introduced to a capella singing, and he fell head over heels. He sang first with a group called The Duke’s Men, then as a senior with The Whiffenpoofs. Music and singing shaped his entire college experience — his friendships, his personal growth, even his academic development. When he applied to law school, his personal statement was about touring with the Whiffs, singing and socializing with a Japanese university choir. That experience provided more than a bridge between two languages; their singing, together, created a shared language.

At Yale, the social scene revolving around a cappella singing was big. Actually, huge. For three semesters, I was happily involved in other activities, entirely unaware. Then spring term, sophomore year, I met the man I’d eventually marry, and my a capella education began.

I don’t mean voice lessons. I continued to pursue my own activities (which should evoke deepest gratitude from every voice teacher in the greater New Haven area). I learned that singing is a powerful force, connecting and affirming. Singers have a curious relationship to music — physical and emotional, personal and interpersonal. They sing for themselves, for each other, for their audience. Their voices become the ties that bind, simultaneously reaching deep within and soaring beyond their own parameters.

When he was tapped into the Whiffenpoofs as a senior, my not-yet-husband stepped into a new level of musicality. The Whiffs created wonderful sounds, but they were also unmistakably college kids — high on their own power source, losing their equilibrium at every turn, swept into the currents of their own undertow. Some of their ties strengthened, others strained, a few snapped. They graduated and scattered.

Then everything changed.

My husband and I attended the first Whiff reunion, five years out of college. I watched these men meet, this time as adults. They talked. Then they sang. Before my eyes, they moved firmly together, their voices connected in consonance and in dissonance. I realized — and I watched them realize — they were bonded for life. I’ve never seen a transformation quite like it.

Every five years, for over thirty years, they’ve met. Each time, they reaffirm their vows to each other and to their music.  I’m not always a part of their reunions, but when I am, I’m awed. It’s wonderful, startling, beyond reason, absolutely baffling — and it always will be.

There’s something about singers.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including college, parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum. To learn more about Amy, visit her website. http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

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Filed under a capella singing, singers, Uncategorized, Whiffenpoofs, Yale

Tears And College Applications

“I shouldn’t cry.”

(Why not?)

“I’m sorry.”

(You’re not doing anything wrong.)

“You can leave the room if you want.”

(Why in the world would I want to do that?)

For several years, I’ve coached high school seniors on writing their college application essays. Every student is different, and my job is to help them bring out their unique voices. The tools of my trade are simple: Laptop, pen, paper. But one tool is deceptively complex: I always provide, prominently displayed, a large box of tissues.

Many students cry, and tears are often an important part of their writing process. Their tears make sense. They’re stepping forward, trying out a new level of autonomy, facing a strange world. It’s scary, filled with potential, brimming with emotion. Most are surprised to find themselves crying, and they’re mortified. They apologize (“I’m sorry”). They’re embarrassed (“I shouldn’t cry.”) They assume I’m uncomfortable and offer me an escape hatch (“You can leave the room if you want.”). But I assure them that if there are tears, there’s also heart. And if there’s heart, there’s a wonderful, moving essay waiting to be tapped.

Crying takes different forms for different people. Sometimes my students become choked up, or their eyes fill with tears — a fleeting moment, and then composure. Sometimes they need to take a break, racked with sobs. Sometimes they write as they cry. Most important, I always encourage them not to fight the tears. Instead, I guide them to follow their own tears to their deepest internal source, and then bring that source back to the surface, into the words that will shape their essays. If they’re fighting their own tears, they’re fighting their own selves.

Not all students cry; their source grows from a different part of their emotional core. But for those who cry, the source of their tears invariably leads to an essay of authenticity and character. Their tears are valuable, an unerring guide. Their essays sing, chant, speak, whisper, shout.

The process of writing is often an experience of tremendous personal growth. In our initial meeting, students usually arrive stressed and overwhelmed; in our final meeting, they’re completely surprised by the empowerment they own. They grow before my eyes, simultaneously fawn-like and mature. I’m so honored to be a part of each journey.

It moves me to tears.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a new school that opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including college applications, adolescence, parenting and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum. To learn more about Amy, visit her website.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

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Filed under college applications, Uncategorized, writing, writing essays

How Therapy Works — Cinderella Redux

At a friend’s birthday party in third grade, I saw the animated movie Cinderella. I sobbed through the entire film, terrified that the evil cat would devour the mice. When the credits rolled and the beloved rodents triumphed, I was vastly relieved — but also confused. Cinderella’s happily-ever-after finale made no sense. She lost both parents. She suffered emotional abuse and neglect. She survived extreme isolation and had no human friends. Cinderella couldn’t possibly erase her traumatic past with a hasty marriage to a man, flashing epaulettes, who knew her shoe size before her name. Cinderella didn’t need a prince; she needed a therapist.

Fast-forward twenty years.

I completed a doctoral program in mental health and began a career that lasted more than two decades. Along the way, I’ve been asked several times to explain how therapy works, how words can become catalysts for emotional change. I’ve fielded this question at dinner parties, teaching classes, in sessions with clients, supervising trainees. It’s a worthy question, superficially simple, deceptively complex.

I was always annoyed when therapists spoke Jargon rather than English. When I was in grad school, training to work with patients, my role-model mentors conveyed ideas with an artistic simplicity. They helped their patients explore the depths of their emotional worlds, speaking with clarity and heart, in no way sacrificing scientific knowledge or human intricacies. They chose clear words, to show their patients how unresolved issues from the past became superimposed on the present, derailing the ability to make healthy choices. Simple language is our telegraph line into the tangled, layered, lush emotional life we all hold deep within.

Some adults survive backgrounds that match Cinderella’s early trauma, and resist the emotional pathology that seems inevitable. Some of these children (like Cinderella) look unbreakable, immune, invulnerable — which of course isn’t true. In our offices, our patients show us that their survival has rested in part on their ability to manage potentially incapacitating feelings of vulnerability, a vulnerability which often surfaces in the safety of therapy, as a part of healing. These children carry bruises, even scars into adulthood, but they survived because they were, in many ways, healthy. Like Cinderella with her animal friends, these folks figured out ways to interact with the situation at hand, allowing their own psychological development to continue a forward motion.

But what happens to forward motion when that child stumbles over a roadblock? What happens when that young emotional core needs bolstering from a more mature emotional core? And what if that more mature helper is not available? Then, in the service of forward motion, the child skips over that building block in development. It’s those potential but not yet solidified building blocks that our patients present to us, sometimes in the moment, sometimes decades later.

Into adulthood, people can create lifestyles that accommodate those not-yet solidified building  blocks. But if life throws them a curve ball, or if their own emotional needs call for these building books to be cemented into place, then these people bring to us their pain, bewilderment, vulnerability, both past and present. They begin to examine their own youthful coping strategy, a strategy that was beyond their own years at the time, and to initiate the process of psychologically catching up to themselves.

Each person is an emotional tapestry — interwoven threads of strength, weakness, illness, health. The unique blend in each individual forms an emotional fingerprint of textures, colors, patterns. As clinicians, we strive to understand each thread, and how it intertwines with all the others. Therapy helps patients explore their own internal tapestry, and move from images centered around illness and trauma to norms allowing for a more healthy range. In other words, in the course of treatment, patients shed the constraints that, by necessity, they themselves created in order to grow up.

So how does therapy work? Together, the therapist and patient create a safe place to feel vulnerable, which allows the patient to take charge of that vulnerability. The hunger in each patient becomes a measure not only of need, but also of capacity. If both health and illness are vital to this picture, then the patient’s own strength can be enlisted to engage the patient’s potential to heal, which empowers the patient (instead of the therapist) to become the primary agent of change.

Throughout treatment, the therapeutic relationship is essential. Every word, every nuance, every gesture is an opportunity for the therapist to communicate an optimism of repair — an optimism which no amount of drugs, predictable program regimens or technology can replace. Whenever a sign of health emerges, the therapist can reach for it, weaving it into the tapestry of the therapeutic relationship, and into the patient’s core tapestry as well.

If Cinderella, grown up, had entered my office for treatment, I would have listened carefully to the words she chose to tell her story. Together, we would have developed a language to understand her emotional landscape. I would have helped her own the importance of her relationships with the animals — their warmth, their love, their limitations. Layer by layer, we’d walk through her losses, anger, fear — interwoven with her perseverance, tenacity, resiliency. Inevitably, at some point, she’d become upset with me — possibly she’d experience me as mean (like her step-mom); possibly she’d become terrified that I was about to die (like her Dad); I’d point out that her past was shaping her present world view, causing her to relate to me as a stand-in for someone who had hurt her. When the moment was right, I’d comment on her stunningly graceful movements and her unusual gift relating to animals. I’d wonder — did she hold any interest in dance? In veterinary medicine? I’d ask if she liked her glass slippers, or if she preferred Birkenstocks. I’d guide her to redefine her existence as more than an exercise in endurance, her goals as more than escaping from pain. We’d find words to expand her emotional repertoire, as she discovered new frontiers of empowerment. I’d help her become the person who, by her own definition, she was meant to be.

That’s how therapy works. Just that simple. Just that complex.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. She graduated cum laude from Yale University with distinction in the major of psychology. She has a masters degree in Health and Medical Sciences from U.C. Berkeley, and a Doctor of Mental Health degree from U.C. San Francisco. Before she became a full-time writer, Amy was a therapist for over 25 years. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training, working with a patient who is feisty, brilliant, stormy and troubled. The story portrays a fictional version of the therapeutic process, and the healing potential of the therapeutic relationship. The perspectives of the therapist, the patient and the supervisor are all parts of the plot line. Check out Amy’s Author Page on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Filed under mental health, psychological, psychology, therapy, Uncategorized

Watergate Through Adolescent Eyes

I was almost fourteen years old in 1972, when President Richard Nixon’s outreach team was caught breaking into Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. The people initially arrested were not the expected drunken thugs or misguided activists or hormone-driven adolescents. In fact, they were — there’s no other word — weird. They had ties to the CIA (Huh???). One had a phone number with a line to the White House (What???). And the Watergate investigation was launched.

Watching the coverup unravel through adolescent eyes, I had more important things on my mind. I had just transferred to a new school. I was meeting boys. I didn’t like my math teacher. As a general rule, I relegated politics to adults, who (in my considered opinion) often missed the mark and caused all sorts of unnecessary problems.

Still, Watergate was in a different league.

I remember my father’s initial reaction. Dad was extremely liberal, fiercely progressive, a strong voice for social justice. He was loud, charismatic, a gifted storyteller, never at a loss for words, many of them unprintable. His speech included the most creative and percussive array of curse words I’ve ever heard. When the news of the Watergate break-in was broadcast, we all listened, riveted. Then Dad turned to face our family. His eyes were bright with a focused concentration, and I could see the wheels turning. Incredulity. Outrage. Dawning comprehension. Then in a strangely quiet voice, he said simply: “This is big.”

As the investigation continued, I don’t remember much discussion of Watergate among my high school friends. We were focused on the fistfight at recess between two gang members, a popular girl’s latest boyfriend crisis, our spectacularly annoying English teacher. Sure, we took a brief moment to think about each breaking news report, but we weren’t concerned about the ripples, the ramifications, the implications. Watergate was a reality show — high drama, absurd to the max, another pyrotechnic display created by the adult world.

From the beginning, the political outcome of Watergate seemed inevitable to me, and I was impatient with the due process that the adults deemed vital. One way or another, Richard Nixon was going to crash, so I figured he might as well get on with it. I began to watch Gerald Ford carefully, thinking that he must be searching deep within, quietly preparing to take over the presidency years before he planned. As a girl raised with the values of liberal democrats, I was no fan of Gerald Ford’s political views. But my heart went out to him as a person, and I had to admire his courage.

Now as I watch the events unfold surrounding the current administration, I feel the endpoint, like Watergate, is inevitable. Yet this time, the events are going to reach so far and so deep into our president’s A, B and C Teams that I have no idea who will step up to run our country. My heart goes out to none of them; they’ve been too cruel to too many. I see several potential leaders in our government, but none appointed or chosen by our current president. I’m as impatient to know the outcome as I was at fifteen. But now I view due process as extremely vital, an opinion my 14-to-15-year-old self did not share. So I’m continuing to write my resistance, to watch carefully, to wait impatiently.

This is big.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, is a strong voice for social justice, following a group of friends through one year of high school as they grapple with homophobic bullying, racial issues, gender equality, the value of diversity. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows the same main character through her first year as a psych intern, working with a stormy, talented, troubled young man, with a past filled with secrets that haunt him. This story is about the importance of becoming your full self, and shows the human capacity to heal from adversity. To check out Amy’s books, read her reviews, find her recent blog posts— click on the link to her author page.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Filed under Hearings on Russia, impeachment, resistance, Uncategorized, watergate

Who Cares

I had never unfriended anyone on Facebook for stating an opinion different from my own. Opinions provide the foundation of my country, and I’m a big fan of free expression in the marketplace of ideas. Until recently, the only folks I unfriended were using Facebook as a dating app, and I’m not interested in dating (happily married, thanks anyway). But around a month before the presidential election, I unfriended someone due to two words. His post stopped me in my tracks: “Who cares if women are being groped.”  He went on to state that other issues were more important. So he and I were gearing up to cast our votes in opposite directions. Although I truly believe his vote was a terrible mistake, that wasn’t my problem. My problem was the first two words: Who Cares.

I wish I understood. Does he not care if women (or men) are sexually assaulted? Does he not care if someone brags about sexually assaulting women, and then cheerfully (or obnoxiously) goes on to become the leader of the free world?  Does he not care about opinions that challenge his own convictions? I’d like to understand exactly what he doesn’t care about, and why. Most of all, I’d like to understand what it would take for him to care.

I’ve heard many people under many circumstances dismiss assaultive behavior with a Who Cares approach. “It happened so long ago.” ”We were only kids” (or teenagers or adults). “These things happen all the time.” “It only happened once” (or four or thirteen times). “It was just talk.” “It was just a text.” “It was just sex.” “It’s not a big deal.”

But actually, it is a big deal.

As I write this piece, the United States of America is anything but united.  In fact, we’re dangerously divided. I see neighbors, friends, families, communities turning against each other. I don’t know how the Un-United States will climb out of this mess, but perhaps my Facebook-ex-friend holds the key.  I don’t know whether care is enough to cement our country’s foundation. But I do know that as long as we don’t care if women are being groped, we don’t stand a chance.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. She has published two novels: Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school — Tightwire, which follows a fictional psychology intern through her first year of training. Both novels have a strong female protagonist, and include sexual assault and healing as a subplot. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, parenting and a Rolling Stones Concert. Click on the link below to visit Amy’s Author Page.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under gender equality, hate speech, resistance, sexual equality, Uncategorized

Fire With Fire

The unrestrained hatred and rage from the White House, especially from our president, has opened the floodgates. People of all political affiliations are finding themselves unleashed, speaking and posting in ways that should be deeply offensive to us all. Democrats tend to excuse Democrats and condemn Republicans for bad behavior; Republicans tend to excuse Republicans and condemn Democrats for bad behavior. My opinion: bad behavior is bad behavior, and should not be excused or tolerated by anyone. To take it one step further, remaining thoughtful and decent in the face of our president’s hatred and rage is actually a form of resistance.

First, middle, and last — we’re all human. We carry primitive pieces within our selves. Each of us holds a beast hiding deep in our core, ready to pounce. But being human also means we have the capacity to reroute the beast, channel our most primal instincts in directions that are not only acceptable, but also for the greater good.

Non-violent resistance means fighting with civility. If we’re fighting for decency, then we have to commit to decent values, reflected in our speech and behavior, both political and personal. When our president throws a tantrum, hurls an insult, aligns himself with a shamelessly awful act, it’s hard to resist the urge to fight fire with fire, tantrum with tantrum, rage with rage, hatred with hatred. The problem: choosing to respond in kind turns our president into a role model.

I never thought my country would be in this position, and resistance is vital. So step forward, stand firm, fight, resist. But don’t allow our president to pave the way for you to become your worst self. Taking another path is a powerful choice, an expression of patriotism — another form of resistance.

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Amy is an author and blogger. To read her reviews, find her recent blog posts, purchase a novel — click on the link to her author page.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her wealthy prep school for her local high school, which opens her world. At Hollywood High, she finds a large immigrant population, over 40 native languages, gangs, and extreme violence targeting the gay students. Caroline thrives in the diversity of her new school and finds friends who work together to navigate their school’s challenges. She also discovers a gift within herself: the ability to help others discover their own inner strength.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, 10 years later, navigates her first year of training as a psych intern. Chapters in her treatment of a talented but troubled young man are interspersed with chapters of her own personal history. This book explores how the individual and community mutually influence each other, the healing power of relationships and the importance of becoming your own whole person.

 

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Filed under activism, resistance, Uncategorized