Category Archives: Uncategorized

Treated Like Cattle

Since the public outcry began over Donald Trump’s immigration policies, I’ve heard people say that the children and parents wrenched apart at the border are “treated like cattle.”

That’s not true.

One of my grown children works at her college’s student-run dairy farm. Every human knows exactly where every animal is at every moment. They know each animal’s name, medical condition and specific needs. They know which cow gave birth to which calf. If any animal shows signs of distress, they figure out the issue and attend to it immediately. For instance, when a heat wave hit, the students (already working shifts round the clock) took extra time to hose down the animals, making sure they were as comfortable as possible in the high temperatures. Each animal is treated with kindness, respect, care. 

I wish the people who tried to immigrate to the United States had been treated as well as the cattle.

 

Another Piece On Immigration, Posted On Donald Trump’s Birthday:

“Happy Birthday Donald Trump”

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2018/06/15/happy-birthday-donald-trump/

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story 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’s blog includes posts about the resistance, gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, #NeverAgain, racial equality, parenting and book reviews. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Amy’s Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00R0S66Y4?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true

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Filed under Donald Trump, Families Belong Together, immigrants, Immigration, Uncategorized

Grit And Humanity — Book Review

Since I was a kid, I’ve had a quirky habit. When I find a book I love, I can’t put it down — so far nothing out of the ordinary. But when I finish (and here comes the weird), I pause, then immediately flip to page 1 and begin again. And again and again and again. On the first round, I immerse myself in the experience of the story. Then I want to figure out how the author pulled it off — how they used words, sounds, syntax, rhythm — how the story took on a pulse and a heartbeat — how the novel took me by the heart and by the throat. I happily read my favorite books ten, thirteen, twenty times. Now I’ve found four new favorite books — Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone series — Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Al Capone Does My Homework, Al Capone Throws Me A Curve.

I met Gennifer Choldenko years ago.  Our kids (now grown) overlapped in middle school for a few years. We were the new family, and Gennifer kindly invited us to dinner. She radiated a crackling energy —  warm, funny, bright — the same energy that leaps off the pages of her books. We’ve lived in different states for years, and we’ve exchanged a few brief emails, but that’s been the extent of our ongoing contact. Full Disclosure: I have met Gennifer, but she had no idea I decided to write this review. 

Actually, I had no idea I’d decide to write this review. I’m 59 years old, and I usually don’t read books recommended for ages 10-14. When I do, I often become frustrated, finding the stories unidimensional and predictable. But these books took me by surprise. Gennifer’s stories are the perfect cocktail of grit and humanity.

These four books track a family living on Alcatraz, in the 1930s, when the prison was in full swing, housing Al Capone. “Moose” Flanagan moves with his mom, dad and sister to Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, when Mr. Flanagan takes a job as an electrician and prison guard. Moose’s sister is four years older and she’s a handful. She pitches fits, is barely verbal, doesn’t like eye contact, obsessively counts buttons. Autism was barely understood at the time, and the Flanagans move to Alcatraz hoping that Natalie would be accepted into a nearby school trying to help kids with her sort of issues. In the meantime, Moose’s mom struggles to keep their home in order, but she can barely keep up with Natalie’s needs, and responsibility often shifts onto Moose’s shoulders. Moose’s dad is up to his eyeballs in one situation after another with the prison, while trying to remain a loving father.

In contrast to Natalie, the four novels portray Moose as alarmingly perfect. Kind, mannerly, gentle and a good baseball player. He’s huge for his age, but never uses his size as a weapon against others. He tries to look out for his sister, and fields continuous challenges created by living on a prison island, housing some of the most dangerous men in the country. Juxtaposed with the unique culture of Alcatraz are situations familiar from our own childhood-to- adolescence journeys — Moose’s first kiss, the smack of a baseball in his glove, the aroma of Italian cooking in a neighbor’s kitchen, the bonds of friendship. 

Gennifer has meticulously researched the depression era of the 1930s, life on Alcatraz when the prison was up and running, and autism. Her stories are peppered with descriptions of the inmates — some sociopaths, some troubled, some angry, some narcissistic — and their relationships to the guards, the administration, the families. Scattered throughout are vivid anecdotes that pull the reader into the time and the place — a man licking ice cream from the ground in San Francisco, starving in The Depression — the ferry connecting the isolated Alcatraz community to the world beyond  — the starch of laundered shirts (because yep, true to the title, Al Capone is on laundry duty and cleans Moose’s shirts).

As the novels progress, Gennifer’s psychological astuteness emerges and creates multi-dimensional emotional layers — which turn the stories from just entertaining into some kind of wonderful. Slowly, the reader realizes that Moose is too perfect. In his family, Natalie and her needs fill every crevice. There’s no room for Moose to be anything but flawless. His parents are dedicated, loving, and scrambling every moment to ward off being overwhelmed by their daughter’s condition. So Moose deals with his problems and his triumphs on his own. Sometimes he gets it right, and sometimes he creates a mess. 

Gennifer pulls off a curious hat-trick. She conveys her story in a way that’s engaging and accessible for young teens, that’s complex and layered for adults, that’s both deeply meaningful and just plain fun for all ages. Her sense of humor is warm, kind and honest. She offers, in equal parts, the grit and the humanity of autism, of Alcatraz, of parenting, of growing up. The result is a joy to read.

Gennifer Choldenko’s Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/Gennifer-Choldenko/e/B001IGSM0K

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story 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’s blog includes posts about the resistance, gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, #NeverAgain, racial equality, parenting and book reviews. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Amy’s Author Page

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

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Filed under Al Capone Book Series, Author Gennifer Choldenko, book review, Uncategorized

Happy Birthday Donald Trump

I’ve been trying to write a post on Donald Trump’s immigration policies. I sat down several times, determined to find that perfect mixture of edge and balance. Instead, I stared at my laptop and failed to find words. I tried music, pacing, watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns, eating frozen yogurt. Nothing was powerful enough to unlock my writing process on this topic. So I’m trying a new approach.

I’ll begin by wishing our president a happy birthday.

Since Donald Trump took office, he has provided ongoing motivation to write. Sometimes I struggled to find words, because posting I’M REALLY MAD AND REALLY SAD (while momentarily satisfying and extremely true) wouldn’t offer anything useful. However, the administration’s policies regarding immigration have catapulted me to a new level of inadequacy. The stories of a baby wrenched from the mother’s breast — the photos of inconsolable children — the descriptions of frantic parents…I have no words.

During my previous career as a therapist, my job was to help people find words. Language allowed their treatments to begin, then take off, then soar. The roadblocks to finding language often traced back to the core source, and finding those words unlocked the deepest holding cells storing the most primitive emotions. The challenge: If the source traced back to a place so basic that it was preverbal, then the structure of language was too elevated to match the primal character of the source. 

And that’s my problem now. When I think about Donald Trump’s immigration policies, the feelings evoked are too deep for words. If you want to make a parent do anything, say anything, absolutely anything — don’t target them. Instead, target their children in front of their eyes. Tear their children away. Use their children as leverage. Torture the kids. It’s cruel and inhumane and primal and terrifyingly effective. 

As a therapist-turned-writer, I’m trying to come up with a way to meet this problem head on. But this is beyond a problem. Donald Trump’s approach to immigration is evil, and I’m without words. 

So again, happy birthday President Trump.

Still, I will not give up or give in. When I need bolstering, I think about Pride Month. I see people of all ages, folks in the LGBTQ+ community — who have been attacked repeatedly, whose inalienable rights have been assaulted —  who join hands, stand shoulder to shoulder, march tall. I turn to Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg and Sam Fuentes as role models for taking a traumatic event and using it as a motivator to guide our troubled world. I look at those in the House and the Senate, the minority fighting for decency, running a marathon at the speed of a sprint. I stand in awe of the free press, journalists reporting with care and accuracy, while facing unprecedented hostility. 

When I need more to restore the fight and the hope, I turn to other writers. Maya Angelou’s poetry takes impossible pain and somehow, against all odds, makes it sing. John Pavlovitz, a Christian minister, writes for inclusion and acceptance, offering a path to spirituality based on compassion. Daphne de Marneffe’s new book is about bringing down emotional barriers in relationships — directly opposing the Trump Regime which answers all conflict, all disagreement, all problems with divisions and walls. J.K. Rowling created a series of novels showing us how to fight evil, beginning with the first crucial step: Call it by its name. 

In time, Donald Trump’s reign will end. But make no mistake — the road to recovery will be long, uphill, jagged. A wave of mental health issues will hit like an emotional tsunami. People will face recurring nightmares, post trauma stress reactions, intense grieving, depression, anxiety. But even as I prepare for the rough terrain ahead, I feel tremendous hope. I’ll work to find different paths to healing for diverse emotional styles, and I know I won’t be alone. A strong team is gaining momentum every day. For now, I’ll take my next step by following J.K. Rowling’s guidance.

Happy Birthday Donald Trump.

____

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, as she leaves her college prep academy for the local public school. At Hollywood High, she finds over 40 native languages, gangs, extreme violence targeting the gay students, and friendships that open 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’s blog includes posts about a variety of subjects including gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, racial equality and parenting. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Amy’s Author Page

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

Maya Angelou’s Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/Maya-Angelou/e/B000AQ8Q00

John Pavlovitz’s Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/John-Pavlovitz/e/B0768J9N6Z

Daphne de Marneffe’s Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/Rough-Patch-Marriage-Living-Together/dp/1501118919/ref=la_B001HD3SYE_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1529007595&sr=1-1

J.K. Rowling’s Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/J.-K.-Rowling/e/B000AP9A6K

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Filed under Donald Trump, Immigration, Uncategorized

Becoming Who You’re Meant To Be

As an adolescent, I promised myself that when I grew up, I’d write a novel in support of the LGBTQ+ community. I decided that I’d portray many forms of homophobia — from covert attitudes to overt violence. I’d also include validation and support from friends — the empowerment of family acceptance — several paths to becoming an ally.

This post is a chapter from the book that evolved many years later. I’ve changed the names in this post from the names in the book. I made this choice for readers, so that the character who comes out can reveal herself in her own time, in her own way, as the novel progresses. Aside from the names, this post portrays the chapter exactly as it was written. 

I wish for each person a safe, supportive path toward becoming who you’re meant to be.

Happy Pride Month!

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Chapter 30

Surfing

“Follow me!” Joe ran into the water, diving onto his surfboard. He glanced over his shoulder at his mother and sister. “Come on!”

Sue and Mrs. Smith ran in after him. They all skimmed through the warm sea, but Joe didn’t stop with the other surfers. He paddled beyond the breakers, where the world turned still.

Mrs. Smith sat on her board, and looked back at the Maui shore. “It’s beautiful here.” The water was a sheath of sun-drenched blues.

After a moment, Sue spoke up. “Are we going to surf?”

In a minute,” Joe answered. “First we talk.”

“About what?” Sue’s hair reflected the heat like onyx. 

“About IT.” Joe looked at his mother “We all maneuver around IT. Time to talk.”

“Okay, where do we start?” Sue asked.

“Some of my friends want to ask you out. What should I say?”

“Who?” Sue grinned.

“They swore me to secrecy. What should I tell them?” 

“Tell them…Mom, fasten your seatbelt…tell them I’m seeing someone.”

Mrs. Smith smiled. “That’s nice, then it won’t hurt their feelings, and..” her smile froze. “You’re not actually…oh dear, you are actually seeing someone.”

Sue nodded.

“May I ask who?”

“Not yet,” Sue said quietly. “Soon, but not yet.”

“Do I know her?” Mrs. Smith asked.

“Yes.”

“Do I like her?”

“Yes.”

“Oh shit,” Mrs. Smith said so primly that both of her children burst out laughing.

A long pause.

“I thought I was getting more comfortable with a gay daughter, but it seems I have work to do.”

“Mom, it’s just like me with my girlfriend,” Joe said. “I mean, Sue and her girlfriend do the same stuff I do with…”

“Thank you for that image I shall try mightily to forget,” Mrs. Smith interrupted, and they all laughed again.

“Look, substitute the word gay for straight, and she’s the exact same pain in the neck kid sister she was before she told us.” Joe watched the swells closely. “Gotta go. Surfing calls. Good talk.” Then he paddled furiously and caught the next wave.

“Well, that was enlightening,” Mrs. Smith grinned, and Sue laughed.

“It’s not just you, Mom. I’m still not totally comfortable being gay.”

“Can I help in any way?”

Sue’s eyes filled with tears. “Thanks, Mom, you just did help.”

“I’m getting used to the idea.”

“Me too. It’s getting better.”

“May I ask a difficult question?”

“Absolutely yes, ask it, whatever it is.”

“Did I do something wrong? Or is it because your father died?”

“No it’s nothing like that. I don’t understand where it comes from. But I’ve known since I was twelve, even though I didn’t know the word gay.”

“That makes me feel a lot better,” her mother smiled. “It’s not about something going wrong.”

“I’m not sure what it’s about.”

“It’s about your becoming who you’re meant to be.”

____

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying in high 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 allies.

 

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Filed under Ally Support, LGBTQ+, Pride Month, Uncategorized

The Problem With Samantha Bee

I never miss Full Frontal. Samantha Bee’s talent lies in her ability to channel anger into a strong, clever, compassionate, intelligent, funny show. However, when she referred to Ivanka Trump as a “feckless c***”, she derailed herself.  While I support the Full Frontal perspective, I can’t support her use of that word.

To be clear — I’m no fan of Ivanka’s. I find her belief system abhorrent, and she’s part of a regime which is breaking land-speed records for the most damage done to the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. I have no problem criticizing Ivanka for her words and actions, for her silence and inaction. But I have a big problem with hitting her with the c-word. Calling a woman a “whore” — telling anyone “don’t be such a girl” — labeling any female a “slut” —  dropping the c-bomb — those words and expressions are all cousins. They equate female identity and female sexuality with degradation.

With cameras rolling, in front of her cheering audience, broadcast into the homes of millions — Samantha Bee holds a degree of power few of us will ever achieve. However, with power comes responsibility. As soon as she used the c-word as a weapon, she reverted to the wrong kind of power. Bluntly, she turned into a bully — ironically, in the style of our president.

In a previous post (“Fire With Fire” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/06/04/fire-with-fire/), I wrote about the difficulty remaining thoughtful, rational and decent in the face of Donald Trump’s provocative belligerence. Whether I like it or not (and I don’t), that’s the challenge of resistance during the Trump Era. As much as I admire Samantha Bee’s talent — as much as I like her show — I’m calling her out. I won’t be a silent bystander while anyone is bullied, even if the target is someone I dislike. I won’t endorse — either through words or silence — language that degrades women. For this moment, and only for this moment, I stand with Ivanka. 

I’d prefer to stand with Samantha, but she’s not making it easy. We all make mistakes, and our own response in the aftermath reveals the heart and soul of our core. So I watched her next show, which I found quite problematic. I respect her owning her mistake in using the c-word as a verbal bludgeon. I appreciate her expressing regret regarding the women she offended. However, she then stated that regarding the “many men…offended by the word”, she didn’t care about them. Dismissing anybody due to their gender is the same oppressive attitude women are fighting — and as I hope she’d agree, it’s no joke, especially in the current context. And yes, the “niceness” of actions matters, but so do words — ask the too-many students who are targeted verbally at school. Then came her team of “Censors” — a clever and funny idea. Unfortunately, the way the show portrayed that idea — four men in suits, barking absurd phrases at amusing moments — turned Samantha into another woman outshouted by testosterone-driven idiocy. I wish two of the four censors had been women, and I wish they hadn’t been portrayed as well-dressed clowns. I wish she had used the idea as a way to highlight the difference between censoring (which is dangerous) and filtering (which is a sign of civility). Initially, Samantha owned her mistake, but then she disowned it.

Opening the show, Samantha Bee stated that her goal was to be “challenging and honest.” I hope she finds her way back to meet her own standards, because she’s still off course. Was her apology what I hoped it would be? No. Was it enough to get Full Frontal back on track? Possibly. Will her progression going forward help our country regain its moral compass? From the bottom of my heart, I hope so.  

_____

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story 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’s blog includes posts about gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, #NeverAgain, racial equality, parenting and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Amy’s Author Page

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

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Filed under Samantha Bee, Uncategorized

Pride Month And Ally Support

Welcome to Pride Month! 

I feel tremendous joy and gratitude about the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community to my personal world and beyond. At the same time, I’m acutely aware that we’re living in a strange and dangerous time. Too many are openly hostile toward the LGBTQ+ community — a hostility sanctioned, endorsed and perpetuated by our country’s administration. As Pride Month begins, I’m thinking about the meaning of being a straight, cisgender ally during the Trump era.  

Entering LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I pledge to treat every month as Pride Month.

While resistance is vital, I fully celebrate Pride Month, because the heart and soul of Pride have nothing to do with Donald Trump. 

As I celebrate, I’ll respect that Pride Month is not about me or for me. It’s my moment to support others, and their moment to shine.

I offer equal support to those who are completely out, partially out and not out. For those who don’t feel safe coming out, please know that even if we’ve never met, I’m a part of your safe zone of acceptance.

If I see anyone being bullied, I’ll step in. If I’m afraid, I’ll still step in.

I’ll continue to write my resistance against the policies that target people for being themselves, that threaten the rights that should be inalienable.

I’ll welcome people who want to become allies, but don’t know how. If you have questions or concerns, feel free to reach out. There’s a place for you.

I’ll remain open to learning. Through the past year, I’ve become increasingly comfortable with the singular pronoun “they.” I’ve expanded my definition of “gender identity” to be much more inclusive. I’ve let go of what I now consider a rigid definition of a “female body” or a “male body.” A body is a body, and how each person defines his/her/their relationship to that body is highly individualized. I no longer view “male anatomy” as strictly male, or “female anatomy” as strictly female. The person owns the body and defines the body, including the gender of the body. I’ve learned to make no assumptions about gender identity based on appearance; I ask for people’s pronouns and accept without judgment. I’m ready to learn more, and I’m grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way.

If I make a mistake, I’ll apologize. I’ll try to do better. 

I’ll ask questions, starting now: Anyone of any gender and any sexuality — do you want to add something that I’ve missed? Feel free to comment.

Finally — to everyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, I see you and accept you. You enrich our world every day. And to my LGBTQ+ friends — I can’t imagine my life without you. 

Happy Pride Month! 

____

Novels By An LGBTQ+ Ally

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying in high 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 allies.

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

Click here to check out Amy’s novels on Amazon:

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

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Filed under Ally Support, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, Uncategorized

Roseanne’s Meltdown

Roseanne Barr is a national headline. She has a history of obnoxious public behavior, and somehow managed to land on her feet. This time, she tweeted a blatantly racist comment and her show was cancelled. Roseanne can’t be both an outspoken racist and a star on a major network. But strangely, she could be our president.

Since the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump crashed into the spotlight as a role model for rage and hatred. He didn’t plant bigotry in the United States — not even the leader of the free world has that much influence. Those beliefs already existed, waiting to be tapped. When he legitimized rage and hatred, The Beast lying dormant in our country took its first tentative steps, then broke into a gallop. 

Bigotry is running rampant, and Roseanne is a part of an ongoing problem. To worsen the impact, Barr posted her tweet just after Memorial Day. On the surface, the timing seems unimportant. But it is.

My father fought in World War II and died decades later, of natural causes. If he were alive today, he’d march for our lives and kneel with Colin Kaepernick. He’d stand with the LGBTQ+ community and Time’s Up. He’d raise his voice for the free press and immigrants. He’d encourage young adults to vote. He’d write to support #BlackLivesMatter. Those are the values he fought to protect and preserve. Every Memorial Day, Dad spoke to me about his friends who died in combat, and he would have experienced Roseanne Barr’s tweet as an insult to their memory.

The tally of innocent victims caught in the Trump-era-crossfire is already astronomical. Many people aside from Roseanne Barr worked on her show, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. They’re all out of a job. On a much larger scale, President Trump’s legacy will leave millions of lives shredded. My father fought for a world where Roseanne Barr’s tweet would never have happened, where Donald Trump never would have been elected, where our nation would hold our truths to be self-evident. 

When I was around 5 years old, I asked my father — an author and a screenwriter — why he wrote all the time. He said he felt a push to write, an insatiable need. I asked what insatiable meant, and he said he was always hungry to write more. At the time, I offered him a bite of my snack (a carrot); years later, I understood. Each article or book or script felt like his first, and when it became his next, he felt a magnetic pull to begin a new first.

I miss you, Dad, and I always think of you and your friends on Memorial Day. The country you fought for has dug itself into a deep cluster-mess. Too many are suffering. At the same time, a growing number work and write and march and speak to get us back on track — a diverse group spanning broad demographics, offering an enormous spectrum of talent. Eventually, we’ll come out of this terrible time, and begin the long process of healing — a series of first steps, followed by next steps. So Dad, you can rest in peace. You did your part, a new team has formed, and I stand with them.

This is my first next piece.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story 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’s blog includes posts about gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, #NeverAgain, racial equality and parenting. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Amy’s Author Page — check out her novels.

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

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Filed under Roseanne Barr, Uncategorized

Brighten Your Darkest Night

Close your eyes and think of me                                                                                                    And soon I will be there                                                                                                                     To brighten up even your darkest night

“You’ve Got A Friend”                                                                                                               Written by Carole King                                                                                                       Performed by James Taylor 

 

On the morning of Friday May 18, 2018, a shooter entered Santa Fe High School in Texas, leaving many dead, several wounded, countless traumatized. 

That evening, I attended a James Taylor concert. 

The following day, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchanged wedding vows.

However you slice it, whatever your perspective, that was one helluva 36-hour stretch. 

As the Sante Fe High School massacre hit the news, I followed reactions on the internet. I was deeply disturbed. A large number referred to school shootings —  the dead, the wounded, the gutted families, the torn communities — as our “new normal.” 

Several hours later, I watched James Taylor take the stage. James is a curiously compelling presence — curious because he radiates a quiet energy instead of the crackling voltage typical of the rock and roll era. He’s upfront about his struggles with addiction and mental illness, relating a story of being in such “a bad way” that his father rented a car and drove from a different state to find him. At another point in the concert, he described hanging out with The Beatles, admitting that he doesn’t remember the occasion “but I’m told I had a good time.” The audience laughed sympathetically, but James clearly wasn’t trying to recapture or glorify his younger days. He conveyed a message that we’ve all travelled a long and strange journey, that we’ve all survived pain and loss, that we’re all grateful to be here today. When he sang, his pain and his resiliency were palpable, standing shoulder to shoulder.

The Royal Wedding coverage was in full swing when I awoke on Saturday morning. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have established themselves as role models for surviving adversity, giving to others, bringing a fresh vitality to the monarchy. Both have overcome tremendous personal obstacles. They reached deep within to find a different path forward — first separately, now together. Like James Taylor, they radiate hope in a troubled world.

Through the concert and the royal wedding, I thought about Santa Fe High School. Too many lives in too many schools have been shattered. In the face of our president’s unchecked belligerence, our citizens are responding in kind, lashing against each other. It’s hard to keep a clear head in the face of one massacre after another. It’s hard to think rationally when our country’s administration insists on a relentless political bar fight. It’s disorienting when we’ve reached the point where a school shooting is considered any kind of normal, new or otherwise. My homeland has lost its way in a “darkest night.”

James Taylor, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are no strangers to darkness, so I’m following their example. I will look my country’s “darkest night” straight in the eye. I will never normalize a school shooting. I will not recalibrate “normal’ to accommodate an ongoing upheaval. When I feel overwhelmed or exhausted, I’ll replay James Taylor’s voice in my head and remember how much he has overcome. I’ll think of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the inspiration I felt as they clasped hands. I’ll step forward to meet the darkness, trusting that in time, with great effort, the United States will rediscover the source of its own brightness.

____

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story 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’s blog includes posts about gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, #NeverAgain, racial equality and parenting. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Amy’s Author Page — check out her novels and latest blog posts      https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under James Taylor Concert, Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Royal Wedding, Santa Fe High School, Santa Fe Shooting, Uncategorized

Parenting The Popular Crowd

It began in Kindergarten. 

Raising my three children into adulthood, I can trace the threads of the social hierarchy back to the earliest days of elementary school. At age 5, some kids mocked others, refused to play with them — and The Cool Crowd was born. Standing in a pack of parents, watching the playground from the sidelines, waiting for the opening bell, I was always struck by the way the children’s behavior was reflected in the parents. A clear social hierarchy existed among the moms and dads and unsurprisingly, the kid and adult hierarchies often mirrored each other. 

I remember a group of children loudly reliving a birthday party, making sure those who weren’t invited heard every enviable detail. One girl who was excluded began to cry. I waited for parents to step in, which they did, but not in the way I hoped. Instead, a posse of adults launched into a discussion of the same party, putting on a show for the excluded parents. As a mom with kids in different grades from the grand event, I watched the drama unfold from an emotional distance. Still, I was appalled. The cool crowd was alive and well, rejecting and mean, spanning generations.

An elevated seat on the social food chain makes people of all ages feel safer, stronger, less vulnerable. When rising up is based on pushing others down, the resulting sense of security rarely lasts. The shot of power is temporary, the vulnerability resurfaces, and the need surges to find a target again and again. 

Parenting the popular crowd was a challenge, no matter where my kids landed on the hierarchy. With parents endorsing Top-Of-The-Food-Chain behavior, The Cool Crowd was clearly here to stay. My job was to help my kids feel steady, to behave with decency, whether or not they were tagged as “cool” or “uncool.” Sometimes my task felt effortless; other times, it felt impossible. 

I carried my prototype of popular from personal experience. Nope — I wasn’t Cool-Crowd-Material (much too nerdy), but I met my role model for cool in high school, taking a ceramics class to fulfill an art requirement. The students were randomly assigned to tables of six, and I found myself seated with one of the school’s most popular girls. She was so beautiful that I could barely tear my eyes away from her to work with the clay. On the first day of class, she looked around our uncool table, and didn’t balk for an instant. She was kind, inclusive and she proved that being popular does not necessarily entail being mean. In a run-down classroom, bottom-of-the-line equipment, age 16 — she showed me that using popularity as an excuse to hurt others is just that: an excuse. There’s nothing wrong with being well-liked and respected, and there’s nothing wrong with being cool or popular. There’s everything wrong with using social status as a weapon. 

I’m sure that girl doesn’t remember me. I was the quiet one at our table. I watched, listened, barely spoke. I finished my art requirement, and barely gave the class a thought…unless I was thinking about her. She showed me the definition of popular that, decades later, I handed to my children.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, with her circle of friends, 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’s blog includes posts about parenting, gender equality, LGBTIQ+ ally support and racial equality. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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

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Filed under parenthood, parenting, The Cool Crowd, The Popular Crowd, Uncategorized

International Day Of The Midwife

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE MIDWIFE

I’m posting this chapter from the novel Tightwire to celebrate International Day Of The Midwife. For the extraordinary people who choose this unique career  — deepest gratitude. With special thanks to Mary and Pama, who guided me through nearly two days of labor, and launched me into the journey of parenthood 26 years ago. You were my inspirations when I created “Deborah” and “Rose.” 

                                                                                                                            

                                                                 CHAPTER 2

                                                            A Healthy Baby Girl

July 3, 1958

“Breathe, Mrs. Black,” Nurse Rose clasped her patient’s hand. “Have you heard of the Lamaze technique?”

“Sure,” Geoff answered for his wife, who was in extremis. “We took some classes last month.”

The two nurses exchanged impressed glances.  They were both five-five and slender, but the resemblance stopped there.  Deborah was all shades of brown, with black hair. Rose had red hair, hazel eyes, and wall-to-wall freckles.

“Good for you,” Deborah said. “Most people don’t know about Lamaze. It’s such a new idea.”

They watched Leah as they spoke. She lay still, panting. Even with her gargantuan belly, bathed in pain, she was a stunning woman: small boned, five-two, Mediterranean blue eyes, creamy complexion, jet black hair.  She had refused morphine, as Geoff nearly body-checked the outraged Dr. van Heyst, the maternity ward’s holy terror attending, who insisted that “the little lady needs medication so she won’t remember.”

“Little lady my ass; I’m a rhino,” Leah snapped in the doctor’s face, then turned to her husband. “Get him out. He’s giving me hemorrhoids.”

Rose and Deborah gaped as Geoff, an ex-running back at Harvard, finally threatened to punt the obstetrician “into the next county if you come near my wife with a needle.”  Leah had laughed between contractions.  Now she was light years beyond humor.  

“I’m overheating,” she managed to whisper. “I’m dizzy.”

Her nurses reached for cool washcloths. Women in labor, at some point, always felt like they were in a roasting pit. The Los Angeles summer heat didn’t help, bringing temperatures to the high nineties. The hospital’s state-of-the-art air conditioning system had just shorted out, and only brute agony kept Leah from fainting.

Dr. van Heyst strutted in to measure her cervix.

“Not a word from you,” Leah ordered fiercely. “But feel free to examine me. At this point, you could drive a tractor right in, and I wouldn’t feel a thing.”

The doctor nodded, tight-lipped. Rose and Deborah stifled their laughter.  Their tyrant boss was actually intimidated by this tiny, laboring woman.  Soundlessly, he

finished his work.  He shot the nurses a surly look, mouthed ‘It’s time,’ and stalked out.

Two orderlies appeared, and lifted Leah onto a gurney. They spoke gently, and she trusted herself in their arms. Rose and Deborah wheeled her into the hallway.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Black, but you need to wait here,” Rose said. She and Deborah had it down to a science – handing off the dads, when the moms went into surgery to deliver.  “We need to put her under anesthesia to have the baby. Hospital policy.”

“It won’t be policy much longer. Lamaze will take over.” Leah spoke weakly, then her eyes widened as her cervix stretched impossibly to ten centimeters. Geoff took her hand, and their eyes met. She nodded to her husband as she felt her first urge to push. The pain was beyond imagination. Geoff grabbed the gurney.

“She’ll be fine,” Rose soothed him.

“In a few minutes she’ll be asleep and she won’t feel a thing.” Deborah took Geoff’s arm with the perfect blend of respect and empathy. “Come with me, Sir.  She’s in good hands.”

“Stop the gurney!”  All eyes snapped to Leah, but Nurse Rose and Nurse Deborah kept moving. “STOP THE FUCKING GURNEY!” The women froze. The year was 1958, and fuck was not standard fare, even in the throes of labor. “Push me down that side hallway, behind the heap of laundry!” Leah commanded. The nurses followed, as Geoff eased his wife’s transport out of sight.  Leah forced herself up on her elbows. “I was under anesthesia for my first child’s birth.  I am not missing the birth of this child. I’m having this baby right here, right now, in this hallway, with no anesthesia.”

Leah collapsed down for another contraction, and Geoff took over.  

“We’re doing it her way,” he stated flatly. “You both can go. Leah and I will do it alone if we have to.” The nurses looked at each other, then up at Geoff. He stood a rangy six feet, with the easy assurance of an athlete.  His curly blond hair was graying, his eyes green.  His mouth was full, his nose straight.  He was a handsome man, and with his wife, a striking couple. “It’s Leah’s body, and this is our baby. I know it’s not conventional, but we’re going to have a natural childbirth.”

“But the doctors say…” Rose began.

“She’s a doctor,” Geoff interrupted.

Leah gritted her teeth as the next contraction seized her – a vise gripping her lower back, radiating outward to clamp her hips, her pelvis, her thighs. Her hair was plastered to her forehead. Her face dripped sweat. She whimpered, no longer able to control her breathing.

“She doesn’t look like a doctor,” Rose said absurdly.  

Deborah watched wordlessly, her brown eyes enormous.

“She graduated from Radcliffe, Phi Beta Kappa,” Geoff bore into them. “She just got her medical degree from UCLA, only two women in the class. She graduated number three out of fifty. She’s a doctor, and a woman, and childbirth hurts. Her pain is normal. She wants to be conscious for the delivery, and your hospital policy won’t allow that, so she’s going to have this kid right here, right now, in this hallway.”

“Geoff, shut up and breathe with me, goddammit!”

“Is she always this determined?” Rose whispered to Geoff as the contraction tapered.

“She’s right here, ladies,” Leah barked. “And yes. She’s always this determined. But at the moment, she’s unusually dilated, which makes her dangerous.” Geoff looked at Deborah and Rose; they looked at each other; suddenly all three were laughing.            

“That wasn’t a joke,” Leah snarled, “and the next one who cracks a smile while I’m having contractions will…”            

“Dr. Black,” Deborah touched Leah’s shoulder, “it’s okay. Where I come from, they said only white girls could be nurses. Some rules need to be broken.”           

Rose bent towards Leah. “I’m Jewish. In the first grade, my teacher told the kids to be kind, it wasn’t my fault. The hallway it is, Doctor.”           

Leah reached for her midwives.           

Deborah squeezed her hand, dodged into a locked room, grabbed a cup of ice chips.  Tenderly, she spooned a few into Leah’s parched mouth.           

“I’m scared,” Leah whispered.           

“Stay angry,” Deborah answered.           

“I’m always angry,” Leah began to cry. “I usually hide it.  Now I feel like I’m leaking.  What’s wrong with me?”           

“You’re in labor,” Deborah placed a soothing hand on her forearm.  “This would be a good time to stay mad as a lioness.”           

“Keep your hand on me. It’s so comforting.” Leah’s eyes widened in horror “What kind of a thing is that to say?  I’m sorr–”           

“I’m right with you,” Deborah answered simply.              

Rose cooled Leah’s face with a moistened cloth. Deborah held her the entire time. Geoff coached her – when to breathe, when to push, letting her nails tear his hands when she lost herself in the pain. The head crowned, a burning bowling ball forcing its way through.  Leah tried to tell them that something was horribly wrong, that she was ripping apart, that her Lamaze instructor’s description of “opening like a flower” should be punishable by dismemberment. But before she could find the words, there was a soundless popping, a vicious wrenching, and Deborah caught the baby in a clean sheet. The pain was immediately bearable.           

The adults wept.           

Deborah nestled the baby in Leah’s arms. She cradled the warm bundle, stroking a tiny cheek coated with moondust. Her nose was squashed, her ears proud and prominent. She had two tufts of hair, one dead center, and one towards the back.           

“She’s beautiful,” Geoff breathed.           

Rose touched Leah’s hand and whispered, “Ready for the invasion?” She mussed her own hair, untucked a shirttail, and ran into the main hall. “Get a doctor!” she screamed. “It happened too fast! Someone help us!”

“What the hell’s going on?” Dr. van Heyst charged to the rescue. He grabbed

the bleating infant and did a quick exam. “It’s a healthy baby girl,” he glowered. “Congratulations, Mrs. Black.”

“It’s Doctor,” Deborah grinned, as the Birth Squad burst out laughing.

“It’s Caroline,” Leah reached for her daughter.

____

Tightwire, a novel by Amy Kaufman Burk, is available on Amazon. 

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

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