Mother’s Day and the Polar Bear of Reawakening

Last week we were at my parents’ for Mother’s Day when my mom mentioned that she would have loved to have been a landscape architect. She’s mentioned this before, but she sounded sadder than usual this time. She also would have liked to be a meteorologist or a construction worker. However, she had a very strict mom who believed women could only be stay-at-home moms, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. My mom became a (kickass) stay-at-home mom, and later a secretary and then a cashier at a department store. She also has a front yard that strangers stop to admire, and she’s done every bit of planning and planting herself.

Mom always told me and my sisters that we could be anything we wanted to be. As I’ve written before, despite what Mom said, I never felt like I could be anything I wanted to be. But why? Even after I had a degree in my chosen field I had little confidence. Why?

Mother’s Day evening, back at home, for some reason I was thinking about some of the other messages I’d grown up hearing about women. We didn’t go to church except for a very short time when I was young, but American culture is steeped in church messages, and two things I remember knowing about being a girl were 1) I was only created because men needed companions (and I was supposed to feel proud of this), and 2) women were supposed to obey their husbands, while husbands were supposed to love their wives.

Suddenly I became furious with Paul, the unmarried author of the verses about wives submitting to their husbands. And I became furious with myself. My husband was not even a Christian when we married, and I put the burden of obedience on myself. My husband had no idea I was doing this to myself. I started attending a lovely little church where people would give you the shirt off their back and older, married women told me that I could tell my husband my opinions but he got to make the decision in the end. Some of these women had stayed with abusive husbands, so who was I to complain about letting my nonviolent husband make all the decisions?

Submitting to your husband is a concept of concretes. You either do what your husband says or you don’t. And I did, from spending money right down to the direction of the toilet paper roll. Loving your wife, however, is abstract and vague. Realizing this was really what made me furious with Paul. Husbands can say they love their wives, and that’s that. Show some love here and there, and voila. Wives submit day in, day out. Minute in, minute out. At one point I remember reading Proverbs 31:16 about the perfect wife who considers a field and buys it with her earnings. This wife seemed to have significant authority, but maybe it was easier for me not to contemplate too much.

Around the time our daughter was born, my husband started attending church with me. I was thrilled when he was baptized. I’m still thrilled he was baptized. But even though we were attending the same church, he says now that he’d had no idea that I was learning at my women’s groups that he got to make all the decisions. I’m sure he has no idea how many things I would have liked to have been different.

When I fell asleep after Mother’s Day, I had a dream. In the dream, I had some raw steaks. I wanted to put the steaks outside on a wooden table (or fencepost?) but I didn’t want the white bear to get them. I put the steaks out and kept an eye on them. Almost immediately, though, here came the white bear. (At this point in the dream my inner editor said “polar bears don’t live down here” and my subconscious mind said “shut up, it’s a symbol.”) The bear got one of the steaks, and I put out some more steaks and kept a closer eye on them. This time when I saw the bear I ran and grabbed the steaks before the bear could get to them.

When I awoke, I knew that the raw steaks represented my raw emotions. But what about the polar bear? Not sure I’d believe what I read there, I went to, a site I’ve enjoyed before. According to them, seeing a polar bear in your dream means a reawakening. I don’t know who decides these things, but I knew it made sense even before I made sense of it. Incidentally, raw emotion was one of the things they said raw meat symbolized.

I thought about my raw emotions. Do I want to leave my raw emotions out for all to see? Yes. I’ve been telling friends far more about my personal life than I ever did before. Lately I find I’m desperate to share my feelings. But what about the polar bear? In the dream I was afraid that the polar bear would get the steaks. Am I afraid that if I leave my emotions outside for all to see, it will lead to a reawakening?

I had to answer “yes” again.

And it hurt. Reawakening necessitates change. Change is scary.

Yesterday my friend posted on Instagram “Even on my worst day I’m deserving of hell.” This was one of the many moments recently that it was obvious how much I’ve already begun a reawakening and changed in the last year. My friend’s post was the kind of thing I used to think. But when I saw it on Instagram I said to myself “No! There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. I don’t want my religion to be about how terrible I am anymore. I don’t want my daughter to hate herself the way I’ve always hated myself.”

Thank God, when I told my daughter the other day that I’d been taught by other women that I could tell Daddy my opinions but he got to make the decisions, she said, “That doesn’t sound very fair!”

Every generation gets a little closer. My mom told us we could be anything we wanted even though she was told no such thing. My daughter might actually do it.

Come, polar bear of reawakening. Come back to my dreams, and I won’t be afraid of you this time.


A Wrinkle in Time: Why I’m Okay With Changes to the Book I Loved


Before I Saw the Movie

I was so excited when I saw that A Wrinkle in Time was going to be made into a movie (again). I was excited about the multicultural cast, and I was excited that Disney would have the budget to do justice to the scifi aspects of the story.

But the more I saw the commercials, the more I thought, “That line doesn’t sound familiar.” Oprah says, “Be a warrior,” which I didn’t remember Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, or Mrs. Who saying. And one of the ad lines was “Trust nothing,” which I definitely didn’t remember as a message in the book.

And I read that book a lot. I mean a LOT. For a tween in the 80’s, girl heroes in books were few and far between. I moved from Harriet the Spy being my favorite book to A Wrinkle in Time being my favorite. Not only was Meg a relatable girl (she’s awkward and afraid and she’ll never be as wonderful as her perfect mom) but the book made me feel like there was something cosmically big and important going on, and that I could be a part of the good, and that my part was important.

Not to mention that my BFF and I were a little bit in love with Calvin.

Speaking of Calvin, he’s supposed to be tall and poorly dressed with unkempt red hair. I don’t mind his not having red hair in the movie, but he’s not supposed to be Hollywood cute. These thoughts about Calvin were swimming around my head when I picked up the book for a pre-movie reread. I was specifically reading for traces of “Be a warrior” or “Trust nothing.” Maybe I’d just forgotten those things.

The first paragraphs took me right back to my comfy place. Meg is in her attic bedroom during a terrifying storm. Charles Wallace makes her a sandwich. Mrs. Whatsit says “Wild nights are my glory.” Oh I loved it so much!

But then Calvin shows up. I remember him as such a tragic, lonely boy. This time, when I read about him touching Meg’s elbow protectively at the haunted house, I thought, “Get a grip, Meg. Be a freaking warrior.” Later, Calvin says, “I can function on the same level as everyone else, I can hold myself down, but it isn’t me.” Arrogant much? If (my beloved, sorry sorry sorry) L’Engle had had someone else interpret Calvin like this, it would have made him seem tragic. Instead he’s a little pompous, and I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to think of Calvin. I flipped to the scene where (SPOILER) Meg leaves to go back to Camazotz and skimmed for the word “Calvin.” Without warning, he “drew her roughly to him and kissed her.”

Oh God.

So maybe it’s time for a change. I think a woman who dared to write for kids about tesseracts and girls who do indeed learn to be warriors even if no one uses that word might even agree. I can’t wait to see what gifts L’Engle and screenplay writer Jennifer Lee together have for the #metoo generation.

After I Saw the Movie 


First off, I have to say that Calvin was new and improved. He didn’t call the others “kid” or speak condescendingly. Instead of drawing Meg roughly to him and kissing her, he asked if he could call her later and then hugged her.

I knew that Wrinkle was getting bad reviews, but I purposely avoided reading them because I wanted to go in with no preconceived ideas.

There were some changes (other than Calvin’s attitude) that I thought improved the story. For example, the deletion of the planet Ixchel and Aunt Beast. While I appreciated this chapter as an adult, I remember being totally bored by it as a youth, and it slows the action right before the story’s climax. There were some changes I didn’t understand because they seemed unnecessary, such as Mrs. Whatsit turning into some sort of vegetation batray instead of a centaur. There were some action scenes added, which I understand they felt they needed for a modern movie audience even if I don’t personally need them.

There were only two changes I wish they hadn’t made. One was the way Charles Wallace dragged Meg and her father to “The It,” Meg’s screaming maybe a little too traumatic for younger viewers. The other was taking out every one of Mrs. Who’s Jesus quotes, and I have to admit this is a criticism I accidentally read before I saw the movie. I don’t mind the addition of Gibran, etc. but it would have been nice to leave in one quote from the guy L’Engle followed.

Overall, I don’t know what people are moaning about. (I’ll read about it soon.) This is a notoriously difficult book to adapt for the screen, and there are so few good movies for kids ages 5-12 that I see no reason to bash this one. Meg is realistic and well-acted, the movie is visually pleasing, and L’Engle’s message of love and empowerment remains intact, if the details were changed a bit. My daughter gave it 7.5 stars, and I give it 8.

Reviews be damned. Take your kids to see A Wrinkle in Time.

Why We Don’t Write Real Characters

You know how to develop characters. They have a past, a desire, a fear, a quirk. They are thrown into the crucible, and they change. They grow.

I know all this, too. I’ve read the how-to’s, and I’ve read the books where authors got it right, and I’ve practiced in my own writing. I’ve completed five novellas and cast several others aside in the middle of a first draft.

I’m about to release my third novella, The Trade. As followers of my blog know, I’ve quit writing fiction, but I decided to publish The Trade because my critique group and beta readers already put in so much work. It seemed silly and ungrateful of me to let it sit in my computer forever. A proof copy is on its way to me now.

And I’m not happy with it.

But why?

Yesterday I asked my Facebook friends what they liked to read. My sister mentioned that she liked books that make her laugh or cry—feel something. In that moment I realized what was wrong with my books, and I realized why I had the problem I did. What was wrong was that my characters weren’t real, and the two reasons that they weren’t real are deep, dark secrets. But I’m willing to share my deep, dark secrets because I learned from Oprah that if one person has a deep, dark secret, many others have it, too. Maybe ruminating on my epiphany can pull you out of the cookie-cutter character pit.

Deep Dark Secret Number One 

I got scared when people analyzed me based on my characters.

When I finished the first draft of my first attempt at a novel, I let several friends and relatives read it. The main character was, like me, a musician. Her biggest flaw was that she didn’t think she needed to be forgiven for anything. (Side note: This was long before a certain president announced the same.) When my mother-in-law read Ocean Floor, she commented “She’s you, isn’t she.” I was taken aback. Did my mother-in-law think that I thought I was perfect?

I chalked this up to irritating mothers-in-law and wrote on. Much later, I wrote the first few chapters of a book about four friends, one of whom hated that she had to accept charity from the others and had a lazy, lie-about husband. I gave the chapters to my mom, who said “This made me so sad!” She wasn’t sad because my storytelling ability overwhelmed her but because she was sure I felt like the charity-case woman. In addition, my husband (who’s been employed full-time our entire 21 years together) asked if the lazy husband was based on him. I stopped writing that book.

When I wrote Anaheim Tales, the twenty characters were described shallowly by design, but in every other story I wrote, my characters became better-written and less real. My writing didn’t even need a line editor anymore, but no one cared about my characters. Including me. I care about the Jeba I envisioned before I began writing The Trade, but I don’t give a fig about the Jeba who ended up on the page. The Jeba on the page hides her most real parts so that I can hide mine, too. And she hides her most real parts so that I don’t have to hear my family wonder “Does she think that, too?”

In essence, one reason we don’t write real characters is that we’re afraid to.

Deep Dark Secret Number Two

I stopped thinking real was real. 

When my dad beta-read Littlefoot Part One, he made the most surprising comment I’ve yet heard from one of my beta readers. He said that he didn’t think the man who ends up with Littlefoot was good enough for her. Usually when my beta readers make a comment, I think, “Yeah, I was afraid of that.” But this time I was floored. This time was the one analyzing myself based on my characters. Did I not understand human relationships?

I added an endearing sentence about the man and put the book on Kindle.

And maybe I don’t understand human relationships. Around the time I quit writing fiction, I was discovering that people I thought I knew voted for someone indefensible. I was left questioning my judgement about people, aloof, and too pessimistic to write close relationships. I’ve always thought it was irresponsible to depress the hell out of your readers, so I didn’t write anything. No one can ever be understood. Why should a fictional character be understandable then, or even tolerable?

I loved the Jeba who lived before I began typing, but is she even possible? If I faced my fear of being judged by her grittiest inner thoughts and made her more real, would she be real even then?

A second reason we don’t write real characters is that “real” is still not real.

Maybe this is why my roommate in college only read nonfiction. I still cherish the novels I loved in my youth, but my quest to write a novel for someone else to cherish may be over. If your quest for the same isn’t over, I hope that something here knocked your thoughts onto a tangential and helpful track. Keep me posted.


Other Half (a poem)


By Rae Messenger


We mingle with our glasses full

of wine from someone else’s shelves

Not big on wine, I haven’t drunk

And soon we’re standing by ourselves

Now you have swallowed half of yours

Don’t worry, I add half my cup

Now mine’s half gone, but it’s okay

I’m happy to see yours filled up

About the time the party’s at

its liveliest and in full swing

I notice with a sigh that you have

Gone and drunk the whole damn thing

I don’t know why I’m doing it

(And someday maybe I can laugh)

But I look in your hazel eyes

And I pour out my other half

Into your glass, then comes along

An older woman, Botoxed lips

She eyes my liquid in your glass

“Half empty or half full?” she quips

“Half full!” you say, and she replies

“I really like the way you think”

But I have noticed (she has not)

That you are scared to take a drink

Someone conjures up more wine

You smile and ask me “Shall I pour?”

I clutch my empty, fragile glass

And I’m not thirsty anymore


You Know What You Can Do With Your Blog About Male Feminists

The other day on Twitter I saw a guy’s article about calling himself a feminist instead of saying he was a “male feminist.” The guy had a special-person blue check by his name. The gist of what he’d written was that men should just join the fight instead of making themselves seem special because they were “male.”

Or something.

Anyway, I commented in agreement and mentioned the SNL skit with the men talking about how hard women have it and when their women friends try to say something about their experiences, the men cut them off. It is so on target.

The guy “liked” my comment. He also thanked people who had commented “Great article” and such. But then some other men came on and told me that I was not a feminist because my page had nothing about women protesting in Iran and that mansplaining is not a thing and that it’s a sexist word to use. In short, obnoxious trolling.

So here’s what the saintly feminist (not male feminist mind you, because he’s better than guys who call themselves male feminists) did when I was getting harassed.


So guys, I don’t care if you are going to call yourselves feminists, or male feminists, or fighters for equality, or whatever, how about actually standing up for women who are taking all kinds of shit for being women. Otherwise I don’t care what the fuck you call yourself, you’re just like the rest of them.

2017: My Year of Confidence

One of my favorite people to follow on Twitter is @annedorko. Why? She asks her followers about themselves, and I like to talk about myself. This is also one reason that New Year’s is my favorite holiday. No shopping, people staying up late with me, AND the acceptability of blathering on about your resolutions? Count me in!

Last year, I saw Anne’s tweet about having a theme for the year instead of resolutions, and although I’ve always loved resolutions (and mostly kept them although they were never too ambitious) I decided to give it a try. I quickly chose the theme “The Year of Confidence.” I don’t even remember why. The idea seemed to fall from above. Having confidence as my focus was more powerful than I imagined it would be! I mean who knew what a crazy year it would be, what with evacuating for the Northern California fires, my dog dying, the Me Too movement, and freaking Donald Trump as president. Okay, it wasn’t too hard to predict that he’d bring some craziness. Here are just some of the ways I used and increased my confidence.

I Made My Own Choices

I realized this year that I have a history of believing people when they say they know what’s best for me. Really I could have called this section Setting Boundaries. I am more confident about deciding what to do with my time and my self. Things as small as reminding myself that I don’t care what someone thinks of my daily choices and things as extreme as deciding to go back to a dentist who insisted I get a crown instead of having a tooth pulled five years ago and telling him that not being able to bite for five years is unacceptable and please pull the tooth now. It. Is. My. Body. (I haven’t done that one yet. See 2018 theme below.)

I Stopped the Negative Self-Talk

I caught myself saying “I’m lazy” OUT LOUD at least three times this year. Here’s the thing. I’m not lazy. I sleep in because I usually stay up until two or three. I have been on mom duty 24/7 for sixteen years, and as one of my genius sisters pointed out, “That’s a full-length career’s worth of hours. You can retire now!” I’m not lazy. I’m freaking exhausted. I work 8 hours a week at a music store (and have worked more hours in previous years) and drive my kid all over creation and play gigs a couple times a month and clean the bathrooms and write articles and blogs and books. I’m. Not. Lazy.

I Realized That Sometimes I AM the Expert in the Room

In 44 years, I have learned a lot, and especially about jazz, trombone, and writing. In fact, I’d venture to say that I know more about those things than 99% of the general population. It’s okay if I speak confidently about them! I used to worry about being overconfident or bragging to the point that I would assume the person speaking to me knew more than I did. Youngest kid syndrome? I don’t know, but I changed my perspective this year, at least with regard to those subjects.

I Continued to Work on my Confidence in God

All Christians struggle to fully trust God. Here’s just one example for me this year. Early in the year I got invited to play in a very cool band. This gave me the opportunity to work on confidence in myself in a big way. I didn’t feel cool enough or good enough, but I kept saying yes, and I kept showing up. But no matter how much I practiced, there was no guarantee that I’d continue to get to play in the group or even that the group would keep existing. No amount of personal confidence could assure that. So this is one of the things about which I have to say to God, “I trust you with this. I trust that you’ll either make it last or help me with the loss and/or rejection if it ends.” It might sound like a silly thing to care so much about, but after so many years of focusing on parenting and after last year’s realization that most of my unpleasant feelings about the jazz world had to do solely with the fact that I’m a woman in a 95% male world, this felt like a big comeback. There were more issues that I needed to work on having confidence in God with, of course. Some are too personal to share.

So what about 2018?

The first theme that popped into my mind when I asked myself this was “bravery.” I have no idea why. Maybe someone else mentioned it, but if they did I didn’t appropriate the idea consciously. It just sprang to mind. I decided to brainstorm for a while and came up with “fun” and “rest,” but I decided to stick with my first inclination, “The Year of Bravery.” I still have that dentist to confront, after all, and I have three books just waiting for me to hit “publish,” and God only knows what will happen to our beloved America in the next 12 months. Bravery will be required. I wish you all a year of confidence and bravery and whatever else you desire.



Dear Time Magazine, About That 2017 Person of the Year Short List

Dear Time Magazine,

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the group who decides your Person of the Year short list doesn’t have as many women as men. Does it have any women at all, I wonder?

I wonder because your list of 10 includes 7 men, 2 movements, and 1 woman. You might argue that the #metoo movement is about women, but I would beg to differ. Yes it started with Tarana Burke’s group for underprivileged girls, but when the movement went viral this year, men who had been assaulted said “Can we be a part of this?” Women said, “Of course. We want every victim to speak out!” So the #metoo movement, like the Dreamer movement, is multi-gendered.

By the way, if you wanted to get another woman on your list, Tarana Burke would have been a great choice, since you didn’t have a single woman of color. Colin Kaepernick got to represent #TakeAKnee, after all.

Another easy choice would have been the Women’s March or its organizers. I don’t know about anyone else, but that march affected me a lot more than Kim Jong Un spouting his ridiculous threats again this year.

The woman you did include, Patty Jenkins, was a great choice. Wonder Woman got the female director it deserved, and women got more representation on screen and behind the camera. How ironic that this is what Patty Jenkins did for us and you, Time, wrote about it but didn’t learn anything from it. Representation matters. When a kid sees your list of who mattered this year, they will see that men mattered. It would only have taken a minute to look at your list, notice that it’s mostly men, and make a change. Mueller may be the person who changes everything soon, but this year it was Sally Yates.

Check yourselves.

M.L. Millard


Update: At LEAST Me Too and the “Silence Breakers” did end up the “Person” of the Year and Tarana Burke was pictured and given credit in the article. It was a powerful article, and I’d like to add my thanks to the women who came forward with their stories of abuse by Bill Cosby. While that was mostly before 2017, it was definitely the beginning of a culture of women coming forward about the likes of Harvey Weinstein.