by Emily Dietrich

November 21, 2018
by Emily
1 Comment

Where I Learned to Keep Quiet

During the Kavanaugh hearings, I started wondering where I had gotten the message, as Dr. Blasey Ford did, that I should keep quiet about sexual misconduct, that I should never ruin someone’s life by making a big deal about a sexual assault. I remembered where: it was at the dinner table.

My dad was a white liberal, a card-carrying member of the ACLU, outspoken about racial equity. He enthusiastically supported  my feminist mom’s activism.  A lawyer, Dad usually worked later than 6 o’clock, our dinner time. Usually when Dad had dinner with us, I set the dining room table, priding myself on being able to carry four glasses at once. It was fun when he ate with us: we played “guess where I had lunch” with him, for example, or went around the table telling jokes. Often a dictionary or an atlas ended up on the table with our meatloaf and celery sticks. He was genuinely interested in the thoughts and lives of his two children, making us feel smart and respected. He had very good manners, but he didn’t monitor ours, and in general, he didn’t rigidly state or enforce rules. So he passed down an expectation, not easy to live up to, that the dinner table would be an engaging, fun place to share food and ideas.

But he also passed down other things. One night, Dad had just heard a story that really disturbed him. A man he knew had been falsely accused of sexual misconduct. This man had lost his reputation as a result. The man had also had other things happen to him that made Dad feel very sorry for the man. His judgment about the female who made the accusation was that she had done something very, very wrong, because her mere accusation had ruined a man’s life. (Since my mother was a vocal feminist, it’s likely that she pointed out the rarity of false rape allegations, but I don’t remember that.)

What I heard and internalized is that telling on people who do sexual things to you that you don’t want is bad. It was wrong to accuse someone of sexual misconduct. I’m not sure how old I was at the time of that pronouncement (probably between 11 and 13). Before high school, I experienced at least six incidents of sexual misconduct. I never voluntarily told my parents about any of them (The police came to interview me once after someone else told her parents). Once, when many girls in my 6th grade class were harassed, we wrote a group letter, which the teacher publicly discredited. I usually told no one. I broke the rule once in high school, but only because I was worried about another girl. I told my mother what had happened, and she took me very seriously, talked with me about how to proceed and then talked to the perpetrator’s mother.

I don’t know why my father told that story. In telling it, he put the accused man at the center, leaving the victim’s views and circumstances on the fringes. He equated a ruined life with a lost reputation, not with the end of safety that assault victims have or the LOSS of life that could have resulted if accused man were black. He also readily assumed that the accusation was, in fact, false. Have I mentioned that he was probably the best dad in the world? But he made a mistake as my father and as a community member. At that very time, a sexual predator was in our neighborhood, and Dad’s story, or at least the way I interpreted it, ensured that I knew it was wrong  accuse someone.

If he were alive and of sound mind, I would ask him about this. I believe he would regret it. I’m sharing the impact of my father’s story here in hopes that you will. Please be clear and specific when you talk about sexual assault in any form. Take some time, maybe, to follow up, revisit the topic later, or encourage questions. I formed a code of conduct from his story, but I really believe my father would not have wanted me to live by those words.

April 22, 2018
by Emily

Confronting Racism in My Siblings in Spirit

Here is a comment from a white female FB friend I met through book publishing:

“My God people, if you sit in a restaurant for 25 minutes and absolutely refuse to order anything you are loitering and they have the right to ask you to leave. Order a fricking cup of coffee or a bottle of water. Otherwise wait for your very tardy friend outside. They were within their rights to ask them to leave. It wasn’t about them being black, it was about store loitering policies [sic]. This stupid race shit has guy [sic] to stop.”

(I responded in an attempt to interrupt her racism that I don’t share here because I don’t want feedback on whether or not I responded correctly.)

I need to acknowledge that I have no expectation that she, a distant FB friend, shares my morals. Therefore, finding out that she was racist did not disturb and surprise me as much as it does when my Unitarian Universalist siblings in spirit reveal theirs in equally oblivious ways. When UUs do so, I am much more agitated. I believe that this is an appropriate response on my part.

I believe it is appropriate when discovering that people you love, admire, support, serve, listen to, feed, clean up after, plan events for, whose kids you’ve taught, whose worships you’ve planned and carried out, say racist things, to speak in a way that reveals the way you really feel, the deep and intense feeling of shock and disappointment you feel. When the SOULS of my white siblings are at stake and the BODIES of my siblings of color are at stake, I will not watch my tone.

I believe speaking in my own voice is a manifestation of being human, being loving, and being true to myself in an integrated and authentic manner. I honor myself when I do so, and I equally honor my UU siblings when I do so. I hold them to the same standards I hold myself. This is adult to adult interaction, one of the most sacred interchanges we have.

And when it comes to white people and racism, those standards have never EVER, in the history of the United States of America, been high enough.

September 8, 2017
by Emily

Dancing in Dark Times: Twin Peaks: The Return Finale

* spoilers*

I watched every minute of Twin Peaks: The Return, but I experienced a few of those moments in what felt like an altered state. Those moment took me into a surreal world, where I lived for moments. The Convenience Store’s flood of woodsmen entered the place in my brain and being where nightmares are made and believed. My disbelief was not suspended, but consumed, negated, by the power and threat of the images and sounds Lynch and Frost showed us. That amorphous badness, the moving, evolving, elusive kind expressed a sense the world I feel I live in right now, one that relentlessly pumps wicked goo into the lives of earthlings.

Only an equally amorphous moment can combat that feeling and experience, and Lynch and Front provided two of them from in the finale. Throughout the season, music offered respite during every episode. At the Bang Bang Bar, people forget their troubles as they drink and sway to songs.Watching, Lynch, I have learned to surrender to not knowing what’s going on. It’s useful for me, since, no matter how many papers and posts I read, I will never know what’s going on.

First, Audrey’s dance expressed freedom, beauty, creativity, hope, and love through her gentle, graceful movements, representing a whole body feeling music and creating movement from it. Audrey herself gained no lasting comfort from it, seeming terrified after a brawl broke the spell and she rejected herself in the bright light and mirror. Yet I was transported by her movement, the music, and Audrey’s temporary release from her grinding, confusing reality.

Second, Diane’s quiet dance of lovemaking with Coop healed her rape and added justice and pleasure into humanity’s power to confront toxic greed and violence. Diane wasn’t Diane, it’s true, but she looked like Diane to us, and she had control and serenity while making love. She was not a victim, but a participant. Their moving together was the point–we aren’t shown climaxes–the human act of physical connection that we can do even after atomic evil has entered our soil.

There is no final healing in the finale, I admit. Even after 25 years, even if Laura had never died, we can’t erase the pain in her life. She found some other pain. Cooper wanted to erase it, believed he could as he walked up to the house thinking he Laura would finally be home, but that’s not how it works. Lynch won’t let it work that way; neither will life, the universe, or everything.

But the finale was enough for me. Those two scenes were truth-telling poems, telling truths just as decisive as the bomb’s evil. Lynch and Front created an altered state for me, one in which I plombed the depths of our world’s putrefaction, but where I could also receive a message of humanity’s tiny, momentous acts of love and art.

September 2, 2017
by Emily
Comments Off on Who Is Crowned Ms. Morality: Teresa Giudice or Paris Hilton?

Who Is Crowned Ms. Morality: Teresa Giudice or Paris Hilton?

In this week’s Us magazine, both Paris Hilton and Teresa Giudice were quoted. Paris, who is at Burning Man this weekend,  said that she had always admired Princess Diana, but she’ll never get to admired as much as Princess Di, because she’ll “always be judged” for her sex tape. Teresa, who served a year in prison for fraud and now raises her four daughters while her husband serves his 4-year term, said that her “middle name is Strong.”

Based on these circumstances and statements, I declare Teresa Giudice, star table-flipper and tantrum-thrower of “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Ms. Morality. She served her time and she’s working hard. It’s not clear she did a crime-it could be her husband’s shady dealings were concealed from her. She’s not savvy, and she doesn’t have much self-control, but she has lived through the consequences of her actions. Now she thinks about her daughters more than her legacy or how she is viewed. I also award her the Ms. Morality crown because I appreciate that Ms. Giudice never seems to have aspired to be adored in the way that British royalty is adored, though she definitely wanted people to watch her on TV and buy her book.

Paris Hilton loses to Teresa Giudice because the heiress party-goer doesn’t own actions or characteristics that led to a sex tape of her existing and being released. She objects to the tiny consequence of having henceforth to “always be judged” because it reduces  her chances of appearing to be like her idol, Princess Diana. Paris regrets what she thinks is being done to her, not what she may have done. It’s only because some bad person released her sex tape, she thinks, that she has lost the opportunity to be admired as Princess Diana was. Never mind that Hilton doesn’t, for example, walk through mine fields to raise awareness of land mine dangers. It’s that damned sex tape that deprives her of pristine princess status in her opinion.

I used to try like hell to avoid experiencing any kind of negative consequence. I couldn’t even handle not having my homework in time, and I would fib and wheedle to avoid any penalty. I had to go to detention once for being late to French class too many times, and from that I concluded that my French teacher was a bitch, not that I should figure out how to get there on time. I once told my mother I must have dreamed (though I knew I had NOT) that I had asked for and received permission to wear her dark blue cashmere sweater to avoid her annoyance and disapproval when she discovered me in it. I cringe when I think of that (and SOOOO much more BS  I spouted), but I was a TEENAGER then.

Paris Hilton is a grown woman. So is Teresa Giudice. But only the scrappy lady from Jersey acts like one.


December 17, 2016
by Emily
Comments Off on Indie, Quirky, and Forgotten Books for the Reader on Your List Who Has Read Everything

Indie, Quirky, and Forgotten Books for the Reader on Your List Who Has Read Everything

book-giftI figure some of you may not want the most recent, expensive hardcover new releases for the readers on your holiday list. So here are some of my recommendations.

I love books, and I read a lot of them. Far from systematic, my book-choosing method depends on where I’m standing in the book store, what dream I had the night before, what problems my friends are having, a book reading I go to. It’s not the bestseller or the Best Books of the year list from a prestigious newspaper.


Trace by Lauret Savoy (Counterpoint Press, 2015) Poetic and political memoir centered on the geology of the United States. This shakes up your thinking—in a good way.

Reptile House by Robin McLean (BOA Editions, 2015) you’ve never read short stories like this before!

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (Vintage Book, 2015) Examines color bias within the African American community and

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas (Scribner, 2015) Her most recent memoir will make you feel better about everything.

So Last Year But So, SO Good

Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberta Urrea (Back Bay Books, 2005) Illuminating novel about Mexican history told in excellent prose and layered story telling.

We Are Water by Wally Lamb (Harper Perennial, 2014) Lamb offers insights into parenting and relationships, different ways to hurt people and to forgive them, too.

Love by Toni Morrison (Vintage Books, 2005) you’ll get what you want from Ms. Morrison

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz (Riverhead Books, 2007) If you don’t fall in love with Oscar and root for him all the way, you’ve got no heart!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (Random House, 2000) Chabon writes masterpieces, and he has a new book out, but if you haven’t read this one, it’s time.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (Europa Editions, 2006) Not sure how a story about two introverted geniuses can be a thriller, too, but this is.

Graphic Memoirs

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) Now on the reading list of many college classes and a Broadway musical

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon Books, 2000) Iranian Satrapi shows us the Iraq she grew up in and left

Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic Graphix, 2010 and 2014) This set depicts teen angst delightfully

Stitches by David Small (McClelland and Stewart, 2010) This prolific illustrator and author of children’s works lets us in to his own past

Couch Tag by Jesse Reklaw (Fantagraphics Books, 2013) The story of a family’s journey through divorce and moves, adolescence, failure and love

Cecil and Jordan in New York Stories by Gabrielle Bell (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009) Two people trying to make it work

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me:A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney (Gotham Books, 2012) Forney’s voice and art pack a punch, as does her honesty about her struggle to get help for bipolar disorder

Some Lovely Novels

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (Saint Martin’s Griffin, 1994) Lyrical story of stoicism in China and Japan during illness and war (reviewed on this blog–see archives)

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee (Penguin Books, 2009) A regular woman gets swept up in history and finds her strength

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford (Ballantine Book, 2013) An Asian-American orphan searches for his mother in Seattle during the Depression


The Last of the Good Girls: Shedding Convention, Coming Out Whole by Mary Ann Woodruff (2013) Woodruff’s beautiful prose reveals her journey toward coming out

Split: A Child, A Priest, and the Catholic Church: A Memoir by Mary Dispenza (2014) This unflinching memoir highlights faith and love in the face of abuse

Best Classic You’ve Never Heard Of

Vein of Iron by Ellen Glasgow (Harvest/HBJ Books, 1935) Glasgow brought me a new standard in integrity with her characters. Their quiet, strong wills stayed with me through some hard times in my life. I wish everyone I know had read it so I could refer to it.

Groundbreaking work that everyone is supposed to have read but most people can’t get through for the eccentric on your list

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967) Edition I read: (Harper Perennial, 1991) He does a whole thing with subverting the narrative chronology that made fiction rethink itself

Shameless Plug

The Angled Road  by Mount Holyoke College Puget Sound Writers (2016) This multi-genre collection takes its title and theme from Emily Dickinson’s poem “Experience Is the Angled Road.” $9.99 Proceeds support institutions that encourage women’s voices.

For Something Completely Different

The Librarian’s Almanaq by Roy Leban (Almanaq, 2015) This book is not read by a reader by done by solvers. It is to be ripped apart and reassembled for an hours-long puzzle session for 1-10 people (ideally 4-6) people, teen to adult.

Page Turners

Dying Breath by Wendy Corsi Staub (Zebra Book, 2008) Mystery

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult (Simon and Schuster, 2007) Explores vicissitudes of fertility issues amid divorce

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown and Company, 2013) Will the wedding ever work out?

The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith (Anchor Books, 2014) I can never get enough Precious Ramotswe, the Botswana detective, and the sweet, wise, funny way she gets it all straightened out every time. Note: the author is not from Botswana.