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Writer, editor, activist. Featured at HuffPo and MSNBC.com.  Creator of the original We Are Woman. Married mom. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Once Upon A Time Before I Was Fifteen



Once upon a time, I was born in San Diego to a mother who was mentally and physically ill, and a father who was in way over his head. 

My first real memory is of red tights with a rip in the knee. For reasons I did not understand as a toddler, Dad had moved out, and Mom had a “friend” staying with us. Mom and the “friend” were taking me to Balboa Park, and Mom told me to use the bathroom before we left. I didn’t have to, so I said no. The “friend” pulled down those red tights with the rip in the knee and spanked me. As my mother stood and watched. I cried. As my mother stood and watched.

Much later, when I was an adult, Mom told me a story. Her mom, before an outing, had insisted my mother use the bathroom. Mom refused. My grandmother grabbed a wooden cane, forced Mom onto the toilet, and beat her legs until she urinated. Until her death, my mother never saw the connection between that event and what happened to me at the hands of her “friend.”

I was sick a lot as a kid. Pneumonia, chicken pox, measles, mumps, colds. I know now that stress affects the immune system, so even if I didn’t understand my life was awful, my body did. Mom used to get very angry when I was sick, because it took the focus off of her. Which added to the stress my body was already experiencing. And I would come down with something else. Mom would get angry. Around and around we went.

For the most part though, my childhood was great, because I was too young to understand what was going on in my family. I went to the beach, I was a good student, I had friends. We were Catholic, and belonged to St. Patrick’s parish where I also went to school. Until my parents discovered Cursillo.

Cursillo was, in the 1970s, Catholicism for hippies. Lots of singing, trips to the mountains, arts and crafts, getting in touch with your inner whatever. And it was during their first months with the Cursillo movement that my parents met Father Bernie Cassidy, pastor of Christ the King Church.

Father Bernie was cool. He was younger than the priests at St. Patrick’s, he made me an altar girl at Christ the King, and he let the Black Panthers host free breakfasts for kids at the church. Father Bernie started coming to our house for dinner almost every night. My mom cut his hair. For a little Catholic girl, this was amazing, as if we had our very own priest.

Father Bernie drove a blue Chevy Nova, and little by little, that car began appearing more and more often at our house, especially during the week. Specifically, during the day, when my dad was at work and I was at school. Again, I was a kid, and my brain was incapable of reasoning out why that blue Chevy Nova was parked at the curb all the time. But when I would ride my bike home from school, and round the corner to see Father Bernie’s car, something told me to keep riding. Go to the restaurant my friend Sylvia’s parents owned. Go to Chrissy’s house. Just keep going. And I did, never knowing why.

When I was thirteen, my father announced we were moving to Minnesota. He said it was for a new job with Honeywell. I became profoundly depressed. San Diego was where all my friends were, where I was planning on going to high school. I didn’t want to move to another state, start a new school, give up everything.

We sold the house, packed the car, and drove to Minneapolis. Our new house was nice, near a lake, but it didn’t have a pool. A lake was not the ocean. And my new school was awful. I was bullied, harassed, friendless, and my grades began to decline. I ran away from home. I was depressed all the time.

My mother had a stroke after we moved to Minneapolis. One morning, I came downstairs to kiss her goodbye before school, and she was vacantly staring at the wall. Later that day, Dad told me she had no idea who I was that morning. She had aphasia for about a year, mixing up words and phrases (thinking “sunlight” but it came out “table”). I thought the stroke was somehow related to the rheumatoid arthritis, and I was partly right. It was also due to immense and constant stress.

In the winter of 1981, I was digging around my mother’s closet, looking for boxes of photos. What I found was a letter she had written to the San Diego archdiocese, detailing her two-year affair with Father Bernie. That’s why we moved, you see, to get my mother away from her priest. Dad’s new job was secondary.

All the pieces fell into place after reading that letter. Why she would disappear for days and days. Why I rode past the house when the blue Chevy Nova was parked at the curb. Why my parents would argue about Father Bernie. And I became enraged and more depressed. But in June of 1981, I found what I believed would save me.

I enrolled in a summer school program at Children’s Theatre School in Minneapolis. CTC was nationally renowned, with an acting school and a technical school. Spectacularly failing my audition for the acting school, I joined the tech program to learn theatrical lighting and electrics. I begged my parents to let me leave my all-girl Catholic high school to attend Children’s Theatre Conservatory School in the fall. They acquiesced, and in August of that year, I became a full-time technical theater student.

Once upon a time, I was a fifteen-year-old girl living a dream. Tech classes followed by math, English, and biology, then into the lighting booth, or up on the catwalks. The light and sound booths were next to each other, separated by a door that was only closed during performances. Lighting instructors and sound instructors were constantly wandering back and forth between booths, and that’s how I met Stephen Adamczak.
Adamczak was a sound designer and teacher. He was knowledgeable, he was nice, and he paid attention to me. As a na├»ve Catholic girl, I didn’t realize the danger, until one night when he offered me a ride home. He drove down Knox Avenue, past my house, and parked near Lake Harriet. Then he tried to rape me.

Once upon a time, I was too young to fight back against the people trying to destroy me. But that night, I fought like hell. I fought so hard that as I kicked Adamczak, using his body to propel myself into the passenger door and wrench it open, I fell out onto the curb. I never told my parents. I had learned they were not safe.


Once upon a time, I was my trauma. I wore it like a blanket, wrapped around my broken body. I cut myself, I tried to end my own life, I engaged in extremely unsafe behavior. I was bulimic. I needed control, and since I could not control what others did to me, I would control what I could do to myself.

Now I am not my trauma, I am a survivor of trauma. My mother is dead, Adamczak is dead, I no longer cut or binge and purge, I am as healed as I can be, and like a piece of Japanese pottery, I am held together with gold, more beautiful broken than I ever was whole.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Official-ish Poking At Snakes 2020 Presidential Candidate Quiz!


Question 1:

Which 2020 presidential candidate has frequently voted against common sense gun laws?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 2:

Which 2020 presidential candidate called Planned Parenthood "establishment"?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 3:

Which 2020 presidential candidate said, during a meeting in 2015, "Aren’t most of the people who sell the drugs African American?"

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 4:

Which 2020 presidential candidate was called out for a lack of inclusivity during a gathering of a "think tank" he and his wife created?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 5:

Which 2020 presidential candidate's wife founded an institute that, according to a progressive Vermont newspaper, has "little to show" for the first year, except for paying her son a $100,000 salary?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 6:

Which 2020 presidential candidate once wrote an essay on gender roles that included a claim that women fantasize about being gang-raped?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 7:

Which 2020 presidential candidate tried to dump low-level toxic waste in Sierra Blanca, a small Texas town whose population lives at or below the poverty line?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 8:

Which 2020 presidential candidate was opposed to allowing Sandy Hook families the right to sue the manufacturer of the gun used to massacre 26 people, 20 of whom were children?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 9:

Which 2020 presidential candidate opposes identity politics, yet told a You Tube channel he could choose his VP based on age and gender?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Question 10:

Which 2020 presidential candidate said, after the 2018 midterms, that many white people are "uncomfortable" voting for black candidates, but those people weren't "necessarily racist"?

1) Bernie Sanders
2) Bernie Sanders
3) Bernie Sanders

Thank you for taking the Official-ish Poking At Snakes 2020 Presidential Candidate Quiz! 


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Focus on the Art, Ignore the Trauma: The Shame of Children's Theatre School

Image of Children's Theatre from Star Tribune


Last week, a jury found Children's Theatre negligent but not liable for the rape of Laura Stearns by Jason McLean. Laura was a minor, McLean was an adult. Because the sexual assault did not take place on the grounds of Children's Theatre, the jury chose to believe Children's Theatre's defense, which is the same defense they have used for almost forty years: it's not our fault. Here is the statement released by Children's Theatre after the verdict, from MPR:

The jury found that CTC was not negligent in supervising and retaining Jason McLean. The jury also found CTC was not liable because CTC did not directly cause the assault of Laura Stearns by Jason McLean. As a result of this verdict, CTC owes no damages in this case. We accept the jury's verdict and wish Ms. Stearns success in her efforts to collect the jury's award from her abuser.

For those of you unfamiliar with Children's Theatre and their decades of enabling, promoting, and protecting, sexual predators, please allow me a few moments to explain. Children's Theatre Conservatory School, as it was known when I was a student, was run by a convicted pedophile. The board knew he was a pedophile, and they gave him a school. John Clark Donahue continued to abuse, molest, and rape young boys, and with the support of the board, created an environment where it was unsafe to be a student at Children's Theatre.  

There were many adults other than Donahue abusing children. Jason McLean raped a number of young girls, as did sound designer and instructor Stephen Adamczak. Stephen Adamczak tried to rape me in his car, and did rape at least one other girl. But we were taught this-the rape, abuse, trauma, terror-was the price we paid for being chosen to attend Children's Theatre. 

Donahue held "meetings" in the experimental theater on the fourth floor, during which he would sit on a makeshift throne from the prop department. He would surround himself with his favorite students, mostly young boys, and in a mesmerizing voice, tell us Children's Theatre was a womb. It was the only place we would ever be safe. And even though we were children, we would be treated as adults because we were so "special," so gifted, so privileged to be in this extraordinary environment. 

We believed it, we took all of his words to heart, so much so that, when we were raped, abused, molested, and terrorized, we said nothing. Some of us tried to end our own lives (myself included), some of us turned to drugs or alcohol, some of us simply left.

And through it all, Children's Theatre maintained they were not responsible. It wasn't their fault they hired a convicted sexual predator, it wasn't their fault they ignored students who found the courage to tell, it wasn't their fault they ignored parents who came to the board with concerns. The message was clear: Ignore the trauma, focus on the art. That was the message we received on a daily basis. The theater mattered, we did not.

We still don't, at least to Children's Theatre. The institution that allowed children to be raped and abused refuses to take any responsibility for any of their actions. The institution that to this very day enjoys a stellar reputation and attracts tens of thousands of patrons every year. It's not just Children's Theatre, however. When John Clark Donahue was released from a minimum security work farm, he was welcomed back into the Minneapolis theater community with open arms. Jason McLean made millions updating a neighborhood known as Dinkytown, and was written about in an oped that compared survivors of Children's Theatre to ISIS:

So what I would suggest is this: Follow the story, sure, but do not rush to tear down these iconic establishments — these poems to Minneapolis — like some ISIL mob destroying tombs in Palmyra. Visionaries with talent (flawed, tempestuous, rebellious) are not born every day, and their work is not easily replaced.

This is what we have faced for almost forty years. Our trauma doesn't matter, because Children's Theatre creates such magical experiences, Jason McLean is a "visionary," John Clark Donahue is a genius. Focus on all those wonderful things, ignore the pain, the suffering, the terror. Forget that when you stand in the main house of Children's Theatre, turn your back to the stage and look up, you are seeing Donahue's old office, where he raped and molested little boys. Forget that the carpets, the walls, the very foundation of Children's Theatre, are all tainted with the suffering of children.

Focus on the art. Ignore the trauma. 


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Once Upon A Time Before I Was Fifteen

Once upon a time, I was born in San Diego to a mother who was mentally and physically ill, and a father who was in way over his head....