Years, months, miles and mysteries

So I found my mom last month.

 

Not like in the “did she go to the store? Is she doing laundry? Is it Ladies Night again and we forgot?” kind of locating my mother, but a discovery that was a long time coming.

 

It was a little more than 63 years ago that my parents met a tearful woman at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital and learned that they, not she, would be taking home her little bundle of joy.

 

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Anne and Joe Kochalka holding the future blogger at their Fremont home in April 1954. From the empty bottle, apparently I have always been a good eater.

I spent the next 18 years in their home, raised with love and rules and experiences and responsibilities. Was a good student, became active in my community as soon as I could drive and got into a four-year college with a scholarship right out of graduation. There was a lot of love and laughter in our house and I have aunts and uncles and cousins that wove a crazy quilt of love around me.

 

And through it all, I always knew I was “special” – from the moment I could understand, my parents told me that they got to pick me, which they thought made me better than any other baby at the hospital. Ironically, I understood adoption better than I did sex, because for them, it was much easier to have the first talk than the second.

 

In school, it didn’t seem to make much difference that I was adopted, but that all changed when I reached adulthood and had no idea what my ethnic background was, even though my parents spoke Czechoslovakian when they didn’t want me to know what they were saying and our dinners often featured fine Slavic cuisine (kielbasa and cabbage is a guilty pleasure and Buttermaid Bakery has my regular Christmas order for kolachi nut rolls ).

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These are kolachi nut rolls. They are the most delicious bits of heaven one can consume and a Czechoslovakian holiday tradition. My mother used to make them by hand. I order them online from buttemaidbakery.com

 

I had all these relatives who didn’t look much like me. And I hated not having the answer to questions like “do you have a history of heart problems? Any cancer in the family? Are you predisposed to (fill in the disease)?”

 

And the dimples. Other than the parish priest pinching me until I winced every Sunday, where did they come from?

 

While my parents never kept secret the fact that I was adopted, the names of those involved were revealed only when my adoptive father died. I was 20 years old. Suddenly, I had two names that might hold the key to the Book of Answers. Luckily, at the time, I worked for a law enforcement agency that had access to DMV records and I found my “father’s” addresses and phone numbers immediately.

 

I could go home from work and call him. That night.

 

But for reasons that only fellow adoptees will understand, it took me five years to make that call. It’s not that I didn’t want to know. It’s not that I hadn’t fantasized in great detail the glorious reunion, the open arms, the rainbows and sunshine that would certainly appear when I was reunited with those who brought me into this world.

 

It’s because I could imagine what might be more realistic. A lot of murky water might have gone under the bridge in the last 25 years. I might be the family secret, not the “where is she now?” girl. I could be the She Who Will Not Be Mentioned, a scenario that many adoptees fear. That included me.

 

But the call had to be made, despite the possibility of a “click” once I asked that loaded question. I have a button in my office that says “Don’t Die Wondering” which applied to women’s rights, but now, I felt, was written for me personally.

 

I dialed the phone. My husband, who is my most ardent supporter and loves this little bastard no matter what, (I dig getting to use that word in its real context), was standing nearby. A male voice greeted me and I tentatively asked, “May I speak with Elizabeth?”

 

A short silence. “She’s not here. May I ask who is calling?”

 

This was it. The moment before the deafening click.

 

“This is Carol Rock. I think she may be my mother.”

 

Feeling brave and feeling that I had but nanoseconds to make my case, I added, “Are you my father?”

 

Another silence. But no click.

 

I heard him take a deep breath. “I am not,” he said. “But I would like to hear about you.”

 

A wave of cautious gratitude swept over me. I told him who I was, how I got his name, how I was raised in a loving, safe environment and why I was looking for the woman whose name was on my adoption decree. He listened and we agreed that a face-to-face meeting was in order. After a cordial goodbye, I made reservations to fly up to the Bay Area to meet him at his office.

 

He wanted a letter from me giving him a little background. I feverishly wrote a chronicle of everything I could remember, sharing highlights and pitfalls of the last 25 years. Emotionally, I felt like everything was going at a fever pitch, that I might be getting close to meeting the woman who I simply wanted to tell that I had been raised by good people and that I knew she did the right thing out of love.

 

And that I thought I turned out pretty good. That was important. I wasn’t letting adoption define me. I wasn’t angry, or looking for money or crazy. I was just an ambitious young woman with a lot of questions.

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I can’t remember the flight or driving to his office or the restaurant we went to for lunch. I remember seeing him, his smiling face and outstretched hand. And I remember the gasp.

“You look just like her,” he said, apologizing for his reaction. “Except she had red hair. In fact, her nickname was Rusty.”

 

At the time, my hair color was my natural, lovely dishwater blonde. I had colored my hair before, but never more than an auburn brown. Never red. Didn’t think it would look good on me. It would be 20 more years before I colored it for a role in “Bus Stop” and decided that from there on out, red should be my natural color every four weeks.

 

We moved on to other topics. He explained that he and my mother were married in 1952 and that he was a pilot and she worked with the base photographer, both in the Navy and stationed at Alameda Naval Air Station. He was flying missions over Korea from late summer 1953 until he came home in January 1954 and much to his surprise, she was five months pregnant. When she went into labor in April, he did what he felt was his duty and drove her to the hospital. After checking her in, he told me that he left, chased to his car by a nurse who told him he should stay. He excused himself and the next morning, my mother called to say she’d given birth to a baby girl.

 

They tried to reconcile, but to no avail. He told me that they traveled back to Florida, where she was from, and he left her in Pensacola. He said what little he remembered of her family, that her maiden name of Kilgore was one that was as common as Smith in the South, and that there might be some family in Texas. He also said that Life magazine had done a feature on the base while she worked there and that she might have been photographed for that.

 

We parted as friends, I was thankful that he shared what information he remembered. Perhaps he was thankful that a day he anxiously anticipated for the last decade or so had gone smoothly. I decided to be respectful and keep my distance. He owed me nothing more and my debt to him was one of gratitude.

 

I flew home with a little more information than I had before. Although I was told I looked just like my mother, I still had nothing to show, other than re-living my presumptive father’s reaction over and over again.

 

Back at home, I started looking for old copies of Life magazine in the library, but could not find anything about the base or pictures of this woman who I resembled. Looking for your own face in a magazine isn’t easy, at least it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. Dimples? A certain smile? Red hair didn’t show up in black and white pictures. (Remember, this was before the internet and searchable archives online. I have since begun to comb through the pages of the 1953-54 issues, but still no luck).

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I wrote to the State of California, where the laws still redact data (such as birth parents’ identities), asking for anything they might be able to give me. I got a one-sheet of non-identifying information that was obtained from a cursory interview with my mother. From that, I learned that she was full Irish, Catholic, 23, from Florida, 5’ 9 ½”, 155 lbs., fair skin, freckled, red hair, and described as “attractive and intelligent appearance.” She was a high school graduate who worked as a grocery cashier and was interested in photography and art; she had no prenatal care and told the state she was always in good health and that there was no history of serious illness in any member of her family.

 

My father was listed as Possibly English or Scotch, Protestant, age 23, and described as “6’ 1”, 185 lbs., blue eyes, dark brown hair, medium skin.” He was a high school graduate and a photographer for the US Navy. He lived in the District of Columbia and his health was “good,” but family history was unknown.

 

So I was the product of a wartime affair.

 

Another document obtained from the state listed that my mother was a Photographer’s Mate (really…) in the US Navy from 1951-1953 and had no history of hereditary disease. My grandparents on my mother’s side were listed as “grandmother, 53, high school graduate, housewife; grandfather, 54, 8th grade education, construction engineer.”

 

When this information came in, I was in my third year of college at Cal State LA and I found the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association, or ALMA, a group of searching adults. For a year, I remember being active and learning how to become an advocate for myself and others, but then life stepped in and provided an interesting diversion. I became pregnant with my first child.

 

Suddenly, I had too much else on my plate to search. I was focused on becoming a mother, holding down a job, making a home and trying to finish my degree. But there was one moment when my inner searcher came out. When I saw my beautiful little girl for the first time, I looked in vain for the dimples. I remember being disappointed, thinking that I couldn’t even produce a kid who looked like me.

 

In June 1981, still 10 units short of my degree (but close enough to walk), I marched from the podium to the grandstand to hold my 1-year old daughter. A year later, she got a baby brother and five years later, our family was complete with the addition of another daughter – who had dimples. Finally, the ringer had arrived.

 

My family/work/home/life kept me busy and those last 10 units became less of a “let’s finish” and more of an “I’ll get around to it sometime.” I just didn’t sense the urgency anymore.

 

Kind of like my adoption search.

 

Until I met a detective friend who shared a contact with me that has since knocked me on my ass. Stay tuned. There’s more coming. Did I mention I found my mom? I’m getting on a plane in a couple of days to learn more about her… but there’s more in Part Two of this blog…..

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

The unfriending of America

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Cartoons are often where the wisdom lives…

I’ve started this blog several times, but the unending stream of fresh hell coming out of Washington has made me stop and try to make sense of things more than once in the last two weeks, wondering if my sentiments are current or hopelessly out of date.

A few times, I’ve walked out of the office simply stunned.

It’s taking me a lot of thought and even more words to try and understand this – so get a cup of coffee or Maker’s (or both) and get comfortable. It’s a long one.

I came home from the theater last week to news footage of thousands of people at airports all over the world after the welcome gates of our country were slammed shut to people coming from seven countries across the ocean. I saw families, professors, students, doctors, all stranded. Children in handcuffs. What the hell?

Two days later, the Attorney General was fired because she questioned the legality of the imposed travel ban.

Rich individuals with few qualifications and crystal-clear conflicts of interest were installed in cabinet positions because a political party decided they were in the majority so they changed the rules and excluded any opposition.

Legislation has been proposed to seize national open space for private interests, which will surely result in drilling and stripping and destruction of natural wilderness.

Public information that every American has the right to has been shut off from environmental and health agencies, which will result in illness, injury and death.

And the hits just kept on coming.

Truth lies dead at the foot of the Capitol steps and nobody in power seems to care.

I’m physically sick to my stomach. The thought that this country is being run by members of the Party of Condescension (Webster’s def: “An attitude of patronizing superiority, disdain”) who are hell-bent on getting their way at ANY cost, just knots my innards. Screws up my thinking. Makes me frustrated and angry. Gives me an understanding of people who have just had it and blow up. (Note that I did not say that I was going to explode myself or anything else, just that I now see where they are coming from, not condoning their actions).

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-4-34-49-pmI’m working on a children’s show where one of the lyrics of a song is “don’t pit-a-pat ‘em” – a phrase that I thought the writer might have used just because it rhymed with the “up and at ‘em” that follows, but given the current atmosphere in this country, I now know exactly what it means.

Stand up to it, kiddo. Be strong and proud. Don’t let the situation run you over.

The overwhelming number of people in this country – those who are railing against the wrong and demanding that the bulls in our DC china shop stop their wholesale destruction – are being “pit-a-patted” – that disgusting “Now, now, this will all be fine, we know what’s best” behavior, usually accompanied by patting someone on the head, by those in power.

It’s like those white guys in ties who tell women to lie back and enjoy the inevitable sexual assault.

Speaking of the viable threats to women, I’d like to remind all of you post-menopausal whiners that just because you don’t need the health services that Planned Parenthood provide now, decisions made today will affect young women for years. Put down the mirror and think about your daughters and granddaughters for a change.

I freely use the hashtag #notmypresident because it reflects more than whose name I checked on my November ballot. I will not support anyone who abuses the Constitution and his fellow Americans the way he and his cronies do. People tell me that I’m wrong, that the election results support the current resident of the White House and that I need to just accept that.

“Give him a chance,” they say.

“Lie back and enjoy it,” I hear.

Nope. Not this girl.

Eight years ago, this country made history by electing its first black President. Talk about someone who opened the doors on Pennsylvania Avenue to find a mountain of thinly-veiled racist obstacles in his path. Racist. Yeah, I said it. Racism is alive and well in America, especially under that alabaster white dome. It was clear to me in 2008 and it remains clear today, there were elected officials who brought their “Whites Only” beliefs to the floors of Congress and acted accordingly. Health care? Not gonna approve it. Hate it, vowed to work against it, despite chance after chance after chance to come up with an alternative plan. Supreme Court nominee? Simply refuse to act on it just because.

This is wrong on so many levels.

How many people would get away with this kind of behavior at their place of employment? But millions of people in America accepted this from their representatives. Double standard much?

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-4-21-00-pmWhere is the discourse, where is the conversation, the exchange of ideas and offering of both sides of the issues. Where is the compromise? Where is the teamwork that we depend on to run our country smoothly? Where is the representation of every American, regardless of financial or social status?

What this current administration has fostered is a disintegration of America’s standards, all the way down to civility, especially on social media.

I know, there are people who will say to just turn away from the computer if my feelings are being hurt, but that’s not an option. I choose to live in an environment that fosters discovery, innovation, information sharing, creativity, friendship and positive progress. Social media is part of that.

Unfortunately, social media has given people the same blinders they wear in the parking lots of the mall during the holiday season. People’s behavior behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle that seems to offer a shield of power (or at least the horsepower to make an escape if they feel threatened by someone they offend) is abhorrent. Along with the power comes a sense of anonymity, because who remembers the face of the person who cut them off or zoomed past them to get a better parking space?

That anonymity has transferred itself to a year-round game on social media. Facebook, which started out as a place to share pictures of pets, grandchildren and whatever you are eating has become a vengeful battleground, where hurtful comments are thrown indiscriminately at friends and foes alike.

“Unfriending” someone, which sounds so junior high, has become the second level of hell. If you don’t like something someone says, you have several options. You can simply not participate, you can block someone, unfollow them or (cue scary music here) unfriend them, a move perceived by many as the ultimate insult.

Go back to the part where I said I understood the people who blow up. There are too many times that comments step on someone’s last nerve and cause them to find that option and click away years of friendship and camaraderie.

I know because I’ve done that. I started on election night. I uninvited people to an annual party that’s been going on for 34 years. I blocked people who I’ve been on stage with, who helped raise my children, who dance with me and sing with me and know many of my inner secrets.

I don’t even worry about unfriending trolls, the long list of those already existing in my “blocked” file. Those got sent into the ether over things that have nothing to do with the person who gamed the Electoral College last year.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-4-37-59-pmI’m not interested in creating an “echo chamber” either, a phrase coined by a friend whose opinions and information I look forward to every time I see him post. I enjoy the intelligent discourse of information between friends and acquaintances, and some of my friends who have polar opposite opinions from mine acknowledge that.

Social media is the perfect avenue for talking, listening and learning. But nobody does any of that when people are blasted by name-calling or criticism.

And to those who might say I’m criticizing, you might be right, but it got your attention.

It comes down to respect. I respect people who listen, who put down the mirror and consider others’ feelings and opinions without insults or slamming the previous administration or group. Everybody has a different circumstance, we are all cut from the same cloth and we only have one planet on which we must coexist.

Love trumps hate. Enough said.

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

A Winning Year on the Loser’s Bench

smallermugJust like me, two days late and 96 pounds short.

Still getting used to the last part of that sentence.

Sunday, Jan. 15, was my “surgiversary” – meaning that a year ago, I decided to save my life and had gastric sleeve surgery. Part of my stomach was removed and what was left made into a nice little “sleeve” that doesn’t hold much more than 3 ounces.

Buffets are a waste. “All You Can Eat” is a joke. When I have a drink, it’s one and done.

I have become the cheapest date in town.

I promised I would share my journey with you, the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears. I figure a year out was a good time to bring you up to speed.

Let me get a few things out of the way first.

  1. Yes, it is pretty wonderful to feel good and have energy again.
  2. img_3430No, even though I look like E.T. (see before and after pictures at right), I am not planning on having my loose skin removed. There are a few reasons for this:
    1. Getting “sleeved” is a tiny bit painful, but you get over it quick and I have been told by people who had skin-tightening surgery that it hurts like hell.
    2. The only person who matters (and the only one who sees me naked) is my beloved husband and he loves me no matter how I look.
    3. There is a reason that God invented Spandex.
  3. No, I don’t miss soda or fried food. I do miss rice and pasta just a little. And salad a LOT.
  4. And despite all the ill-informed people out there, weight loss surgery is NOT an easy way out. It requires commitment, sacrifice, holding yourself to a new standard and keeping your promises to yourself. And realizing that there are a lot of stupid people out there. With each pound I released, my (mental) skin got thicker and suffering fools became a lot easier.
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All I really wanted to do was show off my cowboy boots, but the size 14 dress helped The Girls show off too…..

As the weight came off over the last year, I went through a lot of mental changes too. When you’ve always turned right to go to the “women’s plus size” section at Kohl’s, it’s hard to make yourself walk straight or turn left and go to the junior or normal size section. It’s also hard not to scream with sheer joy and amazement when you take a size 14 bathing suit into the dressing room at JCPenney and it actually fits.

If I try on a pair of pants and they don’t quite fit around the hips or middle, my inner bitch still tells me I’m fat. Body image is one of the nastiest demons anyone can deal with and unfortunately, this operation doesn’t touch that. Using the tools gained from pre-surgery classes, I’m trying to stifle that voice, but I have a much better understanding of the struggle as my metamorphosis continues.

I do, however, miss The Girls. I mean the ones that gave me cleavage and the comfort that, even if I had been pudgy in the middle, at least I had a decent balcony to perform with (don’t laugh, I thanked them for an acting award I received because they provided comic relief). I am finally to the point where I’ll be shopping for a smaller sized bra, with padding no longer optional.

I have collarbones and hip bones and ribs and ankles that I haven’t seen in years. I touch them with the wonder given a favorite toy brought out of hiding. I have batwings that I flap proudly. I’m still trying to get used to all this “activewear” that shows off my progress. I have donated more than half of the clothes in my closet to charity and, despite worrying that I’d want to keep and have some sentimental favorites altered to fit my smaller self, I have learned to let go of the baggies. My shoulders are not as broad and I actually have a waist I’d like to show off. New, more flattering clothes are slowly replacing the ones that camouflaged.

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Out watching people eat just before my surgery date with Sadie and my SisterOutlaw and PartnerInGrandmoming
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A year later, we both look better! And that little squishy on my lap is walking and talking and keeping us busy

It’s been a year of big changes. As things get smaller, some things got bigger. Like my hot flashes. I thought menopausal ones were bad, but they were few and far between. These come on in groups and knock me on my ass. I asked my doctor about it and he said it’s because estrogen lives in fat cells and when the fat cells leave, the hormones go batty. And burps? I used to be rather demure and polite, but now they’re three-dimensional, often with an introduction, first and second act and big finish.

I get asked a lot “what can you eat” – and my answer is “food” – but on the healthy side. Protein is a priority and I dine on a lot of steak or chicken strips, ahi tuna, cheese, almonds and Greek yogurt. It’s kind of the opposite of Weight Watchers – where they have an emphasis on filling up on lettuce and vegetables and fruit, we have to be careful about  “filling up” since we have a much smaller space. Having sleeve surgery is like giving the crankiest restaurant customer a seat in the kitchen – if they don’t like it, it gets thrown. Sometimes up. Gone are the days of giant salads, rice bowls (you don’t want to know), bagels (yikes) or heaps of pasta. I can eat a small salad, but I definitely have to prioritize what goes in first – meat, cheese, vitamin-rich veggies or fruits. And drinks are non-carbonated, low-sugar things like water, tea, water, coffee and more water.

morning-collageI’m a big picture person and every time all my kids are home, we have a family portrait session. I’m talking an hour posing in various parks and other rustic locations in the hopes of preserving our brood in a moment in time. We had a terrific session just before my surgery, but I was so unhappy with that, I asked my photographer pal (jokingly, of course) to photoshop out my double chin and all the extra me that was crowding the frames. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with how I looked, even though the rest of the family looked fabulous. Once the weight started falling off, I felt compelled to have another photo session, but just for me. One morning in downtown Newhall, a few changes of clothing and my spirits soared. The new pictures made my heart sing and gave me inspiration to keep working hard. Pardon my indulgence, but you have to do whatever works for you.

I do spend a lot of time reassuring servers in restaurants that I am happy with my food, especially if I have only eaten a quarter of the food on my plate (restaurant meals usually turn into three or four after-meals for sleevers). I often have have to hide my look of amazement when I see plates go by laden with so much more than we (and I mean all of us, sleeved or not) NEED to eat at each meal – the amount of food just floors me at some places. Not only is it hard for me to believe that I used to consume exactly that same amount of food – and often, dessert – but it’s also hard for me to understand why people don’t eat healthier because I feel so much better now.

My dogs are thrilled with the new me because, not only am I bringing home boxes from restaurants that often mean it’s snack time, but also because I will make a meal and sit down with what I think is a perfect portion that I am unable to finish. They lovingly and conveniently sit at my feet, because they know they will soon be feasting on the excess. We make sure they get plenty of exercise to work off their “treats,” and so the vet stops calling Gracie “the round one.”

Along with the dietary changes came behavioral changes – I actually enjoy getting outside and moving, and try to walk on a regular basis in the mornings with friends. I have a few angels who make the time and keep me company (and keep up with my non-strolling pace) and I find myself doing a lot of things I wouldn’t – and couldn’t – do a year ago. Just yesterday, I went out in the back yard, cleaned up a lot of doggie doo, pulled up some dead vegetation along with some weeds, moved furniture and swept, staying active for a couple of hours. My dogs were in shock, because in the past I never went out, let alone worked, outside.

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Summer, 2015. I was Number 1 all right – Shoes didn’t even fit, and I had a great appreciation for elastic – and lots of fabric
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September 2016. A year after that nightmarish flowered dress shot. Just got a new corset for my Voodoo Queen costume. I’m trying to think of excuses to wear it for more than Halloween!

I still love to cook, I just consider it more performance art than participation sport. I love feeding people and baking (I baked more this Christmas than in the last 10 years) and savoring the best part of the dining experience – enjoying the company and really tasting the food instead of just filling up and pushing away from the table. Believe me when I tell you that three bites of the best part of something is WAY better than 10 bites to clean a plate!

Because my job involves spending a lot of time on social media, I have to give a shout out to members of two Facebook pages dedicated to those considering or who have had gastric sleeve surgery. You have become my friends and supporters and I get so much encouragement and support and answers and camaraderie, I feel it’s an honor to give it back. You made room for me on “The Loser’s Bench” and I am proud to sit at your side.

And the best part of all, I have the energy and better health so I can keep up with my inspiration, Sadie Jane. I plan on seeing her grow up, graduate from school, get married and maybe make me a great-grandmother. She’s holding up her end of the bargain, it’s up to me to stay the course and make this life change work.

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And she’s worth every little bite.

 

Photocollage and head shot at the top by the amazingly talented Sarah Krieg. Please visit her website at www.SarahKriegPhotography.com

Dear readers –

If you have questions about Gastric Sleeve surgery, please feel free to comment or message me – I am all about education! And if you find this blog helpful or funny or inspirational or just a good positive change from some of the nasty dreck on the innerwebs these days, please share it generously. Thank you!

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

Confessions of a Bad Christian

I did not write this, but she speaks to my heart. The writer is a young woman who I have had the pleasure of working with professionally as a journalist and on stage as a fellow actor. I respect her views and beliefs and there is no better time for this to be published than now. I share my blogspace with her because I want this to go viral. Her name is Leah DiPaola. Watch for her. She’s figured it out and isn’t staying silent.

 

There are a lot of things happening in my country that I’ve been having an incredibly hard time dealing with. Naturally, I’m talking about the election. The 2016 Presidential Election t…

Source: Confessions of a Bad Christian

20 Years Ago – A Wick(ed) Loss

RandyIt’s hard to believe that 20 years ago today we lost our treasured friend and editorial cartoonist, Randy Wicks. Say what you will about Saturday Night Live having a field day with politics and the humor promised by the upcoming election, Randy’s simple drawings of the circus around us brought home the irony, the reality and sometimes the comedy of politics.

Can you just imagine what he’d be drawing now? He’d need to be published three times a day, seven days a week to get them all out.

Only 41 when he abruptly shuffled off this mortal coil, Randy was a local hero who touched the hearts and minds of so many people, especially those of us who worked with him at The Signal. He knew exactly how to zing – gently when appropriate – those whose deeds were questionable or frustrating or just plain ridiculous.

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He brought us the heartbreak of starving children in Africa, a look at gun worshipers, the dangers of our own prejudices and the resilience of our community in a crisis, along with a plethora of other local and national issues, depicted perfectly with his “poison pen.”

 

 

RWGunsThere wasn’t a situation that escaped his attention. He skewered Presidents and Councilmembers alike, was an observer of local politics and a visitor to the Oval Office and he loved without bounds his beloved Santa Clarita Valley.

A Distinguished Alumni of CalArts, over the 15-plus years that he spent here, his talents were evident in floats he designed for the Fourth of July parade (there was a paper mache Statue of Liberty in the newspaper’s pressroom for a long time, a bit beaten and worn from riding in the back of someone’s pickup truck a few Independence Days prior) and in the countless flyers and programs graced with his quirky and character-driven drawings.

RWRentersHe designed logos for nonprofit organizations, personal friends and the City of Santa Clarita. His was the first Pride Week design, the first River Rally T-shirt, the popular Signal Newshound. He traveled to charity luncheons and school assemblies and gave tours of the newsroom and production area, always bringing along a newsprint pad and Sharpie for on-the-spot creativity.
                           

Sometimes he even drew his co-workers when things were slow. (It’s the most treasured piece of art in my office.)

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His office walls were covered with awards from the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, the National Cartoonists Society, the National Newspaper Association, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. I’m convinced the lack of a Pulitzer is only because he left us far too soon.

There wasn’t a kid he didn’t have time for during his visits and tours, or a community leader who didn’t appreciate his contributions (auctions always featured some of his original works) or his political nudges. Randy’s whole purpose in life was to make people think, even if it pissed them off.

No wonder we had to hold his memorial in the gallery at CalArts. The front walk to the Signal was covered in candles and flowers and tributes to this fine young friend to all. The funeral was packed, several speakers, hundreds of tributes from those he touched with his rapier wit and soothed with his compassion. And all for a kid from Iowa who always credited his parents for letting him “follow his cartoon dreams.”

RWApartTogetherThere was a fundraiser shortly after his passing to support a special collection of his cartoons, books that catalogued and contained his published work so that future generations could enjoy them. There was also artwork framed that hung for a while in the Valencia Library, a tribute to Randy’s support of the Friends of the Library. Somewhere in the transition from County to City, those all disappeared, and with them, the memory of Randy’s work and his contributions to our community is beginning to fade as new generations fill our classrooms and libraries. (He would have been thrilled with the Old Town Newhall Library and its homage to history).

The SCV Press Club was also formed in his memory with the purpose of raising scholarship money for students studying First Amendment courses such as journalism. Haven’t heard much of that lately. I’m sure he would have been amused at many of the previous years’ honorees. He and Ruth Newhall are probably still chuckling at her christening of one of the awards the “Ass Kisser Award.” I know someone who is proud to have won it more than once.

Randy would find that funny. And his body-convulsing laugh always made all of us smile, no matter how dangerously close deadline loomed.

A lot has happened in the last two decades. I’m determined to make sure we never forget the Wicked Wicks of the West. Here’s to the memory of a friend whose take on life made the ‘80s and ‘90s a lot more tolerable, brushed with his insights and humor.

I’ll be raising a glass in his honor today. Won’t you join me? Randy was a funny old raccoon that we miss dearly.

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are encouraged and welcome!

And please feel to share this with your friends throughout social media.

 

 

 

Celebrating the ceiling she’ll never know

IMG_2021My eight-month old granddaughter has no idea what all the craziness on TV has been for the last few days, except for an abundance of the colors red, white and blue and a lot of crazy signs she can’t yet read. But as Hillary Clinton kicked aside giant shards of glass to accept the Democratic party’s nomination for President, I felt hopeful, especially for Sadie. She will never know a time when a woman could not be nominated to lead our nation.

 

 

 

giphyWhat she didn’t hear was the glass ceiling shattering and another wall of sexism falling. What a victory! And while there is another step before we have our first woman President, this is still an amazing milestone – and one that I and so many other women have been working on for far too long.

Sadie’s great-grandmother (my mother) was one of those women collectively called “Rosie the Riveter.” While my father was serving in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific, she worked at the Alameda Naval Air Station, supporting the war effort; as she and many other women took the place of men who were serving in the European and Pacific theaters. When they returned, she was unemployed, but she believed with all her heart that there was nothing a woman could not do. This became one of the most repeated lessons I heard as I was growing up and one I imparted to my own daughters.

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I also believe in putting action and experience behind my words. During my junior year of high school, I wanted to explore a career in law enforcement. I applied for and became one of the first female Police Explorers in the state of California. This excellent training program, previously only open to males, made a significant mark in my pursuit of a career in law enforcement and my education overall. Now, girls fill the ranks of Explorer programs across the country.

 

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Along with becoming an Explorer, I also volunteered with the Let Us Vote movement, which resulted in the passage of the 26th Amendment of the Constitution in July 1971, giving 18-year-olds the right to vote. Although I was just one of many savoring this victory, I felt I really mattered in November 1972 when I actually got to cast a ballot, something I’ve done every election since.

 

A few years later, I became the first female Police Cadet for the Los Angeles Police Department, another kick at the glass ceiling that came with some challenges. As department brass pointed to me as an example, many of the staff I encountered in the field did everything they could to discourage me from trying to become a police officer. They said women didn’t belong, the job was too dangerous, we didn’t have the temperament, men felt like they had to protect us, blah, blah, blah. Never mind that I was a marksman on the firing range and excelled on the psychological tests. I took that opportunity to learn everything I could about serving the public and 348sworking within the legal system. My street senses were strong.

 

I worked out like a fiend to pass physical tests at the Academy and was on track to go into an upcoming class, but a family crisis changed my mind and I stepped back, but not before nudging open a very heavy door for females that followed me.

 

When I became a mother, I impressed upon my girls their grandmother’s message, that they could do anything they wanted. By that time, smaller barriers were falling by the wayside, thanks to legislation like Title IX and Equal Employment Opportunity, but there were still a few holdouts. Even though people generally said women could do anything, there remained a reluctance to give them the opportunity to lead. Women filled high offices, such as Speaker of the House (which only happened in 2007), Secretary of State (in 1997), but President was out of reach. We’ve made progress, I cautioned, but there is still much to do.

 

For those who think this accomplishment of putting a woman in charge is no big deal, especially if you are female, don’t be fooled. The attack on women continues, from the Republican Presidential candidate to members of Congress (all male) who still believe that they control your body. I remember the days before Roe v. Wade, when coat hangers were the surgical instruments of desperation. And despite legislation that is supposed to protect them, across the nation women earn an average of 79 cents to every dollar paid to male workers. It’s long past time that equality becomes the accepted law of the land.

 

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Sadie, the struggle is real, but change is possible. As a nation, we have a lot of work ahead of us, especially in the areas of racism, discrimination and immigration. We need to reestablish respect and civility, kindness and compassion – traits that I know your parents hold dear. We need to spread more love and less hate. Women are good at that.

Right now, those choices are in the hands of your mother and grandmothers, your father, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, friends and fellow Americans. I’m proud of our progress and sincerely hope we don’t screw it up before you join the deciders in a short 17 years.

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

 

Feedback is welcome and encouraged! Please be civil, your passion and ideas will be respected as long as nobody’s calling anyone names. Let’s communicate! And feel free to share!

 

 

It’s on the web, it must be true. Aren’t you?

socialPotentially disgruntled journalist. Liberal activist. Occasional snarkmaster. Fierce grandmother and don’t even think of messing with her kids.

Active on social media, posts pictures on foodie pages and contributes to the discussion of local politics with guarded insights from her reporter past.

Casually but frequently promotes caffeine use, positive body image, pit bulls and the correct use of their, they’re and there. Grammatically correct. Politically flexible, but rumored to be a left-leaning conservative. Laughs a lot.

Hates lima beans and intolerance (irony noted).

Frequents live theater, cover band concerts and is a vocal advocate for arts in the schools and community. Writes like a fiend because the voices in her head all clamor to be heard. Looking for the positive is her strongest survival skill. Ambiguously ethnic look.

Guilty?

160612111152-14-orlando-shooting-0612-large-169What would your profile say if you were the suspect in a horrific crime like the slaughter of 50 (and possibly more) patrons of a gay nightclub in Orlando?

Would they look at your name and make assumptions? What can you tell from something as innocuous as Rock? Maiden name? Unpronounceable in some circles, but no clear indicator as to politics or motive. Presumably not Muslim. Definitely Czechoslovakian with a large dose of Irish.

Would we be judged by what we do? Who we friend? Words we post? What we ate for dinner? What events we attend? Our pets? Politics? Passions?

We share our secrets with the world liberally on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other networks; we worry about privacy and identity theft, but don’t consider the overwhelming ability of reporters, politicians and the general public to cull our online pedigrees for accusatory ammunition.

160612054737-orlando-nightclub-shooting-pulse-large-169With breakneck speed, the Speculation Avengers assemble and create a creature that provides “answers” to questions that inquiring minds insist upon, accuracy be damned. In their attempts to scratch and claw their way to be first or on top without allowing time for fact-checking, media outlets post assumptions, generalizations and wild-ass guesses as to the suspect’s background and motivation.

Sadly, with a certainty that drills to our very core, people online eat it up, chew on it for awhile and take their own spins, some with extra vitriol, taking the violence from the blood-stained nightclub floor and spreading it out with their own broad brushes across America.

How the hell did we get here?

What’s even worse, if there is a hint of controversy, the trolls and master spinners work double time, creating poisonous posts and justifying them with their own anger. We know volumes about the American-born-and-raised Muslim shooter in Orlando, but what do we know about the non-Muslim plain white guy who was arrested in Santa Monica early this morning with a carload of weapons on his way to the Los Angeles Gay Pride parade? He came from Indiana, something easy to surmise from the license plates on his car. It’s been hours since he was arrested, and we know nothing about how he got his weapons, potential explosives, who his alleged “friend” that he was meeting might be or gotten a statement from his parents. Biased much?

os-orlando-shooting-pulse-nightclubI have spent far too much time on the train wreck we call social media today, unable to look away (if I did, I would only see the TV playing an endless loop of tragedy). I read far too many vicious comments about discrimination, suggesting that we ban all Muslims or rush to gun stores to arm ourselves so we can shoot back if attacked. There is no good that will come of either of those proposals.

And I’m not going to touch the political commentary; racists taking credit for the terrorism call or homophobic elected officials expressing their sympathy because it’s the right thing to do.

The only redeeming quality of today’s posts were expressions of sympathy and frustration and horror at the events in Orlando. They significantly outnumbered the nastiness, bolstering my faith in the greater good. They all cried for a solution to the violence, to build up love to overwhelm the hate.

In a perfect world, politicians would listen to the people and better the situation. Solutions are hard and require working together toward a better day.

Would that it was that easy. But it’s worth giving it a shot.

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I welcome your feedback and thoughts. Solving these problems call for a lot of good communication – why not start here? Thanks for reading. Please share!

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”