Happy New Year

It has been over two years since I posted anything, but I have kept up with all of you on Facebook. The losses and trials of these last years seem behind me and I am ready to answer the question I have often been asked, “When are you going to write another book.”


Actually, I have and it has been sitting on my computer for a very long time. I am now in the process of the final editing and hope to get it up on Amazon sometime in the nest year, early, I hope.


In the meantime, both “A Sky for Arcadia” and “Virgin Hall” are still available on Amazon either in paper or electronic version. Also, my two collections of short stories, “CityScapes” and “Wakonta Calendar” are available to download. The poetry book is $7.00 if you ask me by email to send it.


I am also going to post this also to my website, janettaliaferro.com. Take a look. It is a new version of the old site, but I am happy to have it up and running.

If you are here, welcome to the website.  JTIMG_0179.jpg

Grace, the cat, had a lovely Christmas .




Recognition for Those Who Work in an Invisible World

The first gala dinner at a Planned Parenthood Annual Conference I attended was back in the mid 1980s. At that time I was board president of the small affiliate in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

confetti in the air

This year I will be at the gala again, and for the first time in all the intervening years I have been attending, Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma will be recognized with one of the annual awards.
It made me stop and think about the small group of dedicated men and women who run a full time clinic that does everything from disease testing to annual physicals, from colposcopy (look it up) to vasectomies as well as the all-important family planning. The affiliate is probably the typical operation for Planned Parenthood, especially in states that have a large rural population.

The boards I worked with were just as dedicated, raising funds in a community where the mission was not a high priority, and managing, with the help of good CEOs, to hang on to serving a decidedly underserved population.

The affiliate doesn’t own a building.They rent in a shopping center that was beginning to be a bit seedy when I was in high school sixty years ago. The plate glass windows in the front have reflecting foil on them. Protesters and passers-by cannot see in, but I worried even as a new board member that the glass wasn’t bullet proof. PPCO has had its threats. It has had its run-in with state government which at one time hauled off the examining tables!

The exam rooms are Spartan but cheerfully painted. There are pictures on the walls and toys for the children to play with in the waiting area.  The executive offices are an adequate rabbit warren in half of the building. The staff has a small break space close to the lab.

It is an affiliate which does not do abortions.

Although there are lovely facilities for Planned Parenthood in many communities with attendant abortion facilities, my bet is that the ambiance of what one sees at PPCO is more typical of Planned Parenthood, especially since we operate a huge number of clinics that do nothing but family planning and exams, many located close to college campuses and satellite clinics in areas far from the main office of many affiliates.

The view between your knees of a bright wall and a cheery poster may not be the grandeur of the local hospital, but it’s salvation for thousands of grateful women. They are the ones who have kept Planned Parenthood relevant since Margaret Sanger first had a transformational idea.

The Boomers Didn’t Invent Modern Living

Who Did What, When?

Not that it matters, but for the record, the boomers didn’t invent modern living.

working women eating lunch
Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, C. & N.W. R.R., Clinton, Iowa (LOC). 1943. Photo Credit: Library of Congress.

Several weeks ago I heard Jane Pauley talking about how “her generation” is the one who broke out of the home and mommy mold. Not really,

She is young enough to be my daughter, if I had been unlucky or stupid enough to get pregnant at seventeen, not unheard of in my day. But let me tell you about the women in “my generation.” It is true, in the 50s we started out on the stay-at-home mother and housewife track our own mothers had followed. But even some of them chafed under that regimen. As far back as World War I, women were beginning to question the exclusivity of domestic life. Just read Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street. I love that novel because fifty years before Betty Friedan, he caught the restlessness and unease of a comfortable existence that could be stultifying. Of course, in my mother’s and my own generation there were always women who had to make their own way, single mothers and those who had to work even though a man in the house was employed.

In my own group of friends, I got a lesion in the early 1980s when I moved back to Oklahoma City from the D.C. suburbs. I had lunch with a group of women with whom I had belonged to an organization called the Panel of American Women. It wasn’t a feminist organization, but a civil rights one. However, by the 80s, all of us had raised our children, many had gone back for graduate degrees, and every woman at the luncheon was employed in some way. Most were teachers, counselors or worked in various social work enterprises. I had started as a political volunteer, finally gotten a paid job in campaigns, done some consulting and was at that time in the process of taking over a family business.

Like all the “Silent Generation” nobody paid attention, but it was deeply fulfilling for us. I wish I had emphasized that more in my novel about women growing up in the 50s, Virgin Hall. The heroine, Sheila, was obviously a successful working woman, but in creating Miriam’s biography, I always envisioned her as a teacher after her children were school age. Like a lot of us, we just did it because it was what we wanted, not to make a statement.

Who Said What and Why?

The paragraphs above are just an observation—this is a rant!

What is it with the New York Times and it’s women columnists? The Times has a whole stable of young interesting men, Nocera, Bruni and Douthat, about whom I have written before. The women?

They have to be funny, or at least try. They fail in my opinion. Maureen Down, despite all her awards shows me only that she can be uniformly vicious about everyone and everything. Maybe if I hadn’t been a Comp. Lit. major with a lot of Classics thrown in I would be more impressed. And, yes, I loved William Safire although I seldom agreed with him. However I always learned something from him. The Snark Queen hasn’t had an original idea in years—if ever.

Then there is dear Gail Collins. Nice lady, but please! Let the poor roof dog just go home and lie down on its comfy bed. People, isn’t it time she was a bit more serious?

The Year 2012

Blank pagesI haven’t written much for my blog this year. 2012 has turned out to my family’s “Annus Horribilis” as the Queen dubbed her year of disasters. It really began a year ago September.

Without going into detail—medical details are boring to everyone except a room full of seventy-year-olds, where it seems to be the only topic—suffice it to say we have had three cancer diagnoses and a traumatic brain injury. This entailed lots of doctors, hospitals, surgery and an endless variety of therapies and treatments as well as much to-ing and fro-ing.

On the literary front, Virgin Hall sold reasonably well and I had lots of readings, book clubs and signings, thanks to Planned Parenthood, NARAL and good friends in three states. Also I won an Honorable Mention in the New Poet category at the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets conference. We had a great time in Stevens Point, WI. At least I did a lot of poetry, most of it not very light and gay. Stay tuned for some samples and the prize winner.

Those Cancer Stages

Silhouette of individualWe have all heard them. They usually range from one to four, but I have my own scale for family and friends to mark the stages of cancer.

Stage 1 is variously known as the pyroclastic, tsunami or train wreck stage. This commences when you get the news. Mercifully it often doesn’t last long. Abject terror can’t endure forever and the second stage usually comes along quickly.

Stage 2 is the one-step-at-time stage and begins as soon as the doc or whoever tells you that they have a diagnosis and a treatment plan. These entail some combination of surgery, hospitalization, radiation, chemotherapy or other therapies. These treatments come along with their own anesthesia for care givers. Ordinarily you are too tired physically to think about anything and too worn out emotionally to do anything but what lies clearly at hand.

Stage 3 is the one-day-at-a-time stage and lasts from weeks to months to years. If you are fortunate enough to be in the years category, you revisit stages one and two briefly whenever labs are done or blood drawn, followed by a feeling of profound relief.

Stage 4 is when you get to go through all this again with a different outcome, so since I’m only in stage 2 right now, I’m not going there.

Those little cancer cells have a life of their own and they love survival, so give ‘em the scalpel! Zap ‘em with those rays! Pour on the chemicals! Make them go away!

In the mean time, say lots of prayers and you will learn what the meaning of trudging is, “to walk with purpose.” Good luck all around.

Listen to What Joan Walsh has to Say

Personal note: This is an especially long piece because my family has had a disastrous year with their health and I haven’t had time to write since spring. Most of us are on the mend.

questionI just finished reading Joan Walsh’s What’s the Matter with White People. Provocative title, but not quite descriptive of what’s in the book so don’t let that put you off if you are white like me. Especially if you are white like me.

What do I mean? If you are like me you are a liberal on social issues, slightly conservative on fiscal issues—and for my friends who always think of me as a romping, stomping lefty, let me remind you of my successful but rather conservative business background.

Mostly what I related to was her description of growing up in the working class and then later being a part of the upper middle class. My family always had money, but I grew up on the East Side of Oklahoma City. I lived on Sixteenth Street and Jim Crow lived on tenth. I like to say I grew up six blocks north of Ralph Ellison. (In the sixties I had the privilege of having dinner with this wonderful man and gifted writer.)

I grew up in a neighborhood where most of my school friend’s parents had either lost jobs or gone to California to look for work and returned to Oklahoma. This was the thirties and the depression in Oklahoma lasted until the beginning of the Second World War. When I was in the seventh grade, I went across town to the “better schools.” The rest of the time I lived in Oklahoma City this was my milieu and I never quite felt I fit in. In reading her book, I was reminded that those early days, plus Joe McCarthy in the fifties, made me the family liberal. I was aware of an entirely different America than my high school friends ever saw or recognized.

The thirty years I spent running political campaigns gave me a different view. In 1966, after Fred Harris’ squeaker of a re-election to the U. S. Senate, my political partner and I took a precinct map and colored in the precincts; red for Democratic ones, pink for leaning Democratic (so glad the Dems now have blue as their color), pale blue for leaning Republican and cobalt for the solidly Republican ones. We took the map to then Senator Mike Monroney and warned him that the union precincts on the south side of town were beginning to vote Republican. He couldn’t believe that the people to whom he gave the FAA Center for employment would ever vote against him. They did and Henry Bellmon, who had built the Republican Party in Oklahoma from the grass roots up, was elected to the Senate.

About the same time, since I was active in the Civil Rights Movement, I saw the school bussing plan for Oklahoma City, which was concocted by a good friend who taught at the University of Oklahoma and who was not an Oklahoma City native.

“Good God, Bill,” I said. “Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve violated all the taboos in town. Don’t you realize the people who live on the west side of town are terrified of those who live on the east side? They are scared of black people and look down on whites who live there. More than that, everyone who lives north of the river thinks everyone south of it is trailer trash.”

About this time South Boston erupted. I was to come to look at the whole pushing by Democrats to eliminate right away all de facto segregation as a tactical mistake. Doing away with de jure segregation, at least in Oklahoma City had more to do with integration than anything else. The city fathers were fast engaged on a money making scheme to do “urban renewal” which was actually a way to get at the federal money trough without really following its guidelines and totally ignoring I. M. Pei’s plans for the city. A lot of the renewal plans had to do with buying up the neighborhoods around the medical school. These were the black neighborhoods. First, it decimated them, but just as important, the city officials had no idea what the results would be. They completely lost sight of the fact that blacks couldn’t get bank loans, so every penny they paid families was cash in hand. They took that money and bought houses all over the city, wherever they pleased. That took care in integration! Or at least allowed the black population to live in better housing if they wanted to create their own neighborhood.

I have come to believe that we Democrats ran a big yellow school bus over our party. We were so intent on one view we couldn’t appreciate the threat we posed to our base by messing with their kids. We knew what was good for them—and they abandoned us. This is not to say vigorous measures didn’t need to be taken. In fact, education needed to be attended to for all children. These were the years things began to slide away from core learning. I could see it with my own children, born in the late fifties and early sixties. About that time we moved to Fairfax County Virginia, and I was happy with the excellent public schools, but they still didn’t teach civics the way I was taught.

This brings me to a comment on the present election. One of the things that happened when I was co-managing Congressman Joe Fisher’s campaigns was that I got to know Loudoun County. Back in the late seventies, it was a solidly Democratic county, but decidedly blue dog. As two women campaign managers, Lucy Denney and I got used to being called “honey” by everyone except Frank Raflo, who wasn’t a native Virginian. But there was a problem. There was a new area called Sterling, populated by young families, sixties folk, but working class, who had bought into the “don’t trust government and don’t trust older folks” mantra. Lucy said to me that Sterling really bothered her. We mailed and canvassed, but in the end, Carter lost the Tenth Congressional District by 30,000 votes. Joe lost by only 3,000—most of them in Sterling.

I now live in Loudoun County and have watched the change. It was solidly Republican when I moved here, and steadily, the constant far right drum beat on issues that are not economic has eroded their support here. The county still swings, and so does Virginia. I like that. I just want the Democrats to remember to be passionate about all their issues, but remember James Carville’s old dictum, “It’s the economy, stupid!” and it will always be. The other issues are important, but if you let that be the focus of your constellation of issues, you lose, like we did for most of the last forty years.

However, I’m just tacky enough to hope it takes the Repubs that long to learn their lesson!


Up signRemember the dictum “Never trust anyone over thirty?” I hated that, since I was in my thirties during the big Sixties hoo-haw. By that time I had worked full time in campaigns and during the seventies was even getting paid to do what I had done as a volunteer. So I thought I knew something about politics. That was about the time I realized all those who came of age in the sixties really didn’t listen to anyone except their own echo chamber.

I watched my beloved Democratic Party implode, hoist by its own rigid refusal to admit any mistakes or change an attitude. In 1980 many of the moderates I knew were swept out of office, some of them were even Republicans. That’s when I gave up politics for business. In the eighties I endured twelve years of Reagan/Bush41, breathed a little easier with eight years of Clinton in the nineties and then watched Bush43 break all the toys in the room. Need I point out that Bush43 came of age in the sixties? Talk about not listening!

If those younger than I had written me off, I did the same to them, until one Saturday morning I turned on the TV. The channel was still on MSNBC from the night before. (I’ve begun to watch it, since PBS has gone all cheapo specials.) Anyway, there was this kid in glasses, with an entire panel of people, who looked very professional and about the age of my grandchildren. I was stunned. They didn’t yell. They listened to each other and didn’t interrupt. Who taught these people good manners? I thought the practice of good manners was as dead as Munro Leaf and Emily Post.

Now I’m an UP with Chris Hayes addict. These guys are great and they don’t all agree with each other. They act like we did “back when,” passionate but considerate and interested in learning something that just might not have caught before.

Hallelujah. Salvation has arrived. The Cavalry is here.  If I die tomorrow, I know we aren’t completely done in. God Bless America!

Some Days I Feel Like Cassandra

young women talkingSo much has happened since I wrote my blog on February 13 in the mist of the Susan Komen controversy I am literally out of breath.  My analogy of the motor boat was apt, but right now it looks like a jet plane is about to take off in the other direction. At least, I hope so.

For years I have been warning women younger than myself that they didn’t understand the depth and passion of the men opposing women’s rights.  I usually ended by admonishing, “You won’t be so sanguine when they start to take your birth control away from you.” The answer was usually a look that said, “Yeah, right.”

Now that the day has arrived I am glad a fair portion of women are beginning to sit up and take notice.

There has been progress on their side of the street in a lot of states in the last few years. Marching is fine. I went to Richmond along with three of my gray haired friends, but that won’t do it.  We have to VOTE THE GUYS OUT! Get ready and get going girls.

Abortion, Public Policy & the Consequences of Myopic Focus

Woman with tape over her mouth
Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer (flicker)

The publicity surrounding the support of Planned Parenthood by the Susan G. Komen Foundation brings into stark reality the truth pro-abortion/anti-abortion controversy. In that form it doesn’t exist. No one is pro-abortion. It is always a last and often desperate option.

The revulsion, whether religiously inspired or not, toward the act is fully understandable. In fact I share much of it. I am, as many American’s, against abortion and pro-choice. This is not an inconsistent position.

The fact that I can see reasons for terminating a pregnancy does not lessen my opposition to the act itself. But then I didn’t have badly malformed fetuses. I didn’t have a test that told me I would have to raise a mentally retarded child. I didn’t carry a stillborn child in my womb. I could easily afford to feed as many children as I could bear. Even in disagreement, the men in my family treated me with love and respect.

It’s important that all women understand that abortion is NOT the issue. It is simply the boat that carries a load of other issues. The oars that launched that boat were two shared public reactions; one that abortion not be abused and second that it not be supported by those who didn’t want to support it. Neither of these motivations say eliminate the procedure.

The outboard motor that started this craft on its way is the ancient American tradition of trying to hammer everything into law. As a country we are control freaks and this infects both the right and the left. Thus movements, led first by people of good will, escalate into zealotry and finally violence. The outcome is always unforeseen. The Civil War after one hundred and fifty years of public and private violence ended in the Civil Rights Act. Looking back on it, it was an awful passage. Prohibition offers a better example. The banning of booze led to all the excesses we still deal with today from organized crime to a welter of stupid and outdated laws. Prohibition is the mirror image of Roe v. Wade. Without termination of a pregnancy being safe and legal, we will surely go back to back alleys, coat hangers and knitting needles with their fellow travelers, infertility and death.

Most important, the jet engine that is carrying this controversy along is a dispute over power. The real issue is about property and governance. The more autonomy a woman has over her reproduction the more civilized the society. It also means men have less authority and have to share in all aspects of governance. To many men and many institutions run by men, this seems like a loss in a zero sum game. The actions of the Roman Catholic Bishops since President Obama adjusted his stance on coverage for birth control is a case in point writ large. The legislation in many states concerning many so-called pro-life issues isn’t about that at all. It’s all about control–period.

The Word Plastic

Every once in a while I meditate on the word plastic.

I always want to pronounce it the way the French do, plastique. This in turn brings up an image of some sort of gooey gel used to blow things up.

Plastic—malleable, easily formed—that was the original meaning of the word and somehow it has morphed into—rigid, unchanging. Of course, it’s both and those of us who are English speakers rely on the context to figure out which description fits.

I was looking at my four-year-old granddaughter’s Barbie doll the other day. If you didn’t know, Barbie has gone modest. She now has little molded briefs on her attenuated body. How demure.

She’s still plastic.

Somehow this musing brought me around to television these days; gooey, amorphous, rigid, unreal even in reality—plastic and totally false.