The End of Days…

America is getting downright crispy. There was a time when “forest fires” savaged large tracts of BLM and Forest Service wilderness and we learned about it in the morning paper or on the nightly news. Back then, when a fire topped the ridges north of Los Angeles, homes in Malibu and Topanga Canyon were on high alert and volunteer fire departments were mobilized to hose down rooftops to keep the embers from torching the neighborhood. But in 2018, the Camp Fire, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, destroyed 19,000 homes and killed 85 people. Since then, out of control fires are a regular occurrence, and residential communities across the country are threatened by fire as never before.

It feels like the Biblical end of days. Even the Pacific Northwest is under a heat advisory. I’m sitting in a darkened living room. Blinds closed. Lights off. Doors open in the hope that a cross-breeze will redirect a whisper of wind. Our east facing front courtyard is leafy with tall camellias, lilacs, bamboo and yew. It gets an hour of overhead sun at midday then it’s shaded for the rest of the day. M hoses it down and the wet pavement helps cool things off.

It’s almost embarrassing to complain of temperatures in the 90s when triple digits have become the norm across the country. We live in a part of the country where air-conditioning is the exception rather than the rule, but climate change is real and after last summer’s hot spell M decided to have A/C installed in our bedroom. As fate would have it, supply chain issues moved the date from Feb. to September and we decided to cancel. On Monday, the A/C in our car stopped working. I remind myself that it’s the end of days, so A/C is the least of our worries.

In the meantime, we sleep under a sheet with the covers thrown off and the doors and windows open. During the day we drink Italian soda with lots of ice and read quietly as if even conversation could raise the temp.

The last three years have conditioned us for these end of days. First came the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Then the plague of Covid-19. Then the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter. Then the 2020 election, the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, and the attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine followed by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And now it’s Monkeypox. Only Cormac McCarthy could turn that sequence into a good story.

Does it matter that the Seattle Mariners have never been to the World Series but have won 22 of their last 25 games, or that Tom Cruise kicked an unnamed foreign adversary’s ass in Top Gun: Maverick? Maybe it does. They are signs of hope and that the good guys might have a future. Does it matter that the House’s Select Committee is moving up the food chain, interviewing Cabinet members and marshalling information about the former guy’s attempt to retain power? I think it does.

I don’t care if Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are still arguing over who did what to whom? I never did. Nor do I care that Tucker Carlson has a testosterone problem. You probably need to work that out in the shower, Tucker, not on primetime TV.  

In the meantime, until the heat index reverses course, we’ll stay in our darkened living room drinking Italian soda, reading a depressing novel called Desperate Characters, and binging on Yellowstone, The Old Man, Hotel Portofino, and never-fail Seinfeld episodes. Who knows, maybe another surprise installment of “the hearings” will rise like the Phoenix from the ashes of January 6. If not, there’s always Zoloft.

Fiction or Non-Fiction?

I’ve forgotten what M was reading, but years ago, when we were newly together, I asked her whether she preferred fiction or non-fiction. The answer came quickly, “No question,” she said, “I don’t have time for fiction.” Just the facts, Jack. Since then our tastes and preferences have evolved, but at the time it signaled a startling difference between us.

We were both early readers, but I didn’t hit my stride until I encountered John Steinbeck in high school. M, on the other hand, was a voracious young reader. So were her parents, and they encouraged her. Anything with pages was OK. Kids books, Book of the Month Club selections, historical novels…especially those with a little romance. She was a late bloomer and hid in books. When she did bloom, she used them to hide from me and all the other bloom-snatching high school predators.

Today, we both read for pleasure and information. In this complex world we feel it’s our obligation as citizens to keep up. With the amount of information available over the Internet, finding reliable sources is a challenge. We read to stay informed, books, magazines and newspapers, but a well-researched book allows us to slow down and take a closer look at a subject.

Having said that, as a general rule I prefer fiction. There’s something special about taking part of an unfolding story. With non-fiction you generally know what happens and read to find out how or why. Fiction, unless you read the last pages first (as M does), pulls you in and takes you for a ride toward an unknown destination.

Readers need variety, and my latest non-fiction is Empire of Pain, the multi-generational horror story of the Sackler family, of their privately-held company, Purdue Pharma, and their Golden Ticket – Oxycontin. It lays out the history of how the second and third generations of the family developed, marketed, and capitalized on the drug that created a global drug crisis. Even before patent approval, the Sacklers were manipulating the FDA, and building a hard driving sales force to push the deadly pill to pain doctors, pharmacies, and pill mills. The result is the nationwide opioid death spiral. Driven by greed, the Sackler’s story is a thriller – repulsive and compelling at the same time.

For relief from the Sackler saga, I’ve been reading a book of ten short stories by James Salter. Salter was a fighter pilot first and a writer later. His first novel, The Hunters, is the best description of the stresses, pressures, and personal conflicts inside a wartime fighter squadron, but his novels covered everything from rock climbing to dysfunctional marriages. He is one of my favorite storytellers, and each of the stories in Last Night pulled me into a different kind of human drama. I couldn’t put it down.

Fiction v. non-fiction is not an either/or question. As you can tell, I usually have both going at the same time. I admire good writing wherever I find it, but there is something magical about the creation process–the making of a story where there was none. It’s a gift to draw from the imagination something that often seems more truthful and emotional than a “true” story. I’m thinking about Sophie’s Choice, the William Styron novel that makes me cringe and sweat every time I think of the scene on the Auschwitz train platform.

As a writer, I find it relatively easy to put together an essay—even one that is deeply personal. I know where it starts and ends. My job is to weave together a narrative that links the two. Fiction is a different animal. It’s terrifying and exciting to look at the blank page and know that everything that goes down has to come from your imagination. I’ve written a fair amount of fiction but always find it hard to free my imagination and come up with something original that will hold the reader’s attention.

Lately, I’ve been consumed by this term’s Supreme Court decisions—which, in turn, leads me back to non-fiction. I’m astonished and angry that the new conservative majority has turned a process that was once reasonably predictable into a retrograde move back toward the 1950s. I had a basic understanding of Constitutional Law from my law school days but the recent decisions have moved me to read more deeply into the Court’s history. I needed a refresher. I started with Linda Greenhouse’s The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction then launched into Peter Irons’ A People’s History of the Supreme Court (with a foreword by historian Howard Zinn). Along with my copy of The Constitution of the United States it was an immersion course.

Last week I commented on the recent cases with an essay called Supreme Madness… This week, I reminded myself that these cases are all stories with their own characters and unique sets of facts. It’s fascinating to dig into them. For instance, Jane Roe, of Roe v. Wade fame, was what we lawyers would call an unsympathetic plaintiff–an unsavory character with a long criminal record. Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe’s real name, was also a turncoat. After her successful pro-abortion appeal she traded sides and became an anti-abortion activist, claiming her involvement in Roe v. Wade was “the biggest mistake of my life.” A strange bedfellow, so to speak. You never know.

And, non-fiction can also be transformed into fiction. Last week’s Supreme Court “coach’s prayer” opinion was a classic example. Justice Gorsuch, who knew the true facts, completely distorted them to justify the reasoning he and the other conservative justices needed to arrive at the result they wanted. Gorsuch characterized the coach’s action as “a short, private, personal prayer” when one bystander remembered more than 500 followers gathered around him at his midfield devotion.

That’s how you create fiction from a non-fiction fact pattern. Rewrite the script, apply some mental jiujitsu, and presto-zipto you’ve created a completely different story. Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter were heavyweights who went mano a mano as Court adversaries but gave us well thought out opinions. The conservative justices on this Court, are political operatives appointed to carry out a specific political agenda. Holmes, Brandeis, Frankfurter, Black, and Douglas were legal giants. This Court’s justices are just cogs in the political process. No wonder the Court’s favorability stands at 25% today.

I have to say, I learned as much about the law and how it works (or doesn’t) from To Kill a Mockingbird as I did from cases I studied in Constitutional Law. Atticus Finch explaining his actions to Scout is better than reading the Supreme Court opinions in Marbury v. Madison or Brown v. Board of Education.

And speaking of fiction, I’m looking forward to a novel about the life of a Black Supreme Court Justice. I picture him in his black robe confronting a group in white robes. It’s jam packed with affirmative action, porn, sexual harassment, pubic hair on Coke cans, and a mixed-race marriage. In spite of affirmative action and other benefits he derived from prior SCOTUS decisions, he vengefully votes to deny those benefits to others. He sulks silently on the bench for years then defies the odds, punches up, turns the tables, twists grievances into jurisprudence, violates norms, refuses to recuse, and stands by as his wife lobbies to prevent the peaceful transition of power. I can’t wait to see who writes it. Grisham? Maybe O’Reilly?

Fiction or non-fiction? We need both to be a well-rounded, educated society. I keep hoping to see the Sackler family in line at the food bank, Trump in an orange jumpsuit, and Clarence Thomas in a memory care unit, but at the moment that’s fiction. Still, the fantasy allows me to imagine a situation where fiction becomes non-fiction and I can stop worrying about the fate of democracy.

Supreme Madness…

The Supreme Court is all over the headlines these days. Last Friday was the end of its 2021 term, when the few remaining unpublished opinions of the year’s term were announced. This was unlike any other. The new 6-3 conservative majority, untethered and free-ranging, gave us a whole new playbook.

But… it’s not entirely new. Antonin Scalia, the deceased Justice, replaced by Justice Gorsuch, started the train down this track when he described his jurisprudential approach as originalism. The term had been in use since the 1980s but Scalia was the first Supreme Court Justice to embrace it. An originalist, he believed, should base each constitutional decision “on what reasonable persons living at the time of the Constitution’s adoption would have understood the ordinary meaning of the text to be.” It was a radical approach when presented and regarded as unconventional by most constitutional law scholars.

Because of its relevance, it’s worth reviewing originalism. If it’s the judicial flavor of the day, as it is for the six conservative justices, it should be noted that four of the current court’s justices – Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barret, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor – would not have originally been allowed to serve. All would have been disqualified and denied the opportunity and the vote, because none are white, male landowners – the only citizens allowed to vote when the Constitution was adopted in 1787. And, for that matter, Justice Thomas’ vote would only be worth 3/5 of the others because blacks were counted as that fraction when the Constitution was ratified. Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the US Constitution.

We know that argument is specious, but no less so than those being espoused by the new majority. Let’s get real. This is not 1787, even though Justice Alito cited a 17th century jurist, more than a dozen times in his opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and called him “a great common law authority.” ProPublica, on the other hand, reported that he is better known as the jurist who “conceived the notion that husbands can’t be prosecuted for raping their wives, who sentenced women to death as ‘witches,’ and whose misogyny stood out even in his time.”

Here, at the end of the 2021 term, we can see the new Supremes in action, and it’s probably worse than you think. Six opinions in less than ten days. Funding religious schools (Maine). Permitting the open carry of guns without restriction (New York). Denying women the right to an abortion (Mississippi). Allowing a coach to kneel in prayer at midfield following a high school football game (Washington). And overruling Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions. This is Back to the Future, A Handmaid’s Tale, and 1984 all rolled into one. A colossal setback for American legal landscape?

There is no question about the direction of the new court. Its conservative majority has thrown away the traditional playbook and introduced a new one. Overturning Roe v. Wade was foreshadowed by a leaked draft opinion that grabbed most of the headlines two months ago, but it’s only one of four important cases and is likely less significant than the others. Conservatives have a long history of criticizing “activist” judges, but the current court has usurped that label by creating new law with each of its recent decisions.

The new majority is viewing Constitutional questions outside the traditional judicial review framework and in one case (Washington) by misstating its facts in order to reach the decision it favored. (See

Separation of church and state was ignored in two of the cases, and vigilante justice upheld in the other. New rights were created in three, while one, relied on by women for 50 years, was taken away using that specious originalist approach.

How can they even think about going back to mid-century America? In 1950 misogyny, racism, segregation, and antisemitism were common. Schools were segregated. It was unlawful for men and women of different races or same-sex couples to marry. Contraception was unavailable to unmarried couples. Sodomy was criminal. Neighborhoods were red-lined to prevent people of color from buying in. Until the 1960s a woman could not open a bank account in her own name and it was 1974 before she could get a credit card without her husband’s permission.

I’ve always believed it’s good to shake things up as a way to introduce new ideas, but these are not new ideas. These are throwbacks to an earlier time. Is the court trying to recreate an earlier America? We should not be bound by 18th century notions of justice. Most legal scholars believe the Constitution is a “living” document and should be interpreted to reflect changes in and appropriate to the times.


Justice Thomas, the longest serving and most radical of the new majority, was confirmed in 1991 and voted with Scalia for 25 years. For most of those years he sat silently on the bench. In one ten year stretch he didn’t ask a single question during oral argument. It wasn’t until after Scalia’s death that he started to talk. Some court watchers think it was because he feared Scalia’s criticism?

A journalist once asked Scalia to compare his judicial philosophy to Thomas’ and his response was, “Look, I’m an originalist but I’m not a nut.” Commentators have characterized that by saying, while an originalist, Scalia felt bound by stare decisis (prior precedent). He was not untethered and free ranging. Thomas is, and recent decisions have documented his take-no-prisoners approach. Precedent be damned. All decisions are political, and it seems clear the new majority will do whatever mental jiujitsu is necessary to get where they want to go.

I’ll get to Roe v. Wade, but in the recent set of six decisions, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” was the first to fall.

Both the school funding (Maine) and coach prayer (Washington) cases were decided in favor of Christian petitioners. Would the outcomes be the same if the school had been a Jewish yeshiva or the coach had taken a prayer rug to midfield and faced Mecca? Not likely. Perhaps more significant than the result is knowing that Gorsuch’s opinion in the prayer case misstated the facts underlying the appeal. He characterized the coach’s behavior as a “short, private, personal prayer,” when in fact the coach said in 2015 that he was inspired to start holding midfield prayers after he saw an evangelical Christian movie called “Facing the Giants” and was moved to hold his “postgame ritual at midfield after each game…to help these kids be better people.”

Gorsuch stated that “He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied,” but one student recalled, “To this day, I don’t remember who we played or if we even won. … All I remember is the aftermath of that game and over 500 people storm[ing] the football field … from both sides, hopping the fences and rushing to the field to be close to Kennedy before he started his prayer.”


Originalist outcomes are impossible to predict. For 240 years Supreme Court justices weighed the interests of petitioners, looked at written statutes, established and Common Law to interpret the issues before them. They established guidelines to test and judge the constitutionality of these cases. Over time, some standards changed but so did the court’s view of the Constitution and how to apply its strictures.

The new majority, using the rubric of originalism, now claims the only rights protected by the Constitution are those specifically enumerated. Roe was overturned on that basis. According to Alito, Roe was “egregiously wrong from the start,” because there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution and no compelling federal interest to recognize. On the other hand, the public-school coach’s right to prayer was upheld even though the First Amendment states unequivocally “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

In the Trump Muslim ban case, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose [of disfavoring a particular religion],” it violates that central Establishment Clause value of official religious neutrality, there being no neutrality when the government’s ostensible object is to take sides.” Neutrality is the key in determining whether an action violates the Establishment Clause.


Of the four opinions delivered last week, the one most likely to tear us further apart is the reversal of Roe v. Wade. As Linda Greenhouse, the New York Times Supreme Court reporter says, “The did it because they could.” They’ve been laying the groundwork for 50 years and Donald Trump finally gave them the numbers. Much as I admired her, I partially blame Justice Ginsburg for this situation. She was tough as nails but terminally ill. Had she resigned and allowed President Obama appoint her successor the court would have maintained its fragile 5-4 balance.

In 1973 the court anchored its Roe v. Wade decision on the appellant’s “right to privacy,” the right to be secure from government interference in your personal life. Scholars have argued that it might have been better to have based it on the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection provisions, as it had in so many other civil rights cases. Either rationale was destined to fail in light of the current court’s determination to cancel a woman’s right to control her own reproductive life. It was part of a long-standing plan—50 years in the making. Neither right to privacy nor equal protection could have saved it.

Overturning Roe had nothing to do with jurisprudence. It was purely political—maybe even religious. The court’s majority in the Mississippi (Dobbs) case, cast it as a matter best left to the states, but within days it overturned a gun law enacted by New York State because the matter was too important to let the state to decide.

Isn’t that circular? In the abortion case, the government gets to control a woman’s reproductive choices, but can’t protect its citizens by restricting the open carry of a gun in public. Apparently, citizen safety is less important than limiting the Second Amendment rights of free-ranging gun owners.

The message is clear, guns are more important than women. It’s lawful to open-carry but unlawful for a woman to control what’s in her womb. There is a certain consistency…both decisions will result in more innocent deaths. Better to let a woman die than give her the vote, because denying her the right to choose is the same as canceling her vote. The 19th Amendment doesn’t mean much when your body is unrepresented.

Ironically, following Roe’s reversal last week, the governors of Mississippi and South Dakota were quick to show their compassion for women by claiming they plan to increase funding and enhanced services for young women–specifically education on the virtues of abstinence, adoption, and foster care. It should be noted that Mississippi is ranked #1 and South Dakota #2 as “maternity care deserts,” states in which maternity health care services are limited or absent, either through lack of services or barriers to a woman’s ability to access that care. (

OK, ladies, just cross your legs… everything will be fine. And if not, we can place your newborn in our overloaded foster-care system. At last count, the US had 117,000 children awaiting adoption and 400,000 in foster care. That’s right, half a million children were without parents during the Roe v. Wade period, when abortion was a constitutionally guaranteed right. How many more will there be now that abortion is unavailable? 

I’m no oracle, but we are in uncharted waters with the new Supreme Court. The new majority is disregarding the old ways of the court and undermining the civility and authority of the Chief Justice. It has articulated a new approach – stating in the gun rights case that the prior “means-end” test is giving way to an approach “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition.” What that portends remains to be seen.

On Friday, Justice Breyer retired and Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as his replacement.  She will join Justices Sotomayor and Kagan on the liberal side. It won’t likely change outcomes, but it will change the look and to some extent the interactions of The Nine. I’ll be watching.

Ms. 2.0…

On the 50th anniversary of Ms. magazine, the cover article of the New York Times Sunday Review was, “The Feminist Malaise: Where is the women’s movement when we need it most?” Included were three articles reflecting the movement’s diminishing vitality. Ms. captured the zeitgeist of a time now past but has been replaced by other isms – Trumpism, racism, fascism, authoritarianism and others. For years it drew our attention to “feminist” issues, but change is the only constant over time.

Today, magazine publishing is undergoing a tectonic shift. The Internet has taken its domain. Playboy is gone and Ms. is on life support. Though they were polar opposites, both lost their mojos for some of the same reasons. But even before Playboy was a historical footnote, Me Too was coming on strong, the current iteration of the “feminine mystique.” Ms. in its time, was the print platform for women seeking equity in the workplace, home, politics, military, and the arts. It created a community and gave voice to their concerns.

But time changes things. This is not 1972, and in spite of the today’s breathless churn of breaking news, I feel like I’m breathing the stale air of old ideas. Whether it’s politics, geopolitics, art, music, or science, the same names, faces, and ideas keep playing in an endless loop. Many of issues Ms.magazine highlighted are still with us. Equal pay for equal work. Parental leave. Childcare. Sexual harassment and the  “glass ceiling.”

There’s no doubt that America has made progress in some areas. My entering law school class at UC Berkeley had only four women. Last year’s class was 62% female. The same holds true for medical schools across the country. In 2019, 50.5% of all US medical students were women.

Title IX (which I wrote about recently: has given young women more opportunities in high school and college sports.

I flew military and commercial aircraft for 30 years before I saw a woman in the cockpit. For years the “old guard” argued it was too difficult for a woman. She didn’t have the strength to manhandle the controls in an emergency. It was all bullshit but look how long it took to get some kind of parity. Women are still underrepresented in aviation but they now hold 16.4% of all commercial airline pilot slots. That’s thousands of new jobs for women and the current shortage of pilots suggests that percentage will continue to grow dramatically.

Notwithstanding these changes and all the drivel about ”changing of the guard,” “passing the torch,” and “the time has come” – the old guard still dominates most spheres. We need to hit refresh to highlight new ideas, shifts in perspective, and new faces. Dylan said it best.

The line it is drawn

The curse it is cast

The slow one now

Will later be fast

As the present now

Will later be past

The order is rapidly changing

And the first one now

Will later be last

For the times they are a changin’

Times are “a changin’.  You can feel it. Women are no longer last. Of late, three Gen-X women have captured my attention. None of them is a sudden sensation. All have paid their dues. One is a writer. One an architect. And, the third is an athlete/educator. You should know them. You may not know their names, but they are changing the landscape in their chosen fields.

Ann Patchett is a writer and best known of the three, but she didn’t exactly burst on the scene in 2001 when her best-selling novel, Bel Canto, won the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction. Four years at Sarah Lawrence, two at the Iowa Writers Workshop, nine years in the trenches at Seventeen Magazine, another few at Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, O Magazine, Gourmet, and three novels, predated her “surprise” success with Bel Canto. In addition to eight novels, four works of non-fiction, and an untold number of articles, Ms. Patchett, who lives in Nashville, and owns and operates Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore with a nationwide reputation.

As in other spheres, there was a time when women authors were marginalized and felt compelled to write anonymously (Jane Austen) or with masculine pen names (George Elliot, George Sand, Isak Dinesen). Those days are mostly past. No one would label Ms. Patchett a woman’s writer, but the pejorative “chick lit” remains as jargon for stories written from a female point of view.

Despite the number of women editors, the publishing business is still primarily a men’s club. From a gender perspective, Ann Patchett is hard to categorize. She writes from a point of view that is gender neutral. Bel Canto is a thriller with both genders well represented, Dutch House is a multi-generational family drama, and the essays focus on relationships not gender.


Less well known than Ms. Patchett, but extremely influential in her field is Jeanne Gang, founder and principal of the award-winning Chicago architectural firm Studio Gang. In a skyline crowded with buildings by Mies van der Rohe, Helmut Jahn, and Louis Sullivan, Ms. Gang’s two recent skyscrapers, Aqua Tower and Residences at St. Regis have captured the imagination of critics and public alike with their remarkably creative outlines.

Aqua Tower (left) is an 87-story, mostly residential, skyscraper on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. It was completed in 2009 but was bested in 2020 when her 101-story Residences at St. Regis (right) was completed nearby. Both designs are artistically, aesthetically, and optically adventurous. For example, though the Residences at St. Regis appear to curve in and out as the three towers stretch upward, all its lines are actually straight – an optical illusion of curvature. In addition, an open story near the top of both buildings minimizes the wind effect and giant water tanks stabilize the buildings in the famous high winds of the Windy City.

In a recent interview, Scott Simon of NPR asked Ms. Gang if anyone had ever told her she couldn’t be an architect? “Well, as a matter of fact, one of my professors told me one time, ‘you know Jeanne, it’s great that you’re studying architecture, but do you think a man really wants to hire a woman to design buildings?’” But, rather than curtail her ambition he “really got me excited, to like, prove them wrong.”

Following graduation from the University of Illinois, University of Technical Studies, Zurich, and Harvard University Graduate School of Design and prior to her founding of Studio Gang in 1997, Ms. Gang spent four years in Rotterdam working with revolutionary Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, (Prada store in SoHo, Seattle Public Library).

Both of her Chicago buildings have been celebrated as “the tallest woman-designed buildings in the world.” Why is there a category such as “woman-designed buildings?” These are not feminine structures. They stand alone as statements of her genius, but Ms. Gang’s professor was on to something. Architecture is still the province of men.

Although she has been a MacArthur Fellow and garnered many other awards, she has yet to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the most prestigious in her field. It seems surprising since the Pritzker family and foundation are both headquartered in Chicago where her latest buildings dominate the skyline. Could it be the Pritzker family is wary of favoring a local architect? She is definitely not provincial, but like her fellow Chicagoan, Frank Lloyd Wright, she has chosen to locate much of her work in her hometown.

Despite the Pritzker oversight, another of Studio Gang’s innovative designs is the perfect lead-in for my third profile. The Canal Street Boathouse on the Chicago River is an environmentally conscious award-winning design combining an eye-catching sculptured roof with the functional use of recycled materials directing repurposed storm water to create a home for year-round youth rowing clubs.

The boathouse’s roof drainage elements and site design together function as its stormwater management system, diverting 100 percent of runoff from the sewer. Green infrastructure—porous concrete and asphalt, native plantings, gravel beds, and bioswales (rain gardens)—is used to store and filter runoff before slowly releasing this filtered water back into the river. Existing habitats were maintained and strengthened with a mix of native grass, plants, and trees, and silt fabric prevented compaction and erosion during construction. These efforts serve as a model for softening the river’s edge, supporting its ongoing revitalization.

The Canal Street Boathouse is the perfect segue to my third profile, Julie McCleery, PhD.. Julie was a collegiate and post-collegiate rower before she became a university professor. She also coached for the US National Rowing Team and the Pocock Rowing Center in Seattle. Her educational quest took her from Georgetown (B.A.) to Harvard (M.Ed.) and the University of Washington (PhD.), and on the way, she taught high school, worked for an educational non-profit, and had her own educational consulting practice. She currently serves as Director of Research-Practice Partnerships for the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership in Athletics, where she teaches courses such as Coaching Philosophy and Pedagogy and  Sports Coach as Leader. Her research focuses on practices of highly effective coaches and youth sports

In the interest of full disclosure, she is also a friend. We met when we were both working at the Alliance for Education, a non-profit that supports and fosters change in Seattle Public Schools. I remember how smart and dedicated she was, but the thing I remember most is that before her long workday at the Alliance, she was coaching rowing at 5:30 a.m. every morning, rain or shine, on Lake Washington – working with athletes training for the US National Team. Just a few years previous, she had been on the US team and trained for the 2000 Olympic trials. She and her rowing partner did not make that team, but she accepted the disappointment and moved seamlessly onto coaching other aspiring athletes.


Is there a “glass ceiling?” Of course, there is. How else can we explain why only 8.2% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs or why America has never had a woman president? We are not alone, but we are in the minority among developed countries. In the last 70 years these women have served as heads of state: Golda Meir – Israel (1969). Margaret Thatcher – UK (1979). Indira Gandhi – India (1980). Angela Merkel – Germany (2005). Benazir Bhutto – Pakistan (1988). Yes, even Pakistan has had a woman chief executive.

I’ve chosen these three women to profile for the next generation of leaders. All three are women in their 50s, and all three are at the top of their game – building, writing, educating and coaching. The question always surfaces…can you have it all? I don’t know the answer. All three are married. Two of the three have opted for lives without children. Patchett has spoken about it as a conscious choice. Julie has three of her own and has made it work though I know it hasn’t been easy. Does she have it all? It seems so, but that’s from my vantage point on the outside. 

I chose to highlight these women as successful examples of their generation – not just because they’re women – but for their successes. I’ve read and admired much of Ms. Patchett’s fiction and non-fiction. I’m in awe of Ms. Gang’s futuristic, environmentally sound architecture, and I admire Ms. McCleery’s in the trenches work with teachers, coaches, and students.

When I was young, I wanted big change NOW! It took years for me to accept the snail’s pace of incremental change. Slow and steady made sense, but as Dylan says, The times they are a changin’ and the tech revolution has accelerated that change. Maybe we need to shift our thinking to a new model. We should venerate those that have inspired us but look to new leaders, like these three, for fresh ideas and approaches to today’s problems. It’s time to hit “refresh.”

It should be noted that all three of the women profiled have chosen to live and work in their hometowns, not the biggest or most upwardly mobile urban centers in the country. Ann Patchett moved to Nashville when she was 6 years-old and stayed. Jeanne Gang was born in Belleville, Illinois, attended the University of Illinois and headquartered her business in Chicago. And for 35 years, Julie McCleery has lived and worked in Seattle where she rowed, studied, taught, coached, and raised her three boys. These are women who remind us that if you know who you are you don’t need New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco to be influential. Fresh ideas can come from anywhere. This is what Ms. 2.0 looks like.

Postscript: This essay is dedicated to Nora Ephron (1941-2012), a transitional figure who overlapped Ms 1.0 and 2.0. but died much too soon. A terrific new biography, by Kristin Marguerite Doidge titled simply Nora Ephron was released earlier this month.


When M and I were working in Saigon, we lived in a tidy minimalist apartment. Three rooms, tile floors, built in appliances, TV console, small sectional, kitchen table, bed and writing table. It was uncluttered, and we loved it. So it was a shock to come back to Seattle, open the door to our condo and confront the overwhelming amount of stuff inside. Rugs on top of rugs. Walls full of books. Art on every surface. Closets full of shirts, suits, jackets, sweaters, shoes, linens, blankets, luggage. Two televisions. Two computers. Two desks. Two chests. Three sofas. Tables. Chairs. Filing cabinets. And a storage locker in the basement. Contrast raises your consciousness.

It’s probably stage-of-life related, but today we find ourselves whipsawed by the stuff of our lives–the decades worth of accumulation. Now, approaching our respective expiration dates, we’re aware of the accumulation and what it means.  It’s part of the wrap up. Who gets what, or better yet, who wants what? It’s going somewhere, maybe family, maybe the Goodwill

We’re not collectors or connoisseurs but we love the art, ceramics, books, rugs, and furniture we’ve collected. I could easily pitch the six fake Rolex’s I bought in Asia (though they all still keep time), but it will be hard to let go of the Toko Shinoda print I bought at Yoseido Gallery in Tokyo, the Persian rugs we bought from our friend, Ahmad, or the Raku platter I watched Jim Romberg “throw” in Sun Valley.

HBO’s recent release of a 2-part biopic on George Carlin brought it all back and triggered a tipping point in “stuff” awareness. Carlin first brought stuff to our attention in 1981 with an album called A Place for My Stuff, and though George and his stuff are gone (he died in 2007), his art lives on and so does his riff .

Carlin’s hilarious improvisation also reminds me that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” How else to respond to the sudden appearance of NFT’s (non-fungible tokens), a one-of-a-kind digital asset. I can’t wrap my head around a digital picture worth $1,000,000. It’s not a painting or a photograph but it may be a picture of a painting or photograph. My trash. His treasure. It seems to me, NFTs are for people with too much money and not enough imagination.

But stuff is always loitering in our consciousness. Designers and efficiency experts keep reminding us to tidy up, clean house, or just get rid of the junk we’ve stashed in the basement, closet, under the bed, or in the attic.

I’m not talking about demented hoarders who can’t get rid of anything and need to create aisleways in their homes to get from room to room. That’s a sickness. I’m talking about ordinary people—about you and me–and our accumulated stuff. Nor am I talking about Marie Kondo who hit the scene in 2014 with her OCD tidiness blitz that had America tossing everything from family heirlooms to second frying pans so they could live minimally. For her and her followers, it was all about “decluttering.” 

Hoarders and Marie Kondo aside, others have also weighed in. The writer, Ann Patchett,  joined the parade in 2017 with an essay called My Year of No Shopping (included in her recent essay collection – These Precious Days). She recalls how a friend inspired her to go through her house to rid herself of the things she didn’t use, want, or need but had accumulated over the years – dishes, mismatched goblets, dolls from her childhood, broken pottery, etc. – cart them down to the basement and ask friends to come over to see if they wanted anything before taking them to the thrift store. It’s a good essay and a plan of action that might work for all of us.

It’s a given that stuff can trigger a passionate attachment. I’m that way about a few possessions, but nothing of great value. On the other hand, I have friends with collections full-size merry-go-round horses, silver inlay snuff bottles, soft-paste porcelain, and Madame Alexander dolls, collections of great value but whose children have no interest in inheriting them. They’ll undoubtedly be sold at auction, but the parents will be disappointed that their years of collecting stir no feelings of attachment in their children.

Our relationship and feelings about things change – obviously – over time. In my own case, when my former wife and I were first married and living a hippie life in Mill Valley, she inherited a set of Baccarat crystal stemware – wine, water, and sherry glasses – from a great aunt. Mary Alice’s crystal was etched with a flower pattern, so fine, so thin, and so beautiful it took your breath away. They belonged in an elegant brownstone, but we lived in a one room “apartment” under a crooked old Mill Valley house with a mattress on the floor, two beanbag chairs, and a hollow core door made into a desk/dining table. The Baccarat was museum quality, but we weren’t. Slowly, over a year the glasses cracked and shattered. First the sherry. Then the wine. Then the water – because they were the least used. It was almost criminal, but we were just becoming adults.

Things change. Attitudes change. Attachments change. We grow older, until we’re truly old. Soon, M and I will dig in and pare down. We’ve started a list of who gets what but were still in the planning stage. We may have one more move. I don’t even like to think about it, but if it happens it will be another downsize. And it will be the last stage of “decluttering” two complicated lives. We came into this world with nothing, and we’ll leave a little ash when we go. Zen Buddhism believes that attachment is a source of suffering. I can’t say I’ve ever suffered in that way though I’ve had plenty of attachments to people, experiences, and even material things. But I’m happy to let them go when I go, to pass them on to someone who might enjoy them as much as I do.

Here’s to George Carlin (RIP), Ann Patchett, Aunt Mary Alice (sorry about the Baccarat), and Marie Kondo, all of whom helped me think of my stuff and what it means in the scheme of things.