“We’re at Critical Mass”—West Virginia Teachers Love Their Jobs, But Say They Can’t Stay

Note: I am a substitute teacher who works part-time in Monongalia and Preston counties. I am also writing a book about the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. This book will look at our culture and the state of failing education—and examine what contributes to such tragedies, while exploring how we can stop them.

* * *

In spite of the fact that West Virginia teachers are at the bottom of the barrel—their salaries rank 48th out of 50 states—the two-day, #55strong walkout was never about money.

Nor is it a strike. “This work action did not originate on the basis of salary. There are many issues,” Cassandra Sisler, president of the Preston County Education Association (PCEA), said. “It’s a work action because it’s only two days. Strikes are illegal.”

Whatever you call it, at the heart of the matter, the real reason West Virginia teachers stood outside being battered by yesterday’s rain is because they care about your children. After interviewing Preston County teachers, I’ve summed up five reasons every public school in the state remains closed today.

Teachers want:

1) Classrooms staffed by educators who are qualified and experienced, so students can learn the skills they need to enter the workforce and compete on the world scene;
2) Consistency and continuity, so children will feel secure, which creates a better environment in which to learn;
3) To feel like their efforts to help shape these young minds are valued, which they say will be reflected when government leaders stop PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency) premiums from rising, and prevent benefits from being slashed;
4) To keep those same politicians from interfering with union dues;
5) And finally, since they felt forced to abandon their classrooms to protest the broken promises of legislators, they want more money.

Let’s look at these issues one by one, beginning with the problem of keeping qualified, experienced teachers in the classroom.

1.
The Legislature wants to “RIF or transfer older teachers, which takes the value out of experience,” Sisler, who teaches fourth grade at West Preston Elementary said. “Because . . . seniority really . . . is experience, and I can’t think of any other profession where experience is not valued.”

RIF stands for reduction in force. Currently, teachers are riffed (transferred) or laid off based on seniority. “When transfers or cutbacks happen, administrators must begin with the newest, least qualified teachers,” Sisler said. But a bill legislators are looking at this session would eliminate seniority, making older, more experienced teachers eligible for transfer, or layoffs.

The students will be the losers in this equation, she added. “This affects students by taking experience out of the classroom. Who wants to have uncertified teachers, especially in high school math or science classes, and (while) being prepared for college?”

Removing seniority will cause other problems. “This lets them take one teacher with lot of certifications, like Brian (Bailey), who might make $50,000, and get rid of him,” Jenkins, a Spanish teacher at Preston High School said. “Then they hire two teachers at $25,000 each.”

While the bill has been tabled “for now. . . we want it gone. We want to see that go (away), because it removes any job security we have,” Jenkins added. “It also gives struggling schools a way to balance the budget.”

In other words, a school that is failing financially might look at getting rid of a more experienced teacher as a solution to money woes. Which leads us to the second reason teachers walked out.

2.
When teachers in border counties like Preston and Monongalia cross state lines for better benefits and pay, West Virginia’s children are the clear losers. Why? Because fleeing teachers removes consistency and continuity from the classroom.

It is a fact that insecurity makes for a poor learning environment, meaning insecure children struggle to learn as well as their more stable peers do. When kids are stressed about getting to know yet another new classroom teacher, this diminishes the energy they should spend on learning. The same holds true of children in classrooms where the teachers aren’t qualified to teach. In fact, many substitute teachers who enter West Virginia classrooms each day lack an educational degree, or even the required certification, to teach topics such as science or special education.

“We have 700 jobs in this state right now that are . . . unfilled, because we don’t have certified people to do them because they’re going elsewhere,” Brian Bailey, who taught special education for 21 years, said.

In part, the large number of open positions is due to not having competitive pay and now, as Sisler said, “not having great benefits, either.” There’s another problem: legislators are currently trying “to loosen the requirements for teaching qualifications, to where anybody could teach.” While this will “also impact students . . It’s almost treating us as a pseudo-profession,” she added.

Educators are among the most highly trained professionals in society. “In addition to taking classes on subject matter, we take a lot of classes on child development and how to teach,” Sisler said. “So to say that just anybody can walk into the classroom to teach, it’s really a slap in the face. Especially when you look into the field of special education, because that’s a very specialized field.”

The emotional cost of inconsistency is also taking a toll on students. Jenkins has seen this repeatedly. She, like her fellow educators, has seen classrooms with three or four teachers over the course of a year. When those teachers leave, to take better jobs elsewhere, students suffer.

“The kids really do feel abandoned by that, especially in the smaller schools when they get really close to those teachers and that teacher isn’t going to be there next year,” Jenkins said. “I’ve seen tears at the end of the school year over stuff like that and I feel terrible for the kids.”

Substitute teachers have a learning curve that’s difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. One reason is because regular classroom teachers have built-in times for long-term planning. As an example, “math teachers sit down and figure out where are we deficient and (so on, but) if you have a new sub every year, they don’t get to participate in that planning,” Jenkins said. “So even if they are qualified, they don’t necessarily have a roadmap for where they’re trying to (go).”

And the problem of teaching without a roadmap is only exacerbated when teachers are unqualified.

“If you have multiple subs in multiple areas (of academics), you have a consistency issue. That’s a problem, especially if the sub is not well versed in the content area they’re filling in for,” Bailey said.

Because regular teachers know a sub is rarely trained for a specific class he’s teaching on any given day, other teachers will step in and try to help. It’s a common occurrence for teachers to drop by classrooms before, or even during class, and offer advice or assistance to sub teachers. They also warn students, who are known for giving subs a hard time, about the need to behave.

While this is helpful, it isn’t as productive as having a qualified teacher there. “A few years ago, in one elementary school class, there was a new sub every couple of weeks. So in first grade, (where) you’re focusing on developing reading skills a lot and consistency in social behavior . . . with that kind of inconsistency, that . . . doesn’t happen,” Bailey said. “So you have all that development at that age, and it puts them behind.”

This inconsistency is one matter teachers have learned to live with—even though they don’t like it. But when it comes to paying costly health care premiums, their collective foots are squarely on the picket line.

3.
When teachers see their PEIA premiums increase from $261 to $571 a month and their deductibles rise from $250 to $1300 a year, all while their medical benefits are slashed, they say they don’t feel valued. A state entity, PEIA manages the health care needs of all public employees—including West Virginia State Police and West Virginia Department of Highway workers.

“It’s the worst insurance around,” one state employee who is not a teacher told me.

Proposed changes by legislators have frozen PEIA for now. Still, Sisler said this doesn’t provide “a permanent fix, so that would just push things off for a year to a non-election year for our delegates.”

Just how bad is it? The above example showing premiums and deductibles is what Sisler said her family would personally pay—if state lawmakers hadn’t frozen PEIA. “So when they say (our) insurance is increasing, that’s not a clear picture as to what this means,” she added.

Currently, public employees in West Virginia have no say in selecting their health care insurer. “That’s set by the legislature and finance board,” Bailey said, “which currently has no employees on it. It’s all businessmen running PEIA. There used to be public employees on the board, but no longer.”

So the public sector is not represented, leaving teachers and other state workers without a voice.

It’s such a big problem that many Preston County teachers said they will only be satisfied once legislators “quit making us jump through all these hoops that no one else has to jump through, to keep our premium down,” Bailey said.

“They have got to fix and fund PEIA for the public employees,” retired teacher Janice Hirst said. “They cannot keep balancing the budget on the backs of the employees. Every year the premium goes up, the benefit goes down. We just can’t continue to do this.”

Hirst, who taught third grade for 42 years, said lawmakers have “been doing this my entire career.”

On top of the PEIA problem, teachers want to keep politicians from interfering with their labor unions—which they say is a real threat.

4.
Teachers say the “payroll protection act” (SB 335) now winding its way though the Legislature is a misnomer. Instead, it will attack teacher unions like the West Virginia Educational Association (WVEA) and American Federation for Teachers (AFT-West Virginia).

“The (AFT) refers to it as the ‘payroll deception act’ because that’s more accurate,” Sisler. “What that says is that as an adult, I can’t sign a paper and have my union dues taken out of my paycheck. Currently I can sign up and my union dues are split throughout the year; the bill they have proposed has eliminated that right.”

Sisler says the idea is ridiculous. “They’re saying that they’re protecting my paycheck but I’m an adult. I can sign a 30-year mortgage but they don’t think I can sign to have my dues taken out of my paycheck.”

Unions are taking a hit, Sisler said, because lawmakers have also proposed that union presidents not receive any state retirement benefits while serving as president. “Currently, our union presidents are not paid by the state. They’re paid by the union. They receive the (same) salary they would be making (as teachers while) taking a leave of absence from their position. So they’re not making tons of money.”

Speaking of money, few teachers I interviewed even brought up the topic of wanting more. If they did, it was after airing the above laundry list of items they want fixed first.

5.
However, when they did mention money, it was to say that legislators have failed to keep their promise to give teachers more of it. As a result, West Virginia teachers simply can’t compete—not when teachers across state lines earn twice as much.

Someone from Albert Gallatin School District stopped to talk to West Preston teachers yesterday. There, Sisler said, that school board member told a local teacher who is earning $40,000 a year here that she would make $80,000 there.

Being a border county means teachers don’t have to sell their homes or even relocate. They can just drive to Pennsylvania and Maryland for twice the salary.

“They do it all the time,” Sisler said. “So what we’re asking is for a plan to make our pay competitive. A few years ago they promised us that by 2019 the starting salary would be . . . $43,000, but nothing’s happened since that promise. They’ve been talking for years and have not taken any action to live up to their promises.”

Unlike the two-percent offered by legislators Wednesday night, Sisler said teachers want a five-percent pay increase the first year. They also want a plan for the following years of how to make West Virginia more competitive with (other) states.”

Is that unreasonable? Given what Hirst and other teachers shared, it doesn’t sound like it. Hirst’s son is also a teacher. He’s been teaching 10 years, has his master’s degree, plus 42 hours of additional certification. But, she said, “his take-home pay is so little he can’t support his family.”

State officials say the average teacher here earns $45,622. When the national average is $58,353, that amount pales in comparison. But most West Virginia teachers, very experienced, certified teachers, don’t make anywhere near $45,622.

Excluding Bailey and Hirst.

Still, even with a master’s degree, 70-plus additional graduate hours, and 42 years in the school system, Hirst only made $58,000 a year when she retired.

Bailey also makes more than the state average—and has the student loan debt to prove it. “I have a master’s degree plus 45 hours, and 24 years experience.” He makes $51,000 a year, and has “enough (hours) for a master’s plus 60, but (I’m) tapped out unless I want to go get my PhD, which financially is not worth it.”

What would a master’s give him? “About $500 more (a month),” he said. And more student debt.

Even with 10 years as a teacher, Sisler, who is “one class shy of my master’s . . . is only making $38,000.”

Making salaries more competitive would also help with the consistency problem. “We have more than enough people graduating college to fill those (700 unfilled) positions, but they see they can make more money elsewhere,” Sisler said. “Every year when I was attending college, other states would come in and they would recruit from the college.”

And new college graduates were swayed, she added, since those states offered such perks as sign-on bonuses and reimbursement for moving expenses.

Several teachers offered solutions for how to increase salaries. This year, proposed bills will put even more money into charter schools, home school vouchers, and education savings accounts. “Those things pull money from the public education funding,” Sisler said.

I covered the 1990 teacher’s strike. Not every county took part, but 47 of 55 did, and it resulted in many teachers losing their jobs. However, like Tucker County, which fired all its teachers, they were soon rehired. (UPDATE: Several teachers said this happened in Tucker County, but then-vice president of the TCEA said Tucker teachers were not fired.) Why? Because, as teachers here are fond of saying, “they can’t find anybody to take our jobs.” This constant refrain is sometimes said with a laugh, other times in anger. What’s obvious, though, is that 30 years later, with only one pay raise since then, they are tired of the status quo. Which is why, more and more, that refrain comes with a weary expression of resignation.

“It’s really reaching the point that we’re at critical mass,” Hirst said, “with particularly young educators, that they can’t continue to stay here in West Virginia, even though they love the state, and love their jobs.”

* * * * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Reflections about ‘This Is Us’ on Super Bowl Sunday

I imagine the number of people watching This Is Us after tonight’s Super Bowl LII will be record breaking.

I will be among them.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

In fact, I specifically hooked up by cable box today for just that reason. Not because I want to see Jack Pearson die, though. Because personally, I’d love it if we were treated to a Bobby Ewing moment and another shower scene like the one in Dallas, where we learn the entire previous season was but a bad dream.

No, I want to see tonight’s epic show because I love, love, love This Is Us. It’s the only show I’ve watched faithfully (binging a few episodes here and there as I have time) since I saw the first episode in 2016.

And because the crock-pot fire that left us all dangling at the edge of a mountaintop is one of the best cliffhangers in TV history. (Second only to the Dallas shower scene.) And I’m a sucker for cliffhangers.

I also love good writing, and This Is Us offers some of the best and most realistic writing on TV. Coming from a family where addiction has reigned supreme for decades, where alcoholism was my father’s best friend, and where losing someone you love is more the norm than not, I can relate to Jack. To Rebecca. To each of their children.

The writing is poignant and powerful, and seamless. Living in West Virginia, where we lead the nation in fatal overdoses, whether from narcotic painkillers (opioids) or Heroin(e) or fentanyl, I’m no stranger to the emotional fallout from such loss. Neither are any of my friends and neighbors.

The writers have captured all the raw emotions: in Kevin’s battle with addiction and recovery, and with Kate’s, too. As well as in Randall’s fight with perfectionism and anxiety—problems which distort the lives of so many ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics).

Equally important, though, is how the show’s writers have traced the non-linear path of the adult Pearson children’s addictions. They have shown us that losing a parent is a difficult trauma to recover from. We carry those scars the rest of our lives. The wounds may eventually fade, but they forever mark us as different. Our lives are permanently delineated: before and after.

Loss changes us. Losing someone like a father, a sister, or a daughter does this irreversibly. For the last year, I’ve followed the travails of the Pearson family as I’ve lived through some of my own. Watching Jack and Rebecca’s touching love story, as triplets Kate, Kevin and Randall work through their heartache, has helped me to cope with my own losses.

Death cannot be undone. We cannot go back in time and begin exercising, or eating nutritious food, or being more moderate in all things, so our kidneys don’t give out from diabetes, or our hearts from cardiovascular disease. We can only start with today and change our habits now, in this moment.

Neither can we undo the damage we caused someone we love once they’re gone forever. Kevin confronted that during his recovery, and suffered immensely for it. For opting not to talk to his father on the phone the night of the fire. To make amends, to apologize for sharp words and cold actions.

Most of us would do things different, if we had the chance. Wouldn’t we? We wouldn’t be so quick to anger, so easy to offend, so determined to nurse a grudge. Not if we knew the true and irrevocable cost. Our vision would be less farsighted. We would see that most perceived wrongs are not personal affronts. It isn’t, in other words, all about us.

This Is Us has also given us a storyline where multiple births, adoption, and a biracial family is the norm—not the exception. In all these things and more, it teaches us important life lessons about love and tolerance and forgiveness—whether the person in need of forgiving shares our bed, our genes, or our history. Even if the person is the same one staring back at us from our bathroom mirror.

It offers us a look at what tragedy, triumph, and heartache look like, all torn from the pages of real life. People like you and me, who experience all these things.

Like me. After no word from her in more than a year, my missing daughter emailed me one month ago. I still don’t know where she is, but it was a relief just to learn she is alive. But that is all I know, for her email told me nothing other than that.

As my own story plays out, I find solace in knowing that I’m not alone. Other people have survived worse, and they’re still standing. Just like the Pearsons will, after Jack dies.

Loss can change us—but it doesn’t have to define us.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Hello 2018—Let’s Turn That Whisper Into a Shout!

As we bid the last 365 days goodbye, I keep thinking that 2017 reads like one gigantic, above-the-fold headline, complete with a star-studded Hollywood cast. One woman after another—Taylor Swift, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, and Salma Hayek, to name a few—boldly stepped onto a very different red carpet, under an intense glare of media scrutiny.

This is not fake news.

People are calling what happened in 2017 a “watershed moment,” where cataclysmic events collide, creating a point of no return. If so, then we can only hope that trend continues in 2018.

Women have been accusing men of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault for centuries. The past few decades have seen an increasingly vocal number of such complaints. But for the most part, women have done what they usually do: suffer in silence.

But last year a slew of prominent and powerful women raised their voices in a cacophony, admitting to having been victimized in just this way. Is this why society as a whole has begun listening, and is more outraged than normal? Or is it because the highest position in the land is held by a man who has not just been accused of such criminal conduct—but who has minimized his own sexual assaults?

I imagine it’s a bit of both. Women are fed up with being forced to live like this, as if any vulgar man who wants to can fondle them at will—and then fire them when they report the bad behavior to their superiors. So it is that powerful Hollywood women have set an example for the unknowns in this battle, women who have silently carried their shame, but who have been no less abused by the Senator Roy Moores of this pandemic.

And we are done holding our collective tongues.

We, each one of us, I believe, have such a story to tell. At least one—if not more. This is why: recently I was one of three women who randomly met and began discussing the one in three statistic put forth by the World Health Organization. Less than three minutes later, we had established that all three of us—100-percent—had been victims of sexual assault.

That wasn’t the first time this has happened. I feel like I’m trapped in Groundhog Day, where I’m forced to repeat the same conversation, again and again. As a result, from the years of professional and personal research I’ve conducted, I believe it happens to one in two women, if not every woman.

And we are tired of the status quo. Frustrated about waiting for someone else to help us, or stand up for us. So we’re taking matters into our own hands, and naming names. And that may be the only action that matters, when you see powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer step down from long-held positions of prestige and power.

Such serious repercussions tell me that this watershed moment is here to stay. So, in keeping with these feisty, female silence breakers, I’d like to do the same. #MeToo.

Readers of this column and my news reporting know I’ve been speaking out about sexual violence against women since 1988—30 years. In 1990, I broke my own silence when writing about my personal experience as a victim of sexual abuse (albeit quite subtly) in Vintage Berry Wine, my then-weekly newspaper column in the Preston County Journal.

And in 2011, my first memoir was published. It was titled, appropriately, Sister of Silence. SOS is about the traumatic effects of keeping such sexual violence a secret. The fact that students from Johns Hopkins University to UC Berkeley have heard of it tells me that we want—indeed, need—to hear from other women like ourselves.

I’ve not been silent since then—with one notable exception.

In January 1998, six months after moving 3,000 miles to take a job as a news reporter with The Tracy Press, a little daily in San Joaquin County, California, I was fired. The events leading up to the loss of my job were so minor, in comparison to what many women have endured, that it barely deserves a footnote in this watershed moment of history.

But throughout 2017, as I’ve listened to the voice of one feminist after another, I’ve returned to that unsettling time. And for me to continue speaking out on behalf of other women, I know I must now break my own 20-year silence.

Jon Peters, then-managing editor, hired me in August 1997. I quickly earned a reputation as a hard-working, fearless reporter who went the extra mile for every article I wrote, and who willingly drove to nearby crime-ridden Stockton to investigate a gang story I’d been assigned. Not once during that time did anyone at the paper tell me I was doing a bad job. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So when Peters called me into his office and fired me, I knew. I immediately knew what had happened: Paul “Spud” Hilton, the city editor, enjoyed telling off-color, crude jokes in the newsroom, in front of female staffers. The three other women and I discussed it during our regular jaunts to a nearby coffee shop. We didn’t know what to do about it; we just knew were growing weary of Hilton’s antics.

The final straw was the day he called one of my colleagues a “breeder,” in a negative tone of voice, in front of the entire newsroom. (According to Wikipedia, that word is often used “with the derisive implication that they have too many offspring.”) She was hurt and offended, as was I, on her behalf. So I went to Peters and simply asked him to speak to Hilton about his inappropriate behavior.

I lost my job shortly after that.

Peters and Hilton had the blessing of the Matthews family, who owned the newspaper. And as much as I respected then-publisher Sam Matthews, my respect all but evaporated as events played out. Because, being an investigative reporter, I did what I was accustomed to doing on the job: I turned on my tape recorder, and after collecting enough evidence to prove my termination was illegal, I hired an attorney. The Matthews family fought back with their all-male team of high-powered San Francisco attorneys.

Not once did they willingly admit that Hilton, a fellow with a penchant for denigrating women, was the problem.

As a woman, I’ve engaged in my own whisper network, just like the female Hollywood stars who warned up-and-coming actors of predators like media mogul Weinstein. My hope for 2018 is that the momentum from the 2017 watershed continues to empower my women everywhere.

That it helps every single man to understand that we have a right to be treated with nothing less than respect and dignity. That our bodies our ours, and you better keep your hands off.

That can happen, if the whisper turns into a shout.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

A Wheelchair for John

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One month later, John has a new set of wheels. The motorized wheelchair, a gift from a local woman who knows exactly how essential such a chair is, has given John back his freedom.

I met John four weeks ago on a snowy Sunday, at the intersection of Route 119 and the Exit 1 off-ramp for Interstate 68. Mine was the second car to stop at the traffic light, which had turned red. That position placed me right beside a man in a wheelchair, asking for donations. When I saw he had a disability—one which could cow even the strongest of individuals—my heart went out to him.

John, you see, has no legs, and only one arm. But he has a smile that will melt your heart, and not one ounce of self-pity.

I couldn’t drive away without giving him something. Without any cash, I offered him the only thing in my car worth having: a leftover cinnamon roll from a nearby Cinnabon. We introduced ourselves and John gratefully accepted my meager gift. But as I reached out the window to hand him the boxed dessert, John dropped it. I watched as he tried using his club hand to pick it up, insisting he could do it.

He couldn’t. Torn between heartbreak and not wanting him to feel helpless, I finally opened my car door. Before I could get out, though, the driver in front of me ran toward us. He picked up the box, and then handed John some cash.

During that brief minute or two, I asked John if he received help from our local social services. That’s how I learned he needed a new wheelchair. His electric chair broke, and he was using a manual one that he could barely maneuver on his own.

When the light turned green I drove away, in my warm, dry car. Wearing nice clothes, my belly full. All I could think of was how cold and snowy it was, how light John’s clothing was, and how much he struggled to accomplish such a simple task. A task that, for most of us, would be as mindless as taking our next breath.

I wanted to reach out to other people, to tell them about John’s plight. Before I even changed out of my dress clothes, I posted John’s story on Facebook. “So, since this is supposed to be the season for giving, if you can, please do. After all, it’s Sunday. And it’s really cold outside,” I posted.

Within minutes, several people commented. They wanted to know if he was homeless. Another woman from Clarksburg, about 45 minutes away, was ready to drive here with a wheelchair for John. The only problem was, it was a manual chair, too. By the time we figured that out, I had driven back to the intersection, where I learned that John wasn’t homeless. In fact, he just obtained housing. I took his phone number and promised to help him find a working electric wheelchair.

That happened today, when Tammy Belldina from Rainbow Tire, over in Preston County, finally met John, when she gave him his “new” electric chair. This chair, however, isn’t just another mode of transportation. It’s John’s legs.

Tammy and I, fellow Prestonians, have been working together for weeks now, trying to make this happen. Tammy has a heart as big as Texas. Which is why she insisted on buying a new $200 battery for the chair—so John wouldn’t have to. (Most of us wouldn’t know how expensive such equipment is; Tammy told me these chairs can cost $5,000 or more.)

Along the way, we’ve both gotten to John better. I learned that he knows how to, and can even drive, a vehicle. In the past, he’s held down various jobs. One year ago, though, his other arm was amputated due to blood clots—the same thing that happened to both his legs. I can’t go into details, but John has what seems like a good medical malpractice case, and I hope we can find a good attorney for him.

Meanwhile, Tammy suggested we begin a fundraiser of sorts. That fundraiser begins right now. John supports his family of three (including his daughter) on less money per month than I live on myself. We’re asking you to send him checks or even gift cards that will help him purchase some essentials for his family.

Tammy has a special request. “Let’s make sure that little girl gets some Christmas presents, and John has some warm clothes to wear,” she said.

I’m personally asking you to help John because, for the last month, he’s helped me. He’s given me a reason to focus on someone other than myself and my own problems. Problems that include the death of a spouse and a lost daughter. After a year away from my typewriter, I’m 5,000 words into the trilogy that began with Sister of Silence.

Jesus Christ was right: there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. Helping John has helped me. Plus, as Steve Maraboli says, “a kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” Who knew, that in giving a stranger some leftover food, I would be the one who was healed?

If you can spare a few dollars to help, I will be indebted to you. Please send any donations to: “Daleen Berry, in care of Friends of John,” Citizens Bank, 265 High Street, Morgantown, WV 26508. I will personally see that John gets every penny, and acknowledges your gift.

After all, ‘tis the season.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

TV Shoots: All in a Day’s Work

Television shoots aren’t what you think. I enjoy doing them, because they’re about books—and anything to do with reading is sexy, right? But they are far from glamorous.

I can’t recall how many I’ve done now—for Dateline, 48 Hours, 20/20, Dr. Phil, CrimeWatch, ID Discovery—but they are all remarkably similar. Behind the scenes I sit, cell phone off, waiting for the cameraman (so far, they have all been men) to adjust the lighting, the background, and me. My mic, clipped to my shirt collar or jacket lapel, my hair, and my glasses, which usually come off, due to the glare on my lenses.

In short, TV shoots consist of long moments of conversation punctuated by short bursts of touch-up sessions, to powder my shiny nose. Or fix my flyaway, baby-fine hair. When this happens, the producer sitting across from me (so far, all women save one) will ask for clarification about a question I’ve answered, or I will provide a detail about the story that she hasn’t yet asked me. Just in case she doesn’t.

I do my homework so I’ll be prepared, having reviewed dates and timelines for that particular story, because when you’ve written several books, you can’t risk confusing a salient detail from one book with another. This is crucial, because sometimes the producer or show’s writer isn’t prepared.

That happened in Colorado in September 2015, forcing me to repeatedly correct the TV crew. These weren’t small errors, either; they had the potential to create a liability for the network. Thank goodness that was the only time I had such a dreadful experience, and worried that my book might be misrepresented on national television. Trust me, no author wants that.

The most recent TV shoot took place in Annapolis, Maryland, near the harbor, which was filled with sailboats and larger craft. I had sat on the deck at Pusser’s Caribbean Grille the night before, eating dinner and watching the sunset. The next morning, I walked around town, sightseeing, then dressed and did my makeup. More made up than usual, since the bright lights from TV cameras would wash me out if I didn’t.

Alex Haley and family in bronze

They sent a limousine service to collect me, which was one of the highlights of my day. Not because I didn’t have to drive myself, although that was certainly nice, but because it was interesting. As I chatted with the driver, I learned that he was in Boca Raton, Florida, last year while I was working a few miles away in Pompano Beach. I also learned about his business, and why his 18-year-old son will soon triple his father’s income.

By and large, it’s the people I meet who make these TV shoots most enjoyable. A cameraman named Brian, who knew my book as well as I did. Now that’s impressive! A freelance producer who changed her career track from attorney to TV, because practicing law can be downright depressing these days. Oh, and then there’s the nonprofit she runs for disadvantaged youth, which is her first love.

U.S. Naval Academy

One of the most colorful producers I met, bruised and battered from her long days behind the scenes, worked in Los Angeles, California. There, she prepped guests and helped them ward off potential meltdowns, panic attacks or, worse yet, physical fights with each another. I later heard she gave it all up for the love of her horses, and the love of a man. Now that’s romance worthy of a TV show.

I forgot to take along a jacket for this last shoot, so while the temperatures outside hovered in the high 80s, we felt like we were inside a meat locker. The room was so frigid we stopped periodically, just to go outside and warm up. That and hot coffee kept my teeth from chattering, something that would have given the sound guy grey hair, I’m sure.

Speaking of sound, when the Dateline producers, two elegant, intelligent New York City women, came to town, they turned a vacant storefront in the Mountaineer Mall into a TV studio. But during the on-camera interview, loud pounding next door forced us to stop repeatedly, causing the producer to repeat entire questions. Every time we began speaking, so did the pounding, like a metronome in perfect time to our interview. After several minutes, the producer had to ask management to quiet things down. Otherwise, we would never have wrapped up.

The same thing happened in Annapolis. Except this time, the noise was from a hotel cart rolling by, right outside our door. And then there was the family with several boisterous children. They exited the pool to wait for the rest of their group, before leaving. Finally, we had a quiet space to continue the interview.


Being on set is fun, and can be exciting, but those times are far and few between. Most of the time, like today, I’m cleaning house, replying to emails, running errands, and tending my flower garden.

Tomorrow I renew my search for my missing daughter, and continue working to settle my late husband’s estate—the little things that highlight most of my days.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market Hopes to Spread the Word: “We Accept EBT and WIC!”

I love farmer’s markets. They remind me of the rich, dark earth I played in as a child. There, every spring, I would help my mother dig long, somewhat straight rows in the garden, drop in tiny seeds, cover them with soil, and then watch them shoot up through the ground, turning from a tiny tendril to a fully formed, sun-ripened tomato, ear of corn, green bean or other delicious vegetable.

Ashey Reece, local SNAP coordinator, talks about using EBT cards at the farmer’s market.

We didn’t have much money for food, so growing our own was vital. In today’s housing economy, fewer people have enough land for a garden, making farmer’s markets around the country a necessity. Especially for low-income folks, who, sadly, may not frequent them—because they don’t know the produce is actually quite affordable. It’s also far better for you than anything in a supermarket, since produce can travel thousand of miles to reach you, making it almost outdated by the time it arrives.

Not only that, but the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market—like others of its kind—accepts the same form of payment my mother and I both as single parents: WIC benefits and food stamps (currently known as EBT cards). Provided by SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, these benefits are available here in West Virginia and around the county.

What you may not know, however, is that before long, every EBT dollar you spend at the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market has the potential to become two. In other words, shopping at your local farmer’s market could double your dollars. All we need to do is spread the word, since few people who pay for their groceries with an EBT card (or who use WIC) know that the farmer’s market gladly accepts these forms of payment.

Ashley Reece, the local SNAP coordinator, wants folks to receive $2 of fresh produce in return for $1 EBT dollar. All that’s needed is to get more EBT consumers to shop at the Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon (located in Westover) markets. Then, in turn, a grant can help turn Ashley’s goal of providing quality food to local families into a reality.

Farmer’s markets like the one in Morgantown are crucial to people from all walks of life. I know this personally because in 2009 my daughter and I began a weekly excursion to the Oakland-Grand Lake Farmer’s Market, easily the best one of its kind in the Bay Area of California, and chock full of farm fresh goodies from around the region. This market, not far from Lake Merritt, also featured fresh flowers, pretty plants, food vendors, and—my personal favorite—live music. Those early Saturday morning forays were better than any festival I’ve ever attended.

They were also far healthier, featuring natural, organic, and pesticide-free food. Which is why I was thrilled when the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market decided to expand a few years ago. Now you can shop in the shade, where, on Saturday morning from 8:30-noon, a parking lot beside the Spruce Street United Methodist Church transforms into a fragrant food stand, even featuring produce that was plucked from the garden only a few hours earlier.

I guarantee you will not find food this delicious at your local grocery store. You won’t find the farmers who grew it there, either, ready to answer your questions and personally serve you from the bounty of their hard work.

What you will find is a crowd of milling people, parents with baby slings wrapped around their chests, dogs on short leashes, all sauntering up and down the market picking out organic food such as fresh eggs, garlic scapes, bok choy and leafy greens of every variety, raw honey, cherry tomatoes and cherries, along with a wide variety of homemade baked goods and farm-raised fresh meat—including lamb. Don’t forget to exchange your EBT, paper or plastic dollars for tokens, which can be found at the top of the market closest to the church. You can even say hello to Ashley when you do so.

And remember, farmer’s markets are not just for yuppies, Millenials or the middle class. Widows, single parents, college students, the unemployed, and families down on their luck, so to speak, can all afford to buy the best food available—at area farmers’ markets—thanks to the EBT card.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Finding Sustenance, and Moving Forward, in a Time of Grief

You sustain me.

Whether it’s macadamia nuts and honey from Hawaii; cranberry skin care from Maine; gift cards from Texas, Maryland, and beyond; or a homemade meal and a handwritten card, your love lifts me up and gives me strength.

The loss of a loved one, in my case a spouse, is one of life’s most challenging curve balls. But when you factor in a missing daughter, too, the grief can become unbearable. I’ve known since the day she was born that Jocelyn was different, just as a mother recognizes every facet of each child’s individuality. It was that uniqueness that led her to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, to enroll in theatre, and later, to forge her own path as a healer, going into inner city neighborhoods to help everyone she met. My grief for my daughter has been unfolding for years now. It’s like that familiar, albeit somewhat scratchy, sweater you grab to stave off an early morning chill.

But the grief for a spouse is different than that of a child, especially when you don’t get to say goodbye. When time and distance and life separate you in ways you simply cannot overcome. People say the happy memories will sustain you. But what if the unhappy ones more readily come to the fore, threatening to suffocate you with anger and sadness?

Quite simply, it’s a choice. You can choose—I can choose—what I think about, what I ponder and pray about, what memories will hold a place in my heart. Whether for my husband or my daughter. And it took a greeting card with a quote from Oliver Wendall Holmes to remind me of that.

“I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving,” Holmes said.

I’m standing in this moment of grief, wearing widow’s weeds, but moving only forward. Never back. I know I was a good wife, who saved her husband’s life at least four times: when I paid for his quadruple bypass surgery; when I ordered his orthopedic team off his case, for refusing to acknowledge that a beet-red foot with an open wound was the cause of his raging bone infection and demanded they treat him immediately; and when I insisted he let me drive him to hospital, because I suspected he’d had a stroke. (He had.)

But the most recent incident was in 2015, while I was still recuperating from bilateral knee surgery, and my surgeon had not even released me to drive yet. When Butch didn’t come home from taking our beloved Labradoodle for a drive, I called him—and heard the strain in his voice. I had tried to convince him to go to the doctor throughout the weekend, but he refused. So on that Monday I was worried, and while working on another book deadline, I waited 15 minutes, then 20. When he failed to answer my repeated calls or return my texts, at the 30-minute mark I grabbed my car keys and drove around town looking for him.

I found him in the Dunkin Donuts’ parking lot, hands gripping the wheel so tightly he couldn’t let go. One side of his face drooped, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. I yelled for someone to call 911, and then finger fed him sugar, placing it on his tongue. By the time the ambulance arrived, his blood sugar was 28. People have died with higher levels than that—and he nearly did. Would have, had I not gone looking for him.

The bone infection happened in February 2014, after he fell and broke his leg. I was in the middle of filming an episode for the Dr. Phil Show and facing a major deadline for Pretty Little Killers. Butch was hospitalized for the better part of a month, so I set up camp just outside his room, where I could keep an eye on him through the connecting window. Armed with my laptop and several notebooks full of materials, I interviewed people from there, and took care of him, too, all while meeting my deadline. There’s a reason they say you never leave someone you love alone in a hospital. And I didn’t, wouldn’t.

You haven’t left me alone since Butch died, during the last 50 days. You have given me cinnamon cake and carried homemade cavatini to my door, pruned my flower garden, taken my calls and taken me to lunch, or just bought me a cup of coffee. Many cups of coffee. You chauffeured me when I couldn’t drive, opened your homes to me, and in one case you drove four hours round-trip, just to loan me some money—showing the kind of self-sacrifice that is crucial to surviving grief.

Your personal gifts, your written expressions of love, sympathy, and encouragement, continue to buoy me, and will in the days to come. Yet I know I can never repay you. Not entirely. So I will do what I can, and thank you—from the bottom of my heart.

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

Let’s Give the President a Pass—And Fix His Pants

Alternative facts? What are those anyway, Kellyanne? Well, any good wordsmith should know. Let me take a stab. After considerable thought, followed by research, this is what I found.

Unlike the rest of the media believes, I think the problem is easily remedied. All we need to do is call the White House seamstress, and have her to let out the President’s trousers.

See how easy that is? Just a length of thread and a needle are needed to fix President Trump’s poor temper. Because, as you know, the issuing of “alternative facts” has been traced to having a rise that’s too tight.

That must be why, on Saturday, Trump instructed his new press secretary to call out “the dishonest media.” To set matters straight, and inform the press that the inaugural crowd was really much larger than reported. That it was, indeed, the largest in history.

Rise, as used here, is a sewing term. I learned it years ago, when constructing men’s garments. Not to be confused with the inseam, which is measured from the groin to the hem. No, rise is the measurement from the bottom of the crotch to the waistband. Furthermore, it’s crucial to measure well—because a constricted rise can be really uncomfortable, making a man quite crotchety.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer surely knows that Trump’s trousers don’t fit well, so he clearly risked his reputation (and his job?) to pacify the Chief of Staff. Poor Spicer, he probably thought that lying to the news media would make Trump feel better. But, as it turns out, it didn’t.

So on Sunday, Kellyanne Conway took a turn at trying to help her boss. A senior advisor, Conway tried to explain Spicer’s actions about the media, to the media. “He gave alternative facts,” she told a shocked Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“Alternative facts” has since become the word of the week. And other than telling the American people that the President needs his garments altered, what does it really mean?

Merriam-Webster provides some insight. It defines “alternative” as “offering or expressing a choice,” and gives an example: “several alternative plans.”

A few letters over, M-W defines “facts” as “the quality of being actual” and “a piece of information presented as having objective reality.” The latter definition offers this example: “These are the hard facts of the case.”

It’s an alternative, that’s for sure. Even an alternate, as in alternate reality. Like I said back in November, when I posted that we were living in the Twilight Zone. I agree with political analyst Ken Rudin, interviewed on Insight this morning by host Beth Ruyak. He said “Trump is still obsessed with numbers. . . . and the size of the crowd at Friday’s inaugural.”

I doubt that’s the only object’s size he’s obsessed with.

Rudin said some figures put the inaugural crowd at one-third the size of Obama’s, and “that’s unacceptable to Trump, who said so to the CIA.”

Still, this isn’t a big deal. So all you media folks out there, stop worrying! I don’t think we should jump to conclusions and assume that Trump is lying. Or trying to rewrite history. Only Nazi and fascist dictators do that—not American presidents. Right?

Instead, we must accept that this problem has a simple solution. Get that seamstress in here right now, and have her alter the President’s rise. (Oh wait, get him in here. No self-respecting woman would be caught dead near the President’s rise.)

And while he’s at it, maybe he can make Trump some warmer clothing altogether—because with his paper-thin skin, the Leader of the Free World must be very cold.

* * * * *

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

3 Tips to Avoid Becoming a Crime Victim

Yesterday was a first: someone tried to steal my car. Thankfully, they only stole my car keys. I was at the pool and alone in the locker room, blow drying my hair, when a woman walked out of a bathroom stall and began drying her hands.

A few minutes earlier, I had overheard her talking with someone about the pool’s two-week free membership, so I told her I was new, too. I introduced myself, and she did the same. Megan told me she had just moved here, and we chatted briefly. Then she left, but not until she flashed a big smile and I saw her black teeth.

I don’t like to profile people. But in my line of work, you learn to recognize drug addicts. And having bad, or several missing teeth, is one sign of serious drug use. I didn’t hold it against her, though, until later.

Leaving the pool not two minutes behind Megan, I watched as a man who parked next to my car carefully opened his door, trying not to scratch my car. I smiled as our paths crossed, and got into my car.

But I was surprised to find it unlocked. I distinctly remembered locking it, so when a “key not detected” message appeared on the dashboard, I had a bad feeling. I turned my gym bag inside out, but my keys were gone. That was odd, because when I first went into the locker room, I lifted up the keys to look for a ponytail holder.

With no way to start my car, I returned to the locker room and checked the locker. It was empty. I asked the front desk receptionist, “Carla,” if anyone found my keys. Then I asked about Megan, and if she had completed the paperwork needed for her two-week free trial. She hadn’t. That was a red flag, since Megan told me she was looking forward to using the pool.

Carla said Megan and a female friend had come in and asked to use the restroom. The friend used the loo in the lobby; Megan came into the locker room to use one of those toilets. Carla also remembered that Megan’s friend left the building first, before Megan did.

I asked Carla if she had a bad vibe about the two women. She said she had but, like me, she didn’t want to be guilty of profiling. (Megan was white; her friend was black. Both women wore hoodies and jeans.) By then, I knew I needed to call the police. I did that but before the officer arrived, the driver who parked next to me left the gym. I asked if he had seen anyone near my car when he arrived. He said he had, actually. A woman was standing next to it but when a small, white (or grey) car pulled up one lane away, she got in, and the car drove away.

Here’s what I think happened: Megan planned to steal my car (or anything of value inside), when that fellow parked next to my car. So instead, she jumped into the getaway vehicle and she and her partner in crime split.

This is what I learned yesterday: another swimmer told me a recent news report said two women were approaching area gyms, asking to use the bathroom. Once inside, they steal car keys from lockers.

The officer said criminals like this target businesses without security cameras (like the pool), brazenly break into cars in broad daylight, then make their escape on a nearby interstate. She also said that if you try to hide your purse or other valuables on the car seat under a bulky item like a sweatshirt, thieves will still break in. So place everything in the trunk, completely out of sight.

The locksmith said he gets calls to gyms in the Sacramento area at least once a week, for just this type of theft. They even carry a small set of bolt cutters. Sometimes they take the cars, he said; sometimes they just break in and steal what’s inside.

I learned a lot yesterday:

1. Crimes involving vehicles aren’t confined to Oakland or San Francisco. They can and do happen anywhere.

2. Don’t bury your valuables under other items—that only attracts criminals looking for items to steal.

3. Always lock your gym or pool locker.

Because, as I learned the hard way, car keys are very valuable. Mine cost $250 to replace, plus after I completed an incident report at the pool, filed a police report, got a tow, and had the key replaced, 6 hours had passed.

* * * * *

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

I’m a Snowflake—and Proud of It!

As I watched some of the inauguration online, I began thinking about the last few months. Boy, have they been busy! Especially for some people, like the Trump supporter who emailed me recently, calling me a snowflake. Google helped me better understand the reference, confirming that the term was used in a derogatory way.

So, I decided to take lemons and make lemonade. (Like Trump’s own “deplorables” did, and good for them!) The word snowflake, as used by some folks, refers to “a self-imposed victimhood” by people who are so delicate they can’t handle, well, anything.

I love snow. And building snowmen, and lying in a bed of soft snow, making snow angels.

Snowflakes have been called “one of nature’s finest masterpieces.” Yes, they are delicate: hundreds of delicate ice crystals comprise these works of art. And yet—“two identical flakes have never been found.” That’s according to the book Atmosphere, which also says: “The endless variety of snowflakes is legendary. . .”

So, I’m beautiful and unique—and you are, too, if you’re a snowflake.

But that’s not all. As they fall through the air, snow crystals carry compounds of nitrogen and sulfur, which clean the atmosphere, supply moisture, and fertilize soil. How’s that for efficient, powerful, and just downright necessary for continued life?

Snowflakes are also inanimate beings that have nothing to do with politics. Which is important to understand, given what I’m about to say.

Some of you believe I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter. Let the record accurately reflect that I am not. (I was especially not a supporter when she stood by her cheating husband, a man who disgraced the office of POTUS directly in the Oval Office. However, I respect the fact that marriage is a sacred union, and as such, I have no right to tell anyone else how to handle theirs.) That said, I certainly do appreciate Hillary’s many positive actions on behalf of women and children.

Still, the bottom line is, I hate politics—because they’re divisive. Especially in 2016. Will these divisions continue in 2017? So far, it doesn’t look promising. We’re just twenty days into the new year, and already there is no sign of a slowdown in the strife and name calling.

I’ve experienced it and if you’re a snowflake (or a deplorable), you have, too. As a result, I felt forced to take a hardline stance on Facebook recently, instituting a policy for anyone who visits my page. My rules are nothing more than common sense and courtesy, but since both have gone out the window lately, I found the need to post them.

Speaking of that, there’s courteous, there’s civil, and there’s respect. Each one is different. I can be courteous and civil, while still failing to respect someone. Take my stance on the 45th POTUS: I highly esteem the office, but I’m still waiting for the man to earn my respect. He could begin by apologizing—publicly, on Twitter—for using it as the bully pulpit he’s turned it into.

Because, as Rep. Mark Pocan said, when asked if he was attending today’s inauguration, “At minimum, it’s time for Donald Trump to start acting like President Trump, not an immature, undignified reality star with questionable friends and a Twitter addiction.”

And Trump’s continual attempts to malign the press—who is trying to hold him accountable—by saying “the dishonest media” is no different than saying that all businessmen are thieves. Or all firefighters are arsonists. Even if you support someone, if you pride yourself on being fair, you must call a spade a spade. Not a shovel. Journalists as a whole are no worse than people in any other profession.

Speaking of businessmen, a good friend of mine spent decades working with Florida contractors who never received their final draw from Trump. Many contractors pay their expenses—supplies and labor—with the first few draws. Any profit comes at the end, with the final draw.

Except when the customer refuses to pay it. Like Trump regularly did. “Did you know any subcontractors who got their final draw?” I asked. “No, not one,” my friend said.

But if you use social media to call attention to anything Trump has done that is wrong, like actress Meryl Streep did at the Golden Globes earlier this month, his supporters will immediately attack you. And try to distract you. This happened to me on Twitter and Facebook, when I posted about Streep’s comments. Perhaps it’s happened to you, too.

To anyone who does that, I say: stop confusing the issues, or, as happened in this case, ignoring them. Trump did mock a man with disabilities, who also happens to be a journalist. It happened. And Streep was spot on for calling it that. Yet Trump supporters quickly attacked her, and turned her words against her, calling her out for her support of Roman Polanski—which occurred 14 years ago.

Yes, Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. I was raped at 13, so would I take exception to that? Absolutely not! Neither did Streep. Look at the context, which had nothing to do with Polanski’s 1977 actions. The standing ovation given Polanski by the entire audience came about because of the directorial award he received for The Pianist. Would I have stood up for him? Nope.

But that’s not really the point. Neither are Meryl Streep’s 2003 actions regarding Polanski. One act (Streep’s standing ovation) does not cancel out the other (Trump’s mocking). So when Trump supporters try to change the topic, as happens to anyone who tries to hold Trump accountable, please remember why they do it: they don’t want to acknowledge the flaws of someone they have placed on a pedestal.

This is called gaslighting. I have a sinking feeling we’re going to see a lot more of it in the next four years. But only if we let it happen. If we refuse to let argumentative people engage us, there won’t be enough gas to keep the fire lit.

If you’re not sure how to disengage, or stay on topic, just remember that time with your rebellious teenager. You know, when you caught her and her boyfriend necking in his Mustang. So you sentenced her to volunteer at a local shelter for pregnant teens.

She tried to distract you of course, whining and crying and finally threatening to run away—but you didn’t let her get away with it. And in the end, after she saw how bad those teenage moms-to-be had it, she thanked you. (And you didn’t become a grandmother ten years too soon.)

Moreover, if we get off our bums, and remove our thumbs from Twitter, and instead channel our energy into more worthwhile pursuits, we stand a greater chance of extinguishing the gas-lit flame.

If, though, you are suffering the effects of a Trump win, or you’re suffering at the hands of snowflakes like me, I have a recipe to help. In just three easy steps, I guarantee you will feel better.

1. Bake some cookies.
2. Take them next door to your neighbor.
3. While visiting, ask how they are doing, and find out what you can do to help them.

Finally, for a country that claims to be God-fearing (“one nation, under God”), I must say that the American people certainly don’t act like it. Yes, I’m concerned and even a little worried about what havoc the Trump administration might cause. But I’m also completely confident that God has everything under control.

I will get through the next few years the same way I have the last few decades: because I have better, more important things to do. And so do you. For instance, I have more stories to tell, and books to write. I need to work on being a better person, exercise (my mind and my body) more, and—last but far from least—find my daughter.

So close your mouth and move your feet. Volunteer to help people who are already being targeted, be they journalists or Mexicans or Muslims. Or anyone else who needs it.

Are you ready? Good, because believe it or not, we will survive!

* * * * *

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!