What You May Not Know About Dorothy Parker



I’ve been reading a lot of Dorothy Parker this week.  The weather last weekend tickled a memory of a Parker poem called Indian Summer.  I looked it up and was hooked by her rapier humor all over again.  I devoured The Portable Dorothy Parker when I was young, but have found upon rereading her work that age has given me a greater appreciation for poems like Indian Summer.

 Indian Summer


Dorothy Parker

In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!

 Dorothy Parker is best known, of course, for her razor-sharp wit.  During her long writing career,  she worked as a journalist, book reviewer for The New Yorker, and drama critic for Vanity Fair.  In addition to writing hundreds of poems, she wrote short stories, plays, and screenplays (she received Oscar nominations for her screenwriting in A Star is Born and The Little Foxes).

While she is well-known for her “flapper verse” and as a member of the Algonquin Roundtable in the 1920s, fewer know about her commitment to social justice.  During the 1930s and 1940s, Parker became an increasingly vocal advocate of civil rights and a host of other human rights issues in the U.S. and internationally.  She was blacklisted as a Communist in the McCarthy era, ending her screenwriting career, but she continued to speak out in support of civil rights.

Parker died in 1967 at the age of 73. In her will, she bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  She had never met him, but admired him.  When King was assassinated shortly thereafter, her estate was passed on to the NAACP (which still receives royalties on all Parker publications and productions).  Her will was contested by her executor, Lillian Hellman, so for years Parker’s cremated remains were kept in her lawyer’s filing cabinet. When the NAACP finally was able to claim her remains in 1988, they designed a memorial garden outside their Baltimore headquarters as Dorothy Parker’s final resting place.   A plaque in the garden reads (in part):

Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights.

For her epitaph she suggested, “Excuse my dust”*.

*Some biographies say that she had suggested that when she was buried, her tombstone inscription should read “This is on me”.

Either way, you gotta love this brilliant pioneer for social justice who once said,

“Heterosexuality is not normal, it is just common.”

What’s YOUR favorite Dorothy Parker poem or quote?



Best of My 2013 Facebook Status Updates

And when I came downstairs this morning (after a second night of being up half the night with a sick child), THIS is what I saw when I turned on the light.

December 31 – the last day of the year. Time to take a few moments to reflect on the highlights of 2013.  Some technologically forced reflections have been available for weeks to help with this task.  This, for example, appeared on my Facebook timeline:


Jennifer Prestholdt

A look at your 20 biggest moments on Facebook.

Learn more.
Share Your Year.

Frankly, it looked suspiciously like 2012, but with more directives and a slightly larger font (and now in United Nations baby blue, I might add).

Year in Review
Jennifer Prestholdt
A look at your 20 biggest moments from the year including life events, highlighted posts and your popular stories.

But this Year in Review app most certainly does not accurately reflect  my “20 biggest moments from the year”.   Some of the pictures were not even from 2013!  So, in what has become an annual tradition, I’m taking charge of my Year in Review and creating my own”Best of My Facebook Status Updates”of some of the funniest moments for me in 2013.  (And if you like this post, you can also check out Best of My 2012 Facebook Status Updates and Best of My 2011 Status Updates.)

Best of My 2013 Facebook Status Updates

#25      The fifth graders are studying puberty, so the dinner conversation was interesting. It was a spectacularly unfortunate coincidence that we grilled tonight – and tubular meat products were on the menu.

#24      Some families set a place for Elijah. Our family apparently sets a place for Trouble.

Photo: Some families set a place for Elijah. Our family apparently sets a place for Trouble.


Eliza (age 8):  “Are you drinking barf?”
Me: “Yes. I threw up in the smoothie machine and added a banana. Now I’m drinking it.”
Eliza: “Is this called ‘sarcasm’?”

#22  I’m helping my 7th grader study for his Tom Sawyer test. So I showed him the classic Rush video. To which he responded, “Mom, this is not really helping.”

#21       In 5 minutes, I have to give a lecture on international human rights mechanisms to a class at the U of Iowa Law School. Unfortunately, I just figured out that since it is via Skype, they will all see how messy my office is. Gotta go stuff some documents in the closet and sweep some files under the rug…

#20     “When in doubt, add cheese.” This is the kind of advice I give to my daughter.

#19     Positive things about below zero weather: I stuck the tragically unchilled bottle of wine outside for 5 minutes. Now it is cold (and DE-licious!)


Mom, when I grow up – if I’m a teacher – on the first day of school I’ll pull down a map of Europe and say “I see London. I see France.”And I’ll be wearing, like, really bright pink boxers or something and I’ll have my jeans low.

So then I’ll turn my back to the class and pull down another map and say, “Class, what else do you see?” And the kids that raise their hands and say, “Mr. ___, I see your…”

Well, that’s how I’ll know who the troublemakers are.

#17     Note to self:  Be careful doing laundry this week.  Very, VERY careful!

34 snakes
There were 2 pockets. Each pocket held 17 snakes. How many snakes in all?

#16    My flight out of Delhi was cancelled, so I was re-routed through Paris. Perhaps the only major airport in the world that smells of fresh-baked croissants at 6 am in the morning!


“Simon, turn off the TV.”

“I can’t, Mom! Everything I need to know about life is on Dr. Who!”

#14     Home! And, as always when I return from the developing world, I am feeling so thankful for clean air, hot water, high-speed internet, urban planning and traffic control – and a democratic system of government that is not perfect, but which functions smoothly and provides us with services without corruption. Perspective is a valuable thing.

#13     Lady behind me at the grocery store:  “Girl!  You’ve either got a big family or you’re done shopping for 2013!

#12      First week back at school update:

Eliza (grade 3):  “What’s the difference between fiction and non-fiction again?”

Simon (grade 6): “Non-fiction is real. Like Facebook.”

Eliza: “So what is fiction?”

Simon: “It’s fantasy, it’s not real. Like Facebook.”

#11   The Polly Pockets were willing to sacrifice their heads for the opportunity to skydive off our back balcony.

Photo: The Polly Pockets were willing to sacrifice their heads for the opportunity to skydive off our back balcony.


“Mom, do you have a name for our toilet?”
“No.” (pause) “But something tells me you might.”
“Yeah. Our toilet is named Bob.”

#9     (The next day)   I have been informed that the gender of our upstairs toilet “Bob” has been reassigned. Depending on who you ask, she is now either “Tina” or “Betsy”.

#8     Well, at the request of one of my sons, I bought ramen noodles for the first time in 25 years. Still the same price – 29 cents. The way I figure, it’s never too early to prepare them for college.


 Eliza: “Hannah says that when I grow up, I should be a doctor.”
Me: “I concur.”
Eliza: “An American Girl doctor.”
Me: “I retract my previous statement.”

#6     Still life with retainer.

Photo: Still life with retainer.

#5     I could have done without these 6th grade boys and their dinner discussion. All you need to know about it is that their creation myth involves the planet “Poopiter” and explains why there is so much cosmic gas in the universe.

#4     I made the mistake of taking my 11-year-old son with me when I was shopping for bras. With having to yell so many times, “Don’t touch that!” and “Stop squishing it!”, I ended up accidentally buying a nursing bra.

#3     I sent my 13yo son to camp with two pairs of shoes.   Somehow, he managed to come home with just one.   One shoe, that is.

#2     I very much appreciated that the employees stocking shelves at the downtown Target let me participate in their “Churchill-off”. I only made it two rounds (they were still going when I went to check out) but I got to use the only two Churchill quotes that I can ever manage to remember:

        1. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

        2. Lady Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”

            Churchill: “If I were your husband, I would take it.”

#1      It’s just not a holiday in our family until someone gets a pie in the face.

Photo: It's just not a holiday in our family until someone gets a pie in the face.

Thanks for reading The Human Rights Warrior!  See you in 2014!

Happy New Year from Sullivan's Island, South Carolina!
Happy New Year from Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaMarch 2013
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
March 2013

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge theme is “Lunchtime”.  Since it’s also phonoegraphy month, I’d like to share a series of memorable food/menu photos that I have taken with my iPhone 4.  To quote the menu at the Red Onion Restaurant in Dar es Salaam, “Bone Appetite”!

Scrumbled Egg or Egg Porch for breakfast?  Decisions…

New Delhi, IndiaJanuary 2012
New Delhi, India
January 2012

I think I’ll have the cheeken burger.

Yaounde, CameroonFebruary 2013
Yaounde, Cameroon
February 2013


Kathmandu, NepalSeptember 2012
Kathmandu, Nepal
September 2012

This sugar is not just pure.  It is DHAM pure!

New Delhi, IndiaSeptember 2012
New Delhi, India
September 2012

UMMMM …Deep Fried Squid Feelers!

Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaMarch 2013
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
March 2013

Jupped Rabbit? Magret Duck? Toulouse Poele?

I can’t even understand the English translation.

Douala, CameroonFebruary 2013
Douala, Cameroon
February 2013

No. Just no.

Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaMarch 2013
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
March 2013

The secret of Cajun cooking – revealed!

Stone Town, ZanzibarMarch 2013
Stone Town, Zanzibar
March 2013

Should have bought a case of these!

Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaMarch 2013
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
March 2013
(Made in Pakistan)

Best of My Facebook Status Updates 2012

Cinderella sure has an interesting way of drying her gowns.
Cinderella sure has an interesting way of drying her gowns.

It’s that time of year again.  That special time of year, when the treetops glisten … and children listen … and the”Best of ” lists come rolling out. You won’t find me in the Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2012 or The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2012 (numbering 28, down from 37 last year).  I am not one of  the E! Top 10 Stylish Stars of the Year (thankfully, though, I am NOT on either E!’s list of Top 10 Wardrobe Malfunctions OR their list of Top 10 Mug Shots).  My name cannot be found on ANY of the many 2012 Forbes Rich Lists – not even Richest Pastors in Nigeria.   Unlike Honey Boo Boo Child, I am not one of Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People of 2012.  Gawker’s 10 Least Fascinating People of 2012 list isn’t out yet, so I may still have a shot at that. Salon’s 2012 Hack List? Nope.  The Best 140 Twitter Feeds of 2012?  Sadly, no.   And I just learned that President Barack Obama beat me out for Time’s 2012 Person of the Year.

Last week, this appeared on my Facebook timeline:

Year in Review
Jennifer Prestholdt
A look at your 20 biggest moments from the year including life events,
highlighted posts and your popular stories.

So, I checked it out.  How could I resist my life events, highlighted posts and popular stories?  But  my 2012 Year in Review was an utter and complete disaster!  I don’t know what kind of random generators are at work here, but this app most certainly does not capture my “20 biggest moments from the year”.   Some of the pictures were not even from 2012!  In short, Facebook Year in Review app is like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas: “The three words that describe you are as follows, and I quote: ‘STINK. STANK. STUNK.'”

These days there is precisely one thing in my life that is entirely within my control and that is my Facebook status update. So I’m taking charge of my Year in Review and creating my own”Best of My 2012 Facebook Status Updates”!

Best of My 2012 Facebook Status Updates

# 25   This sugar is not just pure.  It’s DHAM pure!

dahm pure

#24     Me (to my 10 year-old): “Simon, turn off the TV. Your screen time is done.”
Simon: “It doesn’t count as screen time if it is football or Barack Obama.”
Well played, son. Well played!

#23  Some people have Elf on the Shelf. I have cat barf on the Playmobil nativity scene.

#22  To the gentleman crossing against the light while reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I say, “Have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?”

‎#21  Chickie (my 7 year-old daughter): “Mom, do you know why we light candles at this time of year? It’s to keep the trolls out of the house. It’s true. It says so in the Bible.”

#20 I did not realize that I even had a granddaughter, much less such a thoughtful one!

happy anaverse

#19     As I was jaunting around this morning with my bike helmet pushed back and dangling down my back like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sunbonnet, it suddenly struck me that perhaps I did not look as fetching as I would hope.

#18     Fortunately, I left the restaurant for another meeting BEFORE my colleagues ordered the “head chips”- at Kathmandu, Nepal.

#17     Further proof of my bad hockey mom status: Packing Simon’s gear for hockey camp, I couldn’t remember what the thing that they wear on the chest is called. So I called it a “breastplate”.  (I also called his nut cup a “codpiece”, but that was on purpose.)

#16     Note to self:

go to work

#15     Chickie: “Where is everybody?”
Me: “They went to Sev’s hockey game.”
Chickie: “WOOHOO! Girls’ night! Let’s get into our jammies and READ!!”

#14     Went to gym. Worked out. Took shower. Realized I had forgotten to bring a towel. Dried off with my sock. Keep calm and carry on!

#13     Bonnie Tyler, reincarnated as a 10 year old boy. Turn around, bright eyes!

#12     These are the kinds of conversations that go on in my head:

Me: Why did I buy this Empire-waisted dress? I look terrible in this style?
Myself: It was only 7 dollars.
I: Ooooo! Excellent bargain shopping

#11       I keep reading the UN Millennium Development Goals – MDG – as – MGD – Miller Genuine Draft. It must be Friday!

#10     To flush or not to flush.  That is the question.


#9     I waited a couple of decades and read the book again. Same conclusion. Mr. Rochester is an a-hole. Run, Jane Eyre, RUN!

#8     Overheard Chickie giving a friend a tour of our house: “This is mom’s closet. Or as I call it, My Shoe Store.”

#7     Future God’s Gift to Women: “Girls don’t like AXE, they like Old Spice. Wait, no. AXE was invented by women because they like the smell. I need some AXE. Girls like AXE.”

#6     Last day of summer vacation.
         “What’s left on the school supply list, Chickie?”
         “We’ve got everything but The Lorax wipes.”

#5     My rule:  You forget your lunch box at school and you get the Lunch Box of Shame the next day.

lunch box of shame

#4     7:10 am and I’ve already had to answer the questions “Is this a scalene triangle” and “Can you make me an omelette?”

#3     My Mother’s Day present:  The Napoleon Dynamite Dance!

#2     Chickie: “Mommy, what is a Miley Cyrus?”
          Me: “It’s a person.”
          Chickie: “Really? I thought it was a body part. One of the private ones.”

#1     I found this in my grandma’s apartment today. Also found out that she had voted absentee before she died. I don’t know if it still counts, but I’m proud that, at 98, she made sure to vote. And that she voted No on both state constitutional amendments (one that would have limited the right of same-sex couples to marry and one that would have limited the right to vote). Go Edna!

obama family

This post is in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: Wrap It Up!  Check out other original “Year In Review” posts by following the link.

Best of My 2011 Status Updates

“Why yes, I do know both Wallace AND Gromit. Why do you ask?”

It’s that time of year again, when the “Best of” lists are rolling out. Sadly, I am not Time’s 2011 Person of the Year. You won’t find me in the NFL’s Top 100 PlayersRolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2011,The New Yorker’s Favorite Books from 2011 (numbering 37),  iTunes’  Top 25 Songs of 2011,  E! Top 10 Stylish Stars of the Year,  or Forbe’s 5 Top Retail Success Stories of 2011.  I am not (thankfully, given The Kompany) on either Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People of 2011 list or Gawker’s 10 Least Fascinating People of 2011 list. Salon’s 2011 Hack List? Nope.  I didn’t even make Babble’s Top 100 Mom Blogs, which has me and the other estimated 3,999,900 mom bloggers feeling just a smidge left out.

So, in the spirit of the “Best of 2011” season, I decided to put together my very own top 25 list.  The only problem is that these days there is precisely one thing in my life that is entirely within my control – my Facebook status updates.  Welcome to “Best of My 2011 Status Updates”!  I’m posting it now before Facebook – through random-number generator or Mark Zuckerberg’s pet rats in a Skinner box or whatever means they use to decide these things – tells me what my Best 2011 Status Updates are and then posts them in my friends’ News Feed. (Which I predict will happen on Monday, December 26 at 9:36 am EST.)

Best of My 2011 Status Upates

#25 It just seems like you shouldn’t have to start your day with the sentence, “Hey! Don’t pee on your sister!”

#24 It’s snowing. Both the front and the back doors are open. The refrigerator door, too. Come on! Work with me, people!

#23 I was looking for a wineglass but I found Darth Vader in HEAVEN!


#22 “Don’t throw up on the iPad!” And how is YOUR Friday night going?

#21 ‎”If you’re going to get out of bed, for God’s sake bring the throw up bowl with you!” And how is YOUR morning going?

#20 Taco Tuesday for those family members who did not throw up today. Everyone else gets pablum.

#19  ‎”Can you make us turkey waffles?” Happy Thanksgiving!


#18  Most of the time, I think I’m just a normal mom. And then I do things like yell, “You boys stop fighting or I’m going to get Nonviolent Peaceforce up in here!!!” Which makes me think I’m not so normal.

#17  A day that starts with threatening your sons with international non-governmental organizations could really only end with teaching your daughter the difference between flipping the bird and the Vulcan “Live long and prosper” sign.

#16  No Comment.

no comment

#15  Is it wrong that my first reaction to the Demi/Ashton split is, “Oh no! What will happen to their foundation that works to eliminate sex slavery?”

#14  Burnt the toast. Threw it out the door. Squirrel caught it and scampered away.

#13 I’m thankful for my (ZOMBIE!!!) family and friends.


#12  “No, honey, they are poppy seed muffins. Not hockey seed muffins.”

#11  Today is “World Toilet Day.” That is all.

#10  Better to be a friend hole than that other kind of hole.

friend hole

#9  Had a brief, friendly chat with my boyz about what to do if a coach wants to bear hug you in the shower.

#8  Accidentally made a reservation for brunch tomorrow at a restaurant in Australia. Stupid World Wide Web!

#7  Apparently my “mom” pheromones are so strong that random German AND Greek children fall asleep on me on transatlantic flights.

#6  That’s right, sweetie. It’s a “coffee blender”, not a “margarita maker”.


#5  Now is as good a time as any to introduce the small fry to Spinal Tap.

#4  Sometimes, it is best just to remain silent. For example, when your 9 year old son says, “Mom, you are a brick house!”

#3  Daughter: “Can I get a Barack Obama Barbie for Christmas?”

Me: “Ummmm…I need to focus on making dinner right now.”

Daughter: “So, is that a YES?”

#2  My Friday night involved a 4th grader, a saxaphone, some sheet music, and two Youtube videos of Boil Them Cabbage Down.


#1. 9 yo son (critiquing little sister on the way she is carrying her babydoll):  “You’re never gonna make a good mom.”

6 yo daughter:  “Your shirt is on backwards.”

Oops!  My Top 25 list is all filled up and I only got as far back as October in my Facebook “Older Posts”!  Wait a minute – this is how these these “Best of” lists actually work, isn’t it?  They are really just the  highlights from the last quarter with maybe one or two standouts thrown in from earlier in the year?

Once Again, No Comment


Postscript:  You may be wondering what any of this has to do with human rights.  It doesn’t really.  But I have learned from working in human rights the importance of humor as a coping mechanism for dealing with the tough things in life.   I’ve done a couple of posts on this already:  You Really Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Part I  and You Really Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Part II.  I consider this post to be You Really Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Part III.

Constabulary Notes From Suburbia

True confession.  Whenever I’m feeling down, I cheer myself up by reading the police reports.  It’s true! They are right there in the newspaper every week, but I suspect most people don’t even notice.  Maybe they even avoid them because they just don’t want to read any more bad news.  That’s a shame, really, because the police blotter can be pretty comforting.   Reading it  just plain reminds you that people are silly, that the police help a lot of people, and that pretty much everything is going to be just fine.

I started reading the police blotter when I was 15 or 16 and growing up in the suburbs, right round the time I became a fan of News of the Weird.  It never even occurred to me that it was weird to turn straight to the police reports.   (I had one friend who read the obituaries and then crossed the names out of the phone book. That DID seem weird. In life, I guess, everything is relative.)  Let me tell you, the newspapers in Louisiana had some great stuff in the police reports.  Women seemed to be giving birth in cars ALL the time! And there was always some kind of dispute about stolen boudin or voodoo.  Sometimes both boudin AND voodoo.

I live up north now and within the city limits.  While I  still read the police reports in my local paper,  they basically just remind me to lock the car door if I park it on the street overnight.  So if I’m feeling down, I turn to the suburban police blotter.  Or blotters, I guess, since this is a metropolitan area on the wide open plains of the Midwest and there is a North, a South, an East and a West Metro.

Here are a few recent items from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

PRIOR LAKE (OCT. 8) Littering. A Prior Lake police officer observed a refrigerator, old tires and concrete blocks dumped along the road near Howard Lake Rd. NW. and NW. 154th Street. The city maintenance crew was advised of the debris.

CORCORAN (SEPT. 29) Suspicious person. Someone reported that a suspicious man with a clipboard was going door-to-door and walking around the neighborhood on the 8600 block of Trail Haven Road. Officers located the man and found he was a city assessor inspecting properties.

See, now aren’t you starting to feel a little better already?  Sure, there are downers in the police reports – DWIs or sisters throwing peanut butter jars and hurting each other. But mostly it’s like Andy Griffith moved on up to Lake Wobegon.

 COCORAN (OCT. 4) Property damage. Officers responded to a home on the 7800 block of Maple Hill Road regarding property damage. Someone had keyed the residents’ vehicle and had written on it with marker. Officers discovered that two children, ages 2 and 3, had marked up the vehicle.

There you have it – proof of the principle of Occam’s Razor!  Now for more from Midwestern suburbia:

MINNETRISTA (OCT. 1) Suspicious activity. Officers confiscated 30 rolls of toilet paper after encountering suspicious vehicles along Eastview Avenue.

High School TPers Foiled Again!  Football season must be Level Orange Alert.  Let’s forge onward:

HOPKINS (SEPT. 26) Theft. A cat carrier was reported missing from a home on the 9100 block of 7th Street S.

MINNETRISTA (SEPT. 25) Theft. Gargoyles valued at $300 were stolen from the yard of a home on Kennedy Memorial Drive.

COON RAPIDS (SEPT. 16) Theft. A coin purse containing lipstick and a nail clipper were stolen from an unlocked car parked in a lot on the 3100 block of 111th Avenue NW

More than anything, the thefts in the police report remind me that we are fortunate enough to live in a country with a functioning justice system.   No matter how small the theft, people feel that they can and should report it to the police.  Then the police report officially record that the thing (whether it is a cat carrier or a nail clipper or a gargoyle) was stolen.  And then someone at the newspaper writes about it and prints it.  Total transparency, zero corruption.  This is the standard that the police in many countries in the world need to achieve.

Every once in a while, there is even a little something to remind me of my youth:

 FRIDLEY (SEPT. 10)  Assisting the public. A woman from the 6000 block of 2nd Street NE. complained to officers that her neighbors were doing voodoo on her. Police discussed the woman’s options with her.

I’m a human rights lawyer, so I see the worst aspects of humans in my work.  But I also see the best very aspects of humanity and that has taught me to look for the joy in life, no matter how mundane   That’s why I read the police reports these days.

I’ve always imagined that these police blotter descriptions are the work of an intern with a highly developed sense of satire, who is, in her spare time, writing the next Great American Novel.   Sometimes I worry that the decline of print media will mean that this public service will get the ax and deprive me of the solace that I take in these random acts of strangers.   Or, then again, maybe not.  Maybe someone will just develop an app for that. (Please?)

You Really Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Part II

In our office, we have a mantra: “You have to laugh or else you would cry.”   Maybe working in the field of human rights exposes us to more situations where crazy and ridiculous things happen, but my hunch is – probably not.  All you have to do is read the newspaper (how about that woman who tried to mail a puppy?) or watch an episode of  “The Office” to come to a different conclusion.  The common element here is that we are all humans.  We can all be petty and mean and make a big deal about things that seem to be critically important to us at the time, but which, in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter. We don’t always think through the consequences of our actions and we’re usually not very self-aware. That means that we cause crazy and ridiculous things to happen in our interactions with each other.  What I’ve learned – and what I’m trying to teach my kids – is that you can’t control what other people do.  But you can control how you handle your reaction to the crazy and ridiculous things that happen to you.  

Let me tell you a story about one of my asylum clients who had to deal with something crazy and ridiculous and totally out of her control.  Asylum seekers are fingerprinted as part of the asylum application process so that the fingerprint can be checked against the millions of fingerprints in the government’s electronic database.   After her asylum interview, my client was instructed to put her index finger on small pad to take an electronic fingerprint.  The asylum officer, looking at the computer monitor, got a strange look on her face.   “Try it again,” she instructed.   My client did so.  “You have to look at this,” she said to me.   

I could see that my client was getting more and more nervous by the second.  She was an older woman from a country in West Africa.   She had a valid asylum claim, but it wasn’t the strongest case in the world.  To be granted asylum in the U.S., you have to show that you have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group.   That definition comes from the 1950 Refugee Convention, and it reflects the experience of World War II rather than the modern experience of conflict.  The biggest problem I saw when I was doing asylum work was not that people were coming to the U.S. and fraudulently applying for asylum.   The biggest problem was that there were a lot of people who had experienced persecution but couldn’t show why there was a connection to one of the five grounds.  In other words, if you were a victim of random violence in a war in your home country, that isn’t enough to get you asylum in the U.S.  We had worked hard to put together a case for my client that showed that the killing of her family and the burning of her home was connected to her tribe (social group) being targeted by one of the fighting factions.  She had testified honestly and well.  And now, from her perspective, she was going to be denied the safety of staying in the U.S. because of something completely out of her control.  Something was wrong with her fingerprint.  

My client and I went around to the other side of the desk and looked at the computer screen.   There was the digital image of a fingerprint.  Right next to it was a photograph of a young, surly-looking man.  Under the photo was a caption that said,  “Guatemalan Recidivist”.   The asylum officer and I looked at each other, paused, and then just burst out laughing.   My client didn’t laugh, though.  “But that’s not me!” she insisted.   “No, of course not,” said the asylum officer.  “But that’s not me!” my client said again.   “It’s picking up only part of your fingerprint and matching you with the Guatemalan guy,” said the asylum officer.  “Sometimes that happens, especially if you’ve got dry skin.  I’ll get you some lotion and we’ll try again.”  My client looked relieved.  “OK, because if there is one thing I know, it is that I am NOT from Guatemala.”  As I was driving her back to her house, I told my client, “Sometimes you have to laugh about these things or else you would cry.”  Maybe I said it before that day, but that is the first time I remember saying it.  

As a coping strategy, humor has come in handy for me when dealing with the absurdities of parenthood.  It’s probably safe to say that having a sense of humor about the crazy and ridiculous things my children have done has saved my sanity.  I’ll close with a few examples of situations where I had to laugh or else I would cry.  

This photo of my ruined front lawn was selected for the “Sh*t My Kids Ruined” book.  I couldn’t find a photo that was high enough resolution for the publishers, so I’m not sure that it will be included.  

I posted this photo on Facebook a couple weeks ago with the caption “Sometimes I’m not sure how I’m gonna make it through the next 9 winters.”

Finally, here is a video of my family in Olso, shortly after we had to leave the Nobel Peace Prize Center because my children were fighting too much.  It’s going to come in handy if one of them ever wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

You really, really can’t make this stuff up!

You Really Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Part I

Ever notice that human rights lawyers are almost never characters in romantic comedies?  If there does happen to be a human rights lawyer character, he is portrayed as a stuffy old stick-in-the-mud like Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary.  (There’s also the guy that Ricky Gervais is supposed to get Tea Leoni to break up with  in Ghost Town, which probably also proves that you really only even have a human rights lawyer as a character because there was a Brit involved.)  But the reality is that I would never be able to do this work if I didn’t have a sense of humor.  The subject matter may be serious, but the fact is that bizarre and funny things happen all the time to us human rights lawyers.  Here are just a couple of examples:
1.  The “Did I Accidentally Stumble Into a Comedy Sketch?” Moment.  During an interview on Sierra Leonean television, the chair I was sitting in started to fall apart.  It didn’t crash to the ground or anything, but all the parts (legs, arms, seat) just started to shift slowly towards the left.  I had to increasingly lean the other way to keep from sliding to the ground.  You try answering questions about women’s rights when you’re sitting on Fun House furniture.
2.  The “Did I Just Hear That?” Moment, a.k.a. the “What Is this, Monty Python?” Moment.  Last year, during an interview with a government official about conditions on a refugee camp, the guy suddenly stops the discussion and just randomly throws out, “So … does anyone here speak … NORWEGIAN?”  After the interview, I also learned that this guy was “the number 3 film idol in Ghana.”  Apparently, being #3 on the Ghanaian film scene doesn’t make you a big enough star to quit your day job.

I’ve learned to look for and relish the humor in every situation.  My penchant for absurdity has brought me a lot of joy. Here are a few photos from various countries in West Africa.

Caution: Grown Ups!

El Sabor del Perú

3.  The “I Can’t Believe I Brought My Breast Pump to a Prison” Moment.  I was once visiting a prison in Peru to observe the conditions of detention.  During the first part of the visit, we had been given refreshment in the form of very, VERY large glasses of Inca Kola.  We’re talking Big Gulp, Trenta sized beverages.

Never had Inca Kola before?  It is a shocking electric yellow color.  Supposedly, it is flavored with lemon verbena but to me it tastes like super-syrupy, bubblegum flavored cream soda. The Inca Kola in my very large glass on this late spring day was also very warm.   But Inka Kola is a national icon and, since it would have been rude and ungracious not to accept it, I managed to do the right thing and drink it all. Which meant, of course, that I soon had to go to the bathroom. Since this was a men’s prison, this created a pretty big problem.   Luckily, there was a private bathroom that I could use at the checkpoint to the high-security part of the prison.  When I came out of the bathroom, the guard was going through my briefcase.
Now, I spent a cumulative total of about 40 months of my life breastfeeding my 3 kids and I had this small, battery-operated breast pump for when I traveled. When I came out of the bathroom, I discovered that the guard had taken the breast pump apart.  He had all the pieces laid out and, one by one, was carefully holding them up to the light to examine them.  He was obviously trying to figure out exactly what kind of  weapon this strange object was. Could it be a bomb?   Let’s just say he had never even heard of breast pump and it took some time to explain.  Once he understood, the guard dropped the piece he was holding like it was a hot potato.  He even started blowing on his fingers.  The security check came to a speedy conclusion and we went on with our visit. By the time we came back out, though, the guard was laughing about it.  Perhaps, like me,  he is still telling that story and laughing about it to this very day.