Monday, October 24, 2011


The other night after a very long arduous day keeping my children alive and molding their little characters to be citizens of the world (like the Jolie-Pitt children without all that pesky international travel), Jeff and I sunk into bed ready to shut down the day and escape into the arms of a sweet, sweet slumber. (Did you think I was going to say we sank into each others' arms? Silly. Does that sound relaxing to you? After a day of being mauled by my two children, I am not really in the market for more physical contact. I know, I know, Jeff is so freaking lucky.)

Even more lucky for Jeff, just before he started his initial snoring (think little piggie snores that are cute until he hits the REM stage and it's more like wild hog bellows), I told Jeff that I was having a growing feeling that a primary, significant relationship in my life was hitting the rocks. I was scared to even say those words outloud, which is why I started the airing out process with Jeff, because, while he loves me, he doesn't really listen to me.

I told him that I needed to process the end of the relationship and mourn the fantasy I had been holding onto, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, the relationship could start over on a stronger basis: one of honesty, vulnerability and reality.

If he had been listening, Jeff probably would have thought that I had acquired a boyfriend in all my spare time. But, no, it was nothing like that. I was talking about a relationship I had been involved with since I was 13. There had been ups and down and of course there were the college years and the years when I was aloof and distant, but through it all there was a pulse, a heartbeat, however faint, that kept the relationship viable.

I was talking about my relationship with Oprah Winfrey.

Here's how it went down:

When she first came on the air, I would come home from my all-girls Catholic highschool and watch her show at 4 p.m. while eating an ample snack and wearing my little plaid skirt. I usually fell asleep on the couch after her show (that's what an "ample" snack consisting of fat and carbs will do to a girl), and my parents would leave me on the couch until dinner time. In college, I didn't really watch Oprah. In graduate school, I would not have been caught dead watching network TV, let alone Oprah. Good lord, I couldn't begin to harmonize Derrida, semoitics and French post-structuralism with fucking Oprah Winfrey. But, I never spoke ill of her, even when she became known for collecting angels or singing her own theme song. (We all make mistakes.) In law school, I wasn't much of a daytime TV watcher, what with all the outlines and res ipsa loquitor to memorize.

But, we had those weeks I was on maternity leave, before I was properly medicated, when I could do nothing but sit on the couch nursing my baby/ies looking for tips on living my best life, since I didn't think living with my breasts in another person's mouth would necessarily fit that description. When the snowstorm of 2011 hit and I was housebound with a (second) surgical scar, a newborn baby, and a somewhat highstrung and angry 18-month-old, Oprah's inspired 25th season was a balm for all my jagged scars-- physical and emotional. Listening to Paul Simon sing her theme song about 25 years left me and Simon covered in salty tears everyday.

I was riveted by her Behind the Scenes show. I think if I taught a management course I would show some clips of her leadership style to my students. I was surprised at how funny and intentional Ms. Winfrey is. I also thought it was hilarious how she had no idea what REI was and seemed so proud of never having to drive a car. Her dressing room was a marvel: stacks of perfectly folded cashmere sweaters. Shelves of fancy shoes I can't spell or walk in without having my calf muscles spasm. Her loves for her dog, the way she fixes her lunch in the morning and how impressively hard she works. Say whatever you want about Oprah and her message or her meaning, she undeniably works her freaking ass off. I am not entirely sure what she does, but it was clear that she put in long hours preparing for shows and her staff, working equally long (or longer) hours, would clearly do anything for her.

All of this is impressive as an American success story, even if she wasn't a woman or of color or a woman of color from the poorest state in the country. Even if she wasn't abandoned by her mother and raped and cast aside by more than one trusted person in her life. I will admire her until the day I die. Period.

I cried when the show was over. I cried when she said the show had been "the love of her life," and she walked off the stage in that perfect petal pink dress. I cried when the staffers got all choked up on Behind the Scenes, bemoaning that they would never be together again. I know it's not hard to make me cry, but the tears are still meaningful even though they fall frequently.

But, the other day I was perusing OWN, Oprah's network, and there she was. And, wait, there were many of her staff members. I guess they are called producers. There was Sherri Salata and Jill, and Dana and they were producing a show for Oprah called Lifeclass.


I thought Oprah was leaving. I thought the producers were all crying because it was over.

It's not over. I can TiVo here 5 times per week if I want. There is even a behind the scenes show for Lifeclass. What? I feel like it was all a tease. I feel duped. I know it's a different show, but it's still Oprah 5 days per week with virtually the same cast.

So, skeptically I watched these Behind the Scenes and started watching Rosie on Own. Last Friday Rosie showed footage of a surprise party that Oprah threw for Rosie and her staff. At first blush, that seems like a kind and generous and supportive thing to do, right? Oprah pulled out a tequila bottle as big as a satellite dish and "make" Rosie do shots. Of tequila. In front of her staff. On camera. Rosie introduced the clip saying that Oprah loves the tequila shot and that Rosie herself hasn't done a shot in about 30 years.

Let's see. If your boss and the owner of the Network on which you have a brand new show that is billed as your resurrection and "second" chance to host a show calls you over to do a tequila shot, what do you say? One guess: Where's my lime, Oprah?

As a non-drinker who was in a heavily alcohol-friendly profession (is there one that's not, besides Mormon bookseller?), this was painful to watch. I know that drinking is social and makes people happy and loosens people up. I take it from her comments that Rosie imbibes at least occasionally. But, that's different than being cajoled by Oprah to take a shot at a party she has thrown in your honor. In her old studio that you just took over for your fledging talk/variety show. Rosie was a good sport about the whole thing and later said the shot felt like drinking liquid Ben Gay. What's the big deal, right? I am sure if Rosie had an objection to drinking Oprah would respect that and present her with a keg of Tang or a bucket of Fresca for the celebration.

What I saw in that interaction was my own recollection of how hard it is to say no to bosses, especially in situations that are not directly related to work. In the social arena, it's hard to tell your boss that you freaking hate baseball, but will be happy to take clients to Cubs games, even if it's raining and you are 5 months pregnant. It was hard to be the only person at the big table not drinking and have a partner ask me over and over again why I wasn't drinking. What answer was he looking for? I have no idea. I tried to get creative over the years so everyone could just laugh and move on. Someone told me to say that my parole officer won't let me drink. Is there anything cool about saying "I just don't drink. I would rather put those calories towards chocolate or samples from Costco." What about, "you know what, boss? You make me incredibly anxious and I hate socializing at work so I am not going to add alcohol to the mix because it will probably make me projectile vomit all over these stupid crab legs you ordered." Sometimes I would mix a little bit of truth: "My dad's a recovering alcoholic and I have an addictive personality." Then, I would give my listeners a knowing stare. Usually the drunkest person at the table would then say, "so, that's it? THAT's why you don't drink? The hereditary thing?"

Anyway, I was annoyed that the most powerful woman in media had to resort to shots. It seemed like it was a performance for the staff and for Rosie and for the viewers to see this fun-loving, party-girl-for-the-people side of Oprah. How could a person who does shots and invites others to so shoot be anything but fun and young and full of joy and vitality?

I didn't like it. I felt for Rosie who was in a tough spot but had to play along all the name of "fun." Her staff is incredibly young and driven so I imagine the atmosphere is very "work hard; play hard." I may be the only person in the world who cares about this or is still thinking about it. One day I will be a boss again of someone besides Sadie and Simon and I will think long and hard before I ask anything of anyone in a public, social setting because the whole point of power is that people will do what you say, even if it feels like drinking liquid Ben Gay.

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