Some Days


September can officially go eff itself. My already pulpy, bruised heart was further pummeled with the loss of a dear friend last week. I’m thinking a lot about how I can be a better person in whatever time I have left. Fifty more years? Five more days? Who knows.

Every day, I try to be more patient, more kind, more thoughtful. A better person. Sometimes I succeed, but a lot of times I fail.

Grace has been pretty solid on kindergarten drop-offs in the six weeks since she started school, but today something snapped. We said goodbye as usual, I started walking away from the school gate, and then heard a wail behind me. I turned around to see her skinny frame running toward me, gold curls bouncing, face pink and wet from crying. She didn’t want to let me go. I hadn’t realized that a final wave had become part of our goodbye ritual, in addition to a hug, kiss, and happy thought. I didn’t wave.

We sat on the school steps for a while and held hands. I tried to talk about what a fun day she would have, and remind her that she’s getting an award tomorrow for being awesome. Her tears dried. She was a little whimpery the second time around at the gate, but she slid through right as it was closing. A kind, tall teacher held her hand and walked her to where her class had gathered in the yard. Once in class, her teacher saw that she’d been crying and gave her some water.

And then I picked her up early so she could play in the park, but mostly what she wanted to do was sit on my lap and ride on my shoulders. Fine with me.

Today I did not fail.

Vanessa McGradySome Days

When Moms Get Mad


mmaI’m tired of mommy wars and don’t participate. However. Sometimes something gets you so hard in the gut that you need to punch your way out. Here’s my response to Phyllis Schafley’s equally conservative and hypocritical niece, who is trying to basically set women back 60 years, as she’s thumbing her nose at everyone who is not a very white, very wealthy, very stay-at-home mom in the style of herself.

Vanessa McGradyWhen Moms Get Mad

We Do Not Fail


When I used to work in offices, I had this inspirational quote hung over my desk. It reads, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I’d look at it every now and then and think about my parallel universes a lot: The one in which I lived on a farm in Vermont and made pottery. The one in which I have an Oregon bed and breakfast. Going back to acting or singing or learning to play guitar.

I did make that leap from my dank little cubicle life to full-time freelancing from home two+ years ago, and I am 1,000 times happier. I guess that was a risk I took and didn’t fail, at least not yet.

The other night, my daughter, Grace, found the plaque and asked me to read it to her. She held it up in her hands. “We don’t fail. We don’t need this,” she said, and marched it over to the trash can.

This was the precise moment when I started learning something from my child, in a solid, measurable, tangible way.

Yesterday, I was getting ready to send the three chapters of my memoir to my agent. She needs them to sell the book. This was the fourth or maybe fifth pass at this, I don’t know, I’ve lost count. I’d thought I was done at the end of February, but then my readers–the people in my life I trust most, whose opinion perhaps is even more influential than my own–came back and told me it wasn’t ready. I cried for two days solid. And then I got back to work, waking up at 6 a.m. every day to flesh out the bony parts of the manuscript, to make it better, more solid. I just let it take its own path and stopped thinking about what everyone else wanted and more about what the book should be.

I had a final reader lined up, but he was busy with a new baby and a trip to Asia, so I excused him.

I took one final pass at my words, and realized it’s just not going to get any better. I’ve done all I could.

If I send it, and if it’s not good, I don’t know what the next step is. I would no longer be in the dreamy limbo of “writing a book,” but instead, “wrote a book and it didn’t work out.”

I hovered over the email and kept finding things to do instead of sending it. Laundry, tea, dog walk. I thought of all the reasons I shouldn’t send it at all. And then, I remembered what Grace said. “We don’t fail.”

We don’t fail. I hit send.

God, you can keep the confidence of a mediocre white man and please grant me the confidence of a magical, kick-ass, gives zero f***s 4-year-old.

Vanessa McGradyWe Do Not Fail

A Story of Microfeminsm in Five Parts

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Microbullshit Stops Here, And It Stops Now: A Story of MicroFeminism In Five Parts

A tsunami may be less than a foot (30 centimeters) in height on the surface of the open ocean, which is why they are not noticed by sailors. But the powerful shock wave of energy travels rapidly through the ocean as fast as a commercial jet.”National Geographic News

I wrote a piece in Jezebel that’s gone viral about the tiny sexist particles I’m calling “microbullshit” that add up to a major cultural norm, and how I’m trying to create a different experience of girlhood for my daughter than I had. I’ve gotten more love than I expected for it, plenty of weirdness, and of course, the haters (I was harshly accused of being vegan and gluten-free by someone in the comments. Um.) In one part of the story I called to disappear a book from the library that showed Wonder Woman pushing a child in a swing, while all the other heroes were moving buildings and saving cities. The thing I should have made more clear in this is: I made my first half of my career defending the First Amendment when I worked for a controversial publishing house. In no way do I condone massive book burnings or the squelching of ideas. Rather, I’d was hoping the librarian I mentioned would consider this particular book as she would an outdated history book, say, that had incorrect information about science, slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, etc. Not burn it out of rage, but set it aside to make room for more current reality.

Here’s the story.

Vanessa McGradyA Story of Microfeminsm in Five Parts

Better Living Through David Bowie, or, How I Became My Own Hero


I’d checked Facebook one last time before I went to sleep, and learned the terrible news. I was flooded with an incomprehensible sadness, an orphaning of sorts. I tossed and turned, trying to explain to myself why the loss of David Bowie meant so much to me personally–I hadn’t been any kind of uberfan. My brain wouldn’t let me sleep until I’d written it all down. Read my story in BUST.



Vanessa McGradyBetter Living Through David Bowie, or, How I Became My Own Hero

Sweetness at the intersection of want & need

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Christmas has been difficult for me since my dad died in December, 2003, and it hasn’t helped that soon after, I moved to Southern California where I have exactly zero family. So a few years ago I finally stopped wallowing in my aloneness and started inviting people over for Christmas Eve as a way to make a new holiday with a tribal feeling. Of course it’s a busy time and not everyone can make it, but it’s always a good way to reconnect with neighbors and see how tall all the kids have grown. One year, my friend Valentin invited her church choir to come sing to my guests packed into my very small living room. It was a kind of Christmas magic that wouldn’t have happened had I been burying my face in a pint of coffee chip ice cream, which is always my first instinct.

For Christmas day, I always hand my daughter, Grace, over to her dad, whether it’s “my year” or not, because I want her to have a family Christmas with some of the loveliest people on the planet. Last Christmas I’d gotten stood up by the guy I was dating and had my own sulkfest in the theater. This year wasn’t looking too promising either. 

But get this. In September, guy I’d dated during the summer when I was 19 had resurfaced after 25 years and, surprise … turns out he lives less than 2 miles from me, a single dad with two teenage girls and a 3-year-old son. Unprompted, he asked to fill my dance card on Christmas Day, and pondered what it would take to get someone to make some fake snow fall in front of my window. It’s been simultaneously sweet and hilarious and mortifying to tell stories of our time together and to try to fill in the details about the time we didn’t know each other. It’s like forgetting about your favorite comfy sweater in the closet, then finding it and realizing it was even better than you remembered. We will be friends forever. 

As the Waitresses put it so well in their iconic Christmas song:

Then suddenly we laughed and laughed

Caught on to what was happening

That Christmas magic’s brought this tale

To a very happy ending!

My wish for you this year, no matter what your faith, is that you get what you want and what you need.

Vanessa McGradySweetness at the intersection of want & need

Love and Entropy in Texas

American Gothic, sort of

I came here to visit my daughter’s birth parents and ask them about their history and their adoption experience. It’s been an intense journey. They have an angrysad hangover, four years later, about how they were treated by our agency. They became homeless a year or so after Grace was born, kicked around LA for a while (and also stayed with us) and found their way back to Texas Hill Country, where Bill is from. They are living in Bill’s grandmother’s home, which has remained vacant for many years. It looks like it’s one bad thunderstorm from falling over, yet they keep it impeccable inside. They have no water; the electricity comes from a neighbor’s extension cord and a solar panel attached to a single car battery. They are coming back to LA where there is life and music and something for them. Something, anything else.

Anyway. Here.


Creek rising

Creek rising



Serious cowboy jukebox in Bandera.



Cowboys watch The Price Is Right at the Silver Dollar in Bandera.


We’re just a normal, happy family like everyone else.


The outside of Bill's grandmother's home, where they've lived for a year. The inside is spotless.

The outside of Bill’s grandmother’s home, where they’ve lived for a year. The inside is spotless.


Bill and Bridgett look out over Lake Medina, which disappeared and came back

Bill and Bridgett look out over Lake Medina, which disappeared and came back


Bill used to play music at this joint. The picnic table he built is still on the porch. It's for sale.

Bill used to play music at this joint. The picnic table he built is still on the porch. It’s for sale. The building, I mean. But they’d probably throw in the table.



Bill used to live in this house with family friends, from the time he was 8 until 15 years old. He thinks it burned from a meth lab explosion or maybe just some stupid kids.



The house was built from WWII small ammo boxes.



Picnic table cats by the river.


Decompressing by the river after an intense interview session

Decompressing by the river after an intense interview session.



Sometimes you get a rainbow to let you know it will be OK.


Vanessa McGradyLove and Entropy in Texas