Remembering Jeffrey P. McManus

I usually think it’s pointless to post things that were written to be spoken, because they lose their context without the speaker’s intended pauses and inflections, and the audience’s energy. But I’m posting the words I said at my friend Jeffrey’s memorial in San Francisco this weekend, because I would like you to know a little about a very important and influential person, who made a lot of lives better and happier. And who is missed beyond words. 

Good evening. I’m Mary Elizabeth Williams, and this is an Action Newsbabe update. 

In San Francisco tonight, friends and family have gathered to celebrate the life of Jeffrey P. McManus. McManus was the founder of Code Lesson, the assistant curator of the beloved Red Blazer News Babe site, the chief Internet adversary of Chuck Woolery, and the creator and architect of the Jeffrey P. McManus Information Superhighway.

I am not, in the words of Mr. Derek Zoolander, a great eugoogilizer. But I would tell you a little about the Jeffrey I knew. I met Jeffrey back in the early nineties, when I was but a clueless noob on a small but influential online system called the WELL, and where Jeffrey cohosted a conference called genx. Let me take you back to a time long before Facebook and Twitter. Really before Mosaic, even. When, if you didn’t mind the incredibly slow dialup on your 2600 baud modem and having to pay for a call to Sausalito every time you logged on, genx was the absolute most fun you could have staring at your Macintosh Quadra.

I hadn’t been on the WELL very long when Jeffrey asked me out to lunch. We met up for burritos, and he suggested we start a pop culture conference together. I thought it sounded fun. And pretty much everything that’s happened in my career since then, and a significant number of the friends that I’ve made, have been a result of the fact that I sat across from Jeffrey McManus in a taqueria one day in the early Clinton era and said yes.

People just said yes to Jeffrey. It almost didn’t matter much who was being asked, or what was being asked. If Jeffrey was the guy asking, the answer was likely to be yes. Because you knew that whether you were sitting down with him at a business meeting or falling down with him at a party, if you stuck around Jeffrey, interesting things were going to happen. Many of those things were going to happen in your liver. Jeffrey was a catalyst. By simply accepting his invitation, you were going to meet the person you were going to start a company with. You were going to meet your new best friend. Or just, your new best friend for the evening. Jeffrey was the man who would introduce you to your future ex girlfriend or your next corn wrestling opponent. Or the love of your life. The mother of your children. Jeffrey was a man who lived by E.M. Forster’s edict to "Only connect." He cared so passionately about other people, and their relationships. As he once told me, it’s not love until you hear those three little worlds: Temporary. Restraining. Order. 

In recent years, his social life expanded to include family events and children’s parties, but his never lost his sense of play and mischief. And he never backed off one iota from his commitment to and support for his friends. It was through Jeffrey that I met the friend who many years later would encourage me to do the clinical trial that saved my life. Which is kind of ironic because when I think of Jeffrey long ago, pouring tequila down my throat, thrusting lit sparklers in both my hands, and then letting me loose to run around on his roof, I still believe he was actively trying to kill me.

Last year, when I was training for a marathon to raise money for Gilda’s Club, Jeffrey and his wife Carole were among the first to sponsor me. And then right before the race date, Jeffrey kicked in an extra two hundred dollars, because, as he said on my donation page, Josh Marshall was being a douche on the Internet. And I thought what a perfectly Jeffrey gesture it was, so wonderfully magnanimous, so eager to pick a fight.

When you see people who are really great at what they do, everything just seems to flow. The way they dance, or shoot a basket, looks effortless. As one who can neither dance nor shoot a basket, I really admire that. That’s what I loved most about Jeffrey. I knew a guy who was generous and spirited and hilarious and adoring of the people he cared about. But I also know that he chose to be that kind of guy. He worked at it. He chose to be to be giving when he could have been selfish. He chose to be curious when he could have been complacent. He chose to be affectionate and hopeful and fun. He put in the effort, day after day, year after year. And that to me is a magnificent achievement, and an incredible legacy.

Ever since the early dot com days, there’s been an expression for what people like Jeffrey were doing that I find just about as stupid and redundant as “gay marriage.” It’s ”virtual community.” It drives me crazy, because it implies a lesser status to our relationships. Like they’ve all been imaginary. But when I look around and see friends and couples and families who were brought together by Jeffrey, this feels real. Mighty real. 

Jeffrey P. McManus is survived by his sister Jill, his wife Carole, his daughter Celeste, his son Rev, and a large and diverse group of people whose lives are deeply, beautifully entwined. A host of friends who are going to carry on his work of being generous and loving and fun and troublemaking and antagonistic to Chuck Woolery. A community that he built. A community that is anything but virtual. So thank you, Jeffrey. Thank you, everybody.

Lawmakers, either get out of the vagina business or go to medical school.

- Sen. Wendy Davis, who is currently filibustering to prevent the passing of anti-abortion laws in Texas. Watch the live feed HERE. (via atouchofdestiny)

I keep checking in on this. Amazing. Saw on Twitter that tons of food just arrived for all the people protesting SB5 and standing with Wendy. Today is a historic day for women.

(via stfuconservatives)

(via thecutteralicia)

We all love. And we all love differently. And in many ways we all love badly. Or, at best, we don’t love enough, or we don’t love well enough. But there is hope that we can love better. That is, in essence, what I am always, always, always writing about.

That was the long answer to your question.

Hey, I’m a Catholic, and this is crazy

As one who takes a lot of crap from both my enlightened liberal friends who think that being a Christian is somewhat on par with being a member of the Tea Party, but with more superstitious bunkum, and also from Christians who like to email to tell me I’m a baby murdering Satan, I’m thinking today of what the pope’s resignation means and why I even still bother calling myself Catholic. 

I devote a lot of my job to calling out the Catholic church on the subjects of sexual abuse, sexism, and homophobia, and I’m not going to stop pointing out hypocrisy and prejudice within the institution. I disagree vehemently with the Church on several significant and complicated issues, like reproductive choice. 

But Christianity — and Catholicism in particular — is still my moral compass. I grew up in a post Vatican II church that taught me that Jesus was a big hippie who liked poor people and outsiders, whose main message boiled down to, don’t be a dick. You can get that philosophy without being Catholic, but that’s where I got it, and that’s what I continue to fight for.

Yesterday when I was at mass with my daughters — in my nice liberal let’s-help-hurricane-victims-and-WTF-gun-violence parish run by Capuchin friars — I snapped to attention when I heard the service’s intention was to speak for those who have the least voice. I have lots of doubts and lots of questions and lots of things that piss me off — and I try to pass along that skepticism and that passion to my children. But getting out in the world and being an advocate for the powerless and disenfranchised — that’s what I believe we’re supposed to do. We’re here to go forth together, as brothers and sisters. We’re here to love each other and forgive each other. That’s what I was taught. And I was taught it by my Church. 

Tomorrow marks the last day before the start of lent. Let the good times roll.

So long, farewell, and it’s peanut butter jelly time

We did it. We finished the SNAP Challenge. Seven days, 21 meals, $110.58, and three ladies. We cooked a lot, we baked, we got 27-cent fudge. And starting tomorrow, we can eat whatever we want again. 

Our life really won’t look much different from the way we ate this week. We’re a family that believes in cooking and eating together, in using fruits and vegetables and grains and leaving room for dessert. But this challenge has absolutely given us a renewed gratitude for all that we have. Even on our usual limited means, a budget which requires a lot of thought and preparation and stretching and occasional hyperventilation at the checkout line, we can still buy the foods we like to eat and not worry about being two cents short for an avocado. 

This week brought us closer. It’s shown me in a new way how determined and resolved my children can be. I just found out this morning that Bea had been the class snack monitor all week, and had handed out pretzels and crackers to her classmates but never taken one for herself. And I’ve got a new window into Lucy’s insights.

I’m glad we did it, and I’m glad it’s done. I’m looking forward to going out for coffee with my fella tomorrow and having coffee. I’ve got two social events this week and I’m looking forward to eating at them and having a glass of wine. But mostly, I’m going to keep shopping and cooking and baking in much the same way.

My wish for every American, of every income, is warm, healthy food on the table. The satisfaction of nourishment. The pleasure of company at many meals and the joy of solitude at others. A culture-wide understanding that true nourishment is what we all deserve, and all of us working together to make it happen.

Saturdays I like to make scones.image


The scones that you get at Starbucks and the like are a shameful mockery of what a scone should be. Scones should be warm and hearty moist and in no way resemble a hunk of granite. TAKE BACK THE SCONE, AMERICA.

Today I started with the peanut butter scone recipe from the Baked Explorations cookbook  that was then riffed on by Design Sponge. I used the last of the strawberry jam I’d made the other night  and the last 1/2 cup of the flour, along with a 1/2 cup of the oat flour I made last night.  The result was a little messy going in, but incredibly tender and beautiful when it came out. And when we ate it, it was like:

I had some horchata left, and I thought it’d be nice heated up and infused with tea. And oh, it was. It was like rice pudding crossed with a cuppa – this Irish girl’s interpretation of a Mexican treat.

For lunch the girls wanted more pasta with tomato sauce, so I made that for them. I had the last of the lentils warmed up atop the last of the salad with spiced roasted chickpeas. It was my first attempt so some got a little burned, but they were quite promising. I do believe we’ve found this year’s kale chips. 


This afternoon I finally got to see Argo, which was great, but more significantly; I had to see it without my usual snuck in candy. (Why buy overpriced Whoppers when you can smuggle in a Lindt bar? I ask you.) So instead I watched Ben Affleck get six Americans out of Iran while nibbling sunflower seeds. As long as I’m still somehow convinced I’m sticking it to The Man, I’m happy.

For dinner we had the rest of the cornbread, and the girls made the squash soup.

Squash Soup

You can make this with your own roasted winter squash, or canned pumpkin. Any way it’s done it’s lovely.

One box of frozen winter squash, thawed

3 cups of chicken broth

Two green onions (usually we use leeks)


Cooked sausage (we usually use bacon, but tonight we used the sausage from lentil night

Pinch of brown sugar

Cinnamon and cumin to taste

Heat the broth to boiling. Add diced potatoes and cook to soften, about fifteen minutes. When the potatoes are tender, add the squash, sausage, green onions, brown sugar, and spices. Stir together until heated through.

Dessert was more of the banana bread. I’d been concerned about what disaster would ensue from baking with oat flour when I was running low on white flour, but after the scones and this, I am a believer. It had a sweet nuttiness we all loved.



At dinner, we toasted our completed week and the 46 cents we had left to spare. And after the meal, we hugged each other and high fived. Then Lucy said, “This was great. Let’s do it again next year.”


Made it

Lentil salad, spiced roasted chickpeas #Snapchallenge

Lentil salad, spiced roasted chickpeas #Snapchallenge

Peanut butter & jam scones, horchata tea #snapchallenge

Peanut butter & jam scones, horchata tea #snapchallenge