Vignettes From a Badass Life

Photo Casa Bay Photography

Excerpts taken from Lynn Young’s memoir, Red Hot Living: Becoming a JOYful Badass Sager (Hybrid Global, 2023).

My badassery was spawned under the flight path in Richfield, my beloved free-range childhood home. I splashed down for a juicy year of life in Tasmania. Soaring over the Pacific, I launched newlywed life in piquant South Korea. Spice scandalized my Scandinavian palate. Ultimately, Colorado beckoned. Today, I write under her blue skies with the welcome soundtrack of coyotes’ primal howls. I curl up with my guy. I celebrate my badass granddaughters. All the waters and places I’ve called home have richly nourished me, as have my various work adventures, from two different roles at Planned Parenthood — as training assistant and education program manager — to founding mama of the Badass Sagers (women who weren’t born yesterday and are so not done). I’m wildly passionate about justice, finding joy when life gets lifey — and dark chocolate. Following are a few vignettes from the patchwork of my memories. I hope it inspires the tastes of your own sweet, badass life.

Coming of Age

It was 1967, and American culture was swinging wildly with the Vietnam War in full force, “hippies,” and the emergence of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Girls were required to take Home Economics. We honed our domestic talents — blueberry muffin baking and A-line skirt sewing — with the soundtrack to Hair pulsating in the background. A thrumming, coming-of-age time to be alive!

To this day, I’d love to take a shop class. That was the boys’ domain only. But tectonic shifts were rocking and dividing America. Within a year, we girls went from having to wear skirts that touched the floor when we knelt to my sophomore year in high school, when we were free at last to wear pants to school!

Young Adulthood at Planned Parenthood

I’d joined the Planned Parenthood team just after the office had been firebombed by anti-abortion arsonists and had burned to the ground. This was the late seventies, in a time of escalating anti-abortion protests. Our clinic was no exception. During the rebuilding, we all worked out of the basement. We were doused in wonderful staff trainings to gird us as we walked through the anti-abortion picket lines every day. We were aligned, alive, and up to good.

Two weeks before I left Planned Parenthood, a most surprising thing happened. My personal office was firebombed. It was a little pipe bomb — pitched by night from the shadows of a literal back alley next to Burger King. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Teaching in Korea

As political times darkened on the Korean peninsula, my walk from the bus to my teaching gig at the Cheonan Boys School grew more challenging. I marched through the public square, now pockmarked with over one hundred soldiers in full riot gear standing fiercely—replete with steel helmets and huge ancient metal shields. I wove through these warriors, wielding my way uphill. I’d never seen anything like this before. This was the season of the Gwangju Uprising, and it was shocking the nation.

Overnight, it suddenly became illegal for Americans to teach Koreans. Bam! The autocratic fist closed that sweet teaching chapter of my life, without even a chance to say goodbye to my beloved students.

The Big Shift

My 27-year-old face stared back at me from my bathroom mirror. Rugged and raw. It was Sunday morning, April 6th, 1982. It had happened again. The whole morning wasted.

[I was] tired of losing whole weekend mornings to hangovers. Tired of asking Ben to help me not drink too much before going out — and then flaring angrily when he did. Tired of being jolted awake, drenched by fear, and waking Ben to find out what I’d done. Tired of buying the cheap wine so I’d drink less because it would taste so bad. Tired of buying the expensive wine so I’d value it more and drink less. Tired of only getting respite when I’d drunk it all, or I “fell asleep” or blacked out. Tired of feeling increasingly depressed even though I had my dream professional job, a fab new husband, cool hip rowhouse digs, a supportive family, and an abundance of wonderful friends. Tired of the incessant cry of the mantra that wailed from my guts chanting, “Where’s the joy?” Where. Is. The. Joy?

I actually don’t know exactly what happened or why that day. Here’s what I know, though. My dear friend Carol Johnson had invited me to a film on alcoholism. I remembered that it was tonight. I’d blown her off the last time. But…

Something in me shifted. As I faced my face in the mirror, I decided. This was my day. I called Carol and said yes. That night, there I was, a young feminist sitting on a hard folding chair in the Edina Public Library watching an old-time, corny black-and-white film with the alcoholic Ward Cleaver– type guy coming home from work, briefcase in hand. And I instantly recognized myself. My floodgates burst.

We drove in silence to an ice cream shop nearby. Clutching my chocolate milkshake, I looked straight through my tumbling tears into Carol’s wide eyes and blurted *confessed *admitted, “I think I’m an alcoholic. I want help.” She burst into tears and lovingly said, “I’m so relieved. I just couldn’t watch you kill yourself.”

That day, April 6, 1982, was my sacred threshold. I haven’t had a drink since.

Peak Experience

Barack Obama walked out to thunderous applause. Anyone who was there can tell you that as he began to speak, we experienced what can only be described as a “thin place.” So hushed that you could have heard a pin drop. We. Were. One. Breath. Tears streamed down our faces. This was one of the peak experiences of my life, and I know I wasn’t alone. In this sweet fruition, I was one small particle who helped Barack Obama became the first Black person to receive a major party’s nomination for President of the United States. He said yes. We roared! A new, fresher, more inclusive tune was rising — at least for now.

Young asks readers to think about: Is now your time to recover from something big or small? What is it time for “less of ” in your life? What is it time for “more of ”?