Playwright and writer Topher PayneI’ve been thinking a lot about Sarah Palin lately. It’s kind of impossible not to think of her, what with the new book coming out, and her reality show where we learn that life in the Palin family is like a never-ending stay at Outward Bound.

Plus, she can be found every other week on “Dancing With the Stars,” beaming with pride, blissfully unaware that the dancing chest-of-drawers in “Beauty and the Beast” had more personality and elegance than Bristol Palin has ever displayed.

In Sarah’s eyes, a Palin can presumably do no wrong. Bristol is a fabulous dancer, and if the liberal media claims otherwise, it’s part of a conspiracy against those nice outdoorsy Palins. The funny thing about that is, in her new book she criticizes talentless “American Idol” contestants, saying, “No one they have encountered in their lives — from parents to teachers to their president — wanted them to feel bad by hearing the truth.”

This is patently untrue. Obama has worked very diligently on the “American Idol” talent disaster, setting a solid standard by having Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson perform at the White House. President Bush invited Taylor Hicks. So which president really cares about vetting vocal prowess?

But if Palin wants to look at on reality show celebrity wannabes, she might want to turn her attention to one of her own co-stars: Willow Palin. I know politicians’ kids are supposed to be off-limits, but we’re not talking about a politician. No one in the Palin family currently holds elected office. They are reality TV stars, just like the Kardashians or the Lohans, only not as fashionably dressed or empathetic.

Sixteen year-old reality star Willow Palin took to her Facebook recently and called some kid a faggot. It was a thoughtless, stupid thing to do. I don’t know if Willow is homophobic. In her mind it likely was just an insult, not hate speech, which is an excuse bigots use when they say the N-word. As of this writing, Sarah has had nothing to say on the subject. And I think I know why, because I just went through this with our dog, Daisy.

Daisy managed to get out the front door, and I made a grab for her collar. I was left holding a collar, but no Daisy. My husband and I spent the next hour negotiating with her from the parking lot of a Domino’s Pizza, as she dove in and out of traffic. Once I’d tackled her and we’d secured her in the crate back home, I had myself a good ol’ splotchy-faced, squinty-eyed, Julia Roberts-in-“Steel Magnolias” crying jag.

It wasn’t just the fear of losing the dog that brought the tears. It was acknowledging our own culpability in this scenario. We haven’t trained the dog. Once we convinced her to stop urinating inside the house, we pretty much let her make her own choices.

We explored training options, of course. But every choice seemed to involve us acting like assholes- making demands, reprimanding, lots of stern faces. We wanted the dog to like us.

The trouble with taking responsibility for a living creature is that in doing so, you’re giving up the priority of being likable. Whether you’re a parent or a pet owner, the person in charge can’t also be the buddy, because you have to set the perimeters. In not respecting that, we nearly lost the sock-eating beast in our care.

We purchased a remote control collar that gives a little jolt when she doesn’t obey a command. In less than a week, she’s learned four commands reliably, and rarely requires the shock anymore. Turns out she’s been ready to learn all along. We just weren’t taking the time to teach.

Sixteen-year-old Willow Palin uses the word “faggot” as an insult because no one told her it’s wrong. Because then she would ask why. And then Sarah would have to explain that all people are deserving of respect. And suddenly, she’d have a whole lot more choices she’d have to justify.

Sometimes, we don’t resist teaching because we worry about how it makes someone else feel — we resist it because of how it might make us feel. But when you accept responsibility for another creature, you do so with the knowledge that teaching them what is right will bring to light all the things you’ve been doing wrong.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at

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