Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Democracy Thrives with Equity

Help Yourself

(by helping others)

What are folks so afraid of? I wondered... Then I read the websites, blogs, articles, and letters that use ugly words like 'Washington bureaucrat' and 'illegal immigrant,' to describe the situations they fear. It's enough to scare anyone!

How can people claim "right"eous values and turn their backs on the poor? Or fight for corporate profits over medical equity?

I guess those who say, "I work hard for a living so I can provide for my family. Those others don't deserve medical treatment," must be forgetting that their daughter is getting her hair done by a hard working woman with no health insurance. And they are being served a delicious meal in a restaurant by a hard working young man with no health insurance, and they are sitting out on their deck enjoying their lawn, neatly groomed by a hard working father with no health insurance.

Don't hide selfishness behind religion. Truly Godly people love mankind, love the poor, love to help, love to give, love to share, love to see others prosper, and are NOT afraid...

Fear mongers, fear spreaders, those who have nothing better to talk about than how bad things are going to get if we help people get better health care, better educations, better incomes... are afraid of only one thing - losing their own level of comfort.

There's a saying I like to use, "As long as I'm o.k." It stands for the average attitude in America. No one cares about anything anywhere else in the country or the world, ALAIOK. No one pays attention to politics, who's running, what's going on in Congress, ALAIOK.

What about those who get up in the morning just to help someone else? To go build a house for Habitat, or feed the hungry, or counsel a teen.

I like going to progressive websites like Habitat and because I love seeing how involved my fellow Americans are in changing the world we live in... not for ourselves, but for others. Making sure we don't kill the planet or asphyxiate our grandchildren with pollution, speaking up for those who can't speak up for themselves... unselfish acts.

Then I go onto the conservative websites and all I see is Obama bashing. Liberal bashing. Who is it helping? Who's volunteering for the homeless, speaking up, changing things for the needy? For the helpless? Does God really only help those who help themselves? Really?

I want to be counted with those who get up early and stay up late for others, not to defend their "right" to higher profits and greater disparity.

Democracy was founded in Athens in ancient Greece. In that birthplace of individual liberties the richest citizen was five times richer than the poorest. (Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, by Thomas Cahill)

Think about that for a moment and get back to me on letting corporate greed run rampant so that your fear of more government controls can be appeased.

P.S. Without government controls, 8 year olds would still be losing fingers working in factories right here. "Do you support the creation of a national health insurance plan that would be administered by bureaucrats in Washington?" says a new republican questionnaire... You bet I do! The same "bureaucrats" that guarantee my children get an education rather than a job at the tender age of 8.

In the photo above: My beautiful daughter... with no health insurance.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


The Ride of a Lifetime

Making a two hour trip into the City on public transportation on a random day for a special occasion can never be confused with a two-hour commute.

A commute has a repetitive, habitual, familiar nature that creates its own experience outside of the travel of it. The rote behaviors that make it physically and mentally feasible: the spot you always stand in to read the monitor in the station, the way you always play Scrabble on your iPhone waiting at the bus stop. These rituals of habit create the experience of the commute exactly as much as the seat on the steel projectile hurdling you and 48 others on the bus, or you and a thousand others if you're on a double-decker commuter train, or you and a million others if you think about everyone racing to New York on any given morning, or fleeing it on any given night.

The individuals in their individual seats with their individual accessories, packages, worries and preoccupations don't care about mine, as I intrude on their peace with my sneeze or distract them momentarily by adjusting in my seat. There's a universal ignoring going on. Everyone enjoys the uncommon momentary conversation, but no one makes a habit of it.

The ignoring is an aspect of the commute that I notice profoundly. Since I find it impossible. I notice her dress, and wonder what she paid for it. I notice his worn sleeves and imagine he just doesn't realize. I speculate on everything and everyone to some degree, considering this massive flux of lives, those commuting, and those with more singular missions on this ride. I try hardest of all to allow for our differences. The taste in clothes. The short-term goals. The personal rules of behavior, or absence of them. What influences have conspired to generate this recipe of a human sitting next to me today?

Now and then I become keenly aware that at any moment something could happen that would thrust us from "strangers" into a bond of catastrophe and all of our individual, personal cares would be suspended in that fragile moment of public exigency.

I don't think about the scary "what ifs" that much, though. Instead, I enjoy the company of strangers like a warm blanket of possibility as I ride my bus, keeping to myself as I should. I know that there is a likelihood, on every single crowded ride, that someone has a personality I could get along with, a story I would enjoy, a favorite place to eat if I got off at their stop. There's a whole world of ideas I could be inspired by, if only the commute were not such a habitual, and necessarily impersonal, ordeal.

For the past week the earth has tilted from the sun just enough to provide me with a spectacular hot peach sunrise as I head to work on the front seat of the bus, and a glorious cherry sunset as I return home. Every day as glorious as the last.

My laptop bounces with the seams in the highway and slides across my lap with the curves in the road, but I press my finger on the track pad and tackle all of those lettered keys, accomplishing something, usually urgently, as others sleep and read and dream.

I pause in my efforts and glance up toward the horizon. Met by the distant globe of light, my vision also sweeps past the nearby landscape of blurred trees, homes, light posts and phone wires. A little more in the distance the scene passes more slowly. I can focus for a moment on the way the windows of a factory building reflect the pink sky, how a boat half sunken in a marsh may have come to be abandoned, the brave skill of the hand that painted a once-proud water tower's giant lettering, a flock of birds responding to the morning in unison. I celebrate these things. I'm grateful for the show.

Then back to work, fighting the jostle of the ride with my own tenacious repetitions... repeating what jumped wrong until I get it right.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What Matters the Gain When Life is the Cost?

Chicago hosted the American Library Association conference last week and I had a really great time there. I attended some good sessions and had some productive meetings in our booth with the right people for my sales role. It's satisfying to feel that you're making progress, even when sales cycles are so long that the end always seems a little out of reach.

On the flight home I saw an awesome film on beluga whales and the arctic people that depend on them to survive. One woman who was interviewed had a beautiful smile that never left her face. She said they go to college but come back to the village. They prefer their lifestyle. It's subsistence living. Nothing is extra or superfluous. Everything has a purpose and nothing is wasted. The whole village lives all year from the food they gain in one beluga whale hunt. They'll bring in something like 15 or 20 of them and prepare them however they do so that the food lasts all winter. There's no vegetation, no livestock, no other food for them in the winter.

What struck me most about her, though, was the community aspect of their lives. She said they have to learn to be happy. Period. They have to respect their elders, because they won't survive without their wisdom. They have to be patient with one another, because they are stuck together in the same village all of their lives. They have their traditions - we saw them singing and dancing - and their crafts and talents that contribute to their existence - but in all of it they maintain this happy, easy going demeanor that so many of us in "high society" lack. It humbled me.

The main point of the film was the effect that the environment was having on sea life. The whales are in danger. They are dying of cancer - something they never had before - because of pollution heading up to the arctic from the great lakes. They live about 80 years and they found toxic chemicals in their blubber from pesticides that were outlawed in the 70's. But these poisons are in the world - once we create them they are there - and continue to do harm for years.

Global warming was another important issue - there are many animals that depend on the ice to survive. I never knew why ice was such a big deal, but I learned that polar bears, for example, need to be out a certain distance from land on the ice to get to the fish they eat - because those fish feed on plant life and small fish that live under the ice. They can't live without ice. And seals only nurse their young until the ice starts to melt in the summer - which is their signal that the seasons are changing and the babies are old enough to be on their own. Now, the ice melts sooner and faster, and the babies are being weaned too soon - they're thinner than they should be and not as strong as they should be as they start trying to find their own food.

I'm sure many of you know all of these little facts - but I was ignorant of them and it impacted me deeply.

At the hotel, even before I saw the film, I couldn't help dwelling on the thousands of little hotel rooms across Chicago and the thousands of people taking their showers and brushing their teeth and all of that water. Questions burn in my mind as I consider the greed that led to the economic crash... exposed so well in films like "The Corporation," and "Food, Inc." ... Will we be like the near-sighted folks who cut down all the trees on their island before they realized, too late, that they had unwittingly committed a kind of environmental suicide with their own actions? Are too many long, hot showers and plastic water bottles and gas guzzlers killing us?

I don't think that corporations that make profit their only mission will ever acknowledge the changes they need to make in order to stop our world from being poisoned and heated to death. I just hope the activists that are working to stop our senseless headlong run into environmental bankruptcy are smart enough, strong enough, and persistent enough to change the laws and force those who will never take initiative to correct their course and actually change their behavior before everything is lost, including us.

So much has already been lost that we can never, ever get back again. Those who feel nothing for the extinction of species are blind in a way that may not be curable. They have to be forced to comply with laws that protect our shared world.

E.O. Wilson said it perfectly at the National Science Festival in New York a few weeks ago. When asked about the sophistication of ants - who were around for a hundred million years before they became colonized - compared to humans, he replied that ants are much more sophisticated than humans. They have evolved a hundred million years more than we have. We have cities and communities - but we aren't colonized in a smoothly functioning society like the ants. We don't cooperate instinctively. He said we are still, evolutionarily speaking, cavemen - each driven by our personal urges and whims. I think this is why we destroy just as readily as we create.

I wonder if we will ever have the opportunity to evolve, to "grow up" into our potential. I wonder what we could become if we loved and regarded all of the animals that share our world as preciously as we regard money and profit. Let's all hold that dream. Maybe it can inspire us to work harder than ever to - not profit, but - survive, one generation at a time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On The Soap Box For Liberty

Independence Day is coming in a week or so. Do we deserve the rights and liberties we aren't willing to fight for?

Having recently seen “Food Inc.” and being keenly aware of the struggle of my gay friends for the right to marry, I have been suspended in a state of ambivalence regarding my ability to act on either of these grand issues of our American freedoms and rights. As I volunteered to see our president win an unlikely election I felt a surge of vitality that I am sure is dormant in all of us. But this is not the time to sit back and let oppression by the greedy and the fearful damn us to lives of lesser quality than that which we are granted equal access to by our constitution.

From bullying farmers out of the right to grow what they want to grow and, by natural progression, our right to eat the healthy food we may prefer to eat, goliaths like Monsanto force us to accept a potential health holocaust as what seems like inevitability looms on the horizon, silently threatening our children as we merrily keep eating and feeding them whatever we’re served. At the Shopright today I wanted to vote with my wallet - as the film encouraged me to do - and avoided processed foods, chemicals like preservatives and artificial flavors, bought only wild caught fish and organic beef. My daughter's birthday is in a week or so and I wanted to buy organic cake mix. No problem. But organic icing? No can do. After some frustration I turned to icing from scratch and picked up a can of Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder. Great, I thought, looking for the ingredients to make sure there were no preservatives or artificial flavors. I looked and looked and became very frustrated! Finally I found these two little words: "Ingredient: cocoa." Period. I almost started crying. A recipe on the back tells me how to make lovely all-natural frosting! I feel like I'm on the road to taking real responsibility for my body and what goes into it, for the first time in my life.

And for our gay friends – the mere concept of banning love when countless “proper” relationships result in divorce, when heterosexual fathers are abandoning their children, beating their wives, and other atrocities occur daily in the “sanctioned” marriages across the US – this horrifies me. How can we sit by and allow love to be unlawful when the right of a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and the security of a partner, are the very core of the simplest “free” pleasures in life that money cannot buy… and yet we’ve made that security against the law?

In an editorial piece in AM New York last week, Lamont Hill pointed so eloquently to the obligation we must embrace of continuing to acknowledge that we must sacrifice comfort to fight for our liberties, as has always been the case. Those that came before us marched, protested, walked out of jobs, sat in the streets to wrest liberty from the grasp of domineering bullies who – since time began – would continually run roughshod over others to have their way if someone were not willing to stand up and sacrifice a little comfort to see them defeated.

At my daughter’s Montclair State University commencement last month, Newark Mayor Corey Booker was a keynote speaker. He so beautifully and so appropriately quoted Dr. King, and I apologize for paraphrasing but I don’t have time to research this, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability. It is carried in on the shoulders of those willing to fight and to die for it.” Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

At A Loss On The A Train

I should never have worn something so precious

that precariously hung by a hook

for the athletic adventure of commuting on the A train.

The pendant my daughter gave me was silver

with stone fossils of tiny prehistoric seashells

and a secret peace sign on the back

I hooked it on a silver collar, put on my raincoat

and hit my stride down state street to the train

not checking till, at my desk, it was too late

I wanted to weep then, retracing steps, reporting it

sending Wayne to the station knowing once spotted

no one ignores or, if found, turns in something precious

I was heartbroken as if heather herself

was in the possession of some circumspect commuter

reveling in their find that day lucky at my loss

millions of years ago tiny shellfish swam the sea

cousins to the tiny shells on my bathroom shelf

from the same sea that laps at me in ocean grove

and on the train I see a pretty boy with a sassy ponytail

and an african queen with perfect braids and a book

and an old woman bent but holding on and I wonder

what molecules from forever now swim in our blood

and make up the fabric of our magical possessions

since nothing is actually new

how precious and thoughtful to consider the ancient beauty

of prehistoric matter recycled and reborn

into our very flesh and so much of it now just landfill

I want to imagine my precious pendant

millions of years from now buried beneath a brand new

civilization of reborn earth and seas free from us


Saturday, May 2, 2009


I never had a problem with overindulging in alcohol, coffee, spending, or any of the other high profile pleasures that many must temper with repeated efforts at moderation.  Addictions were a foreign experience for me, and I pitied those weakened by cravings of various sorts.

So when I became sort of addicted to Scrabble on Facebook I enjoyed a nice long pause... contemplating the sensation of needing to log on and see if it was my turn in one of 7 or 8 games I had going on.  Facebook Scrabble allows you to take your time AND use a dictionary.  So bingos are not so rare, turns can often score 30 points or more, and a good rating allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment as it climbs, reflecting an increase in your expertise.  The honest truth is that I don't care whether I win or lose - each turn I take is full of pleasure.  I love playing around with my letters, I love knowing I could make three bingos with my current tiles - even if there is nowhere on the board to put any of them.  I get a thrill.  The Queen of Scrabble in my world is a new friend, Brenda, whom I met campaigning for the President.  She blows me away and beats me when we play.  I feel like I'm imposing on her busy life when I invite her to a game because she doesn't take her turns that quickly - but she takes spectacular turns when she does and I admire her brilliance immensely. 

Now I am employed again, after six lovely months of Scrabble at whim.  I have to take my turns at night - and of course on week-ends, like today.  On a work day I check early in the morning, but usually no one has answered my evening's last turn.  And, honestly, I never think about Scrabble while I'm at work... so maybe I'm not actually addicted to it.  I am just sinking my teeth into a new job in a new role - sales for the first time - so it takes a lot of concentration.  But I think that whatever I were doing my addiction to Scrabble is not a true addiction and I do have the ability to keep it in perspective.

Perspective is the secret to success in most things.  Another way to put it would be Priorities. Both of these motivate our judgement, our self-control; manage our appetites and lust for pleasures.  Having perspective is such an important life skill to teach kids these days.

I was in the 42nd Street train station last Saturday night - Port Authority - where I catch my subway to Brooklyn after I get off my bus from New York.  It was 1:30 a.m.  and my boyfriend Wayne needed me - he was very sick and alone in his apartment so I went in the middle of the night to take care of him (and get him to the hospital a few days later... he's much better now).

I had never taken a subway in the middle of the night.  It was quite fascinating.  I could have written this little episode in my "On the A Train" series (since I was waiting for the A train) but it took place on the platform.  

A pair of handsome young African American men stood talking by the A train side of the platform so I stood nearby, feeling a sense of security in their proximity.  A homeless man wrapped in layers of blankets and plastic with ropes and bungee cords shuffled around cursing angrily.  There were rough looking young men taking up a lot of space and being very loud, just playing, but enjoying the fact they seemed threatening... and who knows whether they were a threat to anyone or not.  More than half of the people on the platform, of every race and age, were intoxicated and staggering a little, smelling a little, slurring their speech a little.  The two young men by me were an exception and I enjoyed exchanging occasional smiles to let them know I was counting on them to help out if anyone gave me a problem.

Then two very young women came down the stairs, which were about 15 feet away from us, and leaned against the railing where it extends about 4 feet onto the platform.  One was caucasian and heavy set.  The other was Indian, and thin and very beautiful if you could see past her facial contortions and messy hair.  Both were very, very intoxicated... to the point of holding tightly on the railing to keep from falling down.  Their speech was slurred to the point of being unrecognizable.  They spoke in short spurts as if trying to remember - three words into a sentence - what they had started to say, but they forgot it that quickly.  And they often repeated what they said as if that would help them remember the rest.  "I'm gonna....  I'm gonna... I'm gonna."  I tried not to stare, but they were pretty loud and attracted a lot of attention with their blatant condition.  

After a short argument between them, which I could not understand at all, the white girl headed back up the stairs in the slow, pulling-on-the-railing-to-stop-from-falling-down way she had come down.  The Indian girl started to pull her jeans from left to right at the hip while making a grunting sound.  I didn't know what she was doing.  As she did this little dance she shouted up the stairs to her friend, "Come back!" attracting a lot of attention so that quite a few people - I'd say 10 or so - saw what happened next.  She pulled her jeans all the way down to her knees - along with a belt she never unbuckled.  I was shocked to see her undressing in the subway station, and was torn about running over and trying to get her to put her pants back up.  But I stayed put with my body guards, and glanced over at her frequently - half curious and half worried.  As soon as she had her pants down to her knees, which she kept together thanks to the belt, she slid her back down the stair railing and squatted right there at the bottom of the stairs.  'Oh!' I thought, 'She has to pee!' 

A few other girls were on the platform and started giggling loudly.  They really got a kick out of this scene.  One of the young men standing near me said to me, sort of apologetically, "I was thinking about helping her, but she's got vomit all over her.  I just couldn't go over there."  I smiled understandingly.  

Well, unfortunately, she didn't need to pee.  When she stood up and tried to wiggle her belted jeans back up (which did not work) we could all see a big pile of poo right where she had been squatting.  Everyone let out some kind of gasp at the sight of it, and I think I said something like, "I've never seen anything like that," when my two guys looked over to judge my reaction. 

She finally unbuckled her belt and opened her pants so she could get them back up. She couldn't manage to buckle her belt again.  Pulling on the railing and stumbling around her pile, which she managed to avoid with her feet, she slowly got back up the stairs, calling all the while for her friend.

Shortly afterward our A train came and we all jumped on, relieved to be away from that disgusting sight.  I kept thinking several thoughts over and over.  One: who is going to have to clean that up?  They really don't get paid enough whoever they are.  Two: how common is this sort of thing, seeing that I never find myself out in the middle of the night to witness it - does that mean it's rare? Or are young women and men debasing themselves on a regular basis because they have no idea how to say "no" to a drink when enough is enough? And Three: what would her mother do, say, think, feel... if she could have witnessed that scene?  

I have three daughters.  Have any of them ever had so much to drink that she reduced herself to an animal?  And if my children could only have been with me on that platform, and seen what can become of a young person like them simply because they drink too much, would it help them learn to control their own overindulgence one night, when this memory may just be the thing that saves their life?

That girl could never have defended herself against any kind of assault.  She was useless to even cross a street let alone determine if the light was green.  I can't help wondering how many people are alive by sheer luck after letting themselves become so helpless.

Young people, full of energy and promise, squander their health, their beauty, and their minds with such foolish behavior.  Oh how I wish I had that young woman's body to love and care for, and wash and feed.  Let her take my 51-year-old menopausal shell in return.  I would not abuse the great gift she has in her hands right now, with the whole world and her whole future waiting to be as spectacular as it can... but likely to be either short, or worse, long and unfulfilled.  What are the chances she snaps out of this and builds a foundation for her dreams, instead of piles of poo this Saturday night?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Clean Livin' without Paper Wastin'

When you're unemployed, as I have been for six months, you look for ways you might be wasting money and try to remedy them.  I looked at paper goods in my home.  I try to use rags and sponges when I clean - and dish towels to dry my hands in the kitchen - so we are not huge paper towel fiends.  

But paper napkins and tissues were another story.  I think I could safely say that we went through at least 2 boxes of tissues a week - and even the cheap ones are not cheap.  Paper napkins have been the only source of napkin for us for years—or a halved paper towel when they're out temporarily.  So I decided to change my habits for environmental as well as economical reasons.

I was never a fan of handkerchiefs. My father and grandfather used them and I just thought they were gross.  So I had to open my mind up to the idea.  First of all, every one I had ever gotten close to had been scratchy and I have terrible allergies—I need soft!  Without even looking I found the softest, 100% cotton bandanas from India - so thin and light they're almost sheer - in a head shop next to peace sign jewelry and tie dyed tees.  I grabbed a few just because they looked cute and they didn't cost much—but a month or two ago they went from my neck to my pocket and became my handkerchiefs.  I love them!!! They're pretty big, so I use one all day long and then toss it in the laundry.  I don't iron them; they could not be more low maintenance.  And they're so soft that my allergic nose never minds them at all.

For cloth napkins I had tried many times to solve this with various methods of identification for family members.  Finally I realized that the obvious solution was best.  I took a paint marker and drew fanciful big initials on some simple wooden napkin holders I picked up at Pier One for a real bargain (I think it was 6 for $3 on closeout).  I am using some batik napkins I bought in Malaysia a few years back - again no ironing. They're 100% cotton and nice and absorbent.  Kids and visitors (they get a version of a "V") can pick the napkin they like out of the napkin holder and use their napkin ring to identify it for the next round of eating if it doesn't get too messy.

I'd love to start a fabric fad.  These great Indian hankies were not expensive and they barely add anything to a laundry load. I'm saving close to $300 a year in paper products and keeping our napkins and tissues out of landfills.  Why do we need paper?  There's really no reason.  I'll stick with my "Small Steps" Marcal toilet tissues... there's no moving away from paper there... but noses and fingers can be just as happy with fabric.

That's my 2 cents on clean livin' without the paper wastin'!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea Stains

I can't help making note of a disturbing trend right now in the U.S. among conservatives. There is this Tea Party Protest, which insults the Americans who had no vote in English affairs. We voted. The American people spoke. Liberals and Progressives know how frustrating it is when your candidate does not win. It happened to us quite recently. And the country became a snarled mess of overspending and war... and worse. But the anger unleashed by folks who call themselves Christians is shocking to me, when just a few months ago these same folks were telling us we had to love our President just because he was our president, even if we didn't agree with him. It was our patriotic and moral duty. What happened to their patriotism?

The situation Bush got us in is truly enraging and exasperating! I don't like bailing out bankers or irresponsible home buyers trying to live way above their means either. However, Washington is hamstrung with crises right now - one on every front from war to unemployment to global warming to a complete lack of faith in us around the globe... there is no end to the snarled mess our poor young president is facing right now. The last thing I would do is raise a stink over how it's all getting fixed. He's hired brilliant strategists and they are all working very hard and trying to be as smart as they can about an impossible situation. I worry about them over-reacting, but on the other side of the coin is letting things spiral and worsen... and I don't know what causes economic bettering vs/ worsening, personally.  

I just know beyond a shadow of a doubt - sincerely - that the President is doing his best FOR US and not for Haliburten, his fat cat friends, his oil interests, or the elite. If he thinks helping banks helps us - that's why he's doing it - it's absolutely not to reward their mis-deeds. He's fighting every day to make sure they are accountable for the money they've been given - and bringing everything right out into the open as it happens - even if it embarrasses him. The last president and his crew hid everything, met behind closed doors, and destroyed records of meetings.  

It seems like conservatives are hell bent on undermining whatever happens now - trying to make it fail - just so they can get a republican back into the white house in 4 years. I would never consider adding fuel to their fire, or even reacting negatively when I know that Obama's heart and brains are in the right place - no matter what others say. What happened to supporting the president we elected as a nation? Patriotism? Praying for him as our leader. Isn't that what conservatives are supposed to do?

Monday, April 13, 2009

When Life Offers Options

I am choosing my next career move, and it's a difficult choice. The options vary, almost to extremes. The future bright in three directions, but I can only chose one at this fork in the road. 

Moments of clarity come into focus only briefly, giving way to ripples on the pond.  My reflection - for a moment clear - is muddled once again as new information plops into the pool of my consciousness.   I research and yet more information comes.  Housing markets. Unemployment stats. Average incomes. Foreclosure rates.  

Better to live where there are fewer foreclosures and it's cheaper to pay the bills?  Or is it better to live where there are more opportunities... even if everyone else is losing their job and their home?

So many lives revolve around mine and any choice I make will effect them as well.  How many decades do I wait to make a selfish choice?  Will I ever?  How tightly do I hold my children? How far do I go... when I let go?

Proving myself and my power to earn versus enjoying the moments we have while we have them.  Should you always take the higher risk/ bigger payoff... or is there a time to bet safely and value health and quality of day-to-day life over trips to Italy.  Maybe big expensive vacations are for those who don't have enough peace and enjoyment at home.  For those who work so hard to get away, maybe only a cruise or an island can save them from the stress of their daily lives.  Maybe a different lifestyle would be like a permanent vacation.

Decisions are not like chess moves.  You don't lose.  You shift and adjust and move on.  What life do I want in five years?  Where do I picture that and with whom and doing what?  Is there a settling or a mobilizing?  Is there one refuge or many adventures on the road?  Who will accompany me?  Or will I accompany them?

Sweet life—holder of memories, present joys and sorrows, and future hopes and dreams—where will you bring me if I decide this or choose that?  I must weigh options, desires, desirable outcomes, scenarios, worst and best cases, and conclude with a decision.  

Change is one of life's greatest challenges, greatest gifts, and greatest mysteries.  As I move toward my next change I am fully aware that my life will never be the same, and in awe that I actually have a say in the matter.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Little 40-Year Reunion at Tierney's

As the wide-eyed childhood of the 60's folded into the adolescence of the 70's, a group of brilliant and charismatic 12 year-olds turned 13.  We entered high school the next year, which, bad enough threw kids from all of Montclair's junior highs together, also split into a regular High School and a Team School, where highly motivated kids could re-construct their own educational experience to some degree.  So our group was diluted, life flowed along, and we went our separate ways to college or just moved away without acknowledgement or ceremony for many of us.

But for a moment in our lives - for a year or two - a summer or two - we had each other in a way that I now know many people never get to experience in their lifetime.  And as I write these words I feel certain that everyone will not recall it the same, or feel the same sense of awe that I felt and still feel at our luck in having each other.  But this was my experience, and I want to share it fully.

If we were 10 years older we may have tried to start a commune, but that would never have worked.  Too many egos, too many leaders... so this was really a utopian group experience - just enough organization to feed our urge to be a part of something great, but not enough to threaten anyone's independence or make them feel forced to do whatever was not their idea of fun.  There were little dramas, but they only added to our sense that we were a living organism—breathing, expanding and  contracting with each spasm of desire, need, longing, resistance, rejection, confrontation... and to my knowledge always resolving as long as we had time to go climb a tree or lie around watching clouds and thinking about things in Brookdale Park... or Edgemont Park... with whomever made you feel safest.  I'm sure I'll say more about those times, but my focus today is on this time... a little reunion forty years later.

We found each other again on Facebook.  Some had kept in touch and they helped others find others... the networking effect of the world wide web's wonderful gift to us.  Women I had searched for for years by typing their names in Google and coming up with nothing were suddenly right there in another friend's list.  If you type a name in Facebook's search field you get about 3,000 hits unless it's a very unique name like Galen Warden - but there are hundreds of Galens!  You need to know someone who knows someone. Period. And we are all over the country, and in other countries, and now we're finding each other.  I've blogged about the tears of joy I've experienced in the past weeks and months as I've discovered women I so deeply loved, whose disappearance from my adult life had left a hole more profound than I had realized.

So many of us have found each other, and more will surface. But a handful of us were physically near enough to spontaneously meet at Tierney's, a centrally located bar, because Laura, who now lives in L.A., came out to visit her folks this week.  Last night Kim, Laura, Jon, Dean, and I hugged and chatted away, spilling highlights of our past 40 years and gushing about the phenomenon of sitting at a table with 52 year olds - while looking at the faces of 13 year olds - because that's who I saw there.  Not grown-ups who've weathered a hundred storms and conquered a thousand challenges, but bright-faced adolescents, exactly as I knew them 35 or 40 years before.  Jon with this pointy eyebrows and intense, devilish grin, whose hair stood straight up in a cavalier fusion of curly brown afro and frizzy bed-head has lost most of his hair now.  His eyebrows are thin, his face softened... But that stark, angular boy is still there for me.  

And Kim, nervously bobbing her head as she gestures her enthusiasm and invokes your engagement with an almost fierce honesty, is still right there... right there.  She dives deep, as always, and challenges me to be myself in spite of everything, unafraid. And I love her as much today for that as always. I think more.  She has weathered painful storms, as I have, but has not lost that sharp self-awareness and awareness of me.  Defining friendship is an elusive task, but seeing Kim and feeling her jump into me the way I jump right back into her as if we never missed a beat, gives me hope that I should be able to find articulate words around the phenomenon of friendship better now than ever.  And I'm going to work on that.

Laura beamed for me, as she always did. Optimism that I channeled with her 40 years ago remains intact in both of us.  We were artists and both of us now write - just finding ways to express tangibly so others can be informed, share an experience, or feel included.  I long to read what she's written and she promises to send something, but all of that present stuff, that sort of spurted out in a mad grab for catching a lifetime in a few hours, paled compared to the amazing experience of staring into 13-year-old faces in a crowded noisy bar last night. 

My 29-year-old son was a witness, though he could not feel what we felt.  He came by since he lives there now, and my old friends got to see something I had done with my life in person.  Like show and tell.  Rough around the edges but charming, indignant of false ceremony, but genuinely warm and always smooth and hip, my firstborn chatted away with them exactly the way I chat away with my dad's friends at his 1953 Princeton reunions.  My brilliant friends, I'm sure, will raise kids who get masters degrees like them, but I celebrated my son, and my unconventional life.  Rather than being embarrassed that I was not as well educated as them, I was proud of my life because my struggles have made me exactly who I am, a person I know they will enjoy connecting with the more they learn about me today. 

As a group, we were not conventional.  We were about freedom of expression, individuality, and creative, outside-of-the box attitudes before there was a catch phrase for that.  But as time went by the boys cut their hair, we went to college, and we lost the trappings of the label "freaks." I remember having a melancholy sadness that we were turning into everyone else as high school ended.  But the quintessential "us" of eighth grade did remain.  We are still here.  Exactly us.  We grew up and became responsible, had our ups and downs but eventually made our parents proud and became our own versions of success.  But these are not successful people who judge books by their cover, or size up value by credentials.  They're much smarter than that.  My unconventional road, unconventional son, can make me prouder with these accomplished adults than with anyone else I know.

I always thought something was wrong when I did not see at least two or three of my junior high friends in news headlines, or on bestseller lists, or  in oscar-winning movie credits... there was too much brilliance and fierce creativity to not become some great contributor to society at large.  So what happened?  I found a little of that out last night as I sat with a researcher from Schering-Plough who works on curing diseases, the director of exhibitions for the Museum of Natural History, a social worker, and a writer.  I found out that these people change the world every day but I just don't see that in lights.  Just as I helped individual struggling kids get free online tutoring when I wrote successful proposals for, Kim helps grateful individuals live their final days with dignity in her hospice work.  I know if that were me I would want no one else but Kim on my side. And Jon may be managing the multi-layered, nuanced process of curing cancer.  I plan to take a field trip next week to Dean's museum so he can show me what he's done.  and I plan to fly to L.A. so Laura and I can spend hours discovering what we've written and created in our lives.

There are worlds here.  Worlds I have the rights to explore.  Lives connected to mine more profoundly than most since that time.  And I want them back fully.  I want to celebrate today's love exactly as I celebrated that love 40 years ago. 
The endorphins are good for my health.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Convergence at the Full Moon

It was the cusp of the full moon yesterday and the world turned on end as eighth grade came rushing back at me. Like origami my past folded onto my present and I was overwhelmed with emotion, realizing that my feelings about myself and what I want have not really changed at all.

Both love and friendship were catalysts for a prolific gush of creativity... poems, art, dance, short stories.  It felt like our little group of friends, our clique, could accomplish anything if we wanted to.  We were a nice balance of left and right brained, brilliant, creative, compassionate adults in young bodies just waiting to bloom.

For years I have wondered what happened to those friends... their creativity, brilliance, potential.  I know what happened to mine.  I found religion and left those friends on a tangent for decades, focusing all of my creativity and emotion on a new group of friends that shared that common bond.  I was sincere... but as I embraced more and more doctrine I became more and more self-involved and self-righteous.  Eventually, like the stock markets or a Ponzi scheme, my devotion to being right eclipsed my ability to love unconditionally (which religion is supposed to be about) and that phase of my life ended in a humiliating realization of my hypocrisy.  I am thankful for that painful awakening because in that reality I came back to myself - free of goodness by association - and any good I do became my own responsibility once again. 

So now, here I am, post religion, looking back at pre-religion... 6th, 7th, 8th grade... because yesterday I saw, for the first time, the faces of my best friends from that period on facebook.  My one friend, Roma, has remained an artist.  At one moment in time we were sister artists, but I left that faith to pursue another and now I find myself longing to reconnect with that part of my life.  Her work, as she describes it on her website ( is an expression of the many levels of our experience - how the physical, emotional, spiritual - memories, wishes, dreams - all intersect.  I am experiencing this in my life - my past dreams and ambitions becoming almost tactile.  Seeing Roma's work stirs a longing in me to discover exactly what all of the years of child raising, devotion to my career, relationships, and struggle could precipitate in my art, given the chance.

I am out of work, and struggling with how to proceed in my career.  Not having a bachelor's degree is much more of a deal-breaker now than ever.  Employers with a stack of 150 resumes for one position look for easy eliminators and filter applications by eliminating contenders without a degree.  I am contacting the Hartford Art School to explore what options are open to me to complete my last 30 credits and hoping to take just one semester in residence there to reconnect with my art as I accomplish this pragmatic goal.

Who am I as an artist? I am the mother of six. I am a marketing director. I am a lover.  I am a teacher.  I am a philosopher and poet.  Who am I as an artist? I am a woman who has lived three lifetimes of pain and joy, just like many others, but who may yet have the opportunity to provide wisdom, solace, direction, and encouragement to others on their own difficult road.  It sounds self-righteous to want to help others with my visual and verbal communications.  I'm not sure what to make of that.  But I do see my own six children forming lives that satisfy and fulfill them... I see them struggling, working, and sacrificing to make that happen for themselves... and I can't help being amazed that it took so many decades to realize that this is so very worth the struggle to have for myself as well.

Thank-you, Roma, for remaining true to your vision as I took a detour from mine.  Thank-you Ruth for bringing Roma back into my awareness.  Thank-you Annie for finding me. I cannot wait to discover what your life has evolved into.  And thank-you moon for pulling them back to me on one very emotionally charged day, March 10th, 2009.