Category Archives: Current Events

Greetings Blogosphere!

I have not been the most consistent blogger in the world. If there’s anyone out there paying attention this is not such a big surprise. My last post was over a year ago. In that episode, I announced that my poor old sweet-faced kitty Angel was dying of cancer. I got all philosophical and weepy about it, as I have a tendency to do. So here’s what happened next.

Angel’s vet had been so dire about it, I assumed Angel was going to close her eyes and drop her body any minute. I’d go out to dead-head the roses, and I’d worry that when I came back inside she’d be stretched out in the hallway, dead. The first few nights after the diagnosis in July, I couldn’t sleep well. I left my bedroom and went out to read on the couch. I fell asleep, but then I was awakened by Angel, running around on the family room floor, chasing a catnip mouse with a bell on it. Okay, I thought, she’s going to be all right for a little while longer.

I didn’t want to leave town with her so sick, but I decided I’d go to Santa Cruz and sit on the beach as soon as she died. When she made it to September, I thought—great, I’ll get off-season rates at my favorite motel by the wharf. When she made it to October, I forgot about Santa Cruz and decided I wanted her to live till the election. Yeah, that’s when this story gets crazy. I wanted my cat to live to see the first woman elected president of the United States. That’s right, I’m not proud of this, I know it sounds crazy. But remember what it was like a year ago: we were all full of optimism and hope. The polls, the media, the late-night comedians were all saying Hillary was going to get elected. The pundits were even predicting Democrats would take back both houses of Congress. We were going to take back the Supreme Court! I think I wanted Angel to live to see this because I was feeling so sad that my mother (who died eight years ago this week) and my cousin Joanne (who been gone only a few months at that point) didn’t live to see a woman president. It was silly, but I wanted the cat to see it.

We all know how that turned out.

Angel died a few days before Thanksgiving. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say she got really really weak and really really sick, and I called the vet on a weekend and scheduled a time for her to euthanize Angel the following Monday. Then I went to the store and bought one of those rotisserie chickens, and Angel and I ate it together all weekend. She also went outside and roamed around on the lawn and ate grass. She had a good death. We should all be so lucky.

After that I was sad. I didn’t want another cat and didn’t want to bother with Christmas. I didn’t put up a tree and I didn’t send out cards. But grieving for Angel made me realize that I hadn’t grieved anybody very well. So I found a grief support group. I talked mainly about Joanne who’d died in March, but I also talked about my Mom and about my friend Craig. They let me talk about Angel too. They were good people, and we met until the week before Christmas. Then I surprised myself and decided I wanted a kitten for Christmas. But then I doubly surprised myself and adopted two kittens for Christmas!! Their names are Valentine Rose (my black kitty) and Suzanna Christmas (my tabby who is called Zuzu—you know like Zuzu’s petals in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) They are joyful little girls and they love each other so much. Sometimes I sing them the Skylar Sisters song from Hamilton, only I say their names and I call them the “Holiday Sisters.” Yeah, I know, it’s weird, but it makes for a good story.

Adopting my new girls was great, but it didn’t alleviate the depression I’d been in since the election. I cried election night, and I cried for days afterwards. It was the pussy-grabbing comments that got me. I can’t believe we live in a country where people would elect a man who brags about such things. I won’t get into it here, but it’s a highly personal thing to me, as it is to many women. But my purpose today is not to rant about politics, no matter how personal I feel the situation is. I want to tell you what happened next.

As I said, I was very depressed. I wasn’t in a clinical depression. I got up every morning. I cleaned the house and weeded the garden, I did volunteer work at the women’s center where we serve breakfast to low income and homeless women, I wrote with my writer-friends, I went hiking by the river. But always I carried a deep heavy feeling in my throat and chest. I tired easily and I cried at cat food commercials. More than sad, I was feeling hopeless about my country.

On Inauguration Day I volunteered for an extra shift at the women’s center. I wanted to feel useful. The next day I went downtown with friends and we marched in the streets. It was a huge crowd. The organizers announced that we all would gather at a park southwest of the state capitol and then we’d march there for a celebration. It was mobbed. We lined up in the street adjacent to the park by the Catholic Church dedicated to the Black Madonna. We stood there for a couple hours before we started moving. I’d been in anti-nuke marches in the 80s like this—where the crowd was so big that those of us in the middle just had to wait and wait and wait before we could move.

I was there with my friends, and I felt great. I felt strong and healthy, as if I could stand there for days. I thought about a song Holly Near used to sing about a woman born on a mountain who was not going to let the developers come in—“You may drive a big machine, but I was born a great big woman!!” I love that song. My friends and I used to sing that to each other when we were young, living in our first apartments, going to Take Back the Night marches, raising money for the Peace Center.

My depression went away. Just like that. My friends said, oh, it was being out there in the crowd, it was taking action, feeling optimistic. But I knew that wasn’t it. I didn’t feel optimistic that day, and I don’t now. I feel terrible about my country. Just terrible. But for a while I felt a deep sense of grace. It was different than anything I’d ever felt before. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt very happy, filled with hope, even euphoric—you know, like falling in love, or finally getting that job you’ve been wanting, or getting your first poem published, then getting a poem published in a nationally distributed anthology! That’s good stuff. But this was different. What made it different was this: I felt forgiving.

I don’t know if this is a universal or even common experience, but there have been several people over the years that I’ve been unable to fully forgive. Some of them I don’t see any more, some I do. Some I’m friendly with, but I don’t trust them. Most I’m sympathetic to—I think, oh, I understand, they did what they did because of a misunderstanding, or because their life is hard too, or they had cold parents, a hard family life, a difficult spouse. Or maybe they were mean to me because they’re just mean, manipulative people and overbearing control freaks. Yeah, sounds about right.

I pray about this often. I’ve come to believe that when it comes to forgiveness, you can do the best you can—you can be friendly (though protective of yourself), you can pray for the other person, you can wish good things for them—but to fully forgive, to completely let go, that takes God’s grace. It’s not something we can do on our own.

And so here I was in the streets with my sisters on the day after Inauguration Day, and it began. My depression lifted and I felt forgiven and forgiving. This feeling lasted several months. I didn’t feel euphoric, though I generally felt good and healthy. Some days I was happy. Some days I was sad. It wasn’t about that. It was about an awareness of God’s grace. I couldn’t sustain it though. I’m not sure why. It drifted away. The Universe gave me a little taste, and then it drifted away. I don’t know if I did something to lose it. I don’t know. I wish I could feel that way all the time, but I know I can’t MAKE it happen. (I have another story about grace and forgiveness, but that’s for another day).

That brings me up to now. We’ve been bombarded these past few weeks by news of hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. We’ve seen the worst mass shooting in modern history in Las Vegas two days ago. We fear we may be at the brink of nuclear war with North Korea as our president tells the secretary of state (not in a face-to-face meeting, but via social media) that he’s wasting his time trying to negotiate with “Little Rocket Man.” I feel awful. But I keep writing, because I don’t know what else to do. I pray and I write and I hang with my cats and my friends, and that’s about all.

I’d like to say that I’m going to post more on my blog. I don’t know if that’s true right now. I don’t know if anyone cares. Is anybody out there? I’m not sure I really want to even have a blog. I want to write novels and poems and I was told at one conference or another that I should have the blog to promote the novels. And so here I go:

I have a new novel coming out in a month! It’s called Ghost Owl. It stars my young heroine Mariah Easter. I’m very proud of this one. My readers tell me it’s a page-turner!

So to update–I have three novels out now: Yellow-Billed Magpie, Red-Tailed Hawk, and Ghost Owl. They are stand-alone stories, but they have the same characters. I think it’s nice to read them in order, but it’s not necessary. I also have a short-story collection called Rover. All four books are available right now at Amazon—yes, even Ghost Owl. But if you’re in Sacramento, I suggest you wait and buy books from me at my Ghost Owl launch party at Hoppy Brewing Company on Thursday evening, November 2nd from 5:30 to 8:30. I’ll be selling all books that evening for the low low introductory price of $5!! Great for holiday gifts.

Finally—jumping ahead—my goal for 2018 is to learn how to market better. This will definitely include the website—but what about this blog. I don’t think I’m ready to give up on it yet. It will continue to be my usual crazy musings, and a bit of rough, barely edited flash fiction that I often write with my writing groups. I hope folks like it.

Thanks for reading this far. Now please drop me a line or give me a like so I’ll know somebody is there! Thank you!

Ps—Guess what! I went to Youtube and found a video of a group of strong and beautiful women singing The Kentucky Woman/Dreaming on This Mountain song—and I think it would do your heart good to spend a minute and forty seconds listening to it. Here’s the link

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Okay I read it! Here’s what I think of Go Set a Watchman

If Go Set A Watchman hadn’t been written by Harper Lee, I don’t guess I would recommend it because it isn’t all that good a read. But it was written by Harper Lee, and we know that if she had chosen to revise and edit it, she was capable of producing a brilliant snapshot of the south in the years immediately following the historic Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Supreme Court decision.

It’s been widely reported that Atticus Finch displays a racist side in this novel, but less has been made of the fact that Jean Louise herself agrees with her father on many, though not all of his opinions. There are several long, rambling conversations that escalate into arguments, and in most of these scenes no one’s point is explained very well. That’s okay, this was apparently an early draft. But I was appalled at the final confrontation between Jean Louise and her uncle, Dr. Jack Finch. Gee whiz, were there no present-day editors? Did they really think that (SPOILER ALERT) a pompous older man striking a young woman across the mouth would play well with a 21st century audience? I know that in the 50s and 60s jokes about domestic abuse were common, but it can’t be tolerated today.

The scene that touched me the most was the one between Scout and Calpurnia, the now-retired domestic worker who served the Finch family for so many decades. Lee implies that the advent of the civil rights era has created a chasm between the white gentry of Maycombe County, Alabama, and their “Negro” servants and “neighbors.” Of course there is little acknowledgement that from the servants’ point of view that chasm always existed. Nonetheless in this meting with Cal, Scout feels this separation from the woman she considers her surrogate mother, and it wounds her in a way more poignant that the intellectual arguments she has with her father, uncle, aunt and boyfriend. (Yes, lots of people and lots of talk, talk, talk!)

It’s true that the flashbacks to childhood and teen years were the most engaging in the book. It makes sense that Lee’s editors back in the 50s urged her to focus on those. But I also have to wonder if her publisher’s real motivation was to steer Lee to a safer, less controversial subject that the fears of white southerners now the their servants were attempting to exercise their right to vote. Of course I’m happy Harper Lee wrote the heroic and beautiful To Kill a Mockingbird, but a well thought-out, polished novel on the fears of the 50s might well have been a gift to us too. As it is, it’s rather confusing and sad.

SPOILER ALERT: I miss Jem something awful.

Here are a few articles on the book I found interesting, even though they contradict each other:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/25/opinion/joe-nocera-the-watchman-fraud.html?_r=0

http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/go-set-a-watchman-isnt-a-good-book-but-it-is-an-import-1718471112

And to my writer friends: write a will. Write it now. Be sure your wishes are known. Don’t even get me started on whomever is handling Theodor Geisel’s estate.

What To Think About Watchman?

First I have to say that I have not yet read Go Set a Watchman. I do intend to read it though; my copy arrived from Amazon yesterday. But the early reviews of Harper Lee’s second novel have been playing on my mind and I feel a need to set my thoughts down now.

As I said in a previous post, I was concerned that this “new” book would expose writing that wasn’t ready for publication, that maybe it just wouldn’t be very good. It never occurred to me that the beloved Atticus Finch could ever be anything but the paragon of handsome virtue Gregory Peck portrayed him to be. But is the racist, segregation-supporting Atticus of Watchman a first draft character that Lee totally discarded when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird? Or was this darker man always there in her thoughts as she wrote the story from a child’s point of view? Was she intending to write a sequel where the adult Jean Louise would be disillusioned to discover the true nature of the father she had idolized?

Perhaps I’ll have a clearer answer after I read the book, but I want to believe that the former is true. I want to believe that Lee never released this book because the Atticus Finch of Watchman no longer existed. Maybe she’d thrown him out and invented a whole new guy for Mockingbird. Of course this is a very idealistic wish, and the fact is none of us will ever know what the answer is. Harper Lee is unwilling or—more likely—unable to tell us what she was thinking back then.

It’s occurred to me this past week that Atticus Finch has been a perfect, pure, unadulterated hero for all of us white progressives. At the risk of his reputation, his safety—and most importantly the safety of his children—he did the right thing, he stood up to the bigots in his town and defended an African American man unjustly accused of a crime. We all like to think we could perform as well, you know, if we were ever tested. And yet most of us design our lives so we won’t be tested, so we won’t have to confront our own bigotry. This is especially easy here out west where there are no Civil War battlefields or memorials to fallen Freedom Riders.

So here I will present a small test for my literary minded friends: how many books have you read lately by African American writers? How may books have you ever read by authors of color? I have to admit for myself, it’s not many. I will say that when I was first out of college, as a fledgling feminist and aspiring writer, I deliberately chose to mainly read books by women. I was looking for role models. Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver are now favorites, and I wouldn’t miss one of their novels as soon as they hit the shelves. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Toni Morrison’s work, but I’m sorry to say I can’t tell you what her last novel was called. And oh—I just remembered—I used to read each new book by Alice Walker, but at some point decades ago she fell off my radar too.

What’s really embarrassing is I don’t even know where to begin. Who are the up and coming young writers of color?

We can speculate forever about Harper Lee’s state of mind back when she was writing Watchman and Mockingbird, and about her cognitive health now. We’ll never know for sure. So let’s take the discussion in a new direction. It turns out Atticus Finch was a closet racist. Well, guess what, he’s not alone. Let’s expand our reading lists to include more ethnic diversity. I challenge you to help me out, to give me the names of novels to read and writers to watch for.

Join the Discussion!

Let’s celebrate the upcoming publication of Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman by reading (or re-reading) her only other published novel, the incomparable To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m hosting a discussion group right here on my website! For details click on the Mockingbird link above. It will take you to a special page devoted to one of my favorite books of all time.

ps–if you don’t have the time or the desire to read (or re-read) the book, go ahead and rent the movie. You won’t regret it!

Unsafe Airbags

Last week I took my 2002 Honda into the dealership because there was a recall due to unsafe airbags. They told me it would take a couple hours so I asked if I could test-drive a 2015 Civic. I’ve been on the fence wondering if this will be the year for a new car and since I had time to kill, I thought, why not?

Many many moons ago I encountered more than one car salesman who thought it was cool to be condescending to a young woman who dared to shop for a car alone. Even now I had my defenses up, using nature’s tricks to look bigger—feet set wide, arms akimbo, chin raised. And some nice looking, rather young man came to help me. I relaxed a bit.

I just wanted to get in a car and drive around the block, but he wanted to be my friend, or so it seemed. He asked me where I lived, and wanting to be noncommittal, I told him East Sacramento–which of course convers a broad area. Nonetheless it seemed I was now a stereotypical white woman from an upper middle class neighborhood. He proceeded to tell me that his kids went to a school in East Sac known for its program for gifted students and its high test scores. Then he complained that the principal they loved had transferred to a middle school farther south where he had started a prestigious program, but that particular school attracts kids from Oak Park, and “maybe we don’t want that kind of influence.”

I was stunned that a salesman who wants to sell me something big and costly would say something that reeks of racism. But I didn’t say anything. I just narrowed my eyes and gave him my disapproving teacher look. “Where are the Civics?” I asked curtly.

He led me toward the cars and asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a retired teacher and that I had generally worked in poor neighborhoods. I thought maybe he’d understand but I overestimated him. He made a comment about the “bad side” of the Natomas School District. I decided to be direct.

“Look, sweetie,” I said as if talking to one of my 4th graders, “you shouldn’t make comments like that when you don’t know who you’re talking to. You don’t know me.”

He looked very confused and professed ignorance. I said, “What you said about Oak Park hurts my heart.”

“Oh, no,” he said.  “I didn’t mean it in a bad way–”

You don’t want kids from Oak Park in your kids’ school, but that’s not a bad thing?

 I said, “Look, I just want to drive a car. Can I drive a car now?”

So he let me drive a car. And I don’t know if it was the East Sac white thing again, but he insisted I take the car with all the bells and whistles. I was less than impressed—and said so repeatedly—but I figured if this is what cars are like now, I guess I could get used to it. When we came back he showed me the scaled down version. Oh, gee, I thought, this one is more my speed. Wish I’d seen it first.

He gave me his card. But if I decide to buy, it won’t be from him. Like I said: unsafe airbag.

My Mother’s Orange Tree

On December 7th, 1941, my mother was at her friend Louise’s house.  They were picking the first oranges of the season when Louise’s mother came out to the yard to tell them the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

 

Every year after, my mother commemorated the date by picking, and then eating, the first orange of the season in honor of those who had fought in World War II.  Hers was a silent tradition; for decades she never even told anyone she was doing this.  She finally shared the story with me, and if I could, I would come to her house on December 7th so I could pick an orange with her.

 

My Mom died in October 2009.  That first December I made a point of driving over to her empty house after work to pick an orange for her.   My brother and I were preparing to sell the house where we had grown up, and I wondered where I would pick oranges in the coming years.  I wondered if I could fit a tree in the tiny yard of my midtown bungalow.

 

Later the following year I made a decision that surprised even me:  I decided to move into Mom’s house.  It’s been nearly three years since I’ve moved home, and it’s been a great blessing for me to be here in this lovely, quiet neighborhood.  Now another December has arrived, and I’m excited to see all the beautiful orange fruit hanging like Christmas ornaments amid the glossy dark leaves.

 

So I invite you to join me:  eat an orange on December 7th in memory of my Mom, and in memory of any of your family—your parents or grandparents—whose lives were touched by that horrendous time in our history.  Its aftermath has affected us all.  Eat an orange in memory of the Greatest Generation!

 

Post script:  please say a prayer for California citrus farmers whose crops are enduring a week of hard freeze as I post this.  Hoping I don’t lost my entire backyard crop, but at least my livelihood doesn’t depend it!

A Prayer for These Times

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most beloved stories from the New Testament—not just among Christians, but throughout our western culture.  In a nutshell: a man traveling on a public road is attacked by robbers.  His belongings are stolen, he is beaten and left for dead.  Members of his own ethnicity and religion see him and pass him by.  But a Samaritan—a member of a rival group, a people for whom the Jews of Jesus’s time felt animosity—a Samaritan stops and helps the man, tends his wounds, takes him to an inn, and pays from his own pocket for the man’s lodging and care.  The Good Samaritan—or the person we might least expect—he is the answer when Jesus is asked, who is my neighbor?

            I was thinking about this story this morning and it occurred to me for the first time that what the Samaritan did was easy.  Now don’t get me wrong:  after thirty years working in special education I know that the physical care of others is no simple task.  During my years as an Instructional Assistant and a Teacher, I changed soiled diapers, cleaned up vomit and blood, even improvised on-the-spot instruction on how to hold your head upright and pinch the bridge of your nose while blood is gushing out of your nostrils.  The act of caring for others is often physically exhausting and emotionally draining—and I should add that the smell and sight of bodily fluids and excrement can bring you close to losing your own lunch.  Not the most fun part of the job.

But what’s easy about it is this:  you can’t do it wrong.  Today in education heated arguments ensue about what to teach, how to teach it, and how to know we’ve taught it well.  There’s a lot of finger-pointing and blame.  But when you see a child who’s soiled his pants, there’s no debate. You know what you need to do.  Likewise when the Good Samaritan saw a man lying in the road, bleeding and near death, he knew this wasn’t the time to debate the merits of the Affordable Care Act.

I like to think that for the vast majority of us, when we know the right thing to do, we do it.  The problem often is that we’re not sure what to do.  All who know me are aware I have strong political opinions.  I think my side has been doing the right thing—for the most part.  Folks on the other side probably feel the same way.  But right now I don’t want to talk about politics; I want to talk about prayer.

For many years I was deeply in love with a man named Harry.  We used to pray together—not as a regular routine, but often.  One of my most comforting memories of our time together was sitting on the couch holding hands on the morning of September 11, 2001, praying.

Inspired by John 14:13 (“Whatever you ask in my name I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”), Harry liked to end our prayers, “. . .in Jesus’s name, Amen.”  I liked this too, but one day I created a new prayer for us:  “May the love we have for each other be a reflection of God’s perfect love for us.”

Harry and I are no longer a couple but I do feel this prayer was fulfilled.  I feel we completed the work we were meant to do together and now we’ve moved on.  I haven’t said this special prayer in a long time but I thought of it this morning.

I want to offer this prayer to the world as an affirmation of our intent to turn over all worries and concerns to Divine Consciousness (or God).  There is great anger in and at Washington right now.  We don’t know what to do to heal the divisiveness but Divinity is already at work in ways we do not understand.  It is our greatest desire to see our own ideas of perfection manifest, but we must be open to the idea that God’s perfection may not look the way we want it to.  But even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking, I don’t know what to do!  I don’t even know what to write!

Then I remember my friend Craig telling me, “It’s never about doing, it’s about being.

Call it prayer or affirmation or meditation.  You can even call it an intuitive leap based on empirical evidence if you want.  But know that prayer isn’t necessarily something you do, it may be what you are.  Allow yourself to be the prayer, because you are God’s love, you are God’s perfection.  Affirm that this is so.  Ask for understanding.

And if you need words, I give you mine:  May the love we have for each and every one of our NEIGHBORS, be a reflection of the perfect love God has for us.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Post Script:  please know that I feel comfortable praying in this way because I come from a Roman Catholic/Christian tradition.  I believe the prayers, hopes and wishes of all people—whether they believe in one God, many Gods, or no God—are equally valid.