Monday, November 5, 2018
Sometimes inspiration is not enough. Motivation is not enough. Sometimes I need a cat to gently nudge me into action. Okay, wrong adverb. Wrong verb. Wrong cat. There's nothing gentle about Kočka. He bites.
In this case, the inspiration comes from Facebook. One of those questionnaires. You know --
"It's fun to learn odd little things about my friends.
1. What’s your middle name:
2. Last time you cried?
3. What's your favorite pizza?"
As a writer, these random questions can start me thinking. And, rather like an artist too poor to hire a model, I can explore my own reactions to stories. Stories that my friends tell me. Stories I find in the media.
My Michigan cousin Gary's questionnaire on Facebook reminded me of my own tearful responses to two recent stories in the media.
The first was a National Public Radio piece on Flint, Michigan.
A little background: A series of changes to the water supply led to a federal state of emergency declaration in January 2016. Because of lead contamination, Flint residents were instructed to use only bottled or filtered water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. The water is now declared to be safe, but residents are instructed to continue to use bottled or filtered water until all the lead pipes have been replaced, which is expected no sooner than 2020.
The NPR story aired on October 26. The reporter Ari Shapiro was revisiting Flint citizens to find out how their lives are now, almost three years after the emergency declaration. The last interview of the piece was a woman, who along with her husband is raising two boys. Her name is Jeneyah McDonald.
During the interview her 9-year-old son Justice speaks up, "Why does the pipes break in Flint and in the others they don't?"
The reporter explains that Ms. McDonald goes into a long, fact-based explanation about the state government's decision to change water sources in an effort to save money. Then the reporter says that later when the children are not in the room, she says that question from her son really threw her.
"MCDONALD: It's his first time asking me that ever. And that kind of - that was a lot.
SHAPIRO: Is it hard to know what to say?
MCDONALD: It is. It is, and especially trying to contain my emotions 'cause I don't, you know,
just want to break down in front of them 'cause they're not understanding, why is she so upset?
SHAPIRO: What's the answer that you would have given to that question if it had not been asked by one of your children?
MCDONALD: I probably - honestly, I feel like it was done on purpose because Flint is
predominantly black. And who cares? I feel like it's pretty much where the nation is right now.
You see young black boys getting murdered by white police officers all across the nation. So
what do I think as a black mother raising black boys? How do I think a government that's
predominantly white - how do they - they showed me what they feel about me and us here in
Flint. They showed us.
Everyone want to say racism is not alive. It is so alive, and it's so sad. And I - you know, it's
hard not to teach your kids about it without sounding racist. You know what I mean? I don't
want my children to hate anyone because of the color of their skin. I just - I want to be careful
when I'm answering things for him because I want him to be an adult that's able to change the
And what made me cry? It breaks my heart that this is happening in America today. That America must be taught by this mother, who has been on the receiving end of racism, saying "I don't want my children to hate anyone because of the color of their skin."
Not all my tears come from a broken heart. Sometimes I cry when I see something so beautiful or hear a story that opens my heart.
With all the ugly campaign advertising on commercial TV recently, I've found refuge in Public Television, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and TED Talks.
Four days ago, I listened to Andrew Solomon giving a TED talk about "How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are."
Solomon is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and a past President of PEN American Center. His book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression won the 2001 National Book Award, was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, and was included in The Times list of one hundred best books of the decade. Solomon's Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity was honored with the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award.
His work has been mostly about how people deal successfully with adversity. Parents with handicapped children, people living in the midst of war, people surviving their own disabilities. In this twenty minute TED talk he describes forging meaning and building identity from his own life's adversities.
Solomon tells a story about Harvey Milk. You may remember Milk was the gay activist elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in 1977 and then assassinated a year later along with Mayer George Moscone in San Francisco's City Hall.
Solomon says when Milk was asked by a young gay man what he could do to help the gay movement, Milk said "Go out and tell someone. There's always somebody who wants to confiscate our humanity and there are always stories that restore it. If we live out loud, we can trounce the hatred and expand everyone's lives."
Solomon ends his talk exhorting us to "Forge meaning. Build identity. And then invite the world to share your joy."
My tears were from my heart opening. For the assurance that there are people like that out there.
This is what writing is for. To tell stories. To connect people to other people so they can share stories. Just like the song says, "Put a little love in your heart. And the world will be a better place for you and me."
For the NPR story click Flint. To watch this TED talk click Solomon
Saturday, October 20, 2018
The last day of our History Vacation when I flew home, I met Marcia Olson and the plane hit a truck. Two most fortuitous events.
I always meet the nicest and most interesting people while flying. Marcia was one of my seat mates on my flight home. She's in education. And music. And she lives in the Denver Metropolitan area, as do I, so we visited all the way from D.C. to Denver by way of Atlanta.
We had to change planes in Atlanta. I was planning to lunch in Atlanta but ....
When the plane landed there, it hit a truck. I know, how does a plane hit a truck? It happened in the Gate area. The truck was parked where it shouldn't have been and the visibility from the pilot's seat is quite limited. It wasn't a big collision or anything. Just knocked off the tippy-end of one of the wings, the part that has that little flashy light.
It delayed our deplaning but not so much that we missed our flight to Denver. Just missed my lunch. Now the folks who were supposed to stay on the plane and fly to Philadelphia, they were inconvenienced. Like my son John said regarding repair of the plane so they could continue their flight, "It might take a while for the glue to dry."
Long story short: Marcia and I became Facebook friends and she messaged me to check my emails because she got a voucher from Southwest for another flight. Me, too!
Wednesday I used said voucher and flew to Dallas for my grandchildren's birthdays. I boarded the light rail into Denver, transferred to the train-to-the-plane, and was through security at the airport, all before sunup. I haven't seen the sun except for that time period we were flying above the clouds until today.
(We didn't hit anything when we landed.)
Gotta say -- all that stuff you hear about things being "bigger" in Texas is true. This is an agave plant outside the Half Price Books flagship store in Dallas. It's huge.
And that nonspecific pronoun "it" is perfect here because it can refer to the huge agave plant or the huge bookstore.
The day after I arrived I further confirmed the truism of Texas being the home of "bigger." This is the welcoming entrance to a home I passed on my Thursday walk.
And this, folks, is a high school football stadium. Yes, that's right high school.
The two pedestrians are my 6 foot-two-inch tall son
and my normal adult size daughter-in-law.
The two pedestrians are my 6 foot-two-inch tall son
and my normal adult size daughter-in-law.
If you haven't noticed, I gotta tellya, I'm not much of a traveler and even less of a travel blogger. If you want to read some good travel blogs, check out my friend Anabel's blog glasgowgallivanter.com. She and her husband live in Scotland (hence the title) and they travel often and widely.
Monday, October 8, 2018
In Shakespeare, theater is either history with familiar names and events and outcomes. Or it is comedy with laughs and obstacles to the inevitable happily-ever-afters. Or it is tragedy where the hero is a person of high birth or one who holds a position of status. And that hero’s journey unravels because of his own character flaws.
Lord Finn is a tragedy. But certainly not a Shakespearean tragedy. Daniel Finley, well-played by Ben Richardson, is Lord Finn and he hates Shakespeare. The old English speech he enters and exits seamlessly are of Mallory’s King Arthur or Dickens, not Shakespeare.
This heartbreakingly realistic film follows three main characters, none of whom is high born or holds a position of status. They are the people we’d rather not know.
Daniel Finley, his father is a Native American and his mother an Anglo, is mentally ill. The movie opens with him on the ground out behind an Indian casino. His speech is absurd, nonsensical. And his manner, aggressive. You and I see people like him on the street. We avoid eye-contact and pretend that they don’t exist.
Jasmine, a Native American prostitute, enters the story by inducing a car thief to help her steal a john’s car. She’s not the kind of woman a man would bring home to his mother or a mother would point to proudly.
And Cheer, a hostile, white, lesbian, prison inmate. She’s in for selling drugs. We meet her in an AA meeting inside the penitentiary. Even her fellow cons dislike her.
They’re not traditional Shakespearean characters with traditional character flaws like ambition or jealousy. With all their problems, their tragic flaw is how they deal with the tragedies in their lives. It’s how Daniel and Jasmine deal with loss. And for Cheer, it’s how she deals with never having had.
Daniel refuses to take his medication. Jasmine fills her sleepless nights with drugs and johns. And Cheer uses people, alcohol, and whatever other drugs she can get hold of to make her way in whatever world she’s in.
Each of them is an outcast. The movie brings us into their lives. Our sense of discomfort with people like them dissolves and we no longer want to ignore them. We no longer dismiss them with the old saw “There but for the grace of God….” We want to know how they got like that, what’s going to become of them.
Sissie, Daniel’s beloved, younger sister is played by Suzy Weller. She touches the heart of the story -- of all our stories -- when she says twice, “He’s all alone in there.” Once of her brother and once of their father.
Each of the three -- Jasmine, Cheer, and Lord Finn -- is all alone in there.
Lord Finn has abandoned sanity and rejected that part of himself that is his father. Jasmine, played by the beautiful and talented Jamie Loy, has abandoned her birth name and the person she loves most. Sarahjoy Mount plays the mercurial Cheer, who moves from being victim to being predator and back again. She has abandoned freedom and any possibility of acceptance in the world for the surety of prison.
Each of them is like hail damage in a windshield. Fissures spread across the glass from pock mark to pock mark. To the people they should be or could be closest to. People who suffer their own damage.
In his debut film, Al Mertens has written and directed a serious film about people we all know. A father or a child. A girl we went to school with. Someone we once loved. And about us, too. As difficult as these people’s lives are…as difficult as our lives are…in the end, he reminds us that no matter how “alone in there” we feel, the truth is we are not alone.
Monday, September 17, 2018
Okay, y'all! I gotta write this review because I think the book is overdue at the library and a friend of mine loaned it to me so I'm sorta on her dime.
It's not that it took me so long to read the book. It reads very fast. In fact, I finished it within three days. Not because I'm a fast reader. It's just that I couldn't put it down.
Officially, it's identified as a coming of age story. It's from Willow's point of view and Willow is Polly's very late-in-life daughter. Willow's father died before she was born. Her siblings are grown and gone -- her sister converted and married to a self-righteous, evangelical Christian and her alcoholic brother has left the family and the country. Both disappointments to Polly and sorely missed by her. Polly is also estranged from her family, friends, and even her hometown across the state line in Louisiana. Willow has no one other than her mother.
This story is set in a small town in East Texas, so it's not so surprising that Willow tells a tall tale or two in defense of her mother. Who, it's true, in no way, shape, or form fits the standard mold for mothers. Polly's too old. She's too outspoken. She hasn't any friends. Doesn't get along with the neighbors, goes to Willow's school armed with a falcon on her shoulder. (Yes, a real falcon.) Hates her neighbors and squirrels. And they hate her right back. Well, the neighbors do.
Truth be told, with neighbors like that, I didn't blame her one little bit. But then, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with Polly as a neighbor either. She's altogether too fond of firing off her shotgun and who knew she was firing blanks?
Polly never talks about Willow's dead father or why she herself will never go back to her hometown. So Willow is obsessed with her mother's history.
She is also obsessed with her mother's age. And her smoking. She's terrified Polly will get cancer and die, then Willow will be all alone in the world.
"Polly never used the word cancer. It was as if invoking it would be an invitation for it
to slide under our door and slink inside her cigarettes. So she said Bear. People had
lung Bear, stomach Bear, skin Bear, or worst of all (and she said this in a whisper)
hinder Bear -- colon cancer. 'My uncle had the hinder Bear,' she said delicately. 'He
shrank down to ninety pounds, poor fellow. But they cut it out of him and he was okay
for a few years. 'til he had a heart attach while leaning over a rain barrel and drowned.'"
Hepinstall's descriptions of people! The way they look.
"Darcie Burrell -- a reed-thin woman with a permanently conflicted expression, as though,
deep inside her, someone was trying to bathe a cat."
The ways people can be mean like when Willow's sister's step-son declares that Polly is going to hell, Willow retorts,
"'How could she go to hell, she's a Christian? She goes to church.'
He nodded. 'A Methodist church. My dad says she might as well go to a nightclub.'"
Having, myself, been raised in the Methodist church in several small Oklahoma towns, I laughed out loud.
You know it's a good book when it has characters you'd recognize on the street. And if it can make you laugh and cry. And when you finish it, you're satisfied. And you hope that Kathy Hepinstall is not like Harper Lee who had only one book published, because The Book of Polly is so good, you want more.
And there are more. Check at your local library.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Yes! I was here.
Day 7 of our History Vacation we started at the National Museum of Air and Space. It's my favorite of the Smithsonian Institute museums.
Maybe it's because of when I grew up, but All Things Space just rock my world. In the Fourth Grade I drew space stations. Some wheel shaped so they could spin and produce an artificial gravity. On some, the inhabitants wore magnetized shoes. Also for a sense of gravity. They were all complete with living quarters, labs, observation windows, a cafeteria, a PX, a movie theater. All the things a fourth-grader thinks are necessary for life.
So, okay, none of my space stations were shaped like the Mir or the International Space Station. I still wasn't totally off point with my space stations, the ISS has living quarters, labs, and observation windows. But it doesn't have artificial gravity. Or a movie theater.
They have all manner of manned flight and unmanned flight. Human powered to nuclear powered to solar powered. Land based, sea based, and space based.
(Smithsonian photo of
11-foot model of the
11-foot model of the
The USS Enterprise had all the amenities I thought a space station should have, plus natural gravity!
Thirty-six years after that flight, while serving as a United States Senator from the State of Ohio, Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space as a crew member of the Discovery space shuttle and the only person to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs.
John Glenn truly had the Right Stuff. (Which, by-the-bye, is the title of a very good book by Thomas Wolfe.)
And a Lunar Module is there. This is LM-2. It is not one of the six that landed on the moon. Parts of those are still parked up there.
Although this particular lunar module never flew in space, NASA used it to ground test the stability of the Saturn V rocket and spacecraft. (The Saturn V had previously developed severe pogo oscillations -- up and down.)
The Smithsonian's LM-2 was also used in a drop-testing program to ensure that the electronic and mechanical systems could withstand a lunar touchdown.
That's son John in the yellow t-shirt.
The Wright Flyer is in this museum and the Spirit of Saint Louis. And so many other significant aircraft -- the actual aircraft. It is definitely a Wow-fest and more than you can see in one day.
We were on the last full day of our History Vacation so we cut our visit to the Air and Space Museum short and went to lunch in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden Cafe where the food is good and you can eat outside in the beautiful garden.
Then it was on to the National Gallery which I loved.
There are two buildings divided by a terrace with fountains and glass pyramids through which you can see into the connecting underground of the gallery.
Three of my favorite paintings
Lionel Feininger's René Magritte's
The Bicycle Race The Blank Signature
Then as the finale, we went to the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art. I didn't like it so much.
This is my favorite picture from there.
This is my favorite picture from there.
That's Grandson Silas in his squid hat lying on a bench before an art installation.
We were both tired by then.
We were both tired by then.
Monday, July 23, 2018
The National Cathedral
Its Mission --
to serve as a house of prayer for all people
and a spiritual home for the nation.
Sunday, the sixth day of our History Vacation, we went to church. The only day we went by car. Our Lyft driver to the National Cathedral was a long-time Washington resident. Before he started driving for Lyft he drove a taxi, so he was very knowledgeable both about how to get where we wanted to go and about what we saw on our way.
(An aside regarding Lyft -- my daughter reminded me that when she was growing up I taught her not to arrange to meet strangers on the internet and not to get into cars with people she didn't know. Now we make arrangements with strangers on the internet to get into cars with them.)
Having grown up in Oklahoma where there are no natural lakes and now living in Colorado which is High Plains Desert, the concept of water travel is very exotic to me. The Potomac River which empties into the Chesapeake Bay which in turn opens out to the Atlantic Ocean is an important feature of the City of Washington and an endless source of fascination for me. On the way to church we passed through country that was a combination of city buildings and sail boat masts.
Like the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral was damaged in 2011 by the strongest earthquake east of the Mississippi since 1944.
The magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck about 90 miles southwest of Washington D.C. and was felt by more people than any other quake in U.S. history. It was felt in 12 states and several Canadian provinces.
The Cathedral still has scaffolding in place and is trying to gather enough money to repair the damage.
Each of the doors across the front of the church is covered by beautiful ornamental metal gates.
The left entry gate Two details from the left entry gate
On Saturday, the day before we went to church, Washington had its big Pride Parade to celebrate its LGBTQ community. We were unaware that the parade was taking place so we missed it.
The entrance procession for mass typically includes all who will serve during mass -- the ministers who will serve at the altar, including acolytes or servers, the deacons or priests who will serve as assisting clergy, and the celebrant.
To acknowledge Pride Week, the procession also included a woman carrying the cross festooned with rainbow-colored streamers.
The Reverend Canon Jan Naylor Cope's sermon emphasized diversity and unity. She stressed that all are welcome in our nation and to this church. And that we should strive to overcome the deep divisions within our country and work together for the good of all.
A fitting service to bless our History Vacation.
Among the many striking features of the National Cathedral is one that is not there. The entrances have no metal detectors to walk through and no one examines the contents of your purse. Although, I felt perfectly safe everywhere we went in D.C., I must say, I felt safer there even without the righteous, post 9/11 security practices at all the museums.
From church, we took another Lyft to the Spy Museum. Well, actually, he let us out at the Spy Museum, but there was a Shake Shack right next door. Ah, yes. Burgers all around.
The Spy Museum is not one of the Smithsonian museums and is not free. It also ain't cheap. You get $2 off if you get tickets on line, but for an adult they're still $20.95.
For that, you get all things spy. Both real spies and fictional ones. The information and artifacts about real spies are real, not a bit cheesy. But, if they were, they might be less disturbing.
The kids, including my adult son, enjoyed the Spy Museum immensely. My personal favorite was James Bond's car. (Photo by the museum.)
Think I'll stick with the fictional spies.
On the walk from there to the nearest Metro Station, we were treated to some unique and beautiful Washington architecture.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church, est. 1794
When you turn away from St. Patrick's, right behind you is the most amazing building facade.
It's a seven story building with the bottom two stories decorated with painted cast iron.
Detail of painted cast iron facade Story of the building
Friday, July 20, 2018
Some of the thousands of shoes confiscated from arriving prisoners
at the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland.
at the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is not part of the Smithsonian Institution. On November 1, 1978, President Jimmy Carter established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Elie Wiesel. Two years later the United States Congress voted unanimously to establish the museum, and the federal government provided land adjacent to the Washington Monument for construction.
In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan helped lay the cornerstone of the building, and on April 22, 1993 the museum was dedicated amid speeches by American President Bill Clinton, Israeli President Chaim Herzog, Elie Wiesel and others of note. Four days later the Museum opened to the general public. Its first visitor was the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
Admission is free, but to tour the permanent exhibit you need a ticket which you can get ahead of time online. You can also get tickets on the day of your visit, but just be warned, there'll be a line.
Five years ago, when the girls and I visited Washington on our History Vacation, I started the tour of the permanent exhibit, but like this year's tour of the Museum of African American History and Culture, it was too intense and I had to leave the tour.
What the tour does is exactly what it is meant to do. It brings home to your heart that the Holocaust was not only a horror committed against millions of Jews and other Europeans, but murder and unspeakable cruelty against individual people. Some, seniors like me. Some, children like my grandchildren. Some, well-educated professionals. Some, working class. Each a person had their own past, their own hope for the future, their own story. Each person had a name.
During my abortive visit five years ago, I waited in the reception area for the girls to finish the tour. I met a woman also waiting. She was a little older than I. An immigrant with an accent. She was a Holocaust Survivor. She was very young when her family was sent to one of those camps. And she was the only one of her family who lived. We didn't talk very much about what happened to her in the camp. We talked about how she came to the United States. How she met her husband. About her children and grandchildren. For me, she is living proof that humanity can endure and rise above hate and tyranny.
The museum and that woman's experiences remind me that we cannot be bystanders. Germany during that time was not a nation of monsters. I'm sure they never believed their country could perpetrate such evil. It can happen here. It has happened here. Perhaps not so efficiently or on such an industrial scale, but wars, both formal and informal, against Native Americans. Communities' tacit acceptance of lynchings of African Americans. Cultural abuses great and small against immigrants, minority religious groups, the physically or developmentally handicapped, people who somehow deviate from the "norm."
To protect against becoming a Nazi-Germany-style nation, it is absolutely necessary that we speak out against hate and prejudice whether we're in line at the checkout counter in Walmart or in the voting booth.
My son John and his wife decided before the D.C. trip that nine-year-old Silas was too young to go through the Holocaust Museum so he and I did our own thing while John and J.R. went to the museum. The plan was to meet up after lunch at the Museum of American History.
If you recall, Silas's priorities for the vacation were to swim in the hotel pool and go to an escape room. First of all, being locked in a room anywhere is not my idea of entertainment. For that matter, neither is swimming in a hotel swimming pool. I didn't even take a swimsuit.
Luckily for both of us, the hotel had a lifeguard on duty, so I didn't have to get into the water. While Silas swam, I read. Paragraphs liberally sprinkled with "Grandma Claudia, watch this!" A good book spiced with a child's enthusiasm -- the best kind of reading.
Washington, D.C. is a wonderful town to eat in. You can partake of any cuisine from any place in the world.
To celebrate this abundance of choice, we had pizza from a food truck.
We ordered. Pepperoni, of course. Watched them make it. And ate on the terrace of the Museum of American History.
Our only food truck meal while in D.C. It was really good.
The museum houses artifacts from all aspects of American History. Many of the exhibits follow American culture more than American history.
Americans, it seems, have always been on the move so transportation from human powered and horse drawn to steam driven engines, internal combustion engines, and electric powered machines. They have water craft of all stripes from canoes used on fresh water streams to ships for the high seas. There are locomotives and bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles.
(To be honest, I like the Forney Museum in Denver better when it comes to bicycles, automobiles, motorcycles, and locomotives. Of course, the museum in Denver is solely focused on those items with a few manikins dressed in clothing from whatever period a vehicle is from.)
The exhibit following changes in American foods, food is preparation, preservation, and marketing over the years is fascinating.
Americans, no doubt because we are a country of immigrants, have brought our ethnic foods from all the nations of the world.
The Hello Kitty bento box is an excellent example of our adoption of things Japanese. After all, what American college student has not existed nearly exclusively on ramen noodles after growing through their childhoods admiring Ninja turtles. Okay, so the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a peculiar American take on Japanese folktales.
Pizza and pasta from Italy. Brats from Germany. General Tso's Chicken from China. Tacos from Mexico.
Speaking of tacos from Mexico. What would a good Mexican meal be without a margarita?
Yep, this is the World's First Frozen Margarita Machine.
Make mine with salt on the rim, please. Thank you.
Many of the exhibits tend toward light-heartedness and nostalgia. Like Micky Mouse and the First Ladies' evening gowns.
But some are quite serious like the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the dispersion of immigrants throughout America. Reminders that history continues to be relevant to and revelatory of history as it goes forward from today.
The pièce de résistance:
The Star Spangled Banner
On September 13, 1814, the British Fleet attacked Ft. McHenry. The bombardment continued through that day and all through the night. On the morning of September 14, the oversized American flag was raised over the fort for reveille, just as it had been every morning for a year. The American forces had held. The British attempted land and sea invasion at Baltimore was defeated.
Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
It is our responsibility to continue the fight for "the land of the free." No longer against the British, but as Walt Kelly's comic strip character Pogo said it so well, "We have met the enemy and he is us.”