Why Write?

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        Since moving to a new state 3 and 1/2 years ago, I have found it difficult to tap into my creative outlet on a regular basis.  Lately, I have wondered why- given that my life is filled with less responsibilities and a bit more time in which to write. I have moved away from the near daily reminders of my past into a space where I can build a whole new life for myself. Perhaps my expectations were too great. Reality has a way of biting into those beliefs, forcing a change to my mindset. So, what’s changed? A close examination bears the following: my job as a teacher pulls and drains at the energy required for such a task beyond the work day.  Each year my school community has challenged me with a new class to teach. The trust placed in me to create (yes!) another new course with its accompanying curriculum is both an honor and a burden, given the high expectations (there’s that word again!) that I place upon myself. I wouldn’t have it any other way, either.  When I moved here, it was important for me to cultivate a community-not necessarily replicate the one I left but it needed to come close. My work environment fits the bill.  It is a place of love and support and laughter as well as being intellectually stimulating.  And herein lies another obstacle to my creativity-a draining commute! I find the endless traffic lights and the strip mall landscape and multi-lane roads unbearable. The lack of investment in modern and efficient public transportation here borders on the ridiculous (no, it is ridiculous!).  There is no time of day when traffic is not heavy.  Local and state leaders truly have not had (and I would argue still do not have) the gumption and vision to move forward in this area. The only exception may be the desire to build highways in rural areas, which is nothing but a blatant attempt to further develop an already over developed fragile ecosystem whose drinking water problems may very well be the death of us. And given the fact that one has to travel over large bodies of water in order to get from point A to point B-not only to get to work or other destinations, but to also evacuate-you would think that this would be taken into account. But I live in a heads- in- sand-state; so again, I have lowered my expectations of things changing anytime soon. For now I have found a route home that is tolerable and calming for the most part.

 After a day spent teaching and a drive spent being grateful for not getting into an accident, all I can muster is a yoga workout and then meditation on my mat! Dinner, a bit of wine and a good British murder mystery is how I usually end my day.

Still, there are two things I truly fear most about hitting the keyboards these days. First, that it will be an endless lament about how much I miss my four season home state and the nearby mountains. If I couldn’t get to a higher altitude, I had the woods and hills. THE QUIET. Florence Williams reveals her own writing challenges in her book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative.  In her introduction, she writes of her family’s move from the majestic mountains of Colorado to the “Anti-Arcadia that is our nation’s capital.” She states: “I yearned for the mountains. I felt disoriented, overwhelmed, depressed.” (p.8)  After reading that bit, I realized that I was not alone; my emotions were validated.  And while I cannot escape the din more regularly, I find myself seeking out the trails in a nearby park. If I turn up my headphones just enough, I can almost not hear the sounds of the sirens that seem to drone on several times within a half-day’s span. Moreover, I head north as much as possible ( five times in 2018!). My soul is fed by time spent with the boys and my closest friends-not to mention mountain hikes and walks in the woods!

     My other fear is that I will devote most of this blog’s posts to the current political climate in our country. When I first started the site nearly 7 years ago, I wanted a space where I could explore and grow my writing as well as offer a forum of hope for anyone who was experiencing an abusive relationship. I wanted to write about my new life in order to convey a message of  triumph and joy and profound appreciation for resisting and overcoming personal tyranny. Well, that is done! But what about the oppression of these past two years? What about the culmination of the hard right turn this country began taking in 1980?  I cannot not write about it.  Writing is an act of resistance that is just as affective as the activist work that I have participated in since November of 2016. Writing clears my mind. Writing raises my voice. Writing sends a message of resistance to the abusive and repressive power structures that seek to quiet us. Writing raises the vibration and gives us energy and hope. So write I will.

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Scammers, Schemers and Scoundrels

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Image courtesy of: https://www.askideas.com/60-most-beautiful-injustice-quotes-and-sayings/

OH THE MENDACITY!

Have you heard that giant sucking sound?* That’s what you’re hearing as the Prevaricator- in-Chief, his pal The Grim Reaper, the Ayn Rand Adherent of the House, the Chief Perjurer Attorney General, and Commander for Copious Amounts of CO2 begin to whittle away at our fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are on the fast track to being denied our ability to breathe, vote and live. Preparations are already underway to throw us in the Pit of Health Careless Hell. The House pulled an all-nighter last week, working hard not to help the American people, but to hurt us-a sure sign of democratic decay in this country. And that’s just for starters, of course. The Prevaricator also sent Marines into Syria to fight ISIS.  Yes, let’s keep repeating the same actions and expecting a different result!  Speaking of  destruction, the EPA is well on its way to evisceration. With less regulation and more contamination flowing our way, we are sure to perish from poorer quality drinking water, chemically poisoned fish and increased levels of air pollution before we can even get to a doctor. At best, we’ll probably be too sick to get to the voting booth come the mid-term elections. And if we do make it, we better be sure to show proof that we qualify, lest we appear to be committing fraud.

It’s easy to come undone with each onslaught of ominous news. In my gut, I knew this was coming. When I wore black on Inauguration Day, a colleague complimented my outfit. When I told her I was in mourning for our country, she was dismissive, stating that she didn’t like everything Obama had done but nothing bad happened to her. I wish I had the right words at the time; I knew the bad boys up on the Hill were waiting with bated breath to unleash their Machiavellian Manifesto.

I have spent much time reading and listening and watching this week, furiously taking notes each time important information presents itself. My scribbles are scattered about waiting to be more coherently transcribed. I supposed this is a metaphor for my own thoughts. And what I’m learning and discovering is mind-boggling. Like Congressman Shimkus, who doesn’t think that men should have to pay for prenatal care through their insurance (doesn’t he know how insurance works?) Or HR 1313 which supposedly preserves employers wellness programs but also may now require an employee to submit to genetic testing. (Since I am now on my husband’s health plan, we already have to undergo yearly biometric screening to avoid getting financially penalized.) Or worse, the provision in the Republican health scare plan that would end insurance coverage of abortion (sorry if you’ve been raped or a victim of incest or your life is at risk or the fetus is severely deformed -pay up!). This kind of “law-making” is reminiscent of the former Communist totalitarian regime under the late Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania who- among other horrors-made abortions illegal and banned all forms of birth control in order to increase his country’s population. He even went as far to forbid sex education(don’t forget we already lack consistent, comprehensive, quality sex education here). And his regime had their own form of biometrics as well. Women under the age of 45 were subjected to pregnancy tests at clinics every 1 to 3 months, having been rounded up at their workplaces for the procedure. If they did not reproduce, they were subjected to questioning and even a “celibacy tax”. Doctors were under pressure to keep pregnant women and their children as patients because their salaries would be cut if a child died. Under these oppressive laws lay a few harsh truths: inadequate nutrition due to poverty and chronic food shortages and inadequate health care. Estimates in Romania at the time were that 60% of pregnancies ended in abortion or miscarriage. Illegal abortions were expensive, costing 2-4 months’ salary. Exceptions were only permitted if a woman was over 40 or had 4 children. (If you had Communist Party connections, abortion was readily available.) Harsher still, were the many orphanages discovered after Ceausescu’s overthrow and subsequent execution. Parents were just too poor to care for their children.

This is just one country’s disturbing history. Other countries surely have more depending upon their current laws:

https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/AbortionMap_Factsheet_2013.pdf

Years ago during the Reagan Administration, I read Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. The story, (which was adapted into a movie in 1990 and is set to be a mini-series on Hulu next month) is  set in a dystopian future. Citizens live in a totalitarian theocracy where any remaining power women had is taken from them. I remember thinking it was the scariest book I had ever read. Given the times then and the times now, I am afraid it still is. For perspective on the book and current events in our country read Atwood’s essay here:

My friends, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The big bills make the headlines. Not so much House Bill 610 sponsored by Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa, which states: “To distribute federal funds for elementary and secondary in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.” A step toward dismantling public education? ( Thanks to Izzy for this piece of news!)

What we are currently witnessing in this country is the continued creeping infiltration of corporations (disguised as government through the passage of legislation) into every aspect of our lives. Health care decisions are not left to the doctors, nurses and other professionals (as well as their patients).  Health insurance  and pharmaceutical companies call the shots. The science on climate change  from NASA, NOAA  and other qualified experts has been flushed down the toilet by greedy energy companies. Public education policies are not in the hands of classroom teachers, child development experts, literacy specialists and education researchers and professors. Investment in education is now moving towards private religious (aka Fundamentalist Christian) and/or a for-profit business model that misses the mark on what really works to educate all 21st century children from birth to age 22.

As I and millions like me continue to speak truth to power, I fantasize about that special place reserved for those whose narrow-minded ideas and endless greed and rabid hate hurts us all.

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                        Image courtesy of: Google Images

*Ross Perot inspired this one. He said it during his presidential campaign regarding factory jobs going to Mexico if NAFTA went into effect.

Stand Up and Fight

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Image: Google Images

It was all about power. Creating it. Using it. Taking it from others.

~from “How the Light Gets In” by Louise Penney

Overheard in the grocery store check out line yesterday: “It’s been a long day, up early and I still  have a ways to go.”  I have fallen into the rabbit hole of overt political action; I am paying attention to an inner voice that leaves me with no choice but to speak up and contend with the dark forces operating within our country and beyond. The last four weeks have been mentally exhausting and at times frustrating, but also exhilarating.

Some may be surprised at our arrival at the current state of affairs; I am not. When I was in the midst of preparing to move in the spring of 2015, I came across a paper I had written for a graduate course entitled: “Reagan, the New Right and the Threat Against Feminism.” I wrote that paper in 1986. Unfortunately, the paper was lost but I do recall writing about the administration’s attempt to pare down and/or eventually eliminate the Department of Education and of its tenuous partnership with Christian Fundamentalists and their attempts to outlaw abortion and certain forms of birth control for women that they had deemed abortifacients. Sound familiar?

Since those seemingly halcyon days of youthful idealism and continued progressive push back against Christian fundamentalism, I have learned a lot.  All along, I always thought it was about the legalization of abortion in 1973.  In reality, it is more sinister. In fact, religious conservatives were supportive of abortion rights early on  (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133?o=0):

In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

The tipping point for religious conservatives came when the IRS refused to grant Bob Jones University tax exempt status because it practiced racial segregation, a violation of the Civil Rights Act. At the time evangelicals believed that racial segregation was biblically based. In short, this prompted people like Paul Weyrich (co-founder of the Heritage Foundation), Jerry Falwell and others to jump on the political band wagon, find a cause that would unite evangelicals and then associate themselves with people whose values didn’t necessarily align with theirs but, who in turn, needed their votes in order to attain national power. In fact, as governor of California in 1967, Ronald Reagan actually passed a very liberal abortion law. The New Right’s association with the late president was nothing more than a marriage of convenience. This arrangement has been reignited in the latest presidential election with far more devastating and far reaching consequences for all the citizens of our great nation.

The Christian fundamentalist stand against abortion is nothing but a smoke screen for a more underhanded manipulation for absolute power:

In the last forty years, big money (and this means Religious Right Big Money as well-their organizations are run like corporations) has further infiltrated elections on all levels: local, state and national. We all know of the consequences of the Citizens United decision. But the devices of suppression and oppression were being put in place long before then. The Koch brothers and others like them have felt stymied by what they deem as over regulation by government agencies such as the EPA.  They and their operatives have long had a hand in the creation of political movements such as the Tea Party and the selection of hard right candidates who will do their bidding (think of the State Republican Attorneys General and their ties to the energy industry and the subsequent approval of former Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt):

And, in today’s news, a story of how of how current House Republicans are demanding climate change documents from the New York and Massachusetts Attorneys General (both Democrats), known as part of the “Green 20”:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/house-republicans-demand-climate-documents-from-state-attorneys-general-%E2%80%94-again/ar-AAn44H3?li=AA5a8k&ocid=spartandhp

It would appear, then, if you are not on the “right” side of energy companies you will be part of a federal investigation.

And clearly, you have to be on the “right” side in order to get elected at all.  The REDMAP Initiative (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-power-that-gerrymandering-has-brought-to-republicans/2016/06/17/045264ae-2903-11e6-ae4a-3cdd5fe74204_story.html?utm_term=.5727a0444985)  has brought unprecedented conservative power to both the House and the Senate. Their stranglehold helped to obstruct nearly every proposal brought forth by President Obama. And there is something surely wrong when the leaders of the House (Paul Ryan) and Senate ( Mitch McConnell) deliberately chose to ignore the Constitution (Article II, Section 2) when nominating Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, the Religious Right’s current  claims of religious freedom violations are disingenuous. For example, prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, Hobby Lobby covered birth control methods such as Plan B and ella. Yet, when the Affordable Care Act mandated coverage, they claimed that their right to practice their religion was being infringed upon. Hypocrisy at its best!

The Prevaricator-in-Chief is the epitome of  the authoritarian(some claim militaristic) turn this country has taken. His chief strategist believes in a New World Order and a purging of political elites. And his Vice President is the Conservative Christian puppeteer. Pence believes in conversion therapy for gay people, said that same sex couples were a sign of “societal collapse”  and voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Act for equal pay for women because he believes that two working parents leads to “stunted emotional growth for children” ( Gail Collins, New York Times). The elected officials in the House and Senate, however, have their own Machiavellian agendas to push through and willfully ignore the problems he is creating. Now that they want to actually enact laws, they are willing to put party over country:

We must act with greater moral courage than those who purportedly serve us. There are people who believe that their actions won’t make a difference one way or another. No matter which side your representative or senator falls on, he or she must hear from you! In fact, when I called Charlie Crist’s office one day last week, his staffer told me that we are making a difference. Bill Nelson’s staff is always gracious and patient; I know his votes match my views but I call anyway. More importantly, I still continue to call Senator Marco Rubio even though he clearly has put party over country and profits over people. And local officials matter as well. I am looking forward to meeting with my representative and senator during the Florida recess.

If we don’t stand up and fight, we are at the very least headed for a Corporate Fundamentalist Christian Theocracy. The evidence is clear that Democracy is in peril. Find your passion then find ways you can act upon it. It doesn’t take much time but if  we don’t act, we will run out of time.

 

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Take Action, Keep Sane, Make a Difference

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I am dedicating this post to my late mother, Pat, who would have turned 79 today. She remains with us still.

12 days feels like 12 years. Is this what it’s like to be in a boxing ring getting pummeled by your opponent?  The daily news is like getting a dose of bad tasting medicine- except the symptoms of my illness are getting no relief. I was telling my husband on Monday that the feelings that I am currently experiencing are similar to the ones from a decade ago. The agony of my divorce and its aftermath played out in all kinds of excruciating ways over the course of four years. Sound familiar?

Then I remember that I survived and thrived because of my relentless vigilance in the face of overwhelming odds. I didn’t let the bastard break me and I am not about to let this one either! I spent Sunday calling Senators voicing my concern and opposition to the Previcater-in-Chief’s Cabinet nominees and his outrageous Executive Orders.  I signed up for an event sponsored by our local League of Women Voters. Tuesday came. I talked with Emily who was hosting an action group with others up north. On Thursday she gave me ideas of how I can be effective efficiently. It was a God send.

It is difficult for me not to feel a sense of urgency. In my conversation with Jenn Wednesday, we shared our frustrations about our nation’s situation as well as our irritation with others who aren’t taking action.  The truth is,  we can’t expect everyone to jump in immediately- it doesn’t meant they are apathetic. In fact, they may be doing things to hold us up. Laura spends time meditating and praying for guidance from the Divine Mother. My husband gives me a soft place to land, a listening ear and delicious meals. He reminds me that I need to continue to live my life, to take time and be still, and that joy still exists along with the laundry!  I continue to remain grateful for my work as an educator. I make a difference every minute of every day in the lives of young people. They are the starfish stuck in the sand. And we adult citizens are too. The beach is filled with miles of us. Still, we must continue this long journey together. We will despair and be tempted to surrender. We must be patient and prudent. If we take care of one starfish at a time, we can prevail.

 You may ask what can I do that will have an impact? The simplest means is making a phone call to your local representative and/or Senator. This has been made so much easier by the blessed organizers out there. Here are some sites that will help you decide what you can do (with thanks to Emily!): 

Remember: the forces of evil will attempt to overwhelm us at every turn. We cannot let them win. We cannot be silent any longer.

We March On

It’s been difficult to write these last few weeks; simmering anxiety and fitful sleeping have been challenges to keeping my thinking organized. Each day I awaken with a refrain from the Beatles song “A Day in the Life”: “I read the news today, oh boy…”

However, the world-wide marches on Saturday, January 21st unleashed a swell of positive emotions that I have been needing to experience during these dark days. Each was born of  grass-roots ideas that gave way to events of unexpected proportions. Here in St. Petersburg, we had the largest march in the city’s history. My participation gave me renewed hope.

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Still, there is an enormous amount of work to be done. Just seconds ago, the president gave the go ahead to the Dakota Access Pipeline. And here’s the thing: every time those of us whose class and gender and ethnicity and orientation achieve something close to full access to our rights as citizens, they are eventually dismantled.

This sign at my march says it all:

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We are in precarious times. The deck is stacked against all of us. Our work has been rebooted and reignited.

Last week I turned to the words of Reverend Martin Luther King for inspiration and motivation. DemocracyNow broadcasted the speech he gave at City Temple in London in December of 1964, just before he was to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

(http://https://www.democracynow.org/2017/1/16/newly_discovered_1964_mlk_speech_on

Here is a portion of the speech that speaks to how I feel today:

We have heard and we have lived with the myth of time. The only answer that I can give to that myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I must honestly say to you that I’m convinced that the forces of ill will have often used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And we may have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around saying, “Wait on time.”

Miss Liberty is Weeping

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Can you hear them?

The thundering hooves of delusional despots

Faces with painted smiles

in a heated hunt

like hounds headed for their prey

Hell-bent on holding down the humble

Heaving them into hovels to hide-away  

Can you see them?

The circling sharks, self-serving, selling and seducing second-rate safety

Can you smell them?

The pussy-footed pustules and pompous panderers promising protection

Make no mistake, the nation will not be “ours” again

 No return to “greatness” or “glory”  

The tide is turning

The disenfranchised

The degraded

Thrown into a rip current

to be drowned

dismembered

and dismissed

While those with the skin of the founding fathers

All mighty and white

Fracture the freedoms of  females

and others lacking fair faces

We are not mere birth vessels

Your slaves and servants once and again 

We cry for our beloved country

We are gutted but not defeated

Troubled Waters

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Sunrise Thursday. The pull of the day threw the covers off my sticky body. The desire to escape the weight of worries, the seemingly endless sound of sirens, and the unforgiving concrete drew me to the water.

Finally! A cool morning was at hand. The sand was cold beneath my aching feet, providing immediate relief from a few punishing days of running. The tide was out and the wind was up, giving the waves a bit more vigor than usual. I walked along past my ankles, enjoying the ease. The beach was nearly deserted and still, except for the sound of the surf.

My mind is restless. I  am living with a sense of foreboding that I find difficult to escape. Mother Earth has always been a release valve, a respite for me, a place to gather thoughts and make sense of things. Since the mountains are far, I must find peace at the beach for now.

Sunrise Friday. Repeat. When I go to work, I tell Laura that I walked in the water. She misheard me and thought I said that I walked on the water, a phenomenon some attribute to Jesus and a well-known passage in the Bible. Others use it as a parable or a metaphor for rising above the negative material realm into a more fully realized spiritual self.

Sunrise Saturday. One more time. Before the day got away from me, I wanted a few moments of getting my feet wet. I appreciated the lack of noise from my fellow amblers. Perhaps we were all on edge. Waiting for the great national implosion.

Sunday. Another trip. But this time I run to the water and down to the pier. On the way home, I run through the quiet streets which are a few blocks removed from the noise of the boulevard. Ideas dance in my head.

The Sunday paper was chock full of the topics I thought of writing about, but  the writers, reporters, essayists, and editorials said it better than I ever will. However, I’d like to share one that was particularly compelling. Derek Black, a former white nationalist, wrote an essay entitled “David Duke is My Godfather.”  You can read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/opinion/sunday/why-i-left-white-nationalism.html?_r=0. One line that stood out to me was the last sentence of his essay:  “It is the choice of embracing or rejecting our own people.”

This is the thing that has bugged me the most. People-supposedly godly people- simply rejecting and judging everyone that doesn’t subscribe to their view of our nation and their view of religion (for some they go hand in hand). For example, on my way to a writer’s workshop Saturday, I saw a church sign that said: “Make America God’s Again.” I asked myself, “Whose God? Does it mean the Fundamentalist Christian God of hell-fire and judgement, the one that thinks we are all sinners? Would I be among the many who could be persecuted because I don’t believe exactly as they do? Would they create laws in this country that will blur the lines between state and church so they can make America God’s again?”

I texted my oldest son the quote and his response was “Cool.” I was surprised. Then he said: “Depends on what you mean by God’s I suppose. Love your neighbor, turn your cheek. Nice God.” I told him that I had a more negative reaction called “Fear of Religious Right.” His response: “Ah, lunatic God. No wine and cheese parties.”

I like his way of thinking.  I told him that if every house of worship had that sign ( Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc), then I think it would have the feel of less ‘lunacy’ and more love.

Sometimes I feel surrounded by others with a singular state of mind when it comes to their faith. Because they feel “right” in their beliefs, they assume I am just like them. I respect their beliefs but I don’t necessarily share all of them. And I am not sure they hear the harshness of their comments about times when they encounter situations where they may feel out of place, especially when it’s not Christian. They tell me they feel as if they are in “another world”. Then I share that I attended a predominately Jewish university as an undergraduate and that my experience as a non-Jew opened my eyes to newer perspectives and understandings. I hope their silence means that I gave them something to think about.

In essence, it comes down to active listening to others who may not agree with you or at least have a different perspective and experience. Derek Black says as much when people have asked him for a way to change the minds of Trump supporters. He states: “That kind of persuasion happens in person-to-person interactions and it requires a lot of honest listening on both sides.”

I cannot imagine living in a world or nation that is not diverse. There’s a richness to the various layers of our humanity and increased opportunities for deeper personal connections. We need to find a way to rise above the insidiousness that has made its way into our nation.

I’m leaving soon for another walk in the water, this time with a friend. I’ll close with a quote from Kenneth L. Samuel, Pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia:

Every child wants to belong to a parent. Every individual wants to belong to a country. Every loving person wants to belong to a partner and a family. Every believer wants to belong to a faith that affirms and values who he/she is in God.