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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sinclair Lewis' Passing Novel--Kingsblood Royal

This is a photograph of George Bonga, a Minnesota fur trapper and one of the first African-Americans born in Minnesota. He was the grandson of two slaves brought to Mackinac by a British officer and freed there, and his mother was an Ojibwa woman.) 

In 1947, Sinclair Lewis published, a satirical novel that was nominally about George Bonga and much more directly about America's complicated relationship with race. The novel's hero is a very white man in a very white suburb doing research to prove that he's descended from royalty, who discovers, instead, that his ancestor was essentially George Bonga--which makes the hero of Kingsblood Royal, a man of color--at least according to the one-drop rule. 

The hero is shocked by this discovery, but as he starts telling people, his world falls apart, leading him to wonder what life is really like for those poor black folk who live so separately on the wrong side of town. 

The white press couldn't stand Lewis' novel. There's no way, they said that any such well-to do guy would have been so stupid as to claim his hidden heritage. The black press loved it and thought it was very astute. Paul Robeson's wife, Eslanda, said she appreciated Lewis' approach to material "from the white side," and--get this--said that she was working on a novel about somebody passing for white from the "other side of the medal." You may not know this--I did not know this--but Paul Robeson's wife was an author, civil rights worker and anthropologist. 

I wonder why most of us have never heard about Kingsblood Royal, or George Bonga or his father, Pierre or his Ojibwa mother? And why the heck have we never been taught about Paul Robeson's wife, who--by the way--co-wrote a book with Pearl Buck? I also want to know how to find that manuscript of Eslanda Cardozo Robeson's the one approaching this material from the other side of the medal.  Oh, how I would love to read that. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Those Who Can Say, "Give Him A Chance."

Ida Fink's spare and powerful novel, The Journey, begins on a golden, gorgeous autumn morning, the day that typically, the author and her family would harvest apples from a tree that adjoins both properties.  

But on this morning, the father has left his girls in hiding, watching as their neighbors harvest all the apples. They are Jewish and their neighbors are not, and it's Poland in 1939, and the Nazis have just told every Jew in town to come to the town square to be shipped off to an "internment camp." So, the sisters, terrified, listen to the screams coming from the town square, while their neighbors move the ladder and pick bushels of apples from the tree.

I've been thinking about apple-picking as we enjoy these extraordinary, golden, unusually warm days of autumn and recover from the shock of the election. I keep thinking of those apples every time someone says to me, "I'm just going to trust it will be okay and enjoy this gorgeous day." Because those people, like the Ida Fink's neighbors, can do that. Not from any ill-will, not because they're evil, but because they can go on picking apples while others fear that they will be shot, or harassed or rounded up in the town square or shipped off to some unknown location, or go into hiding, their identities stripped from them as they scurry from place to place, terrified.

After all, I'm sure that on many days, during many raffles, (what the Germans called the roundup of Jews,) many decent people longed to hope for the best, to enjoy the beautiful weather, to pick those apples and try to believe that it would all be all right. Maybe it will be all right. As long you're not one of the targets and you're willing to pick apples while others are targeted.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Allure of a Despot

The real fascination of a character like Henry VIII is that we all know him. We've all had a parent like him or a spouse or a boss. Someone who rules by terror, who likes to watch people hop, {who loves the freedom to grab women by the pussy} and who doesn't care whom he beheads.

The parallels reflect more than a liking for sumptuous decor and the habit of multiple wives. Like Henry VIII, Trump was raised with an abusive father who coupled rage, emotional neglect, and velvet gloves. Like Henry, Trump was the younger son, his older brother supposed to be the heir. As the darling of his father's empire, Henry VIII had a whipping boy, someone who was punished in his place whenever he misbehaved. Trump had a teacher who he punched in the face when he was only twelve--with no real consequences afterwards. 

Like Henry VII, Trump's father was a man so crooked it was probably hard for him to walk straight and he passed onto his son an empire where his word was law.  Roy Cohn was Trump's Cardinal Wolsey, a man behind the scenes who turned the scion of an empire into a unrepentantly immoral fighting bastard. With Cohn as his teacher, Trump, like Henry VIII, learned that it was perfectly acceptable to cheat the commoners who work for him, rage at them, cut their pay or stiff them completely--with everything based on a whim. 

I have always thought that watching the Tudors was a lot more fun than living among them must have been. And it wasn't just people at court whose heads rolled. Millions of commoners had their lives uprooted, destroyed or brutally ended simply because Henry wanted to divorce his wife and couldn't do it, and nobody--but nobody--could say no to the man. 

Now, with a Republican Congress and Senate willing to ignore all evidence of wrong-doing, and a Conservative Republican Supreme Court, Donald Trump is set to rule our Land. 

May God Save America. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wisdom of the Father's, transformed to include the Mothers.

In a time of great stress, we sometimes turn to older wisdom. So, I give you this, from a book of Jewish wisdom called the Pirkei Avot, (Words of the Fathers) modified slightly to make it words of the Mothers, too:

“In a place where no one is human, one should strive to be human.” – Pirkei Avot 2:5

And this: 

Rabbi Tarfon . . . used to say: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.

(My apologies--I cannot find the artist to credit for this image.) 

John Steinbeck pegged it, back in 1952

John Steinbeck pegged it, back in, in East of Eden (1952)--discussing America's need for demagogues.

“It is argued that because they {Americans} believed thoroughly in a just, moral God they could put their faith there and let the smaller insecurities take care of themselves. 

But I think that because they trusted themselves and respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units -- because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back. Such things have disappeared perhaps because men do not trust themselves anymore, and when that happens there is nothing left except perhaps to find some strong sure man, even though he may be wrong, and to dangle from his coattails.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Anybody notice that Cindy McCain was wearing a pantsuit when she voted? A white pantsuit, no less? Is this a secret signal about how she planned to vote? 

Perhaps she feared that her husband, too, would be trying to control her vote. . .

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Child Should Run for President

My oldest child should run for president--the kid knows the names of more foreign heads of state than one of our current candidates. My kid even knows the name of the guy currently bombing the crap out of the children of--what's the name of that joint in Syria again?--Help me out here, I'm having an Aleppo moment.
Johnson's VIP was finally able to haul up a name. But since he couldn't remember Merkle's first name (Angela, with a lovely hard g) Johnson could have been referring to silent film star Una, or to Ursula Merkle, the musical Bye Bye Birdie's hyperactive best friend of Kim, the teenaged second lead. 

On the other hand, Donald knows the name of at least one--Benyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, though Donald thinks he's "not a happy camper." And he used to know the name of the Mexican president, because he met with the guy. Probably, though, knowing the Donald, he's forgotten the name Enrique Pena Nieto already, but we're all sure Donald could tell us all about some beautiful--truly amazing-- property he owns there. 

For those of you who, unlike two of our presidential candidates.  who would like to learn more about heads of state, here's a lovely article:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Romance of Food Poisoning

So, I woke up in the middle of the night tortured by gut pains like Alien was trying to bust out. No position could improve the pain. I had to get up, and wait it out for a couple of hours--let's not get explicit here, but they were not fun. 
I ran a hot bath, hoping that would help me relax and survive the gut explosions, and it did for a bit, until I had to lurch out and throw up. (Let's get explicit here.) 
Not only my throat, but the insides of my nostrils burned from stomach acid and I was pretty sure this was food poisoning and not a stomach flu. I didn't want to wake the kids. I grabbed a chair so I could be more comfortable--if that's at all possible. I hate throwing up. (As if someone could love it?) I get all shaky, cold and hot at the same time. Maybe King Henry V felt like this while he lay dying of dysentery on the battle field he loved so well. I just wanted to lay my head on the cool, floor (in our house, perpetually covered with leaky dog hair) and leak. (Gotta love Hank Cinq's haircut--I think it's coming back in style.) 

Then, I staggered up the hall and woke my poor husband, who is recovering from a cold and needs his sleep.  Hubby stayed with me while I moaned and urped and released the poisons from various orifices. I said, "Tell me a story about when you were little." He started to trot out all the ones I know. "No, about school. Tell me a story about when you were little in school." 

He was leaning against the counter. He thought a minute and then told me, "When I was four, there was a boy, he was bigger than me. I remember that. And I kicked him in the stomach. I got in big trouble. I had to write the proverbial lines on the board." 

"Wow," I said. "You could write when you were four?" 

"Wait. My papa was already in the states," he said. "So I was five. No, six. He was in the West. Yes, I was six. I was scared about my Oncle Maurice. I remember my Tante Marcelle making faces behind his back so that I wouldn't be scared."

"You were scared of Oncle Maurice?" In the stories, he's a kind man who makes people do the right thing. 

"Well, Marcel was the easy-going one." (Yes, there's an aunt Marcelle and an Oncle Marcel--the names sound the same, and I think they were married to one another, which means even they must have spent their lives confused.) 

"What did you have to write?" (I figured if you're writing something a hundred times, you'll remember.) 

"I don't know, 'Je ne jamais livrer un coup de pied à l'estomac de Didier.'" At least that's what I think he said--my French felt as shaky as I was at the moment.

"Tell me another story," I said. "About school." I'm not sure why I was fixated on school, but I know I sounded like our little one who loves these kind of tales.

"Well, there was a boy--this was in the states--at my school who was big and an athlete--I wasn't an athlete by any stretch of the imagination--and he was rough and kind of mean but I could do a sideways futball kick. So, with kickball, he figured out that we would run up the court, me with the ball, everybody chasing after him, and I would shoot him the ball and he would score every time. So he would always pick me first. I was the first kid picked by the best athlete of the school."

I had never heard these stories. That's amazing.

"Another," I said, still sounding like our youngest. By this time, I was done throwing up, so I was just waiting for the rest to pass through me. Spouse took my chair and told me another, after mentioning how sexy I looked (!) 

"I ran for Treasurer in High School," he said. "I have no idea why. And my papa drew for me these posters--'Don't Fight, Switch, vote for--' and he put my name. There was some cigarette commercial that used the slogan, 'I'd rather fight than Switch.'"

"What did the drawing look like?"

"It was a guy with a black eye, like in the cigarette ads."

I had no idea his father could draw--another of many talents for this man I never met. I love to draw, though I rarely get time for it, and our little one is turning out to be a gifted artist, while our oldest, when he tries, can also draw very well.

I was, by this time, exhausted. (Bed times stories are designed to be relaxing and these had worked.) I was ready to go back to bed, but not certain it was safe. Hubby took a towel and laid it on the sheets, just in case. I was still in pain, so we could only hold hands. I fell back to sleep right away. 

I don't think of Food Poisoning as romantic, or tales from elementary and high school as courtship, or a wife in the throes of earping, (etc,) as sexy. 

And yet, the Night of the Food Poisoning, was romantic in its own crazy way, with Hubby wooing and winning my heart all over again.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Witness to Protest: Justice For Philando March Part I

On Sept. 6th, almost three weeks ago, I headed downtown for a protest march: “Justice For Philando.” 
I went because I received notification from AR14, which seems to me a wiser group than Black Lives Matter, and because three African-American adults whose actions I have admired were among those who went me invitations. I went despite my intense dislike of crowds, an innate wariness of herd behavior, and a learned fear of being on lists and being caught in large groups that comes from being part of a Holocaust survivor family. 

Our city is shaped like a large stone axe, surrounded on three sides by a giant bend in the Mississippi River. City Hall and the Ramsey County Courthouse are housed in a large, gorgeous Arts and Crafts building, which sits at the corner of one of the major bridges that cross the river, and directly in front from a main boulevard that fronts it. 

I was told via Facebook, that 700 people were going to attend. Nobody was outside when I got there a few minutes early. Naive, I went inside City Hall to ask the security guys manning the metal detectors if they knew where the protest was. (Protests are a part of our civil liberties, so I wasn't worried about mentioning this one.) 

They didn’t, but they did inform me that the protest couldn’t be inside, because they didn’t allow any signs in the building.

I walked around the building for a while, looking for people wearing the black they had requested.  Finally, I found some other youngish white people. We all walked to the front and waited. A few more people—black, white—dribbled into the crowd. Then, we saw a large crew walking across the bridge. They seemed cheerful, as if this were a picnic. Some of the younger ones were cavorting. That's the only word for it. A few wore shiny construction vests. 

I felt very much out of place. 

I’ve been looking for a group to join, someplace to go for Phil. I so want to be part of a community working for Philando. I was hoping this would be that place, and that community. I want to work for justice for him. I want to remember him. I want to have ways to make his life keep on living, although I know that’s not literally possible. 

Members of the crowd began to pass out signs. None of them said what I wanted to say. I should have brought my own sign--Philando was not a number--he was a good man. Or Phil cared about kids. Or His Mother Loved Him. Among the gathering crowd sat a young black man, dressed, despite the heat, in a black leather jacket. He was on the bench that edged a yard-sized planter, one arm on his knee, his head on that hand, and he was falling asleep. I knew he wasn't a part of the protest to come--no one spoke to him or even seemed to see him. He was one of the invisible, ones, the lost ones, the homeless, the mentally ill who haunt our streets, and he had to be either drunk, intoxicated, or completely exhausted to be able to fall asleep amid the crowd and the noise. As I watched, he twitched, his body slowly relaxing, muscle by muscle, leaning forward. I was afraid he was going to fall on his head on the concrete. I watched, waiting to leap for him if he started to fall. Finally, I woke him. I had to. 

He startled. I said, "Sorry, sorry. I didn't want you to fall and hit your head." 

He put his head back on his hand and started to fall asleep again. 

I said, "Where's your mother?" 

"Dead," he said. 

I asked, "Do you have somebody who can help you? Somebody who loves you?" And then wanted to kick myself. 

He said no. He was having a hard time getting his social security card, he said, and his legal i.d. He was hungry, he said. Did I have a snack. 

I usually do, but I didn't. Phil would probably have fed this guy, I thought. Philando fed people. That's what he did. The man asked if I could give him three dollars. I don't give money, but Phil was in my head. I gave him the only dollar I could find, loose in my backpack. He put his head on his hand and his eyes oozed shut. The dollar landed on the ground, next to a piece of paper. I picked them both up. It turned out to be his parole paperwork. 

Then, as the protest began to fire up, I went into the courthouse. I explained that I was worried about this guy. The guards called a Ramsey County Sheriff who said he could call St. Paul Police to do a welfare check, but, he said, they'd have to send a car and the officers would have to be in uniform and if they came out in the middle of a protest they'd have a riot. 

So, I went back out. The guy was sitting up, more alert, but still invisible to the crowd around him. The protest had spilled into the center of the street, to the narrow space between the yellow lines. The chant switched from "No Justice, No Peace," to "No Cops, No KKK." I had a huge disconnect. I had just gone to the police for help, for a black man. We need police, just not racist police who view anybody black as a terrifying monster or someone to dominate. 

I put my hand on the sleepy guy's shoulder. The paperwork had said his name was Lamont. (not his real name) I asked what I could do. 

"Can I stay with you tonight?" 

I said, "I have a special needs kid. That wouldn't work." 

He asked for twenty dollars for a room. I didn't have any money. The homeless shelter was three blocks away. And yet--I know people who've been in these shelters. They're crowded in a room with hundreds. It's noisy. They don't feel safe. They can't sleep. And this guy seemed much more alert. Maybe he was just exhausted. 

I dug into the open section of my backpack again, and out came twenty bucks that I didn't know I had. I handed it over and looked into his face. He looked back into my eyes. I said, "You matter. Your life matters. I'm not your mother but I'm a mother, and I know that you count. Just hold on. Get through this. You can make it. You can make a difference in the world." 

I might be deluding myself that he listened, who knows? It seemed to me that he heard it--heard a fellow human person, caring. He nodded, a couple of jerks of his head, and then he crossed through the protest and the crowd, and heading off, walking straight, not at all like someone drunk or on drugs. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Times We Lie

Yesterday, in the car, my youngest listed multiple times when she had lied about misbehavior. 

She had:

Scraped the fridge: "You know that little drawing on the side? I accidentally scratched the paint off with this paper clip and then I thought, I can make a drawing, so I kept on going." 

Drawn a head with legs and arms attached on the wall in the bathroom (when she was very little). 
Hid under a towel with a friend and a pen so they could extend the arms and legs of the drawing in the bathroom. 

Hidden under the bed with several children at a birthday party and drawn all over the wall down there with all of them. (More about this later.) 

Turned the fridge and freezer temperature so cold that the ice machine froze. (That one cost us 100 bucks on a service call--we thought the water main was broken) though fortunately, the repairman kindly also fixed something on both the dishwasher and the dryer for free.

I stayed completely mellow about these confessions, for several reasons. 

First: Oldest is the one who usually gets into trouble--though clearly Little One is fully as capable of doing Bad Things, but much better at getting away with it. And Oldest was in the car, listening to Little One addressing the balance. 

Second: Research Has Shown that all kids lie. Even ones who get beaten, punished or humiliated when they're caught in a lie. When children are punished severely for lying, that simply serves to drive lying underground. This may not mean as much when the lying is about who snuck the candy or drew on the wall, but it will mean a great deal when it's who is sneaking out of the house to run around with teenaged friends and possibly get pregnant/drunk/STD's/in an accident.  We have friends who severely punish their children any time they catch them in a lie. With very stern faces, they say to very young children, "We will always love you if you tell us the truth, but we will be very, very, very angry if we ever catch you lying." And, indeed, one of their children caught in a lie is severely punished. 

Their oldest middle child (they have several children) is one of then best and most frequent liars I know, who is often involved in my own child's admitted lies (see above, friend under towel, one of friends under bed, etc.) 

Third: I lie, too. "I have a previous engagement," with quiet and a good book. "I'm sorry, I did not see that email," when I resent the other organizer's request. "Thank you in advance for your prompt and thoughtful action," when I know that the action will be neither thoughtful nor prompt. "I love that haircut you just got," when I think it makes someone look like a hamster, but know they have a big job interview tomorrow.   "I'm sure that he was completely responsible for the divorce," when I know the opposite will never be heard and want my kids to still be allowed to play with their little friends. 

I even use bendy lies, implications, like, "I can understand how you would think you were responsible for your husband's adultery," and the subsequent child she is partly raising, when, in fact, I don't see how she's responsible for his callous choices. 

And we're not even getting into times when we have to lie to the boss because the boss is a controlling disaster and we can't get fired; or the many, many times when our relatives lied for their very survival, during the Holocaust. 

Lying, to me, then, is a continuum, and, indeed, a life-skill. Frankly, it's one I need to learn better. I was once booted from a writing critique group because I couldn't lie well enough. (The leader had pulled me aside and said, "she's not capable of learning to write any better. She'll never learn subtext or how to write dialogue. So when you make those notes, you just make her feel awful. You need to simply praise what she does.")

(Of course, the leader, too, had massive blind spots that needed tender-loving lies. In that case, I failed Lying 101, so out I went.) 

At any rate, as I heard Little One's list, I simply laughed with the rest of the family. When Little One said, "I'm pretty good at lying," I replied, "Well, sometimes we do need to lie in life, but I hope that, from now on, you'll tell us when you do something wrong. Look at us--we're hardly angry." 

"But that's because it's a lot later," said Little One. She may have a point. 

Then, Little One asked if I had ever lied to my parents about things I'd done. 

"Well," I said instantly. "There was the time--I think I was ten--when my best friend and I rode our bicycles far beyond the boundary we had at the time. We knew we could get back in time, and we wanted to explore. 

"Unfortunately, my front tire went wobbly. It wouldn't turn, so I couldn't bike. We didn't have any tools. We were too scared to ask for help.  So we had to run my bike home, holding up the whole front half of the frame, because only the rear wheel turned. My best friend took turns with me, thank goodness. We made it in time. We were exhausted and our arms ached, but we never told." 

And then, oddly, I thought of something else that I never told, also when I was ten. I thought carefully and decided to tell it. "There's this other thing that happened when I was ten that I never told about," I said. "We lived near this big drainage ditch that was kind of like a small river with riparian woodland all around it." (I explained riparian woodland and got back to the story.) We used to play there all the time. Gregson's Ditch. 

"And one time, when I was ten, these two girls, Kelly and Heidi, sisters, they told me they wanted to see my bra. I already had a bra. And they wanted to see it. And I said no. Kelly was nine and fragile, Heidi was eight and built like a horse. And when I said no, they wouldn't let me go. They kept yanking up my sweatshirt. I kept holding it down. I couldn't get away from them. Every time I managed to get Kelly's hands off my sweatshirt, I had to get Heidi to let go of my arms. I was crying."

"That was sexual assault," said my oldest, and I felt gratified that these days, kids know, that they are certain. We didn't know when I was little. Without that announcement from the back seat, I'm not sure I would have realized it with certainty today. 

"Yes," I said. "It was." Kelly and Heidi also pulled down Melinda's pants in her garage and stuck pebbles up her butt, all of which makes me think that somebody--maybe Mr. Ellinger--was doing something he shouldn't have been to his two daughters. In fact, come to think of it, I remember overhearing the parents talking about this, but they didn't report it, or forbid us to play with Kelly and Heidi or even tell us to stay out of their house. How times have changed.

"Anyway. I don't know how long we were down there. Maybe an hour, maybe less. I know that it felt like it was forever. I know that I thought I would never get away. I know that when I finally managed to escape them both and take off--red-faced, huffing, sobbing--my sweatshirt was so completely stretched out of shape that it never recovered. And they probably did manage to see parts of my white cotton training bra, despite all my efforts. 

"And I never told." I said. I'm still not sure why. I felt shamed. I felt besmirched. I felt stupid to have gone to the little paths at the side of Gregson's Ditch with only Kelly and Heidi, even though they had never bothered me before and I didn't yet know about what they'd done to Melinda in the garage. I felt there was something wrong with me that I needed a brassiere while Kelly and Heidi didn't. And I liked Kelly, though I did not like Heidi, who was often physically rough and hostile. In fact, I remember that I kept pleading with Kelly, reminding her of how awful her sister was, telling her I would play with her if she'd just get Heidi to let me go--it was Kelly masterminding this, or so I thought at the time. 

But I thought it was all my fault, somehow, and my shame, which is why I never told. "Do you think that was right, or wise?" I asked. 

"No," said my little one. 

"So I'm telling you this story because I want you to always tell us if anything happens. No matter if you feel ashamed or you're afraid you might have done something to cause it. " 

"It's sexual assault," said my oldest. "Of course, we'd tell." 

But I, with my Gregson's Ditch experience, I am still not so sure. The shame I felt was enormous. And the self-blame. "I will never, ever treat you that way. Because I know how it feels," I said. "That's not something you can ever lie about. Okay?" 

I got agreement, but of course, you never really know. Kids--all kids--lie. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

I Wonder What That Policeman Is Thinking Right Now?

"I wonder what he's thinking doing right now," my little ones says. "What he's doing." 


"That policeman."

I know immediately who she is talking about--Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Philando Castile. 

"I don't know," I say. "What do you think he's doing?"

The little voice expresses disbelief. "How would I know? First off, I'm not a racist. Second, I'm not a cop. And I'm not even a grownup." 

I drive for a minute. "I would imagine that he's scared. And angry. On that video, he's shouting and he sounds so scared. He's probably looking around for somebody else to blame. That's what a lot of people do--they look for someone to blame. It takes a lot of courage to admit what you've done."

"I don't know why he'd be scared. He's off some place, and he's got his family, and nobody is attacking him." 

"I think," I say. "He would be scared because he knows that he's done a horrible thing. I would think that he's scared to look at that."

I hear a snort. "Well, nobody else shot Phil," says Little One. "Phil was doing what the officer told him to do. He was the one who pulled out his gun. He as the one who shot the bullets." 

"Well, that's true," I say and the conversation veers into what it was like the time this little one forgot a line in a class play, and just stood there. Just stood there, while the kids around whispered the line, just stood and stood, until the teacher finally called out Little One's name and spoke the line. 

"I felt so hot," says my youngest. "Like my whole chest and my arms and my legs were going to burn up with heat."

"Some emotions are hot ones," I say. "Embarrassment. Shame. They can make you feel like you're burning up with heat." 

That evening, we go to the school playground. There is a tiny black girl playing on the equipment. She is fearless, so she is flanked, all the time, by two women who turn out to be cousins, one the little girl's mother. We talk, as moms do at the park. They went to high school with Philando Castile. They express great sympathy for "your school's loss," and I to them for the loss of their friend. One was in a theater class with him, part of a production about teenaged feelings that toured to other schools. They knew him well. I am dreading going back into the school building for the first time, and I know that some of our kids are struggling, including my own. But these two women seem so calm, so happy to remember him with love.  It's better to be together, to grieve together, I think. 

So, I begin to repeat the conversation with my little one earlier this morning. "I wonder what that police officer is doing today?" I mis-quote. 

"He's alive," says one of the young women, bleakly. "He's alive. Which is more than Phil is." And we stare into the distance. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Weiners, Or We Have Now Entered The Twilight Zone of Presidential Campaigns.

That's it. We're beyond surreal, we're beyond unbelievable. We've entered--The Twilight Zone Presidential Campaign. Podium talk about hand/penis size. "I'd vote for him if he went out and shot somebody on 5th Avenue." Baby-hating candidates. 

And now this. Yes, Ms. Abedin should have left him long ago. Yes, it has next to nothing to do with Hilary's campaign. Still--

I do not need this. The American electorate does not need this. American children do not need to be hearing about any of this--hand/penis size, violent campaign promises, baby-hating, or daddy-sexting. We all have far too much on our plate to add a Weiner. 


Weiners, Or We Have Now Entered The Twilight Zone of Presidential Campaigns.

That's it. We're beyond surreal, we're beyond unbelievable. We've entered--The Twilight Zone Presidential Campaign. Podium talk about hand/penis size. "I'd vote for him if he went out and shot somebody on 5th Avenue." Baby-hating candidates. 

And now this. Yes, Ms. Abedin should have left him long ago. Yes, it has next to nothing to do with Hilary's campaign. Still--

I do not need this. The American electorate does not need this. American children do not need to be hearing about any of this--hand/penis size, violent campaign promises, baby-hating, or daddy-sexting. We all have far too much on our plate to add a Weiner. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Trick For a Reluctant Reader--Climb A Tree

I have a reluctant reader. Given a choice, this child would rather be moving, or pretending, or playing a video game. Since other members of the family have been known to walk home while reading a book, this is a new one for me. My mom used to punish us by taking away our library cards. 

I often think our kids can come up with their own solutions. This one did. Kid spent some time scoping out various neighborhood trees. Kid planned--it's a white pine, so kid wanted to bring a towel to sit on to avoid the sap on pants. Kid figured out a rudimentary pulley, found rope, a bucket, brought food and water, climbed up, got accessory (parent) to tie the bucket on the rope, and used it to haul everything up. 

What a shame its nearly the end of the summer. Kid can't wait to get up there and read! (I can't wait to join said kid. Finally, a chance to do nothing, just sit around and read.) 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Can Donald Trump Apologize?

Okay, everybody. Close your eyes and imagine this: Donald Trump, steps up to a podium, surrounded by a crowd of very white followers, with, of course, his own personal black person. 

Mr. Trump puts his hands on the podium, leans in, and says, "All right, I have to say something. To apologize." 

A collective, inward gasp. 

"In the past, I was a racist. I ran my real estate business--the greatest business, really the best ever--in a racist way. By this I mean we didn't rent or sell to black people. By order, our agents lied to those black people and repeatedly told them that the place was already rented or sold."

He flicks back his orange hair. "In fact, we fought anybody who tried to say that. We cost the federal government a lot of money while taking more money from them in government loans." 

He spreads his arms. "Of course, this was when I was young, still working with my father. And most everybody did things like that in those days."

He lowers his head. "But even later than that, when I came to visit my casinos, I instructed the bosses to get the dark faces out of the way--hide them in the kitchen so I didn't have to see them."

"And it was wrong. And I am ashamed. I'm even ashamed of these days, when I'm racist, it's more casual. You know, I'm hanging out with supporters and so I just say what I know they want to hear because I like people to like me and because, really, I don't have any black friends--but then, I don't have any friends at all, so that's not racist. I don't want to be friends with anybody. "

He spreads his arms. "Except my kids. I love my kids, really, I do. They're the best kids ever, the very best, I make the best kids you could make, and they are the best friends a person who doesn't have friends could ever have. Having friends who aren't your kids, it's is too scary. It's like admitting that you're wrong, which I never, ever do. Of course, I'm hardly ever, almost never wrong, because I have this very good brain. And it's much easier to fight."

"But I've decided that, as your president, I need to be bigger than that. I need to be really brave. So I want to apologize. I was wrong. We kept out good people because their skin was brown. While we were doing it, we cheated the government to make a ton of bucks. I've been racist on purpose, just to win an election or get some press. In fact, I've said bad things about blacks and Mexicans and people who are disabled. And I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry."

Are your eyes still closed? Are you still struggling to imagine that scene? Me, too. Me, too.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Re trigger warnings and the university of Chicago.

Photo thanks to New York Times. 

I wonder how holocaust survivors manage. Managed. They mostly did. At least, our family did. Do. 
I remember when we watched one such couple get a phone call from dear friends, telling them that a twelve-year-old they loved had died of cancer. This is David and Rosette, living in Paris. When Rosette was a child, her little sister starved while they hid out in the forest in Poland, scrabbling for food, freezing, constantly at risk of death. Grief, yes, and they moved on. They considered themselves lucky the rest survived--everyone left behind in the village was exterminated. 
David at fourteen, had gone over the border into Russia, been picked up and shipped to Siberia and the salt mines of Khazakhstan. He was helped by being with older siblings and they were able to stick together. Two family babies--nieces--died in SIberia. The family left behind in Poland were exterminated, including two "little blond boys." Every time the family talked about them, they always cried. Same when they talked about their mother. About their siblings left behind. 
The same way they cried when they heard about the twelve-year-old with cancer. And then they sang songs and then they danced a little. 
I wonder how they managed--manage--living in Paris in the Marais, where buildings are marked with bullet holes and plaques announcing how many children were rounded up from each school and slaughtered? I know they encountered anti-Semitism. They still do. In their old age, they live in a city where hundreds of people were recently murdered because they were Jewish or were at a Jewish-owned business or a Jewish-owned concert venue. That must have triggered something from their past. 
I wonder how my neighbors, who survived the Somali civil war manage when their kids study the US civil war? Those who fled Rwanda? I have talked to survivors, about the horrendous deaths or woundings of their family members. We held hands and cried together, and connected to the soul. And then, we went out and took care of children and got on with our days. 
Lets teach our students resilience, the ability to self-calm and speak out. Let's teach them that they can cope. If they feel overwhelmed, let them learn how to step out and calm themselves down. We have to be able to talk to one another. And listen to one another. Calmly.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Kid's Nightly Journals - Philando Castile

There are times when I feel like the worst of moms, and times when I feel like I'm doing something right, and times when I am just fricking grateful that the kids have stumbled onto something wonderful on their own. 

My little one, having a hard time falling asleep, has begun to look for tools, and figured out that writing about the day or drawing pictures in a notebook seems to help calm monkey mind. 

My big one has followed suit. Now, at bedtime, I find them sprawled across one of the others' beds writing in their journals and drawing pictures. 

I know. It's wonderful, right? And I have permission to read them, which is even better. It's like that lovely moment in the book Peter Pan, when Mrs. Darling tidies up her children's minds. "It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for the net morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on." (James Barrie.) 

So, my kids mostly seem to have ordinary kid thoughts, except for the disability we have to cope with. And except for Philando Castile. Both children's journals regularly touch on him and his death at Officer Yanez' hands. My little one is worried about what it will be like to go to school without him there. And who will replace him? What will that be like, having someone take his place? My big one is upset that Officer Yanez was put back in uniform and given a desk job. (Yes, we've raised a news junkie, of course.) "He didn't even follow proper protocol. Phil is dead because that officer didn't do his job right and because he was scared." 

I can't imagine what it must be like for Diamond Reynolds, as her little one gets ready for school. Or for our other cafeteria worker, Vanessa. Or for the teachers, preparing for 502 little kids, some who probably don't know yet. (Some who may not care. Some who will, very much.) At the Saint Anthony City Council meeting two nights ago, one co-worker of Phil's said that his four-year-old nephew said he wanted to paint his face white so that the police wouldn't kill him and people wouldn't hate him. Shades of The Bluest Eye. This stuff affects kids so differently than it does grownups, and believe me, it's affecting a lot of us grownups pretty hard. 

This world is hard. And my kids--all our kids--are in the midst of this world. I hope that, for them as for me, the gift of writing, analyzing, turning events into stories or commentary or simply dumping it onto the page, will prove a tool for resilience, and ultimately a tool to create positive change, not just for themselves, for all of us. For the whole world. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review--Highland Rebel, by Sally Watson

So, this blog was supposed to be about reading and writing as well as life. I was chugging along, my bookshelf filled with serious lit waiting for me to read and comment, and then, bam, Philando Castile was murdered, and I stopped being able to read them. 

For a long time, I couldn't read much of anything but news accounts and commentaries. I graduated to children's books, reading to the kids. Then, children's books for my own self--they tend to be compact, easy to digest, and they will contain a single kernel of wisdom that I can take with me for the day or the week.

Take Highland Rebel, a library discard published by Sally Watson in 1954 as part of a lengthy, wandering family saga focused on Scotland, moving to the US with the birth of our nation, and then heading west. 

Highland Rebel, one of the earliest in this series, gave me a romantic, life-long love of all things Scottish, along with a gauze-covered notion of Charles Edward Stewart and the "Scottish Soul," something Watson is big on in this book. It also filled me with longing to dress as a boy and save my prince. 

Another book in the series, The Hornet's Nest, is my go-to book to get kids interested in what led to the American Revolution, and her book, Jade, about Mary Read and Anne Bonney, hooked me on serious research into pirates years before Pirates of the Caribbean. Through the next decades, Watson's  novels lead us through Scotland's witch hunt years, Witch of the Glens, and then, they get cutesy, as we wade through the Puritans, and past somebody (of course) dressing up as a boy to dress up as a girl to work with William Shakespeare; and up to a sad hearted girl named Felicity, who gains some spunk and backbone while befriending Chief Seattle and learning to thrive in a log cabin in the Pacific Northwest. (First titled Poor Felicity, this is now, unfortunately, named The Delicate Pioneer.)

You can no longer find Watson's books on many library shelves, which is a real shame. They all have active, decisive female characters confronted with real challenges, and their male characters are strong as well. The women's challenges are not in any way limited to getting the boy or avoiding sexual assaults.  Now back in print, they are all well-researched, though as a parent, I do work to remove some of the historical gauze. Watson herself is ninety-two and probably still writing--her latest novel's release was in 2012. I request them at every library I visit. 

And this week, reading Highland Rebel gave me a tidbit to hang onto, from heroine Lauren's Aunt Elspeth--"Tis not what life does to you that matters, but what you do with it." (I may not have quoted her correctly--the book is still upstairs next to my bed.) Yes, this is simplistic, and yes, I know that issues like depression or, say, Krystal Nacht, can make this statement moot.  But sometimes, the simplest of concepts can be the most helpful in complicated times. 

Roll on, Children's books. Through little ones and the ideas they need to learn and grow, maybe we can save the world. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Community is Important For More Than Dancing--Philando Castile and Grief.

The other night, from the bathtub, I heard a little voice say, "I wonder what Philando is doing now?"

"What?" Oh no. I am going to have to explain to my child about souls and spirits and heaven, what happens when we die, ground that I'm not exactly sure about myself. "You mean if Phil were here as a ghost?"

"I mean," says the little voice, "What would he be doing if he were alive right now? If he hadn't gotten shot? Would he be shopping? Watching TV? Reading? Playing with Dae Dae?" (The little girl in the car.)

If he were still alive. If Phil were still alive. . .

"I don't know," I say. "He shouldn't be dead. It didn't have to happen. It's so sad. He doesn't get to do any of those things now, because he's dead."

We have volunteered in support of Philando's family and his girlfriend and Dae Dae, the little girl in the car. We have and will continue to take action to make real change against systemic racism, in policing, in education, in prisons, in banking, in community policies, not just here but nationwide. We're trying to get comprehensive supports for our students, something more than a "trauma team" for two weeks. Grief doesn't take just two weeks, and it's not always best expressed through talk therapy, especially not for kids. We're trying, and we're working. We're finding allies, and making change.

Still, it all boils down to one man and his murder, to him bleeding out in a car in front of his now grieving girlfriend and a little girl who considered him nearly a father. It all boils down to his mother, sister, uncle, cousins all having to cope with his never being here again, to the 502 kids at his school and all their parents, and to the staff that he worked with every day--Phil never missed a day--for three years.

So, you put it away for awhile, and you have a great time dancing at a Greek Festival, and the next day, you wake up and read your kid's journal, which says, "I'm stressed out right now. Going back to school, and Pilando (sic) won't be there. Who will be the new lunch guy?"

And you bike to the second day of the Greek Festival, stopping by the school, where you read the notes taped to the door--notes from as far away as Arizona and North Carolina, notes supporting Philando and the school. The notes are touching. Some are from children, with "Miss you, Pil," and sad faces in red paint. One note equates him with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King--my oldest kid points out that that's a faulty analogy--"Phil wasn't an activist. He was just a regular person who shouldn't have been shot." One note says, "Black boys of J.J.Hill Bewear (sic). The next person shot by a police officer could be you."

We take down that note.

Biking away, I am overwhelmed with grief. I don't feel grown up, responsible or mature. I feel angry. And sad. And I want to talk to somebody about it. I'm afraid I'll crash my bike. I'm teary, my throat clogged with emotion so I can't speak.

Our favorite thing at the Greek festival is the communal dancing. Men, women, adults and children, all standing in a line, holding hands and dancing. We don't have enough community in our lives. The Greek festival is a place we go to get some.

At the festival, I run into an ex-J.J.Hill parent, someone who grew up with Phil in the tightly-knit Rondo community. He sends his kids away, and mine go, too, and the tears come out, and he listens for a moment. Community is necessary for more than just dancing. And then, we talk about what he could do for the kids at school, for the supports we're trying to get them--art and music therapy, more than just a two-week trauma team that's based on talk.

I hope he follows through.  These wounds will be with us for a very long time. And Community is necessary for more than just dancing.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dancing to Oblivion, or Greek-style meditation?

Last night, we attended the Greek festival, one of our favorites, because it has public folk dancing, with people of all ages and abilities welcome to join in. (This photo is not us, and there are no children here,  but we were too busy dancing to take photos last night.) 

The steps are complicated but simple. Once you learn them, once you get them into your muscle memory, you can almost do them in your sleep. Which is lovely, because the first person in line is improvising, so you may be asked to follow along with wonderful, silly, dramatic movements, impromptu. Of course, some of them are so simple that they're just a hora--step to the right, step behind, step, kick, step, kick. But most have a quirk that makes them enough complicated that it can take, well, a few years of festivals before you learn them well. 

We know them well. While the kids went to the bouncy houses and answered Greek trivia questions (which my Jewish history buff child aced) I danced until I forgot my mind, forgot my body, until I was rhythm and music and laughter, and sweat dripping into my eyes. We all did, maybe thirty of us, dancing in circles and windy roads, ducking the tent poles, helping those who didn't know the steps or the rhythm, dancing until everybody was too tired--even the Greek folk dancers--and the party broke up around 9:45. It was absolute, sheer joy. 

We all need more of this--public, communal dancing. Dancing until we become one of many bodies in a long, snake-line of dancers, joined in laughter and movement. With, or without the fancy costumes. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Facebook Depression?

Image source: Tech Sheer

I have only been on Facebook for a very brief time. I had to join to be able to speak to fellow parents and staff at a child's school this spring. See, our horrendous principal finally retired after six years of her bullying of parents of kids with disabilities--our district's special ed rate is 16%, our school's is 4%. The whole school cheered and then two weeks before the end of the year, learned we were being given a principal who had eleven families file Federal Civil Rights Complaints over--guess what? Bullying of special ed kids and parents to try to force them to leave her school. 

So, finally I joined, and I started to make connections with writers, agents, political allies. That was a real joy.  You can really get to know someone by their Facebook posts and they can get to know you by your comments. Facebook, I thought, can be the great leveler. 

But it also sucks up a lot of time that we can't spend in regular news sources or regular lives. And since, on Facebook, we only hang with people whose views we share, and we feed each other's views. I now moderate a large group and have enforced civility--funny how quickly people manage to learn to be civil if you show them what they did that was wrong and tell them they get three strikes before they're off. Other large groups are not so caring, so that reading the back and forth can be almost as bad as Yahoo or MNBC, with smack downs etc. 

It's not just Facebook, either. Blogging is part of it. I find I am spending a little less time with people I care about. I used to write these thoughts to one or two long distance friends. Now I write them on a blog. 

That's important, yes? It's valuable to share ideas and experiences and not just with immediate friends. Blogging and posting on Facebook can persuade and connect. It can actually change people's minds. I've seen it do so, about important issues, if they are addressed with courtesy and a listening mind. 

I'm not talking about the studies that say Facebook leads to social comparison and that social comparison either way leads to depression. This is about the great connector creating a lack of connection. 

Anyway, today, I am missing closer contact with old friends. Maybe, for awhile, I will take a break and just email and phone call the ones who live far away.  Who knows. I'm still exploring Facebook and I may change my mind. Not to mention, once I've made up my mind, I still try to keep it open--deciding shouldn't end thinking. 

Give a holler if you share this experience or have ideas for how to cope with it. And thanks. 

Of course, I'm also uploading this to Facebook :) 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hey--Donald Trump is a Whiner.

It occurred to me as I was writing about the perils of "Train Or Be Trained," with children, that Donald Trump is a whiner. "If I don't win, it's because they tricked us. It's mine. She stole it. I want it baaaack." 

And maybe the reason he did so well initially is that so many of us are so well trained by our children. We hear whining, and knee-jerk, we do whatever it takes to Make It Stop. 
 Oh, God, please make him stop! 

(It's okay. Don't worry. I have been de-whined myself and am immune.) 

Whining--It's Such A Productive Sound

Our much loved family, visiting, is one of them. The kids--one in particular, has their father perfectly trained. Loud whining always gets what this young adult wants. 

Now, whining is a tremendously productive sound. It must be instinct to give in to that sound. Nobody wants to hear it, ever, certainly not over and over. Especially not when you're sleep deprived. It can be very hard to avoid being whine-trained when everybody is tired and everybody is hungry and that needle-sharp voice shoots up in the middle of a sentence. 

Some parents--lucky ones, smart ones--do get the hang of un-training themselves. In our house, we've gotten pretty good at saying, "Whining gets you nothing. Try something else." (Of course, the next request still uses whining's potent melody, so we also have to say, "Try again, and calm your voice down this time." Then, and only then, does the kid get rewarded. 

The much-loved father of this family seemed completely oblivious. And we do not feel we are in a situation where we could either step in or offer unasked for parenting advice. (Offering unasked for parenting advice is a little like offering to walk a mine-field blind-folded.) 

So we can only hope that the world will teach this lesson to this otherwise terrific child before said kid loses more friends than already reported. Sigh.