Category Archives: Writing

On A Big Birthday & Goal Setting

Faye @85th birthday dinner

Every birthday is a marker in time, an opportunity to look backward and forward. Perhaps, because I was born at the apex of spring in the midst of the vibrant arrival of cherry blossoms, daffodils, and azalea, my senses are heightened. This past 85th birthday, I learned that aging is like breathing, rhythmical and effortless, until you pay too much attention.

There was no warning that this mid-decade birthday would feel like a big event; but the night before, after a fun tour of Fenway with a group of elders where we walked (slowly) up five flights to the top of the monster ball park and Shabbos dinner where close to my age friends dug into topics of aging at home, maintaining health, and presidencies over eight decades, I was off balance, feeling the weight of accrued years.

As I write this, the shock of recognition has faded and I am focused on the best way to maintain balance by paying less attention to what has passed and more attention to what is possible in my creative life.

Two weeks before my birthday, I began to revise a short essay for my annual submission to the Solstice MFA Anthology. While reading the piece aloud, I was taken by the rhythmic structure of several sentences and as I labored to shape it, the piece morphed into a poem. It took two full weeks and daily devotion to detail to reshape the piece into stanzas. An individual poem, because it is more compressed and every word is significant, can demand what seems like an inordinate amount of time. Yet the process, in and of itself, was compelling and joyful.

For many years, during my psychotherapy practice, I maintained balance by writing and revising poems daily; but once I retired, I left poetry behind in the wake of essays and memoir. The return of my poetry muse, especially in this post Trump world, convinced me to re-examine my writing schedule. Thus, for the near future, I have decided to shift my blog writing to every other week so as to attend to poem making as well as the longer works of nonfiction.

On the subject of setting goals in this post Trump world, I came upon an April 13th New York Times Opinion piece by Nicholas Kristoff in which he cites how he quizzed a scholar, Gene Sharp, 89years old, THE expert on challenging authoritarians. Sharp and a colleague, Jamila Raqib offered the main message that effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.

“Think!” Sharp said. “Think before you do anything. You need a lot of knowledge first.”

Kristoff points to how Sharp gives emphasis to grass-roots organizing, searching out weak spots in an administration and patience before turning to 198 nonviolent methods he has put into a list, from strikes to consumer boycotts, to mock awards.

I’m grateful for Kristoff’s column; it is well worth the read to those of you seeking to weigh in and make a difference.https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/opinion/how-to-stand-up-to-trump-and-win.html

 

 

A Gratitude Shout Out

Science March, Washington, DC
Thanks to N.Y. Times

Thanks to Bill Maher, I no longer feel guilty over my wake-up habit of checking my I-Phone to get a reality check on our president’s nighttime tweets. In last week’s broadcast, he rued the day-to-day anxiety of Trump’s unpredictable behavior and copped to his own habit of waking in a nervous sweat, needing the safety of facts to begin his day. I was so taken with Maher’s mirroring my own behavior, I yelled at the screen, “Me, too, Bill. That man makes me nervous.”

What helps is the sheer gratitude I have for all those folks who are engaged and active in resisting the capricious and arbitrary edicts of Trump’s administration. I have a cast of journalists, reporters and writers who ground me. Every day, I read news and opinions in my favorite  outlets and varying articles suggested by my peeps on Facebook. I listen to Maddow at 9:00 every night. I relate to her broad perspective and close tracking of issues that spell “danger.”

Yesterday, in particular, the occasion of Earth Day, combined with the Science March, highlighted two of my main concerns: the well-being of the earth and the well-being of all living creatures who inhabit the earth.

This blog is a shout out to the thousands who turned out yesterday here and Boston and all through our nation to march for Science. It seemed unbelievable, the need the educate, never mind to organize a march, to emphasize the importance and worth of scientific thinking and reasoning for the growth and safety of our nation.

Eager to get a close-up of the Washington events, I logged onto the Washington Post live stream from the podium. Rain drops clouded the feed just a tad but did not deter my appreciation of the crowd trying to stay warm and dry as they listened to the speakers representing scientific organizations of every realm. It was clear: we are a nation under siege from our executive branch and now is the time to step forward to protect what is precious.

Like many fellow writers, I turn to the written word to shout out, to express my concern, and to try to make a difference. In the lead up to the planning for the march in Washington, The New York Times posted a book review column titled, American Poets, Refusing to Go Gentle, Rage Against the Right. The columnist, Alexandra Altra, caught my attention in her description of the poet, Jane Hirshfield.

The poet Jane Hirshfield has never thought of herself as an agitator. A self-described “genuine introvert,” Ms. Hirshfield likes to spend her days gardening, hiking and writing verses about nature, impermanence and interconnectedness.

But a couple of months ago, to her own surprise, she emailed the organizers of the March for Science in Washington and urged them to make poetry part of the protest. At the rally on Saturday, Ms Hirshfield will read her new poem “On the Fifth Day,” which addresses climate change denial and the Trump administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations.

I am grateful to identify with a sister poet/gardener and offer her poem, On The Fifth Day, for your reading. Just click on the title above or continue on.

On the fifth day

the scientists who studied the rivers

were forbidden to speak

or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air

were told not to speak of the air,

and the ones who worked for the farmers

were silenced,

and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,

began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak

and were taken away.

The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers

that spoke of the rivers,

and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees

continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,

and the rivers kept speaking,

of rivers, of boulders and air.

Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,

the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,

code writers, machinists, accountants,

lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,

of silence.

 

 

 

Show Up, How To Advocate — Part 2

What You Can Do Now Training
photo courtesy of Ashiaray.com

For those of you are trying to focus on a way to make a difference, I offer Part II on Training To Make A Difference. I’m grateful to those of you who weighed in on my last blog and offered feedback about how difficult it is to focus on one issue. Scrambling events, scrambled minds seems to be the order of the day. All the more reason to call upon what is common knowledge about mindfulness— to pause, take a deep breath, and seek resonance to what calls you.

SOLIDARITY is the byword: Pick an issue you’ve never thought about, and show up

Initially, I scratched my head at this suggestion and then, thinking about the big picture, the element of weighing in, the surprise of commonality made sense.

  • It’s as simple as showing up. Be a body among others.
  • Especially at local levels, public forums: 10 more people can swing how a room feels
  • You don’t have to agree on every single thing an organization does to recognize and support the common fight

Be Brave 

  • Braver than officials are or can be 

How many times since Trump took office have I been amazed, surprised, pleased, grateful for the throngs of citizens who show up at public forums, at the doorsteps of their representatives, in marches, with placards, unafraid to shout out what is essential for their well being.

Practical details of Contacting Your Representatives

Request a specific action 

  • Methods in decreasing order of impact. Write OpEd Letter to the Editor, plan 1:1 meetings, attend legislative office hours, write letters, make calls, participate on social media, send e-mails. DON’T FAX 

Know critical information about what you are requesting, make it personal 

  • bill number, current sponsorship http://magov/Bills/Search
  • re: bill he/she have sponsored—ask how you can promote
  • keep staffers’ email addresses
  • Remember: officials and staff are real people
  • suggestion: “I think you are the kind of person who can do the right thing.”

Make It Local

  • If you’re federal representative isn’t listening, go local

Stay informed & spread the word (examples are from MA. check your locale)

Following the training, there was a lengthy Q&A session. The following points are salient and useful in understanding the impact of participation.

  • Re: increasing turnout: detach from an individual, attach to ideas
  • What doesn’t work: Data suggests that “the sky will fall if X wins/loses” is a failed model
  • What works—engage on issues: go door to door to engage on a specific issue that regularly affects your life (social security, education, healthcare)
  • one study on this approach: 18% increase in turnout
  • In relating to those with different views—1. if you start with your values, you open a discussion about how to fix a problem. 2. if you start with your policy position, most people will assume you are closed to their point of view.

I close with gratitude for the opportunity to share this valuable advocacy training experience with my readers. In highlighting the information I felt most compelling, I have a far greater sense of how each and every one of us, in stepping up in small and big ways on issues that relate to our values, can make a difference. As always, I am grateful for the give and take of comments and look forward to your sharing.

 

 

 

Grateful for Advocacy Training—Part 1

What You Can Do Now Training
photo courtesy of ashiaray.com

For weeks, feeling like a small cog in a big world, as I’ve absorbed the outpouring of tweets and network news about our nation’s challenges, I’ve wondered how to focus and weigh in, how to make a difference.

This past Sunday afternoon, I joined about 500 others in an What You Can Do Now 2017 Advocacy Training event, a day of activism and #resistance training organized by the Newton, Massachusetts Democrats.

The scene: Newton South High School Cafeteria, stripped of tables and warming stations, lined up with row after row of chairs. I came early for the keynote but all the seats were filled. I was fortunate to sit on the edge of a table, up front, to the right of the speakers. The visibility and sound were great!

The Keynote speakers: Jordan Berg Powers, MASS Alliance and Brian Barrish, Legislative Director and General Counsel in the Office of Massachusetts State Senate Majority Leader, Harriette Chandler.

Both men were incisive, spirited, knowledgeable, and filled with specifics on issues which they imparted with spirited, spunky, no nonsense “can do” language. In this and subsequent blogs, I will offer highlights taken from my notes and a transcript—

FOR NEW ACTIVISTS—IT’S NOT HOW YOU DO IT BUT HOW TO THINK 

Stop labeling issues 

  • Lead with values and real people (underlines are mine)
  • Make real the terrible things we see around us
  • Policy has the power to destroy or create people’s loves
  • “criminal; justice reform” vs. “decriminalizing poverty” or “no one should go to jail because they cannot pay a $50 fine.”

My Take: Be mindful. Focus on details, tell a story, use metaphor, allegory, a visual reference that shows understanding, embraces empathy, can stick.

Stop expecting your representatives to be leaders

  • Their job: to get 51% of the vote in their next election
  • Our job: building a progressive future
  • By definition, a candidate cannot get so far out in front that they lose their followers.
  • We will lead us and they will respond…or not get elected.

This was an eye opener— the idea that if an elected representative gets too far out in his/her vision and mandate, the voters will lose faith. Tone, the step by step shaping of a vision, in pragmatic terms gets my attention. I lean towards representatives who have a keen grasp of the English language and can paint a verbal picture that resonates with my values. I miss Barney Frank— his passion and sense of humor.

Expect to fail…and dig in

  • 90% of this work is failure and anticlimactic wins.
  • Wins just happen: there’s no parade, no balloons.
  • Typically, there’s 10 years of work behind any major bill.
  • The left spends a lot of time worrying about winning vs. trying and learning from doing.
  • If the conversation is, “I don’t know if this will work,” WALK OUT OF THE ROOM.

My takeaway on this was huge! I felt enormously grateful for how these speakers encouraged empowerment of each individual to make a judgment and to sign onto causes, movements, ideas, in which there is engagement, passion and a belief in “can do.”

Be Brave and creative

  • This fight will demand both. “We are going to see the things we love destroyed.”

A Hard Truth: Destructive decisions targeting the EPA, the environment, immigrant safety have been disheartening. This administration’s avarice for power fuels my #resist imperative.

Don’t be a “nattering nabob” of negativity

 Don’t be this person: “That’s not going to work,” “you’re doing it wrong.”

  • If someone’s being brave, encourage them!
  • The litmus isn’t “will it work?” The litmus is, “Will it move the conversation?”
  • If you think it’s not as effective as it could be, make it more.

Takeaway Warning: We all want to be accepted. In the back and forth discussion of political imperatives, new activists can be intimidated by strong, skeptic voices. Build a team with risk taking folks who are not afraid to speak truth to power—those folk who need to clean up their power over posturing.

Dig in on SOMETHING

  • Find one thing you care about, and go deep
  • There is always work to be done….websites, press releases, photos, op ed pieces, etc.

I am grateful to share what you can do now advocacy training. Comments re: what you care about, where you might go deep, are welcome. To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Gratitude in Trump’s 77-Minute Press Conference

Gratitude block on my windowsill, thanks to Beth

I was pretty shaken by the president’s recent lengthy press conference—77 minutes of on-my-mind-on-my-tongue comments. Afterwards, a question nagged. Where is President Trump’s gratitude for having won enough votes to win the country’s highest office?

His negative, belligerent tone gnawed at me. Here was a man whose parents — his mother, a Scottish immigrant, his father a successful developer—provided opportunities far beyond the average, setting the stage for the privileged and fastidious lifestyle he can indulge at any moment.

It is the United States government, its considerable resources and dedicated civil servants, its very working, which has provided the foundation and cushion of his life. Yet, by all accounts— from his inauguration speech, subsequent communications and impromptu tweets, he asserts that it is we who must be grateful to be saved from the catastrophe of living in America, 2017. I just want you to know. I inherited a mess, he declared last week.

We are fast learning that Trump must criticize, must tear down what is and has been operational and functional, so as to declare his place in history— the savior of a crumbling scaffold, to redesign, to replace the old and well-enough-served with the new. His mantra, “Make America Great” is intended to promulgate the belief that he and he only (with his chosen people) can envision and change the trajectory of our destiny.

No doubt, our scaffolding needs repair at significant junctures. But improvement does not appear in Mr. Trump’s plan. Straight out of the gate, he is compelled, driven to make good his promise of rooting out illegals, securing borders, building the wall, dismantling the administrative state. (Banner’s words)

Would that President Trump could offer compassion and empathy for the dilemmas of immigrants who have set down roots, yet have no clear path for citizenship. Would that he could embrace the possibilities of the range of immigrant resourcefulness to our national well-being.

After I printed out the transcript of the 23 pages from Trump’s press conference, I searched for words, thoughts and ideas, which might reflect thankfulness, a sense of personal gratitude. Thirteen minutes in, Trump had an opportune minute to express appreciation for the swell of voters who pushed him over the top. Instead, he offered, 270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes.

And that’s the way he and it goes, throwing out words as if they were real descriptors, set in stone, proof of the intent to deconstruct what I have lived and appreciated over the past years. At the very end, he did politely state, It’s a great honor to be with you. Thank you very much. Thanks.

I wish I could say “Thank you, Mr. President.” I am grateful to Fox News and the New York Times for the transcript; I am grateful for a discerning education; I am grateful for the freedom to write this blog.

 

 

 

Lists and Mental Health

Amaryllis in Window

I find list making calming. With a half-awake president wandering the darkened White House corridors at 3:00 a.m., asking his National Security Advisor about the benefits of a strong or weak dollar, tweeting edicts for the a.m. news, we are rapidly becoming a nation of insomniacs and worriers.

When I worry, I make lists—in my head, on legal or skinny sized notepads, where the eye can scan down, take note and experience a semblance of control.

First and foremost, my ever-present go-to is the grocery list. It’s comforting to use the last bit of blueberry jam and pen it on the top line. As if by magic, I have replaced it, a mental guarantor of a satisfying taste for the start of my day.

“To do” lists serve a similar purpose— phone calls to the plumber or a friend; e-mails, mostly personal, a prompt to send a birthday card or a note of sympathy.

As I writer, I list ideas, random thoughts, phrases, words which evoke, please, resonate. I list projects— essays in process, essays to submit, essays submitted— acceptances and rejections.

The most helpful and yes, the list requiring the most discipline and effort is the gratitude list. Since Trump’s election, my mental health depends on finding a balance between sources that nurture my inner world and those that direct my energies outward. I offer this week’s example.

Week of February 8, I’m grateful for:

  • My fluffy amaryllis, wide open with four striped petals and a lime green throat—a beautiful gem which opens my heart every time I stop to notice, to touch its creamy skin.
  • Breathing in the unexpected warmth of Wednesday’s spring-like day, temperature near 60, earthy smells, my clogged sinuses opening with lightness.
  • Relating to the Diane Rehms (2/10/17) blog post— “Inside The White House and Coping in an Age of Anxiety.” A well thought-out distillation on considering anxiety as a resource and the positive attributes of harnessing anxiety in the cause of resistance.http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2017-02-10/inside-the-white-house-and-coping-in-an-age-of-anxiety
  • The 3-0 unanimous decision of the 9th circuit’s court of appeal to maintain the stay on Trump’s order to restrict travel from seven ( predominantly Muslim) nations. Relief that the checks and balances are holding.
  • Elizabeth Warren, who though silenced on the Senate floor, appeared on the Daily Show, spoke out on The Rachel Maddow Show, and disseminated a video where she persisted in reading Coretta Scott King’s letter and talking about Jeff Session’s role when African-Americans were beaten away from the polls.
  • An unexpected part-time job offer from the Team Leader at the Whole Foods Whole Body aisle with whom I often swap nutrition and supplement info. Job requirement: knowledge of health issues and supplements, check; job experience with people, check; ability to stand on feet, check; climb ladders, lift 50 pound boxes, forget it! Nice fantasy, especially at my age.

If you have experience with list making and its mental health benefits, please share in the comments section. I’m grateful for  thoughts and ideas on this timely and important topic.

 

 

 

 

Patchwork Resistance: Mindfulness in Action

Grounded
Photo by Marv

I was literally spinning last week— an acute bout of vertigo. It happened, out of the blue, as I began my usual routine of stretches in bed. No sooner did my head hit the mattress when the walls began to spin. I sat up, too suddenly, setting off a rocket reeling spin and acute anxiety.

Like the fallout from Trump‘s presidency, this inflammation had been building. Mid-winter sinus pressure was not new. I hadn’t paid enough attention. The weight of my head was real and slowed me down. Twenty-four hour mindfulness (without exaggeration, even in bed, to avoid sudden motion) was necessary to hold off the spinning sensation.

I was grateful to move from bed to steam pot to my computer. I was grateful for Marvin’s presence to assure my safety.

I researched and began alternative anti-viral remedies. When I saw my doctor, she approved, and raised my blood pressure medication a tad. Thankfully, she is cautious and resonated with my self-diagnosis: “Trump anxiety.”

For weeks, I’d been sad. My clogged sinuses made sense. Not once had I cried.

Over breakfast, January 30th, I was served a plateful of gratitude . On the Boston Globe’s front page, the lead story —“A Stroke of the Pen, then 34 Tense Hours in Boston.” Journalists Ramos and Ryan told the story of a “patchwork resistance “in which two women, Susan Church and Heather Yountz, friends and lawyers, demonstrated how mindful attention and a willingness to step up can make a remarkable difference.

Both women are mothers: Saturday meant sports for Church and for Yountz, taking her son to an immigration rally on the Common. Given Trump’s order to limit immigration from seven Muslim-minority countries, “They knew they had to come up with a plan.” By mid-morning, the order was being enforced, and a citizen from one of the affected countries was put on a flight back to Europe.

These women worked together to carry their immigrant legal training forward. They acted—went to the airport and posted flyers in search of a person being detained. By 6:00 p.m., an Air France flight having just arrived,” they realized this might be their last chance to find someone.” In minutes, they overheard a woman, also waiting, speak of a case-by-case vetting procedure and recognized that these very people might be waiting for a loved one to be released.

They engaged a plaintiff, connected with ACLU lawyers, wrote the complaint, phoned a judge, coordinated a complaint suing President Trump, divvied up the pleadings, offered the case in court and waited. At 1:00 the  morning. of January 31st, four lawyers, three women and a man, won a temporary stay.

As I write this, I am grateful to feel less sad. Clear in head, I am steady on my feet and grateful that “patchwork resistance” in the hands of civic-minded citizens is making a difference. Case in point: though the seven-day Boston stay was not continued, later on the last day, a Seattle judge ruled to halt immigration across the entire country!