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Archive for May, 2014

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A phenomenal woman died this week. She was our spiritual mother, a national treasure; Maya Angelou had that voice that could peek into your soul and reach bedrock. She was what every poet must aspire to be, of every color and every gender and every nationality. She could transform words into pure emotion.

We Americans were lucky to have her around for 86 years, lucky to call her our own. She once said that courage was the most important virtue, and certainly to endure her early life of poverty and abuse she must have exhibited tremendous courage. I would add that patience is the least important. I’m pretty sure she would agree. “The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is not an important virtue in my book.

It’s the second part of that definition that irks me. Because by squelching your feelings, even the angry ones, you nullify your existence. Every two year old knows that! OK, so I wouldn’t make a great yogi, suffering in silence, sorry. Feeling your anger is the first step to changing an untenable situation – ask any psychologist. Internalizing your anger equals high anxiety over a lifetime.

But for this weekend, when many of you are celebrating and not suffering, weddings and graduations, I thought I’d dig up an old commencement speech that Dr Angelou gave to the graduating class of 1977 at UC Riverside. She directs these young people to identify the heroes and sheroes in their lives, to be courageous and adventurous and NOT to travel a well worn path. RIP Maya Angelou, your words will live in our hearts forever.

Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be invited and certainly pleased by the reception. I thank the Chancellor, the officials, senior members and junior members of the institution, parents and friends.
In particular, I thank the graduating class. It seems to me that a commencement address always comes after the fact, after the long hours, after the tedious work, after trying to come to grips with somebody else’s ideas, after trying to stimulate one’s own brain so that it may come up with some ideas of its own. After all that, and even after the institution of higher education says to you, “You have done well, and to prove it I’m going to give you a diploma. After all that, then along comes a stranger who says, “I’m going to give you a commencement address.” It seems a contradiction, or else a little presumptuous. However, (pauses for laughter) there is a challenge that faces you that is incredible. And the challenge is not new. However it has not abated. The challenge is how to create a sense of adventure toward life and how to maintain that sense of adventure. There is an African statement that says, “The trouble for the thief is not how to steal the bugle, but where to blow it.” And it would seem that the trouble for you is not just how to get out of this institution, but once out, what does one do? Does one simply sit with that diploma and say, “I have found the one way, the true way for myself and I call all the others false.” Or do you indeed join life, that is the challenge.
There’s a poem that says. “She does not know her beauty. She thinks her brown body has no glory. If she could dance naked under palm trees and see her image in the river, she would know.” But there are no palm trees on the street and dishwater gives back no images. Now, the way one maintains, I believe, a sense of adventure, a love of life, and since life loves the liver of it, or certainly seems to favor the adventurous spirit, it is a wonderful thing to maintain that idea, that concept. The one way is to keep alive heroes and sheroes. I believe that people live in direct relationship with the heroes and sheroes they honor. And I will talk to you about sheroes and heroes. I don’t believe that he or she must always be embodied in the physical body. I believe that an idea can be a shero or hero. Certainly the idea of religion can be.
Black Americans were first brought to this country in 1619. That was one year before the Mayflower docked. That’s an aside (laughter.) Today, we are upwards of thirty million and that’s a conservative estimate. How do people continue to exist, and walk as if they have oil wells in their back yards, except that there is a hero/shero that stays alive. Some years ago when I was with “Porgy and Bess,” we went to Morocco. The company had traveled through many countries. And when we arrived in Morocco, we were told that the sets had been sent on to Spain, and we were obliged to give a concert. Well opera singers, as some of you know because some of your are, are a people always prepared to sing. I believe they have their portfolios taped behind their watches or something, they are always ready. So when the conductor said to the singers, “We should do a concert,” they really got into fine voice. I was the premiere danseuse and I simply couldn’t. I was not trained in that discipline. I went to the conductor and I said, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to sing. I don’t have any arias. He turned to me, he was Russian, and said, “Bah. Don’t you know a spiritual?”
I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, about the size of this side of the seating (she gestures to one side of the audience.) We went to church on Sunday. I don’t mean we went to church and left. We went to church on Sunday, that was all day, and then Monday night missionary meeting, Tuesday night deacon meeting, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and so on. And at all these meetings we sang. Now I had never really thought about the black American spiritual. I never understood what meaning, what value it had, until that night in Morocco. The people in the company went out and delivered themselves of these beautiful arias, from Rossini and Resphigi and Handel and Purcell, just lovely things, Mozart. And they were well received. But then I went out onto the stage and there was a pit with a 120-piece orchestra. But how could they help me with their violins, celli and things. So I said, “It’s alright.” And I sang a song that my grandmother sang every Sunday of my life until I was 13 and left that small town in Arkansas. When I finished, 4,000 people stood up and stomped and made noise and shouted. (here she imitates some of the language.) And I thought, uh huh. What was that? It wasn’t for my singing. I can sing fairly well. But it wasn’t that. I walked away from the auditorium and I walked alone in Morocco trying to come to grips with what had happened. The great singers had sung “La Donna’ e Mobile,” (she sings it) and sung it beautifully. They had done it to perfection, lyrically. And I sang, what I had thought to be a good song, but not very important music. And there were 4,000 people screaming my name. And then I realized that my people could not give me the great names that bring shivers in the marketplaces. They couldn’t give me the land that people barter their souls for sometimes, nor money, nor power. But what they gave me was a hero/shero that allowed me to walk as tall, and be free enough to accept other ideas, ideas other than those that generate within my own community. And it is that for which I am very grateful. It is that I want to encourage in the breasts and minds of the graduating class.
There is among black Americans, for centuries, we were known to laugh when we weren’t tickled, and scratch when we didn’t itch. And those gestures have come down to us as “Uncle Tomming.” I suggest to you that those people, who were successful in that particular strategy, are heroes and sheroes, and we live in direct relation to the heroes and sheroes that we have. I wrote a poem for a woman who is a maid in New York City. She rides the bus. When the bus stops too fast, she goes “Ah ha ha ha ha ha.” When it picks someone up, she goes, “Ah ha ha ha ha ha.” When it misses them, she goes, “Ah ha ha ha ha ha.” And I thought, “Now what is that?” Really? If you don’t know black features you may think she is smiling. She’s not smiling at all. She’s exercising that old survival apparatus, that’s all. So I wrote a poem for her, because she is a shero of mine.
When I think about myself, I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke, a dance what’s walked, a song what’s spoke.
I laugh so hard I nearly choke, when I think about myself.
Sixty years in these folks’ world, the child I works for calls me “girl.”
And I say “yes, ma’am” for workin’s sake. I’m too proud to bend and too poor to break.
So hmph, humph, ha, ha, humph, I laugh until my stomach ache, when I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side. I laugh so hard I nearly died.
The tales they tell sound just like lyin’. They grow the fruit, but eat the rind.
I laugh so hard, I start to cryin’ when I think about myself.
Ladies and gentlemen, a good commencement address should be brief. It might be funny. In this case I shall not be funny. I will encourage you along the lines of Terence, a playwright in 150 B.C., who said, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” It is interesting that his name is Terentius Afer, or Terence of Africa. He was a slave sold to a Roman Senator, freed by that Senator, and he became the most popular playwright in Rome. And he said, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.”
I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve. I thank you very much, and I encourage you to commence.

http://newsroom.ucr.edu/announcements/2009-10-24maya-angelou.html

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Hope everyone had a fun-filled holiday weekend and took some time to remember our fallen warriors. Our President went to Afghanistan and the Pope went to Jerusalem, conflict zones still. My silent prayer yesterday was for peace, like some aged pageant finalist, I knew I didn’t have much of a chance.

Bob was saving lives all weekend. No, really he saved a young man’s life, in his 30s, first heart attack, coded right in front of him like they only do on TV. An emergency department can be like a war zone, especially on Memorial Day (or insert any summer holiday). Grills are being fired up and gas tanks malfunction, lawn mowers throw crap into people’s eyes, fish hooks get stuck in the most unlikely places; and that’s just a sample of a country hospital. Throw in too much alcohol and/or drugs, then change your scenario to a city, and all hell will break loose.

Because guns are so prolific in this country. Because guns can be bought in a parking lot, online or down the street at the newest Gander Mountain store where guns line the walls like 3D wallpaper. Because no politician has the nerve to stand up to the NRA, to challenge the 2nd Amendment. We successfully challenged that bit about African Americans and slavery. But heaven help us if we want to keep guns well regulated, have background checks or challenge laws like “stand your ground.” We the people are not even allowed to track gun violence, or sue a gun manufacturer if a gun misfires! In some states, the NRA tells our pediatricians they cannot even ask if there are guns in the home.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

I didn’t start to cry until I saw a father, Richard Martinez, ask how this was possible in Santa Barbara, California. How could his 20 year old son go out to a deli only to be gunned down for no reason. How could this happen after Sandy Hook, CT? http://news.msn.com/crime-justice/father-blames-government-idiots-as-california-town-mourns-killings

“Martinez said his son died because Congress had failed to act after a mentally ill gunman killed 26 people in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. “These people are getting rich sitting in Congress. And what do they do? They don’t take care of our kids,” he said.

Because let’s get real. It’s not about mental health laws and how long people can be held in a hospital or be committed against their will. This latest mass murderer was not only a misogynist, whose parents cared enough to call the police about his homicidal tendencies, he was a cunning, borderline psychopath. He had the money and the ability to purchase as many guns as he wanted, legally, and to fool the officers who interviewed him for what, ten minutes?

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GUNS

Maybe, just maybe there is something we can do. And if enough of us act, if enough of us gather signatures, gather our nerve, we might make a dent and get politicians to listen to parents who have had enough of this senseless gun violence – in schools, in movie theaters, in delis. Because a “well-regulated militia” means the National Guard to me. It takes one nation to end gun violence. Consider joining “Everytown for our Safety.” I did.

http://everytown.org

I was going to write today about a chance encounter I had with a dad helping out his son in a new business, they own a local food truck. But sometimes my fingers just type what they feel, and another dad’s feelings took over.  Why not join Everytown with me, let’s give peace a chance.     IMG_0612

 

 

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hr-angels-600x320“I think my guardian angel drinks.” This just popped up on my Facebook feed. It made me smile, not guffaw mind you, but it also made me think of Virginia Woolf’s famous advice to women writers. She instructed us to, “Kill the Angel in the House.”

By the Angel, Woolf meant the female — more specifically, the mother and wife — whose role in life was to be the gracious hostess-cook-and-mender, smoother-over of family tensions, and graceful supporter of the endeavors of husband and (male) children. Woolf had to kill the Angel, she said, because its top priority is self-suppression and conciliation, while to write one has to display “what you think to be the truth…” reblogged from “YeahWriters” on Tumblr

Granted Woolf was raised during the Victorian era, and started writing between the two great wars of the last century; and then there’s that messy part about her suicide at the age of 59 in 1941. When I was younger, I was slightly afraid of reading Woolf, like depression might be catchy and if I wasn’t strong enough… Still I often thought about her dictum to have a room of my own. In particular when I was trying to meet a deadline in the corner of my dining room with the Rocker’s band in the garage before the Bride had to be picked up from field hockey. Oh, and what would we do for supper?

Do women ever work – either inside or outside the home – without all those crazy household and childcare thoughts buzzing around in their heads? You know that men do not have those same thoughts while working; I dare you to find me the man who is wondering about his (insert anything we worry about here – child’s ear infection, dry cleaning, dog’s vet appointment, grocery shopping) while he is at work. When my wise mentor Great Grandma Ada headed off to get her Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling while her boys were still in school, I remember her telling me how she wished she could sit on the porch, like Lucy, her housekeeper/nanny, and snap peas with her youngest. But she had a Wild Heart, she cut her teeth on Betty Friedan, and so she left the Angel in the capable hands of Lucy. Ada was lucky, most women in the 60s didn’t have a surrogate homemaker.

Betty’s bible said, “Men are not the enemy, but the fellow victims. The real enemy is women’s denigration of themselves.”

I find it disheartening that in this day and age the Angel in the House is still so much a part of us. Women are asked interview questions that are never asked of men with families. Even the top CEOs in business will make only 69% of her male counterparts. “Low expectations based on external factors like gender or race, rather than on personal skill sets, are particularly pernicious. Ambition (that Wild Heart) depends on belief in oneself, which requires recognition and reinforcement by others.”

And there’s the rub, the problem that two journalists, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, tackled in a recent Atlantic article titled, “The Confidence Gap.” http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/04/the-confidence-gap/359815/ Why is it most women don’t believe in themselves, or they downplay their promotion by saying they were just lucky; while demonstrating competence, why do we lack confidence? OK, so if you went to Catholic school it was kind of a sin to be too full of yourself. Still, it’s impossible to sum up Kay and Shipman’s research, but let’s just say it’s a combination of nature and nurture.

And the Angel in the House. It’s hard to feel confident when you’re juggling a home with children and a full time job. When women my age were defying their mothers and entering the work force, I often heard them opine, reluctantly for a “wife.” Because they knew beyond all doubt that no one would pick up the slack of laundry, cooking, dishes, cleaning, getting up in the middle of the night with a sick child, nobody. If they wanted something done, they had to ask for it because it just wasn’t in a man’s sphere of thought. “Honey, you’ll be at such and such a place at 5, could you pick up the kid, please?”

This Angel was always in our head. I was taught my guardian angel lived on the tip of a pin, I had no idea it could fly right into my brain! It’s about time we banished her, make her a margarita and bid her “Adieu!”

It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her…And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self–defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality…Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer. Virginia Woolf

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Ms Bean is following me everywhere, if she loses me again I might never come back, right? Like the Love Bug following her Mama around when she returned after five days; we had to watch her go out to the alley and bring back the garbage cans. At the zoo, the first few rounds on the carousel were thrilling, but then wait, Mama kept disappearing. It wasn’t until my grandbaby turned around to watch the Bride growing smaller and smaller in the distance that she’d had enough. Time to slow this thing down.

And the seasons they go round and round

I listened to some amazing This American Life podcasts on the nine hour drive home. I even enjoyed the interview on NPR with an author about a new book about the Koch brothers, “Sons of Wichita.” http://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/314574217/how-the-koch-brothers-remade-americas-political-landscape

And the painted ponies go up and down

But hearing about China, and the demise of their socialist system after a famine wiped out food supplies and farmers stopped growing crops for their collective farms and started planting for their families was fascinating. After the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese people lived by Chairman Mao’s little red book. It was the fastest and most sweeping political and social upheaval in history. Everyone lived for the common good of the Chinese people, a class system was virtually erased overnight.

We’re captive on the carousel of time

Then just as suddenly, with starvation came rebellion again. And so the savvy Communist leaders co-opted a kind of free market system – the Chinese term for ambition, “Wild Heart,” was no longer considered blasphemy. It was allowed, the Wild Heart was set free in every person to follow their passion, and a kind of well choreographed authoritarian capitalism was born.

We can’t return we can only look

Behind from where we came

I saw this morning that the Wild Heart is catching on in Tehran, where a bunch of teenagers posted a video dancing to Pharrell’s song “Happy.”

And go round and round and round 

In the circle game 

 

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“Would you eat them here or there? Would you eat them anywhere?” You may recognize the voice of Dr Seuss. His Cat is a master manipulator. You may think you don’t like green eggs and ham, but gosh darn it, you’re gonna like them eventually.

It’s a great book for a toddler, especially the Love Bug. She likes to tell me where to sit, “Nana, sit here!” She likes to tell me where to go, like when I told her that Mama would be home, she looked me right in the eyes and said “Nana go bye bye!” I told her my plan was to stick around for awhile and she smiled as if to say that would be just fine.

Transitions can be hard at every stage in life. Who knew that crossing the threshold of a door – from the world of the wind and the sun outside with popsicles on the porch and school crossing guards who wave “Hello,” to the world inside with high chairs you have to sit in and diapers that for some reason must be changed all the time. My Bug, like Jane Goodall in her new children’s book,”Me Jane,” loves to be outside!

So coaxing her to come in is a major challenge. In fact I’d forgotten this simple fact about toddlers – everything is a negotiation! Then I remembered that the Bride loved a good argument at this age too. I was convinced she was going to study law, that’s how good she was. I found myself saying my daughter’s name instead of the Bug’s, over and over again because her level of sophistication is equal to her mothers.

So last night I thought ahead. After dinner I sat the Bug down and said we needed to talk. I told her I would keep my promise and we would have popsicles on the porch, but then I expected her to be a BIG GIRL when it was time to come in and “Not Cry.” She said “Not cry.” And I said, “OK, big girl, do you want a strawberry or a grape popsicle?” And she said, “Strawberry.”

It worked!

Today was the best day ever. We spent the whole morning at the Nashville Zoo and topped it off with a wild animal carousel ride. She eagerly hopped on the painted kangaroo with me and we waved at Mama who is thankfully home and was waving to us miraculously every time we rode around in a circle.  And now that I’ve got this toddler transition thing down, from getting her into the car without a fuss to getting her out of the tub at night, I’ll be heading home. My husband tells me he’s missing me. But leaving her, will be the hardest transition of all.

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This is gonna hurt! You see I accidentally tripped over a big soft mat at a “Bounce House” the other day and managed to break my pinky finger…so…no worries though, the Love Bug was fine. Nana’s “Ouchie” is turning pretty shades of blue, and according to 3 Emergency Physician consultations – one in real time, one by email, and one by phone – there’s nothing to be done. “Ice, Advil, and Rest.” Which one forgot I’m caring for a toddler? We had to bake cookies!

My daughter has been sending me glowing reports about the West Coast. The weather, the people, the coastline! The Groom has a conference to attend and they are both visiting transplanted friends in LA. Then I turn on CNN this morning, while I’m listening for a few wake-up chirps from the nursery, and you’d think the whole of California is ablaze in wildfires and Santa Anna winds!

Of course my wisecrack comeback to her Cali salutations was to remark about earthquakes maybe being better than tornadoes. I can’t help it when a little Woody Allenesque just comes out. The truth is I love San Francisco, but haven’t seen the rest of the state. Would I miss the humidity? The Mountains? Would I have to get Botox? At some point I think we all get too old to move. Every house we owned I swore would be the last. But ER physicians like to roam, it’s part of their DNA, they carry their skills with them.

It’s almost been like being a military wife. Some people look at moving like it’s a thrilling wonderful adventure, and then there’s me. It was great for awhile, but at some point you wonder if you’re leaving your best friends behind you. The ones who know where the spoons are in your kitchen.

The Rocker and Ms Cait have been talking about a move out west. And the Groom will finish his fellowship soon and be looking for an academic position. If both my children and the Bug and future grandchildren end up out there would we pack it up again? It’s the Irish in me that loves to put down roots, to stay connected to family and friends. Still.

It would have to come with conditions; like moving to the Blue Ridge meant having a view, and building a house. If we do cross the country in the next couple of years there will be no more Bounce Housing! And only looking at earthquake-proof houses that are no where near a mudslide. Maybe we’d find a pony for the Bug, and name her Wildfire.         IMG_0520

 

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Don’t get me wrong. The past few days have been luscious! The Love Bug likes to have High Tea every day with an assortment of stuffed animals. And we love to dress and undress her baby doll and push her to the park in her tiny stroller. There’s always something exciting happening at the park. A Little League baseball game, dogs and children playing everywhere. This whole city way of life is pretty special; we even have a puppy store we can walk to after our favorite breakfast spot! Why did I always insist we live in the country?
But today the Nanny came to give Nana a break.
We waited on the porch for Ms Christy and watched the rain. We played Legos and danced once the sun came out! It was wonderful to see how much she loves Ms Christy, she couldn’t wait to run into her arms.
And so I’m sprung. Sitting in an upscale Nashville mall, watching urban seniors hiking the Green Hills and brigades of young moms pushing strollers in packs. So this is how you exercise in Nashville!
You know after this I’m heading to my favorite bookstore, Parnassus. The other day Garrison Keiler dropped by, I wonder who will be there today? Maybe Ann Patchett?
Thank you to the Bride and Groom for arranging nanny time for nana. It was a brilliant idea! But I can’t wait to get back to my Bug, our plan is to bake some cookies if it’s still raining – otherwise it’s “Outside Nana!”

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