All (American) Women

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Raised by Republicans, I was no Red Diaper Baby Feminist nor, having grown up in the complacent suburbs of the 50s, can claim an early awareness of social injustice. And yet from an early age—at least this is how I remember it—I knew that being a woman  mattered. I can remember in junior high, maybe at UU Sunday school, discussing a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt or Eisenhower or . . . to the effect that American women were this country’s greatest untapped resource and, being eleven or twelve, thinking, “Yup! True. And when I get old enough, I’ll be a part of the tapping. I’ll be a part of Something Amazing!”

And I am. Although It’s taken way, way longer than I’d imagined when in junior high. And at that age and easeful time of my life, how could I have possibly imagined the power, the rage, the unspeakable cruelty of sexism? (Writing this, I realize that that the young, cosseted, idealistic eleven-year-old me still lives and breathes, sometimes. She’s the me so bewildered by horrific headlines: “How can this* be?”)

I see this Something Amazing every day: in the paradigm-shifting work of Michelle Alexander and Mothers Out Front, in the voices of Elizabeth Warren**, Rachel Maddow, Annie Hoffman, my yoga teacher, my strong, realized granddaughters.

And I see it in the faces, the smiles and nods of the women I pass by everyday, women from all over the world, women of all ages and ethnicities and classes and sexual persuasions, women in flowing robes and tight jeans and Birkenstocks. Not everyone, of course. But—and this may be Just Me—I see Sisterhood. I see silent acknowledgement of “Yup.”, a female version of a secret handshake.

Yup.

* For example

** This link’s worth watching on SO many levels, particularly the “Looking great!” comment. Really? You went there? “How can this be?”

“What Happened [to the women’s movement]?”

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[Still-life in front of  a Union Square storefront]

Thursday evening I attended a showing of Catherine Russo’s documentary, “A Moment in Her Story: Stories from the Boston Women’s Movement” at the Cambridge Public Library. When the lights came up, everyone in the 99% female audience, individually or in twos and threes, asked the same question: “What happened?” What happened to the vibrant, collective, in-your face movement depicted in Russo’s film? Why are we STILL fighting for freedom of choice? Wy are women STILL so disproportionally represented in politics, as movers and shakers in the arts, etc.* Why, why, why, after all this time, did Sheryl Sandberg STILL HAVE TO write Lean In? Huh?

Here’s my 2 cents—or, rather, my Susan B. Anthony dollar coin:

1. “Complacency:” (Those quotation marks indicate irony. Lots of irony) This complacency, the same kind of lazy and facile reasoning that declares “Racism is no longer an issue because, heh, Obama’s president.” says: “Women no longer burn their bras because, heh, women are doing pretty well these days: they wear pants, now, abortion is legal—although, in places like Texas, access is tricky—and, heh, look at Angela Merkel and Hillary!”

2. Actually, the beat goes on: (It’s just not Evening News worthy, anymore). For example, if you go to the “Her Story” link and click on the trailer, at 4:11 you’ll see a group picture of the women who created Our Bodies Ourselves back in the day. The incredibly important work of The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective continues. (Some of you will recognize one woman in that group picture—my dear friend Wendy Sanford.) And let’s not  forget Mothers Out Front, a women’s mobilization re climate change!

3. 9/11: It’s next-to-impossible to analyze one’s own era; we live it, we breathe it. But every time I see a woman driving an SUV I’m  reminded that I live at a time in history marked by pervasive fear. “Women want to feel safe,” SUV makers tell us. (How sad that auto makers, like politicians and the media, use women’s and men’s sense of vulnerability to their own ends.) How that plays out regarding women I only sense. Stay tuned.

4. Sexism, like the poor and racism and homophobia and anti-semitism, will always be with us. There’s always gonna be haters.

* Judy Chicago spoke at Harvard a couple of weeks ago and, not surprisingly, had lots to depressing things to say about the art scene these days.

All Kinds of Love

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[A neglected yet wondrous front yard in Cambridge, MA; January 31, 2013]

No paperwhites this year. My pretty, blue-and-white Chinese bowl, ceremoniously filled with smooth, small stones, water, and five or six bulbs on New Year’s Day and then placed on the piano, remains in the basement. My ninety-year old mother, preoccupied by her move into assisted living, didn’t distribute carefully bundled bulbs at Christmas to her children and grandchildren. Didn’t even mention them.

So, naively, I walked to Tagg’s last night, a locally-owned, new-style version of a country store. Hardware and upscale kitchenware and small appliances and nifty umbrellas that don’t collapse in heavy winds and garden supplies? Yup; Tagg’s got them. Paperwhites? Seems you’re supposed to buy paperwhites in November! Oh.

As my daughters would say: “A First -World Problem.” I get that. Believe me, as I sit here, warm and dry and safe, I know that the lack of paperwhites is not a big deal, okay?

And I get this: my mother’s no longer able to mother me; not really. And I get that although I’m a mother and grandmother and much loved, I will always long for that mothering. I’m too much a Quaker to whine about this. Just sad.

But, hey. There’s all kinds of love. At least four, according to the Bible: Storge, the familial love that once upon a time drove my mother to her version of Tagg’s to buy paperwhites; Eros (Yum); Philia (so very present in the halls of Congress these days, right?); and my personal favorite: Agape.

I will always remember my Wow! Does Everybody Know About This But Me? reaction when I first learned about all-loving, unconditional agape, that love that passeth all understanding. Pretty sure I was going through another divorce at the time. Pretty sure I was singin’ “When Will I Be Loved?” a lot. (BTW: did you know that Phil Everly, who died last week, wrote that song after he’d split up from his brother?)

And, hey: the wonder of a precious, living thing unfolds every Monday in my living room when I get to spend several hours with my granddaughter.

I mean, c’mon!

 

 

 

 

 

E Pluribus Unum

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[  Kenny Irwin creations, Palm Springs, CA]

Although, more and more, my spiritual practice is about the Here and Now, I’ve spent the last couple of days looking at my 2013. Yes. Reading my journal.

What has struck me is this: the story I’ve been telling myself about this past year isn’t what I’d carefully recorded! I’ve glossed over several key—and sometimes painful—events, completely forgotten others that, in fact, had demanded enormous energy and dedication. (My work on an ad hoc committee at my Quaker meeting, which met weekly/sometimes twice a week for much of the spring and early summer, for example.)

Humbling. And illuminating.

Yet this is also true: The story I’ve been telling myself is what I’ve crafted from all the bits and pieces I’d carefully recorded. My aging and forgetful and biochemically-upbeat and cheerful mind has arranged and edited those bits and pieces so as to tell an upbeat and cheerful narrative.

We all do that. We all make meaning based on who we are and what we’re about.  I’m remembering how, last week, my seven-year-old grandson, Dmitri, and four-year-old granddaughter, Ruby, made meaning of the rooms and rooms and glass case after glass case of stuff at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Of all the stuffed animals—and there were thousands of them—they gazed at, in a sense, that afternoon boiled down to this:

Dmitri’s museum was the large, stuffed animal whose stuffing was leaking through the vertical seam down the animal’s backside.

Ruby’s museum was the pigmy shrew, probably the smallest and cutest mammal in the whole place!

A related observation about that excursion: The Museum, for the most part, is strictly Old School, i.e., not interactive. Yet Dmitri and Ruby loved walking through room after room, willy-nilly looking at whatever struck their fancy. Just like I did in the museums of my childhood. Seemingly, these 21st-century children didn’t need to push buttons or walk through a giant-sized simulation to be awed by the wonder and beauty and incredible variety of what surrounded them. Creation. Mystery. Something Greater than Themselves.

Making meaning is moment by moment selection and, sometimes, what we’re making meaning of can be experienced by simply standing, drop-jawed, perhaps, and quietly  taking in whatever’s in front of us. The present, precious moment. The Here and Now.

Can We Smile? Interact? Acknowledge One Another’s Humanity?

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[A pic from this year’s Honk—which is ALL about takin’ interactions to the streets!]

I’m missing intercourse—in the 19th-century sense of the word. I’m missing eye-to-eye sidewalk interactions as I walk. (And I walk a lot!) Those brief yet vital moments when two strangers pass each other and lift chins or smile or even say “Nice day,” or “How ’bout those Sox?”

How ironic. At a venerable age, when I am no longer in the slightest danger of being misinterpreted if I smile or say hello to another adult, my friendly, only-connect gestures go un-noticed, as men and women and even children stare at their I-phones as they stumble along. It’s sad, really, to see someone “walking” (more like zombie lurching, really) down a busy sidewalk, totally engrossed in whatever they’re viewing on the tiny screen in their hand when suddenly, for whatever reason, they look up. Such befuddled, dazed, “What the—?” confusion—”Oh, right, I’m actually in the middle of Davis Square!”—breaks my heart.

A moment of paranoia: Walking past a Brooklyn subway station I-phone ad recently, I noticed that someone had carefully written in large, block letters, “Your new master.” It is a little scary, isn’t it? This massive zombiefication? MIllions of people lurching along, under the sway of—what? Not the here and now, obviously. Not the living and breathing reality of the moment, whether precious or fraught, they’re experiencing. Yikes.

For us empty-handed folks, as has always been true in New England (a region historically not celebrated for its warmth and friendliness—even before I-phones), there’s always the weather as an interaction-with-strangers starter. “Cold/hot enough for ya?” remains an accepted opening remark around here. Which, unfortunately, amplifies another challenge of the Here and Now: How to answer that seemingly innocuous question? When the actual, real, True answer is along the lines of: “Are you kidding me? This unusually hot day in the middle of November’s scaring the bejesus out of me! I’m guessing it scares you, too, huh?”

Interesting times, huh?

 

 

“A Sort of Salvation”

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[A Palm Springs, CA decorator’s store window]

 

Yesterday was my 69th birthday. And although I’d just gotten back from a wonderful, restful, super-fun vacation and received many, many generous, thoughtful gifts and sweet phone calls and cards (several hand-made) and e-mails, my natal day was a little hard. Jet lag and probably coming down with something and lingering doubts re my decision to no longer write for First Day Press and, after sorting a week’s worth of mail, to pick up the latest issue of The New Yorker and to absolutely, gut-wrenchingly KNOW that I don’t have enough time left to reach the writing achievement of an Alice Munro or an Adam Gopnik—can you understand why it was a little hard?

But as the late afternoon sun began to fade, I received another gift: a visitation from my Muse. Just like William Stafford’s experience,my Muse reminded me that I have my own way of looking at things. Unlike Stafford’s drama queen, however, my Muse chose to gently,  lovingly fill me. No belled-forth voice, no buzzing glasses; no. Just a sense of Light deep within me and a small, still voice whispering: “Keep pluggin’.”

* When I Met My Muse

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off–they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

Buttonin’ Up

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Ah, fall. Vibrant foliage, crisp apples, scarlet and amber mums on porch steps, unearthing a forgotten sweater, that first whiff of smoke from a neighbor’s wood stove. And, every Columbus Day weekend here in Somerville: Honk! The best street festival evah.

This year, Honk! served as the backdrop for an even more important event: My husband David’s 70th birthday! Our children and their children and one sib and her family came from all over the country to celebrate this milestone. Saturday night, 20 of us ate barbecue in our recently spruced up carriage house—the all-summer-long, major construction project of The Birthday Boy. There was meh pecan pie with whipped cream and candles. Like our guest of honor: lowkey. (And because several family members were sick and couldn’t come, a little subdued, too.)

He didn’t plan it this way but the carriage house rehab, which required daily hefting of 60-pound bags of concrete, was an excellent way to launch the next decade.  Apparently, having worked so long and hard all summer and into the fall, David’s more strong and resilient than ever!

 

 

Caught!

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The same day my 90-year-old mother put herself on an assisted living community’s waiting list, I received a snail mail notice from Enterprise car rental. Seems that my “rental vehicle incurred a citation or toll during [my] rental period.” Huh?

First reaction: This is a scam.

Second reaction: Well, if someone’s ripping me off, it’s a pretty modest ripoff: Enterprise informed me it was fining me, using my credit card number—which they had, of course—$18.00!

Third reaction: OK. Maybe I did mess up. One look at the date and I knew exactly what happened: Cruising up Interstate 95 on a beautiful, late-summer day,  a dear friend in the passenger seat, the two of us chatting away, we arrived at the tolls in New Hampshire. So I breezed through the EZ Pass lane. Because that’s what I always do. In my own car. Ooops.

Two take-aways:

1. “You never call and the NSA can back me up on that!” Yup. This is my Big Brother moment. Just imagining the surveillance and the computerized systems’ interconnectedness activated by my one, stupid mistake, then multiplying this one incident exponentially? Yikes. Messing up has never before been so fraught! They got us; we’re caught.

2. This incident may be my first, public, Getting Older & Less With It moment. (I have plenty of these moments in private, 90% of them before drinking my morning coffee.) As egg-on-my-face moments go, as the customer service woman at Enterprise pointed out,”You got lucky.” $18 is incredibly cheap. Making the same stupid mistake in another state would have really cost me. Given that I am living in Surveillance Land, though, and I’m not getting any younger, heightened attention, constant vigilance is called for, I guess. Gotta bring my A game to these kind of situations. I can’t cruise, go on auto-pilot.

Sounds exhausting. Naptime?

 

 

 

Emerging, Becoming

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Leaving today for this summer’s last hurrah: a writing-retreat weekend in New Hampshire followed by a week in the Catskills at a YMCA family camp (I’m to serve as a pinch-hitting member of my daughter’s and her kids’ family because her husband has to work.). Odd to pack swimming gear and sunblock and a murder-mystery when, emotionally, I’m already into September. And the upcoming year (even bought a 2014 datebook this week!). And the rest of my life!

But I’m remembering summer camp lo these many years ago and how, sometimes, between things, i.e. walking alone from the dining hall back to my cabin through the woods, the eight or ten or twelve year old me thrilled at my aloneness, loved that pine-scented quiet to simply think. Ponder. Feel my breath. Smell. Listen. I loved that!

As a told my physical therapist this week: “It’s never been more clear to me that this IS the first day of the rest of my life.” As I hang out with my writing buddies and swim and read and chase after grandchildren and practice my archery skills (Yup! For real!), my prayer is that I’ll be gifted with quiet moments, too. Moments to ready myself for Fall’s bustle. Moments that will offer new insights into what’s to be.

Adjust Your Own Mask First

 

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[A window at Art and Soul Yoga Studio in Inman Square, January, 2013]

Given that on Saturday I decided to give time and energy to Mothers Out Front, it’s pure crazy that today I decided to now go to yoga TWICE a week, right?

Crazy like an aging fox, maybe.

The Backstory: At Saturday’s MOF kick-off launching “a movement that will move beyond fossil fuels and ensure a livable future for our children in the age of climate change,” MOF organizer, Vanessa Rule, quoted an MOF grandmother: “I have one more campaign in me. And [Mothers Out Front] is it.”

And while I, another grandmother, choose to believe I have more than one more campaign in me, I, too, am looking at my own endgame. What am I called to do—while I can? And what ought I to be doing to take good care of myself so I can truly be an instrument of Thy peace? (Full disclosure: as I write this I’m scarfing down double chocolate chip cookies. I am dunking them in skim milk, though. Surely that counts for something?!)

One second-to-last thing: the organizing principle underpinning MOF acknowledges that mothers are incredibly busy! (And grandmothers have less energy than they’d prefer.) I will not be doing any of the upcoming, exciting work alone.

Last thing: Working hard and collaboratively (with a core group of wonderful Somerville women) against “dirty energy” is, by itself, enormously energizing, healthy. After the kick-off—Seneca Falls was referenced more than once; we even signed a declaration—my body feels better.

So, not so crazy, huh!

 

 

 

Present Moment

 

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Sunday morning I walked to Friends Meeting for a 9:00 meeting. Much of Friday’s heavy snow had melted the day before and Sunday was also supposed to be a gloriously sunny, early-spring day. Later, that is. Later it would get warm; melt would melt. NOT at 8:15 as I gingerly made my way over icy sidewalks.

Although I’m slowly getting better at settling into the present moment, ignoring my To Do list and listening to that timeless, small, still voice, on Sunday a scared sixty-eight-year-old inner voice begged the Universe, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon! Hurry up, sun. Hurry up, future. I don’t want to fall.”

Later that morning, safe and warm, no bones broken, I sat at meeting for worship and considered that morning’s walk. And how I need to remember that those zen-imbued words, “present moment,” can be fraught. I thought about my own future and how my intentional settling into the Here and Now most likely will begin with the acknowledgement of pain.

Warm and healthy and blessed, in Sunday’s silence I remembered this: That I was recently eldered to remember that I am privileged. I’m afraid I did not receive this eldering well! I was defensive and indignant; “I really don’t need you to lecture me!”

But apparently I did. And do. Because although on some level I am aware of my privilege, there’s way more to understand. Like how how much easier it is for me to settle into silent worship and that wondrous, timeless, Light-filled present moment because of my easeful life.

Oh.

 

 

Aging Beauty

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When I was in my thirties and first attending Friends Meeting at Cambridge, one of the ways I got through an hour of silent worship was to check out fellow worshippers—especially the older women. What beautiful skin they had! What lovely, soft, gentle, serene faces! (Their sensible shoes and L.L. Bean clothing I found far less intriguing—although there was this one, ancient mohair suit I adored.) A Quaker newbie and quite sure I’d never quite measure up,  I knew those elderly women’s beauty was because they’d led deeply Spirit-led, mindful lives.

“I mean, it’s not like they all have a secret face cream,” I joked with a F/friend of my generation.

“You do’t know that!” she replied. Sharply, as I recall.

Thirty years later, I am now a white-haired grandmother with a medicine cabinet full of Origins’ latest anti-aging creams and serums. (My beauty secrets revealed! You read it here!) Thirty years later, it’s finally dawned on me that everyone—even lovely, serene-looking old women—has a backstory/ain’t perfect. We’re all just doing the best we can.

So if my wrinkled face appears serene during meeting for worship, it’s not because I have lived an unblemished life. Far from it. It’s because I am delighted to be in silent, collective worship. And listening to that small, still voice.

And, yeah, checking out my fellow worshippers.