Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Lemon Tea

It’s 54 degrees on a foggy summer day in San Francisco. Here in Northern Michigan, I have been swimming in warm lakes in 70 to 80 degree weather and gleefully glad to have escaped San Francisco and experience summer the way I think it should be. 

Until now.

It’s not foggy, but the San Francisco chill has come all the way to Michigan, the lake has turned cold and I’m changing from shorts to blue jeans and pulling out my vest from the bottom of my suitcase. And my spoiled privileged self is feeling, “Hey! This isn’t what I signed up for!”

But in the spirit of making hot lemon tea from lemonades, I found a 500-piece puzzle, a round one celebrating women in the suffrage movement and started digging in. 5-year-old Malik helped me find the edges, Zadie joined in, Talia came back from her run and sat down and a couple of hours later, we had both the pleasure of accomplishment and learned a lot about women I hadn’t heard of before. Some I knew something about—Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida Wells, Sojourner Truth, Helen Keller, Jane Addams— but there were 35 more whose story I needed to hear. And they had an accompanying sheet that told their stories.

After that, I sat on the couch reading Stamped:Anti-Racism and You and there again were familiar names of people I should know that I did. But also new ones that I needed to know—and now I do. And so should you. Naomi Anderson, the Grimke Sisters, Mary Terrell, Alice Paul (the latter an example of being a staunch supporter for women's rights, but an apologist for racism) and many others. 

So while I’m grouchy that it’s too cold to swim, the weather led me to some important things to know and some satisfying things to do. The lemon tea is both warming and tasty. 

School Dreams

Every August, for over four decades, I begin to have dreams about returning to school. I was curious whether I still would now that I’m retired.

The answer is yes. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

It's Time

Within a short span of time, I’ve read White FragilitySo You Want to Talk About RaceMe and White Supremacy and soon will get to Stamped and How to Be an Anti-Racist. All these books together say just about the same things in different voices and everything they say is precisely what needs to be said and attended to. Has needed to be said for hundreds of years, but we seem to only now (we being white people) ready to hear it, consider it. take it seriously, act on it. Of course, not all of the “we” and that’s a matter for great shame and sorrow. But meanwhile there is more hope than I’ve felt in a long time that people can finally get the incontrovertible fact that white silence is compliance, white silence is a form of violence. 

I have been vocal for decades about these matters, but one of the new (old truths) is that no one gets a cookie for doing the right thing. And I’m newly alerted to the many, many ways I could have done better and the many, many ways I’ve (unintentionally, but that doesn’t matter) contributed to being compliant with white privilege. One cannot exhibit an ounce of pride that one is a “good anti-racist” any more than one can claim being a “good parent.” There is always more work to do.

On Facebook, there is an excellent summary of the matter which I include below alongside my comment. For those who have not yet read the above books or are not inclined to do so, consider this summary. And then please, read the above books.

One. More. Time. In case it’s STILL unclear.


• 400 years ago white people enslaved black people. And sold them. And treated them as less than human. For 250 years. While white men built the country and created its laws and its systems of government. While 10, 15 generations of white families got to grow and flourish and make choices that could make their lives better.


• And then 150 years ago white people "freed" black people from slavery. But then angry white people created laws that made it impossible for them to vote. Or to own land. Or to have the same rights as white people. And even erected monuments glorifying people who actively had fought to keep them enslaved. All while another 5, 10 generations of white families got to grow and accumulate wealth and gain land and get an education.


• And then 60 years ago we made it "legal" for black people to vote, and to be "free" from discrimination. But angry white people still fought to keep schools segregated. And closed off neighborhoods to white people only. And made it harder for black people to get bank loans, or get quality education or health care, or to (gasp) marry a white person. All while another 2-3 generations of white families got to grow and pass their wealth down to their children and their children's children.


• And then we entered an age where we had the technology to make PUBLIC the things that were already happening in private-- the beatings, the stop and frisk laws, the unequal distribution of justice, the police brutality (police began in America as slave patrols designed to catch runaway slaves). And only now, after 400+ years and 20+ generations of a white head start, are we STARTING to truly have a dialog about what it means to be black.


White privilege doesn't mean you haven't suffered or fought or worked hard. It doesn't mean white people are responsible for the sins of our ancestors. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of who you are.


It DOES mean that we need to acknowledge that the system our ancestors created is built FOR white people.


It DOES mean that Black people are treated at a disadvantage because of the color of their skin.


It DOES mean that we owe it to our neighbors-- of all colors-- to acknowledge that and work to make our world more equitable.




(My comment) 

Clear and necessary summary. Thank you. White folks (and I'm one), let's get to work. Seriously. And if you need encouragement, here's a thought: all that hatred, inherited and ignorantly or purposefully kept going, eats away at our own souls. Happiness is not riding on the wave of our privilege, but looking deeper into our souls, doing the needed work in company with our neighbors. All our neighbors. Thank you, Amy, for the reminder.


Saturday, August 1, 2020


At the Little Bighorn Monument, I was reading to the grandkids the words of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and a quote from someone named Rotten Belly. This deserved some explanation. So I talked to them about my understanding of Spirit names, of being named according to the signs of one’s character. Spontaneously, and wanting to make them laugh by the surefire method of potty humor, I said, “For example, mine could be Poop-on-the-Trail.”

Not only did they laugh, but my daughter Talia latched on to it and decided that this indeed would be my new name. For my recent birthday, she went so far as to buy a piece of fake rubber poop (amazing that she found it in the small town of Frankfort) and so it appears I’m stuck with it. So now my job is to make it mythologically meaningful.

In the cultures of hunters and gatherers, poop on the trail is the morning news, to be read to see which animals passed through last night, figure out what they ate and along with “tracks on the path,” conjecture which way they came from and where they went. So in one sense, my name has to do with a newspaper headline that’s announcing something important to attend to. 

Or it could be something on the hiker’s path that is to be avoided and my job is to announce it: “Watch out for the poop on the trail!!! Step around it or get a stick and shove it to the side.” Again, this has to do with the morning news, using my Denmarkian nose and eyes to warn people what to watch out for.

My real “spirit name” that I gave myself in high school (no cultural appropriation here, just an inspiration from Native cultures I admire to reflect on my own character essential to my destiny) is “Dappled Path.” I just found myself loving the play of light and shadow when walking in the New Jersey woods. Didn’t know why or what it meant, just trusted my intuitive sense of noticing and affirming what I effortlessly liked. If my later self (meaning this one now) needed to name the meaning, I’d say it has to do equally appreciating the light and the shadow and celebrating the mix that has them in conversation. This constant back-and-forth in my life between apparent opposites— classical music and jazz, children and adults, social responsibility and artistic vision, things like that. It is the equal embrace of grief and joy, daylight ambition and nighttime reflection, feeling heart and active mind. 

So if you ever encounter poop on a dappled path, think of me.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Messages from Crostics V. 212

One of many things my father bequeathed me was a lifetime love of doing Crostic puzzles. They’re similar to crossword puzzles, but have a back and forth thing happening that awakens the mind in specific ways,  both mathematical and linguistic. And the prize at the end is a quote from a book or article. The quotes themselves can range from Erma Bombeck to Dostoevsky, the books from Reader’s Digest to Macbeth. 

I generally reserve these puzzles for plane trips and in normal life, rarely do more than one every few weeks. During the sheltering time, I’ve been more following my Dad’s habit of doing one a day. And I noticed that the last three had some relevant quotes for our times. Here they are to close out July:

History is replete with proofs, from Cato the Elder to Kennedy the Younger, that if you scratch a statesman, you find an actor, but it is becoming harder and harder in our time to tell government from show business. 

This from James Thurber from at least 50 years ago. What would he think today?

Know what is evil, no matter how worshipped it may be. Let the man of sense not mistake it, even when clothed in brocade or at times crowned in gold, because it cannot thereby hide its hypocrisy. For slavery does not lose its infamy however noble the master.

Well, these days, there’s not much of an attempt to hide it. And still some—maybe 40% of Americans—still don’t see it.

And this last from George Bernard Shaw is the most relevant of all to my current reality!

I am sure that if people had to choose between living where the noise of children never stopped and where it was never heard, all the good-natured and sound people would prefer the incessant noise to the incessant silence. 

After three weeks with two explosively vocal grandchildren, the jury is still out for me on this one.

Sleeping Beauty Revisited

The King and the Queen announced a party to celebrate the birth of their child. There were thirteen wise women in the land, but because they only had twelve places at their table, they left out one in their invitations. The excluded woman was furious and just when the 11thwoman had finished given her blessing and wishes for the princess, she burst into the party scene and gave a curse: “When she turns 16, the princess shall prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die!” The last wise woman had one more blessing to bestow and couldn’t reverse the curse, but was able to soften it: “She shall not die but fall into a deep sleep.”

The King’s response was to burn all spinning wheels in the land, but naturally, one remained in the attic of the castle and sure enough, the princess happened upon it on her 16thbirthday, pricked her finger and fell into a deep slumber. In fact, the whole castle fell asleep for a hundred years and giant thorns grew around it.

One day a handsome prince was riding in the woods, got lost and stumbled upon the castle. He broke through the thorns, entered the castle, kissed the sleeping princess and all were awakened. 

So goes the old tale. But the modern version is that the people throwing the party were the Founding Fathers and the people they chose not to invite were Native Americans, enslaved Africans and women. Or rather, they invited them only as unpaid servants to cater the affair. The country unknowingly pricked its finger and fell asleep for 244 years. The prince awakened it with his kiss, but turned out he was a carrier of COVID and while people awakened, they were confined to the castle to reflect on and atone for their sins.

And so the end of July marks the fifth month of sheltering and each day, more people awaken while the King continues to spin his wheel of lies and surround the castle with Federal troops. But though some prefer to stay asleep, it’s too late. And the awakening kiss doesn’t come from some blond-haired blue-eyes macho stud prince, but a gay African-American woman poet. And when the people awoke, they deposed the King and threw him in the dungeon and began the real work of re-imagining the country anew, this time with all the excluded people sitting at the table.

This the story for our times.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Gift from the Sea

This summer cottage rich in books, many of which I’ve read and identified with summers here. From Nancy Drew to Gun, Germs and Steel to Wendell Berry poetry. One little gem of a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh is called "A Gift From the Sea."

I read this book  years and years ago and found it charming and just right for the time and place. It’s a series of short pieces inspired by her summers at the seaside, not here in Michigan, but it could have been. I was wondering if it would hold up and it did and more. Her reflections on how to balance life’s business and busyness with summer’s invitation to “lie empty, choiceless as a beach, waiting for a gift from the sea” is both profound and timely for people in all times and places. It was written in 1955, when I imagine the world was simpler, but in some ways, maybe not. 

Amidst many quotable sections, I was struck by her words in her parting chapter, especially in light of my own recent post on Newsscapes. Here is what she wrote 65 years ago:

Today a kind of planetal point of view has burst upon mankind. The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations.

Mind you, this was when television was in its infancy and we were light years away from 24/7 news stations and instant Internet updates. In the decade when it seemed like the Leave It to Beaver suburban lives were indeed distant from the world’s tensions, conflicts and sufferings. She goes on:

But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print; and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The inter-relatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather—for I believe the heart is infinite—modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. 

Are you as astounded by these words as I am? How succinctly she captures what so many of us are feeling as we watch the murder of George Floyd over and over, see the Portland Moms and Dads and veterans and grandparents getting tear-gassed by government orders. How do we hold this all in our heart and still go on with our day?

It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds. I cannot care for them all as I do with my family, as I would my parents in illness or old age. Our grandmothers lived in a circle small enough to let them implement in action most of the impulses of their hearts and minds. That tradition has now become impossible, for we have extended our circle throughout space and time.

Faced with this dilemma, what can we do?

She makes some suggestions, but wouldn’t this be a good topic of conversation at your next dinner party? Live or on Zoom? What do you do? How do you balance compassionate concern with attention to the reality of your lived moment? As E.B. White asks in my little side intro,  “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. “

Indeed, how do you plan the day? Let's talk.