I am no Malala

The 2018 International Women’s Day seemed to have had a sense of pride and feistiness I had not noticed in previous years.  In the United States, especially, women have been in the news this past year for creating movements, entering politics, finding their voices to speak out for equality and breaking barriers in a number of professional fields.  Mothers have fought against drunk drivers, in-school bullying and gun violence.  Professional women have spoken up against sexual harassment in the work place as well as the political arena, teenagers have taken on the NRA and teachers have taken a stand for public education.  Thanks to the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, the solidarity of women from around the world (every continent including Antartica, no less!) was the incredible spark that lit the fires of activism. And it just keeps going.

Last night I watched David Letterman’s new show on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, as he interviewed Malala Yousafzai, a 20-year-old activist from the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.  Malala was brought up to value education and often championed for the education of girls even as a pre-teen, a notion that brought her the unwanted attention of the Taliban. At the age of 15, young Taliban soldiers boarded her school bus and shot her in the head.  The assassination attempt was meant to silence her but instead it gave her world recognition and a mission in life.  Her remarkable recovery (in Britain) and subsequent determination to fight for the education of girls where education is denied led her to form the Malala Fund, earn her the first ever Youth Peace Prize in Pakistan, and, at age 17, the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala’s story is extraordinary and her impact is huge.

At one point in the interview, Letterman talks of others he has known that have risen from the ashes of trauma to become a beacon for good.  In each case, the “seed of evil” was the initiator.  Is that what it takes to move forward, to pursue goodness, to be reminded that evil has no place in our world?  Good grief.  And yet, when I reflect on this past year and all the resistance in which women have participated, that seed of evil seems to have played a role.  The #Me, Too movement (sexual harassment), #Never Again (gun violence), Indivisible (Trump and his anti-woman, anti-science, anti-civil rights administration) and many more have been borne out of injustice.  It is frustrating and disconcerting to imagine that humankind may never outgrow the good vs evil drama.

I am no Malala.  The impact that I make in this fight for kindness and empathy toward my fellow beings will be infinitesimal compared to hers but fight, I must.  Resist, I must.  And it gives me pause to think of all that we can do, one small act at a time–evil be damned.


Small Victories

If I ever want to remember how angry I am about this whole shambolic mess in the White House, I read Jon Pavlovitz’s blog, Things That Need to be Said.  When I need a laugh, I head to Randy Rainbow’s song parodies about you-know-who on YouTube.  Most days, however, I need something to remind me that good things are happening in spite of all the craziness this current administration brings to the news cycle.  Reading the Daily Good helps, but their stories, as wonderful and uplifting as they are,  pull from around the world and, quite frankly,  there are days when I just need to know that America, specifically our American democracy, is still working.  Enter Small Victories.

A recent house guest introduced me to this wonderful little newsletter.  Small Victories gathers a week’s worth of good things happening in our political arena and dumps them into my mailbox every Friday.  Hooray!  The newsletter is then archived so that anyone can read them whether you have signed up for the Friday release or not. So, along with my other favorite sites, I have added this quiet, easy-to-read, unassuming site to my political diet.  I wholeheartedly recommend it for your own encouragement and celebration:    https://www.celebratesmallvictories.com

And these:

To keep you positive:  http://www.dailygood.org

To keep you resisting:   https://johnpavlovitz.com

To keep you laughing:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=580dYcYCneA


Birthdays Lost

I must say birthdays at my age are rather dull events.  It’s as though it is no big deal to have made it this far, but I am here to tell you that in the wake of the Parkland (FL) school shootings, it is a big deal.  For one thing, I made it to my high school graduation.  I’ve laughed and cried, loved and despaired through six decades and I am fortunate enough to have enjoyed most of it.  Seventeen youngsters will not have the excitement of living out their lives, of exploring the world, of discovering their potential, of finding their passion because of a senseless act of violence by a 19 year old with an assault rifle.  So, yes, birthdays at my age are rather dull events but, oh, how lucky I am to have them!

Alexis Tracton, a freshman at Stoneman Douglas High School, is a survivor of the shooting that took place on Valentines Day in Florida.  This child has seen more tragedy and felt more sorrow and buried more friends in the last 9 days than I have in all of my life.  She mourns the friends who will never see another birthday or graduate from high school.  And while she is mourning, she is also angry—angry enough to write America a letter saying that this kid-driven movement against assault weapons isn’t going away.  Alexis and the thousands of teens across the country are level-headed, brilliant and resolute.  They are questioning policies, practices and politicians without fear—they know fear, they have lived it and they have had enough. And I admire them with my whole being.

Alexis writes about her promise to her dead classmates and teachers, “…I will live for them. I will smile for them. I will laugh for them. I will cry for them. I will fight for them.”  So will we, Alexis, so will we. No matter how many birthdays we’ve had.

Read Alexis’ letter below.


Chevalier, Flagg and Quinn

It is a rainy, foggy Sunday morning and I have just finished reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.  It is a delightful little read about Mary Anning (1799-1847), a girl born into a family fraught with poverty and hardship in Lyme Regis, England who just happened to have a knack for finding fossils.  Mary is credited with finding the very first ichthyosaur skeleton when she was only 10 or 11 years old.  Later she would find the first plesiosaur and although her gender dismissed her place in the scientific world of the time, she would later be recognized as a major contributor to the field of paleontology.

This read comes on the heels of Fannie Flagg’s very humorous The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.  I read it as a distraction from the news, laughed through most of it, and, in the end, discovered something about WWII female pilots. Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP for short, were brought in to ferry aircraft from factories to bases all across America in an effort to “free up” their male counterparts for combat service.  These brave pilots served their country with brilliant determination and unwavering dedication flying every type of military aircraft from fighter jets to bombers but because of their gender were considered civilians not military.  They were disbanded to return to the kitchen as soon as the war was over and in this way, their vacancies would allow returning males from the war to have jobs.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s that they were awarded military status and given credit for their service.

And, of course, this followed my reading of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn about female spies in WWI mentioned in an earlier blog.  I did not intentionally pick out books about incredible women— incredibly smart, incredibly brave, incredibly independent—but I seem to be a magnet for them of late.  As I live through the Women’s March Movement and witness the rise of strong capable females in today’s society, I become more aware of those that came before us.  We are persistent, if nothing else.  And remarkable creatures.

Elizabeth Philpot, another fossil hunter in Chevalier’s book, mused about living in a small town after a childhood spent in London.  There were fewer societal constraints so that, in many ways, she was freer (as a female) but she was also limited in her contacts with a more learned, progressive community.  She said, “… I read the paper dutifully, for it makes me at least aware of the wider region, rather than trapped in an inward-looking town.” I concur.  Having grown up in a large city and then settling in a small town, I know how important it is to reach out to a “wider region”  and now more so than ever:  The Women’s Movement has given me that.  So have Chevalier, Flagg, and Quinn.

Chevalier, Tracy. Remarkable Creatures. Dutton, 2010.

Flagg, Fannie. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. Random House, 2013.

Quinn, Kate. The Alice Network. William Morrow Paperbacks, 2017.


With the Strength of Youth

On the one year anniversary of the Women’s March, my husband and I attended a rally in Erie, PA.  The 2 hours we spent at Perry Square was peppered with great speakers, handmade signs that were both serious and hilarious, and hundreds of like-minded people who understood that the next “March” better be a march to the polls.  The snow and slushy ice beneath our feet did not matter; the message did.

Standing dead center of this gathering gave us an interesting view of the crowd.  No matter which way we turned, we were surrounded by a myriad of protesters.  And the age range was astounding, from the very young to the very old.  Right behind us, were 3 young college students who were just as excited to be there as any of the most seasoned protester.  They were young and ready to be active participants as citizens of Pennsylvania.

Between speakers, our conversations with these newly minted activists yielded one thing: they knew what they were talking about.  The young man holding a sign sporting Senator Toomey’s picture with the word “Missing” talked to us freely about calling the senator, interactions he’s had with Toomey’s staff, and what he knew about Toomey’s record as a senator.  Here was a young man who was engaged, informed and willing to press on to make sure his legislators were being held accountable to the people.  It was refreshing to be in his presence, to listen to the voice of youth speaking for the next generation.

I admire this young man and his friends.  I was nowhere near that level of understanding of my political world at their age.  To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I’m there yet but I can tell you I was heartened to be in their company.  This level of enthusiasm, knowledge, commitment, and strength is exactly what we need to carry on.  No doubt the value of this rally depends on their strength and the millions of millennials like them.  Smile.  If these youngsters are any indication, the torch has been passed and will stay lit in the years to come.


Sometimes I am…

Sometimes I am so angry that the political scene of late is in such a despicable state.  It’s chaotic and scary.  I fret over the news and rail against the latest distraction caused by this president, his cabinet, his everything anti-Obama, his stupid tweets.  But I’ve gotten much better at knowing when to redirect and pursue some personal happiness.  I’ve gotten much better at recognizing that without the anger, I’d still be a bystander.  With the support of family and the goodness of friends, I have learned that when anger becomes an action for good, good things happen.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed at the cruelty that has surfaced since the election.  Hate crimes, Muslim bans, protections for vulnerable citizens erased, cyberbullying by our very own commander-in-chief, attacks against women, the list goes on.  I was in middle school during the Civil Rights Movement and grew up thinking those of us who had championed for the cause had made the world a better place, that hate was in retreat.  I know now I cannot let being overwhelmed by evidence that says otherwise get in the way of action against such blatant discrimination.

Sometimes I am just plain tired.  It’s exhausting to be so “woke” as they say.  Staying abreast of the resistance and living in a trumptown makes me feel so small at times. The energy, though, comes from knowing what I can do and what I can not.  I can donate to organizations that support the environment, social justice, women’s rights and education.  I can attend meetings that teach me how to contact my legislative representatives, to have a voice in this great democracy of ours. I can lead by example in the way I treat others.  And I can vote.  I have learned that I am not too tired to do any of those things.

Sometimes I am proud.  When I think of all the ways I have grown since the election, I am amazed. I see the world differently now and am proud that so many of us see ourselves a part of the change, of a movement that screams “enough is enough!” I am proud that voices in the Me, Too movement are being heard, proud that so many women are now running for office, proud that the momentum of the Women’s March continues, proud that I have been a part of the democratic process that believes in people over party. Reading the newly published book, Together We Rise, I came across a picture of a protester holding a sign that said, “I’m not going to get over it (p. 102).”  I remembered a local trumper telling me to “just get over it” after the election—nope, I’m not getting over it.  I’m staying strong, for me, for those I love, for those who need my voice.

Sometimes I am angry, overwhelmed and tired.  But mostly, I am proudly defiant and plan to stay that way.

Together We Rise: behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Round the World. Dey St., an Imprint of William Morrow, 2018.

In Spite of it all…

French Creek in winter, Cochranton, Pennsylvania

A Christmas card from a dear friend arrived yesterday, and I have read and reread his message a dozen times since. Something about the handwritten note touched me. In this season dedicated to the Prince of Peace, there is much to ponder, and our friend’s card reminded us that there is much to hope for in the coming year.

He wrote:

Hope this card finds you both all snuggled up warm in your nice bed while visions of justice, honesty, compassion, fairness, civility, truth, humility & humanity dance in your heads — they seem to be in such short supply in the great halls of power these days…in spite of it all:  Merry Christmas!

I suppose it was the phrase “in spite of it all” that got my attention. In spite of it all, indeed!  In spite of it all, he thought to wish us a Merry Christmas, a sentiment that portends hope regardless of color or creed. In spite of it all, dreams remain. And in spite of it all, I remain optimistic that those of us who have visions of justice, honesty, compassion, fairness, civility, truth, humility & humanity are great in number, fierce in our determination to see those visions rise up and hold this country steady.

To my readers, I wish you a season of hope, of love for each other, and of peace, lots of peace.


Photo by SleepingWoman

Bears Tears


img_0446.jpgDrumbeat by Carol Snow


There! Do you not hear them?

Come away from your overcrowded city

To a place of eagles

And then perhaps you will hear.

Be still this once;

Hold the yammering

of your jackhammer tongue.

Take your stainless steel hands

From the ears of your heart

And listen.

Or have you forgotten how?

They are there yet

Through these hundred centuries

And all your metal thunder

Has not silenced them.

The wind is the messenger,

Heed the whispering spirit.

Now… the drums still talk,

From the grizzly bear hills,

Across the antelope plains,

In the veins of your blood:

The heartbeat

Of the Mother Earth.

Snow, Carol. “Drumbeat.” Celebrate America in Poetry and Art. The Smithsonian Institution, 1994, p. 20.


Photo by SleepingWomanWakes

Doomed to Resist and Giving Thanks

It’s 10:34 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and I’m looking for a Thanksgiving Day message from our president.  I am hoping to find wonderfully coherent thoughts about giving thanks for each other and how America’s greatest asset is a nation that works together, plays together, and is together. I imagine him telling us it’s not just the Thanksgiving table we are gathering around, it’s the nation’s table, a table where there is a seat for everyone. I’m looking for a moment that I can forget that  “Trump is Trump” and remember why being part of the greatest nation on Earth was such a source of pride.

My thoughts drift back to the then president-elect, Trumpp [sic], tweeting out his New Year’s Day message

(Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!   5:17 AM – 31 Dec 2016)

and being sickened by it.  It had been a rough campaign and a brutal election—how did that tweet help heal the nation?  How did that tweet calm those of us who were so terrified of his presidency?  Surely he knew he had to start wooing us to broaden and sustain his base, to garner support for his administration. Surely!  Perhaps on this holiday his tweet will be different. Perhaps today will be the day that the president I did not vote for will speak to me as though I’m a winner, not a loser, an American, not a dirty Dem.  Perhaps today I will reconsider my resistance (it’s exhausting) and consider making peace with election results.

I find his message: a video on CNN (below). He reminded his listeners about the Pilgrims, how they came here seeking religious freedom, how they traveled here with depleted resources but “rich in faith, courage and dreams.” He talked about how Americans today are thankful for their freedom and how our strength of nation is most evident when neighbors help neighbors, strangers help strangers and citizens help those in need. He went on to thank the military, police and first responders who put their lives on the line for others. He said Americans come from many different backgrounds but that we are all family.

And it was exactly what I wanted to hear, right?

Nope.  Despite its content, it did nothing to lessen my resolve to resist this man.  He talked Pilgrims, I thought immigrants. He talked freedom of religion, I thought Muslim ban.  He talked about Americans helping each other, I thought of his assaults on the LGBTQ community, women’s rights and black athletes. He tried to tell me that we were family and I thought of Charlottesville, the increase in hate crimes since his inauguration, and his twitter feuds with private citizens. In the year since the election, he  has done nothing to assuage my fears or convince me that he is anything but a bully and a racist.  I am now convinced that he has no chance of changing my mind:  he has been given every opportunity to do so and has only succeeded in embracing all that I believe will do harm to this nation, its people and its planet.

I am doomed. I am doomed to resist and giving thanks that I live in a country where that is possible.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Women Who Couldn’t be Beaten


I love a good historical fiction where strong, believable fictional characters are so commingled into a historical event or time or place that you come to see yourself as a piece of history.  Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network (2017) is just such a book.

The Alice Network was a network of female spies during WWI operating in the northeast portion of  France during the German occupation.  That much is true.  It is also true that female spies owed much of their success to the notion held by their male counterparts that the gentler sex could not possibly handle such sophisticated missions involving superior intellect or bravery.  Bumbling, emotional females were expected not suspected.  The author’s notes at the end of the book reveal the uneasiness of recognizing female spies after the war.  Were they wannabe men, hardened by the demands of war and by extension, not real women, or were they delicate flowers pressed into service out of a sense of duty to their men?  Either way, medals of honor and service or not, these women were not seen as soldiers and were expected to return to home and hearth afterwards.  And, yet, stories of real female spies like Louise de Bettignies, the head of the Alice Network, inspired women to train as spies against the Nazis in WWII,  and they were inspired by her grit, not her femininity.

When Quinn’s ficticious Eve Gardiner finally meets up with her wartime tormentor 30 years after her stint as a British spy against Germany, she sees him as a pathetic profiteer, a collaborator with no friends or family who is “surprised to the end that there was pain he couldn’t outrun, vengeance he couldn’t escape, consequences he couldn’t evade. Women who couldn’t be beaten.” (chap. 43, p. 474)

I read that line over and over again: Women who couldn’t be beaten.  My mind drifted to the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year, the thousands of women at the Women’s Convention who were “claiming their time” in Detroit last month and the number of women who are currently standing up to their harassers/abusers.  I admire those women and the men who stand with them.  I’m proud to be a part of this “awakening of women” and, at the same time, dismayed that it took voting a sexual predator, a narcissistic demagog into the White House to get the movement going.

In my mind, Trumpp [sic] is no different than a wartime profiteer. And in my mind’s eye, I imagine that he, too, will be surprised in the end when he discovers that there will be pain he cannot outrun, vengeance he cannot escape, consequences he cannot evade and yes, women he cannot beat.

Quinn, Kate. The Alice Network. William Morrow, 2017.

“awakening of women” from  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/28/us/women-convention-detroit-march.html

image from http://recollections.biz/blog/world-war-i-changes-fashion/