Being Mortal in the Time of Trump

2019-11-07T12:07:12-08:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, featured posts, gun control, hiking, human rights, immigration, politics, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

What matters most? That question has been like a three-word anthem for me this month, as I re-read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The small Seattle church I attend is having a summer book club, of sorts, which consists of reading Being Mortal and getting together in small groups to talk about it over dinner. The group I was in kept coming back to that question: what matters most? In Being Mortal, Gawande talks about a patient who decided that for him, life would continue to be worth living as long as he could enjoy chocolate ice cream and watching football on TV. Another patient, who knew her time was limited, wanted to be able to continue to give piano lessons as long as she could. But what really matters most—behind the scenes of those two and pretty much all of Gawande’s examples—is being with the people you love. Being able to love and be loved. That’s what matters most. The other day, I was feeling a sort of low-grade emotional fever, triggered by Not Accomplishing Enough Work-Wise while wishing I could Just Go Swimming. My malaise was compounded by that other virus I can’t seem to kick: Creeping Despair.           I decided to wallow. Just for a few minutes. So I opened Facebook. And there was the most delightful post from an old friend, describing how much fun she’d had hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park with her adult son. There were photos and captions loaded with mutual affection. [...]

This Large Light

2019-11-07T14:46:38-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, gun control, human rights, politics, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , |

Driving west up Union, we could see taillights stretching ahead in a long, slow column. We crossed 23rd Avenue, turned onto a side street and parked. As we walked uphill towards Seattle’s storied Temple de Hirsch Sinai, my husband and I fell in step with a few others, then a few dozen. And then suddenly we were part of a stream of a few thousand, or more. Volunteers directed us to the ends of the long lines that circled the temple block in every direction. The quiet was palpable. The announcement soon went out that the synagogue, which holds 2,000 people, was full. Police blocked off the street in front and encouraged the hundreds of us who couldn’t get in to gather outside. Loudspeakers were set up. Someone began to strum a guitar and lead us in song. I stood behind a tall man in a fedora with a voice like a deep, clear bell and tried to pick up a few of the Hebrew words. One of the rabbis came out and spoke to us. He told us God’s tears were mixing with ours, as we stood together in remembrance of the eleven people murdered two days ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He talked of planting a new Tree of Life, where love can—no, must, he said—have the last word. I thought of a film I saw this weekend, at the Friday Harbor Film Festival, that was all about how trees communicate with each other, underground; how the roots of wholly [...]

Seeking Shade

2019-11-07T14:37:29-08:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, human rights, immigration, nature, politics, Seattle|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

There is a toxic, orange glare emanating from the White House. We’ve got to seek shade wherever we can. As I hopscotched from one patch of shade to the next during our most recent heat wave, feeling grateful for Seattle’s generous canopy of trees, I thought: this is what we’re all doing now. Seeking shade from that poisonous glare. It’s a matter of spiritual and psychological survival. My own shade-seeking, Summer of 2018 mantra is this: “I am NOT going to let Donald Trump prevent me from writing my book.” Easier said than done, in the summer of 2018. But I’m doing it: I’m writing; I’m fitting in an hour or two a day, more when I can, less when work takes precedence or it’s time for a hiking break. Writers, here’s my advice: close your email and your browser. Silence your phone. Set a timer for an hour. Checking your email, texts and news once an hour is enough. My own recent favorite reads And readers: show yourself some kindness. Tear your bleary eyes away from the news alerts and the OpEds and read a novel or a memoir or a short story or a non-political essay. Feel your breathing change and your shoulders relax as you settle in. Parents and grandparents: read stories to your kids. The book I am writing is about faith and doubt: the fervent faith of my youth, the twenty-year break I took from religion, the meaning I’ve found in accepting that doubt is where my faith now [...]

After 2017: Wound Care

2019-11-07T14:50:14-08:00Categories: human rights, immigration, journalism, memoir, midlife, Occupy, politics, Seattle, Uncategorized, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , , |

One year ago—before the Inauguration, before the women’s marches, before everything else that has happened since—I attended a New Year’s Eve get-together at which everyone made a prediction for 2017. Mine was that the next (“hopefully great”) Democratic presidential candidate, “someone we haven’t even thought of yet,” would emerge by the end of this year. Others predicted that Trump would be impeached. Or that his first Supreme Court nominee would somehow be blocked. Some guests offered more general forecasts: “the pendulum will swing;” “people will come to their senses.” My husband vowed that we would see the “total cratering” of the Republican Party. His prediction may have come closest to the mark. And though my own hope was misplaced—I think we’re still not even close to identifying the next Democratic candidate for president—I do believe the pendulum is swinging, and many people are coming to their senses. They just may not be the same people we had hoped would come to their senses. The people who are coming to their senses are not the people who voted for Trump. We now understand that most of them (a minority of Americans, let’s not forget) are very unlikely to change their minds. The people who are coming to their senses are us. By which I mean the whole big crazy quilt of the Left. Or “The Resistance,” as Trump now likes to call us, in air quotes, thinking that it’s a scathing put-down. To which I say: Congratulations, Everyone! We’ve made enough noise this year to get our own [...]

American Infection

2019-11-07T14:50:44-08:00Categories: economics, health & medicine, human rights, immigration, politics, Seattle, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Sometimes we writers search too hard for the perfect metaphor. Sometimes, it’s right under our nose—or, in my case, right under my blue, Velcro-strapped boot. Infection: that’s what Trump is, I thought this morning, as I took my nineteenth of the twenty Amoxicillin tablets we brought home from the pharmacy ten days ago. Trump has infected our vigorous, 241-year-old democracy. And like so many infections, this one is fire-engine red and spreading, unchecked and unmedicated. Meanwhile, the patient is hot with fever one day and shaking with chills the next. Nothing tastes right. Muscles ache. Vaguely flu-like feelings abound. Waves of determination to soldier through—we’ll get over this!—are followed by languorous apathy: let’s just give up. Speaking as one who tried to ignore an infection for several days, I can tell you it is not a strategy that works. After foot surgery on November 6, I assumed the three incisions on my right foot were healing up nicely under all those bandages, just the way they had on my left foot, last May. And they probably were, for the first several days. But then something somehow went wrong along one of those neat lines of stitches. At that point my foot was in a plastic cast, so I couldn’t see it. And for reasons I cannot explain, I chose to believe that feeling like my foot was on fire was probably “normal,” that fever and chills were a “part" of healing, and that I would magically “get over it.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Thank God for antibiotics. [...]

No Ordinary Time

2019-11-07T14:53:51-08:00Categories: feminism, human rights, midlife, politics, war, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , , |

“This is no ordinary time,” Eleanor Roosevelt told the Democratic Convention of 1940, “and no time for weighing anything except what we can best do for the country as a whole.” No Ordinary Time: Doris Kearns Goodwin chose that phrase to be the title of her 1994 book, subtitled Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.             Eleanor’s words have a different ring in 2017, don’t they? This is a year that feels like no ordinary time in ways that she would likely find—dismaying. Discouraging. Despicable. Or maybe not: because Eleanor knew, almost better than anyone in her day, that every step forward toward justice for all was inevitably followed by an ugly backlash. She and her husband regularly received vicious hate-mail from segregationists, sexists, and xenophobes of all kinds. For two months, No Ordinary Time sat on my coffee table, all 636 pages of it (759, counting the end-notes and index). My father had dropped it off. He was sure I would find it as compelling as he had. I resisted. It looked so—daunting. But it only took a page or two for Goodwin’s writing to hook me and hold me. This is a book that is both a detail-rich history lesson and a gripping summer page-turner. Reading it, I realized just how little I know about the history of World War II and about the president and first lady who steered us through those years of drama and tragedy. It is not a hagiography: Goodwin calls out, in particular, the [...]

The Long Game

2019-11-07T15:23:32-08:00Categories: hiking, human rights, journalism, politics, Seattle, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , |

It was the hottest evening of the year. So far. I rested my post-surgical, boot-encased foot on my husband’s leg as we sat with a group of like-minded, anxious Seattle progressives and listened to the ACLU’s state communications director answer questions. “What should we do?” was what we wanted Doug Honig to tell us. Meaning: about Trump? During his presidency? What should we do? How can we help? Honig’s advice, which I’m paraphrasing and which he delivered with more nuance, was essentially this: Try to stop obsessing about Trump. This isn’t about Trump, this is about the Republican plan to remake our country. The Republicans have deep pockets and many loyal foot soldiers and they are in this for the long game. And so we need to be, too. What does that mean? It means supporting local, state and national politicians and candidates who stand for compassion, not cruelty. It means raising our voices in defense of the Affordable Care Act, immigrants’ rights, our national parks and monuments, clean air, clean water, and everything else we care about that is threatened not just by Trump’s vicious, bullying twitter feed but by his clever cabinet appointees and his allies on Capitol Hill, who love love love that he is providing constant, highly distracting cover while they pursue their draconian agenda. Stay in, people, for the long game. “There’s a part for you to play in the next great progressive comeback story,” Senator Al Franken writes in his new memoir, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate. “But only [...]

Stay Hungry

2019-11-07T15:31:01-08:00Categories: economics, education, faith and doubt, feminism, human rights, immigration, journalism, politics, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, women's rights|Tags: , , |

2016 was a hungry, hungry year. Month after month, we hungered for justice and peace and hope, and we just kept getting hungrier. We thought November 8 might take the edge off; might give us a little encouraging broth for the journey. But no. Now we’re more famished than ever. And it’s very easy to feel like the best solution might be to simply curl up in a fetal position and hoard what little energy we have left. But we can’t, can we? We owe it to ourselves, our children, our neighbors down the street and around the world, to stay hungry. To feel that driving bite in the gut, that ache, that howling growl that demands attention. We are going to be offered pablum and junk food and we’ll be tempted to take it. We’ll be told to eat this, calm down, stop your bellyaching. But we can’t. We’ve got to stay hungry. Yes, 2016 feels like the Worst Year Ever. But as one friend brooded on Facebook, what on earth makes us think 2017 is going to better? Lest you think my only goal here is to write the most depressing post in Restless Nest history, I offer this morsel of optimism. Here’s what could be better about 2017, if we all stay hungry: this could be the year that we all do more than we ever have to make the world a better place. Instead of giving money to presidential candidates, we can give it to the people who are in the trenches, [...]

#Election2016: Countdown

2019-11-07T15:32:29-08:00Categories: family, feminism, human rights, politics, Uncategorized, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , , |

            It has never, ever felt so good to seal and stamp an envelope as it did after I filled out my ballot last week. Sure, I miss the old ritual of going to my local polling place, but sitting down and getting it done at home, good and early, felt great. Especially this year. Of course, especially this year. And now I’m going to tell you a few of the people I voted for. I voted for the third graders I tutor in an afterschool program. One of them told me last week he was “so scared Donald Trump was going to win.” The others all chimed in. “We’re scared too!” “I hate Trump!” All of them are from refugee families; most come from Somalia. I wondered what they’ve been hearing at home. Can you imagine how horrifying it is to watch this election unfold, if you’re a refugee from anywhere—but especially from a Muslim country? I also voted for another refugee: Henry Grundstrom, my great-grandfather, who, according to his naturalization papers, “foreswore his allegiance to the Czar of Russia” to become a United States citizen in 1898. Henry was from Finland, then under the Czar’s thumb. If he had stayed, he would have faced conscription into the Czar’s army. What would he have thought of allegations that Russian hackers could be trying to influence this election? I voted for Viktor Warila, my other Finnish great-grandfather, who staked a homestead claim in Montana in 1910 and raised six children on the windswept bench lands between [...]

How Trump Made Me Love My Day Job

2019-11-07T15:33:47-08:00Categories: dementia, economics, film, health & medicine, human rights, politics, Seattle|Tags: , , , , , |

       As I write, Donald Trump supporters are lining up outside a stadium about thirty miles north of here for a rally that begins many hours from now. This is confusing to me. Lining up for Trump? Who are they? Yesterday, my husband and I met an immigrant family of nine and talked to them about how a local non-profit is helping them through their grief over the death of their baby girl. Last week, we visited an Adult Day Health Center that serves people who have dementia or have suffered brain trauma. We talked to a woman in her fifties whose face lit up with joy as she described how the time she spent at the center had given her the courage to go back to work after a stroke. The week before that, we interviewed a Seattle teacher who found an affordable apartment for herself and her son, with the help of a housing non-profit. This is our day job: making short films for non-profits to help them raise money and spread the word about what they do. August is always a busy time for us, as our clients get ready for their fall events. We feel very lucky that we get to do this work for a living. That we get to hear, and tell, stories about people helping people. Stories that debunk, over and over again, the American myth of rugged individualism; that show how much we Americans can do, when we pay attention to one another’s needs. When we are able [...]

#Enough

2019-11-07T15:35:00-08:00Categories: human rights, politics, urban life|Tags: , , , , , |

          You know how it is. You don’t want to feel numb. You know that numbness is just pain postponed. Novocained. You know that, in order to get through this, you’ve got to feel. And so you go about your day. You get in the car. You turn on the radio. Some of the speakers are inspiring, Donald Trump is horrible, but none of them are quite breaking through your numbed skin. It’s the victims and those who grieve them, of course, who finally do break through. It’s the young man talking about frantically texting his 20-year-old best friend. It’s the front-page grid of faces: so many beautiful young people, smiling, being silly, being their young selves. It’s the story that writer Dan Savage told on the radio, choking up as he told it, of Brenda Marquez McCool, a single mother of 11 and cancer survivor, who died because she stood between the Orlando killer and her son Isaiah. At 2 in the morning at a gay nightclub, she saved the life of her son: as Savage pointed out, a previous generation would have found it stunning that she was even there, with her gay son, his adult life just beginning and hers beginning again after cancer. Or so they had hoped. And then it was the two Sandy Hook parents on the radio, a mom and a dad, each of whom lost a child in the Newtown, CT school massacre on December 14, 2012. For more than three years, Nicole Hockley, who lost her son [...]

Mangers Everywhere

2019-11-11T09:15:30-08:00Categories: arts, economics, faith and doubt, film, human rights, urban life|Tags: , , , , |

Two days shy of the darkest day of the year, silhouetted against a rainy twilight sky, I watched a young woman emerge from a tent, tugging a stroller behind her. A young man followed. They turned the stroller around and bumped it down a muddy knoll, lifting it over a ditch and onto the sidewalk. Their tent, pitched next to Interstate 5 at the 50th Street exit in Seattle’s University District, flapped behind them, sagging under the relentless rain, leaning half-heartedly against the wind, ready to cave in to the next good gust. As we waited for the light to change, all I could see of the baby in the stroller, across the two lanes of traffic that stood between us, was that at least she or he was covered with a blanket. My husband and I were on our way to see the latest movie version of Macbeth. The very first shot in the movie is of a dead baby. And the weather in medieval Scotland, as seen on screen, was only slightly worse than the weather outside the theater in mid-winter Seattle. I shivered at the thought of living in such brutal conditions: no heat, no light, mud everywhere. But that is exactly how the young couple I’d seen coming out of their tent were living. Right here in my own high-tech hometown. Right now, in 2015. As we drove home, we took in the sparkling lights of all the construction cranes in South Lake Union and downtown. It’s as if they’re competing this [...]

Father Solstice

2019-11-07T15:38:41-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, human rights, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , |

 I was in it for the Beaconettes. What’s not to love about a holiday choir decked in sky-high beehive hairdos festooned with strings of lights? So I braved the bone-chilling Seattle December rain and headed for the annual tree-lighting at our neighborhood’s new gathering spot, a mini-park called the Columbia City Gateway. My husband was waiting for me, hot chocolate in hand. Aahhh. We tried to figure out where the tree was. Turns out it was a telephone pole. This would be a pole lighting. But that’s OK—it’s Columbia City, where even a pole lighting in a downpour can somehow still promise to be festive. There were some mercifully short introductory remarks, and then the night’s celebrity guest was introduced: Father Christmas himself, or, as the announcer added, “Father Solstice, if you prefer.” And what a magnificent Father Christmas/Solstice he was: fur-crowned, green-robed, cascading white beard and hair. I was kicking myself for not having added one more layer to my winter-rain getup and feeling anxious to see the Beaconettes before I crossed over into hypothermia. My husband saw me shivering and put his arms around me. Then Father Solstice stepped up to the microphone, wrapping us all in his gentle yet commanding presence: the kind of presence that long years of addressing such crowds can give a man, especially one with mythical tendencies. I’m paraphrasing here, but this is what I remember of what Father Solstice said: “I won’t talk long, I promise. I know you’re wet and cold. But I just want to remind [...]

Healing is a risky business

2019-11-07T15:39:11-08:00Categories: arts, brain, faith and doubt, feminism, film, health & medicine, human rights, journalism, war, women's rights, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Healing is a risky business. Any poet or journalist could tell you that. It’s risky, because it has to start with truth telling, and when we’re wounded, the truth is not often what we want to hear. For me, last week started with the peak experience of hearing Gloria Steinem rock Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, and it ended (or so I thought) with the peak experience of hearing Garrison Keillor read a poem written by my college friend, Dana Robbins, to a national radio audience. Gloria and Dana: two risk-takers, two truth-tellers. You know Gloria, so I’ll tell you a bit about Dana: she survived a stroke at 23 and a number of other nightmares and heartbreaks, which she writes about in her first published book of poems, The Left Side of my Life (Moon Pie Press, 2015), in which you will also find poignant poems about motherhood and about her joyful second marriage. It was thrilling to me to at last hold a book of her poems in my hand AND hear her on the radio in the same week. But last week didn't end there. Because that was Before Paris. For the Islamic State terrorists, the bloody attacks on Paris that killed 129 people were the grand finale of a two-week horror show that included claiming responsibility for the October 31 plane crash in Egypt that killed 224 people and bombings in Beirut that killed 43 and in Baghad that killed at least 26. For those of us who are slow to wake up to [...]

Gloria

2019-11-07T15:39:52-08:00Categories: human rights, midlife, writing|Tags: , , , , , , |

“Don’t listen to me,” Gloria Steinem told the two 15-year-old girls. “Listen to yourselves.” A packed-to-the-rafters Benaroya Hall erupted in applause, as it did dozens of times on Sunday night. But there was something about those girls. They were all of us. We have all been fifteen and remember well that panicked thought: who am I? Who will I be? Who do I deserve to be? That the two of them stood together at the microphone, because standing alone would have been too scary, made it all the more poignant. How far in advance did they plan which one of them would ask the question—what advice do you have for teenaged girls?—and which one of them would stand with her for support? Gloria Steinem was in Seattle to promote her new memoir, My Life on the Road. In an evening presented by Hedgebrook, the Whidbey Island retreat for women writers where she wrote much of her book over several summers, Steinem was interviewed by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, the best-selling memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed was funny and lively and made it clear from the beginning that she was as awed by Steinem as the rest of us. But it was Gloria’s night. I hope she doesn’t mind if I call her Gloria. I don’t believe she will. As she quipped at one point during the evening, “We women aren’t generally so attached to our last names, are we?” When Gloria and Cheryl walked on stage, I felt as if my spine [...]

From Sun to Sun

2019-11-07T15:40:52-08:00Categories: arts, film, health & medicine, human rights, immigration, memoir, Peru, reading|Tags: , , , , , , |

 “I am not an angel,” Nina McKissock told me firmly. “I’m just doing my job.” McKissock is a hospice nurse. She is also the author of a new memoir called From Sun to Sun: A Hospice Nurse Reflects on the Art of Dying, in which she tells the stories of composite patients based on many of the real people she has cared for at the end of their lives. (McKissock and I will be reading and talking together at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle on Sunday, November 1 at 3pm.) From Sun to Sun is one of those books I was hesitant to read, thinking surely it will be too hard and too sad to bear. But once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. Each one of McKissock’s 24 patients became my friend for an hour or two; a friend whose story had much to teach me. “There can be great healing within the dying process,” McKissock writes in the frontispiece to the book, and though this may seem counterintuitive, she goes on to show us many examples of how it can be true. One of the most moving stories was of Eric, a 51-year-old with ALS: Lou Gehrig’s disease. Eric had watched his father die of the same illness, so he knew what lay ahead. His type-A, executive wife was heartbroken and enraged. Of course. But her anger at ALS made it nearly impossible for her to slow down and muster the patience caring for her dying husband required. When McKissock persuaded her and Eric [...]

Zona Intangible

2019-11-07T15:41:21-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, film, human rights|Tags: , , , , , |

  Outside Lima, Peru, on the steep, sandy hills at the upper perimeters of the newest handmade settlements, there are signs everywhere that say, “Zona Intangible.” (“In-tan-hee-bley,” in Spanish.) They are billboard-sized, meant to be read from a distance. What they mean is: Don’t build your house here. This zone is not to be touched. It is too unstable. Too high. The roads will never reach it. Water, sewers, electric lights—no way. None of those tangibles will be available to you, up here in the intangible zone, so don’t build here. Just don’t do it. And yet people do. Every day, another young couple, dreaming of having their own tangible home, takes a shovel and a hammer and four pre-made walls and heads up the hill to find an unclaimed spot. Zona Intangible. If your mind naturally bends toward metaphor, it’s hard not to see a dozen different storylines in those signs. One: the people who travel up these hills with their shovels are people who own very little that is tangible. All they bring to the Zona are their most powerful, but intangible, possessions: their love for each other, their stamina, their faith. Their belief in a better future. If, like me, you’re a visitor, a foreigner from a place where most of us have way too many tangibles, it is tempting to romanticize such bare-bones simplicity. To long to somehow find such a Zona Intangible. But we can’t do it. Not by the same steep path. Our ways into our own intangible zones are [...]

Letter to New Orleans

2019-11-07T15:43:00-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, film, human rights, midlife, parenting|Tags: , |

Dear New Orleans: you took me in. At a time when you were still so bruised, splintered, fractured, frayed, and I showed up with nothing to offer except my eyes, ears, a pen and a notebook—you pretended you could use me. Don’t hurry away, you said. Stay awhile. I couldn’t stay a while; I had teenagers back home. But I could and did return six times. My husband had something more to offer: his camera. What I did was to try to help him tell, not the story, but A story, a small story we happened to stumble across, about what happened to New Orleans, ten years ago this week. Our small story was about the post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding of a church that is home to both New Orleans’ deaf Catholics and a Spanish-speaking congregation in a neighborhood layered with immigrant history. Creole, German and Italian-American carpenters, plumbers and skilled volunteers of every description showed up to help. Many of them had grown up down the block. Many had lost their own homes to Katrina. Volunteers from out of town, including a Seattle crew, were there too. Our small story became a documentary film called The Church on Dauphine Street. One of the first places it aired was on the New Orleans PBS station, WYES, whose studios had been badly damaged by Katrina. When we asked if the station wanted to air it again in honor of the tenth anniversary of the hurricane, they declined, saying people in New Orleans are trying hard to look forward [...]

Dignity is powerful

2019-11-07T15:48:53-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, film, human rights, Seattle, travel, war, women's rights, work, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , |

 Resistance is “people insisting on their dignity and humanity in the face of those who would strip them of it,” said author and documentary filmmaker Jen Marlowe. She was speaking from the base of a tiered classroom in Seattle University’s Sullivan Hall, which made her appear even shorter than her five feet and one quarter inch. It was 9 am on a Saturday. Her talk was titled “Reflections on Resistance: Palestine, Darfur and the Death Penalty.” I had arrived a few minutes late, not anticipating the crush of humanity at the check-in table for the Search for Meaning Book Festival, which packs the Seattle University campus with more people than it holds on any other day in the year. Apparently there are many of us in this bookish, broody city who are searching for meaning. SU has responded by bringing to one campus, for one day, a dizzying variety of authors who have found meaning in faiths and places and chapters of history I never knew existed. Hild of Whitby, for example—the subject of Nicola Griffith’s book, Hild: The Woman Who Changed the World 1400 Years Ago. Apparently Hild persuaded the Celtic and Roman bishops of the Dark Ages to sit down together, work out their differences, and unite the unruly believers of ancient Britain: quite an achievement for a single woman in the wilds of Northumbria. Back to Jen Marlowe, who is a bit of a present-day Hild. Marlowe’s search for meaning takes her to epicenters of resistance: to places like Palestine, Darfur in Western [...]

Immigrant America

2019-11-07T15:58:37-08:00Categories: human rights, memoir|Tags: , , , , |

Her name was pinned to her coat, because she didn’t speak a word of English. But Lydia Westerback made it from Ellis Island to Hanna, Wyoming, where her future husband was waiting for her. He’d been waiting for nine years. It took that long for Lydia’s heart to heal after the death of her first fiancé, back in Finland. Nine years for her heart to stop hurting enough to see what Viktor Warila was offering her: not just love and marriage but a whole new world. She was 31. Her choice was stark: impoverished spinsterhood in Finland, under the rule of the Russian Czar? Or marriage, and America, with a friendly man whose letters she enjoyed but who she had not seen in nearly a decade? Lydia and Viktor were my great-grandparents. Like all my forebears, they came here with little money and lots of hope. This might be your story too, or a part of your story. Whether it was nearly five centuries ago in Pilgrim New England, whether it was one or two centuries ago in the great immigrant waves that gave us Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus’ beautiful poem—you remember, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Whether it was 30 years ago or three years ago, we were all poor travelers at the table. Or as President Obama put it in his announcement last week of major executive action on immigration, “we know the heart of a stranger—we were strangers once [...]

The Other Washington

2019-11-07T16:03:45-08:00Categories: human rights, politics, travel, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

It’s the heavyweight red bicycle I’ll remember: how I swiped a credit card and punched in a code and out it popped from its parking spot in front of the Department of Labor. Then, freedom. Off I went, up the long, gravel paths of the Mall, dodging the Sunday crowds, feeling the breeze I couldn’t quite catch when I was walking. The Other Washington is always full of tourists in the summertime, despite the tropical heat and humidity, which on this visit was blessedly below normal. Hot or not, I like being there with the tourists. My fellow tourists: I’m one too, even though I’ve visited many times over the years, since one of my closest friends lives in the Virginia suburbs. What fascinates me is how my own D.C. tastes have changed. How much more of a cornball, capitol-loving kind of tourist I’ve become over time. I was a college student when I first visited Washington, D.C., in the post-Watergate late seventies. Patriotism was unthinkable. The protest era was over, and what, we thought at that cynical time, had those marches achieved? The only government building I wanted to visit was the National Gallery. Nearly four decades later, D.C. has changed and so have I. On my first afternoon, I visited the Library of Congress, which I love for its over-the-top tile frescoes honoring muses, poets, philosophers and scholars; its gold-leaf proclamations that “Knowledge is Power.” But this time, I found a hidden gem: a tiny plain gallery down the hall from the basement shop, [...]

Volunteer Janitor

2019-11-11T09:20:38-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, human rights, midlife, urban life, work|Tags: , , |

“I bet those nice ladies think I’m the new janitor,” I thought, as I jogged past them down the basement stairs of our 80-year-old church, carrying a caddy full of cleaning supplies. “I guess I’m OK with that.” But for a second or two, I wasn’t OK. I had a momentary taste of how it might feel to be the janitor, and I didn’t like it. I was fine with cleaning toilets as a volunteer. Our church had just finished a week of hosting six homeless women and their children in our basement and I was helping with cleanup. Lucky me, to have access to such an easy way to feel like I’d done something Good with a capital G. An hour in rubber gloves, and then I could get back to my real life of working at a desk, where I may think I’m scraping by financially but I know I make more than the church janitor. Custodian. Cleaner. Am I showing my age, using the word “janitor?” And then there are the homeless moms and kids, packing up their stuff every week and moving on to another church. This is what we call a “safety net” in America: networks of volunteers who put up tents in church basements and serve hot dinners and help with homework and try to make a desperate situation bearable. I don’t have a natural facility for this kind of volunteering, or any kind, really. I did not grow up in a volunteering kind of family. I had to learn [...]

Polska, 1994

2019-11-13T16:12:33-08:00Categories: arts, human rights, travel, war, writing|Tags: , , , , , , |

Restless Nest readers, today we are toasting my friend and Goddard MFA classmate Isla McKetta, whose novel, Polska, 1994, has just been published by Editions Checkpointed, the French publisher known for the literature of conflict. Wow. I asked Isla a few questions about how it happened and here's what she had to say: 1. You balanced writing a novel/earning an MFA with a full-time job. How? And why? What drove you? When I first decided to apply for MFA programs—when I committed to the idea of myself as a writer—I hadn’t worked in almost two years. I’d left my job to take care of my mom through a couple of surgeries, and that journey home forced me to face some childhood trauma from her initial battle with cancer. The whole thing left me in a state of depression that eventually became a spur to examine what I wanted in life. I realized that what made me feel happiest and most fulfilled is when I am creating art, and words are my go-to medium. I started applying to graduate programs and jobs at the same time. I’m one of those people who’s doing everything all at once or nothing at all, and I think I’d built up a lot of energy during that down time so working while going to school felt like a good way to throw myself back into living. Plus, the more I wrote, the more the act of writing energized me. You know how intense the MFA program can be, and by the [...]

Swimming

2014-02-06T10:06:56-08:00Categories: human rights, memoir, parenting, urban life|Tags: , , , , , |

I swam and swam, longer and further than I thought I would, turning my face to the sun each time I flipped over for some backstroke. Then I sat in a hot tub and worked the jets over my tight calves, shoulders, back, feet. From there I repaired to the sauna, lay back and went from pleasantly warm to luxuriously hot. It was the tail end of January. Noon on a Friday. I wasn’t on vacation. I was at the sparkling new Rainier Beach pool in the middle of southeast Seattle. For five dollars and 25 cents, I swam, soaked and sweated away my cares and woes, along with a rainbow coalition of fellow south Seattleites. When I arrived, the locker room was swarming with toddlers and moms who had just finishing swim lessons. When I left, the seniors were on their way in, slow and graceful, like tortoises who’ve lived for decades on a beach the rest of us just discovered. “You just turned 68? You’re a baby. I’m 87!” one of them said to another. “87?” said the 68-year-old. “That’s a blessing, to be 87. That’s a blessing!” “It sure is,” said the 87-year-old, as she moved, one step at a time, behind her walker. “It sure is.” I had not been to the Rainier Beach Pool for many years, not since long before it was torn down and rebuilt. I remember one summer, taking my children there for swimming lessons; walking in was like entering a steamy, mildewed concrete bunker. What a transformation! [...]

Race: a work-in-progress

2014-01-15T11:30:08-08:00Categories: economics, family, human rights, Seattle, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , |

Race, as a concept, is hardly a work-in-progress in the construction sense of the phrase. On the contrary: the concept of race is in what you might call a state of rapid DE-construction. Debunking, Demythification, De-pseudo-science-ification. What I’m working on is copping to how little I understand, how little I have ever understood, about white privilege and the way it has shaped my life. If you missed the Pacific Science Center’s recent exhibition called RACE: Are We So Different?, make sure to visit the exhibition’s provocative website. A project of the American Anthropological Association, RACE: Are We So Different? has traveled, or will travel, to more than 30 venues in the United States. That adds up to a lot of conversations about a subject none of us are very good at talking about. If, like me, you’re white and over 50, or even 40, you probably didn’t grow up talking about white privilege. It was just there, so deeply woven into the fabric of our lives as to be invisible. To us. If you are not white, you might have had “aha!” moments of a very different kind as you walked through the show. Maybe you nodded your head in recognition, anger, sadness. Maybe you looked around at all the white visitors and thought: at least they’re learning a little about my reality. Here’s my easy example of how white privilege works: so easy it embarrasses me. When I travel, I’m always on a budget, but I have perfected the art of strolling into a five-star [...]