Vietnam

2019-11-07T12:08:22-08:00Categories: featured posts, memoir, midlife, travel, Uncategorized, war|Tags: , , , |

The day I left Vietnam, I laughed and laughed. I had not expected to. I woke up feeling sad about having to leave after only two weeks: far too short a time for my first visit to this captivating country. But my travel-mates—Anne and Lindsay, close friends I have known since freshman year of college—and I had hatched a plan for our final morning: we would get up at 5:30, throw on clothes, and walk over to Hoan Kiem Lake, a short stroll from our hotel in Hanoi. Anne had done this the day before. “Trust me,” she said. “You won’t believe it.” As we neared the lakeshore, the streets filled with people, many in athletic outfits, walking, jogging, bicycling. They, and we, were reveling in the relative cool of the dawn  air: by 9 am, we all knew the temperature would be in the 90s and indescribably humid. When we got to the lake, we saw exercise groups of every possible type, all of them already in full swing: Tai Chi, yoga, Zumba, old-school aerobics, hip-hop dancing, ballroom dancing. Across the street, a few dozen people had gathered with the apparent purpose of laughing their heads off. The laughing people motioned to us to join them. Why not? “Ha, ha, HEE,” we all shouted in unison, as we stretched and moved in gentle yoga-like ways, following the leader as best we could; breaking into more free-form laughter as we formed into a shoulder-massaging congo line; and then making different laughing noises as we clustered in [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

The Intangible Zone

2013-11-25T14:59:18-08:00Categories: human rights, travel, war|Tags: , , , |

 High on a dusty hill outside Lima, a sign rippled in the wind: “Zona Intangible,” it said. In-tan-gi-blé, in Spanish, but the literal meaning is the same: untouchable. The Untouchable Zone. For a minute, I thought it might mean there were dangerous chemicals buried there, or live electrical wires, or something else it would be very dangerous to touch. But no: what the sign meant was: don’t try to build your house here. Just a few hundred yards downhill, we watched a few family groups hacking level spaces in the soft sand. One family had some pre-nailed walls stacked nearby: their future one-room home, at the ready.  Another young couple let their two-year-old son take a turn with the shovel. This is the uphill edge of Manchay, a sprawling community of about 100,000 people on the outskirts of Lima. It is one of many asentamientos humanos, human settlements, that have sprung up around Peru’s capital city, where one out of every three of the country’s 30 million people now live. On a first visit to Manchay, it is very hard to imagine why anyone would want to live in this place. Most of the roads are unpaved, churning up constant clouds of dust, which coats everything, including the occasional brave flower garden or struggling tree. And yet: there is another kind of Zona Intangible here. Manchay was founded by people whose driving desire was to live in peace. Most of them came from a landscape that could not have been more different from this one: the [...]

A Girl, Alone

2013-05-14T11:44:53-07:00Categories: war, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , |

If he’s still alive, he’s old and probably fat by now. That guy I try never to think about. His face has faded, but I remember him as a little doughy. That guy who did to me what I could not bring myself to call rape at the time. I was traveling alone. I’d missed the overnight train from Geneva to Paris. He offered me a spare bedroom; swore I’d be perfectly safe. To my 19-year-old eyes, he looked trustworthy, this 30-something pilot in an expensive trenchcoat. So surely it was my fault, right? When I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and he was on top of me? Judge me if you will. Call me stupid and naïve; that much is fair. But who ever judged him? No one. Yet I knew I didn’t have a story to tell a Swiss police officer. So I got on the train and went back to my study-abroad dorm room in England, feeling a little wiser and a lot older. When I got back to the States, I wrote a short story about it in which I tried to be very Hemingway-esque, starkly describing what happened but leaving out all details about how I felt. Because of course I didn’t know I felt. Or rather, I felt so many different feelings I didn’t know which was the real one: shame? Anger? Sadness? Outrage? They were all real and they have all been flooding back to me this month, which has not been a good one [...]

Women Warriors

2013-01-29T15:04:12-08:00Categories: politics, Uncategorized, war, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , , |

I claim I want to better understand war. But my gut reaction to the news about women being allowed to serve in combat positions? Queasy. As if what the headlines are shouting is: “Hooray! Women will now be allowed to do the most dangerous, spiritually challenging, morally ambiguous dirty work on the planet!” New York Times columnist Gail Collins set me straight, reminding me that “They killed the Equal Rights Amendment to keep this from happening, but, yet, here we are. And about time.” Collins goes on to recall the words of retired Air Force Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, who once told her: “I think people have come to the sensible conclusion that you can’t say a woman’s life is more valuable than a man’s life.” The logic is clear: if we invest our nation’s security in professional warriors and if we believe women deserve equal access to all career paths, then women who make the personally huge commitment to serve in the United Sates Armed Forces must not be barred, on the basis of gender, from combat roles. So why my retrograde queasiness? Because, like any pacifist, I find it so difficult to turn my thoughts to combat at all, no matter what the context. But—as I learned from Karl Marlantes’ book, What it is Like to Go to War (see last week’s post)—I know turning our backs on war is not the answer. Especially the wars we support with our tax dollars. It has been 40 years this month since we ended the draft. [...]

My Viet Nam

2013-01-22T20:30:14-08:00Categories: politics, war|Tags: , , , , , , |

Forty years ago this week, the Selective Service announced there would be no further draft calls. My brother, then a college student, had a dangerously low draft number. He and his peers hated and protested the Viet Nam war with a fervor that frightened me as much as the TV images of the war itself. But we who were young children in the 1960s grew up hating the war in a different way. We hated it the way children hate watching their parents fight. We hated it selfishly, because it was robbing our families, and therefore us, of playfulness, joy, innocence. Our older brothers and sisters had fifties childhoods; all Kick the Can and Leave it to Beaver. We tried to. But we’d seen things on television the Beav would never have been forced to see: kids our age aflame in napalm. Soldiers bleeding and screaming. By the time we were of protesting age, we were sick of it all: war and protest; fighting and shouting and political posturing. We turned away from community, from engagement. Remember the “me generation?” That was us. Isolationist, pacifist, devotees of meditation and marijuana; avoiders of meetings and causes. Most of us came out of our shells when we became parents. Having children of our own gave war a whole new meaning.  When the United States went to war against Iraq in 1991, my husband and I carried our baby daughter in a march for peace on Capitol Hill. It was the first time I’d ever marched for anything. But [...]