May Day in Helsinki

2012-05-09T07:07:03-07:00Categories: midlife, politics, travel|Tags: , , , , |

“Demand less!” shouted a tall, stylish blond into a megaphone, right above my ear. “Love is free!” I spent this May Day in Finland, where there was no vandalism, no mayhem; just several thousand marchers strolling in the sunshine, waving signs and shouting the occasional non-threatening slogan. Occupy your mind. Demand life, not capitalism. Spring comes to everyone! Spring is a big deal in a country that straddles the Arctic Circle. May Day is as much about celebrating snowmelt and sun as it is about politics. In Helsinki, May Day begins the night before, with a giant celebration of education in this country with one of the most acclaimed public school systems in the world. High school graduates—of all ages, not just this year’s grads—don their traditional white, nautical-style school caps and throng the center of the city. A cap is thrown on the head of everyone’s favorite mermaid statue, champagne bottles start popping, and spring, graduation and May Day are all officially welcomed.  The next morning, the party continues with the all-city May Day march, after which everyone adjourns to lavish picnics in the central Kaivopuisto Park. I marched and picnicked with my sister, my niece and my Finnish friend Kirsi.  Kirsi and I met 25 years ago, when she was an exchange student in Seattle and an intern at the TV station where I worked. Now, she’s a producer of documentaries and TV programs in Helsinki. She credits that long-ago intern opportunity with launching her career. I credit her with giving me an experience [...]

Hearts Broken Open

2012-02-22T17:51:34-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

“A broken heart,” I wrote on a poster-sized, yellow Post-It.  Then, underneath, “A heart broken open.” “Just a little inspiration for your free-write, in case you need it,” I told my students as they came in to our tiny classroom, an old office-building lunchroom.  We always warm up with ten minutes of free writing about anything. Broken hearts versus Hearts broken open: It’s a little mantra that’s been going through my head this month.  Not an original one: Quaker writer Parker Palmer introduced me to it, in his book A Hidden Wholeness. I quoted Palmer a few weeks ago, when I wrote about Washington State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, who had the courage to change her mind and support same-sex marriage. This time, Palmer got me thinking about how one word, “open,” changes everything.  A heart broken—smashed, pieces scattered, beyond repair—versus a heart broken open: like a seed that needs to break open in order to sprout.  Or like a broken marriage that, someday, grows into a blended family. Or a tragedy or illness that breaks the people it strikes open into compassion and empathy. My own example is my mother’s early Alzheimer’s disease, which broke every heart in my family, but it also broke us open.  We know we’re not alone; we’re one of five million-plus American families who know the shape of this particular heartbreak. I put those words on a big Post-it because I thought it might be an idea that would appeal to teenaged writers.  Who knows better than they the fresh, [...]

Pinball Education

2012-02-15T17:58:22-08:00Categories: midlife|Tags: , , , |

News and Life are crashing around in my head right now. News, meaning the latest raft of “gap” stories: achievement gap, income gap, incarceration gap. Life, as in my daily life, which lately has included an hour a day at a public alternative high school. Seattle’s Interagency Academy, the school where I tutor writers, is no touchy-feely-type alternative school. For most of the students, it’s the school of last resort. They’ve bumped their way upward through the pinball machine of public education until, somewhere in high school, they slammed into a wall. Down the chute they went, fast-tracked right into the black hole of dropping out, if not for Interagency, a patchwork school of about ten tiny campuses, including a downtown youth employment program, the county’s juvenile detention facility and several agencies serving homeless teens.  I say “about” ten, because plans are always in the works to add new sites as new teen crises develop.  Teens fleeing prostitution, for example.  Or teens whose parents have recently been deported. Last Thursday, my classroom was empty. Of the seven students with whom I am currently working, zero showed up. It’s hard to describe the cascade of emotions this triggered in me.  The week was going well until then. Students were working hard, toiling over heartfelt essays on subjects ranging from peer pressure to why it’s unfair for your boss to make you go to work when you’re sick.  I have never had all seven show up on the same day, but I’ve had five or six.  Three or [...]

Hello, Ancestors

2011-12-07T12:36:32-08:00Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

     Out of a yellow envelope in a box marked “Ann’s office” they fell: four people in funny felt hats, staring at me from an 8 by 10, black-and-white photo. Three young men and one young woman. If they took off those four-cornered caps, the men would fit right in at the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill, with their scruffy goatees and mustaches.     When you move, you don’t just let go of stuff you don’t need, you find stuff you forgot you need. Five years ago, I saw this photo in the archive of a local history museum. Undated, un-located, it was labeled simply “Finnish Immigrants.” I was so taken by it I bought a print. But it languished, forgotten in an envelope, until now.     My husband found a frame. Now it’s on my desk. I’ve taken to calling it “my ancestors.”     They could be: they’re Finnish immigrants, arriving somewhere, some dreary boardwalk of a train station, in the West. Their leggings and belted jackets and jaunty headware mark them: fresh arrivals. Their expressions are not fearful, but expectant: ready for a new life that will start somewhere out beyond where the boardwalk ends. The woman, whose hat is a knit helmet of the type favored by snowboarders, is holding a few paper-wrapped parcels: food for the journey? Letters of introduction?     My own great-grandmother traveled alone across the country with her name and destination—Hanna, Wyoming, where my great-grandfather was waiting to marry her--pinned to her coat.     I’m reminded of her, [...]

Go to Top