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 [...]

Love in the time of Chaos

2019-11-07T15:28:53-08:00Categories: brain, dementia, politics, Uncategorized, writing|Tags: , , , , , , |

What is so fascinating, in this new and disorienting era in which we’re now living, are the connections that form amidst the chaos. Last week, I was in Olympia for Alzheimer’s Advocacy Day. What a day of connections: of hearing and sharing stories; of witnessing the love that motivates families living with Alzheimer’s to go to the state capitol and talk to their representatives, even in this chaotic season when so many other causes cry out for their attention. If you—or your husband, wife, mother, father, friend—are living with Alzheimer’s, you are accustomed to a baseline level of chaos. But when there’s a sense that chaos has been unleashed in the world on a larger scale, too, life can feel very—untethered.  My mother’s Alzheimer’s disease began to rapidly accelerate in the summer and fall of 2001. She was quite unaware of the events of September 11. This may have been a blessing for her, but to us it was alarming. The country was in chaos. Our mother’s brain was in chaos. How to care for her, whether and where to move her, were the urgent questions that crowded our minds, even as we worried about war and terrorist threats. And then there was the daunting and dismaying challenge of explaining it all to our children—explaining not only what was happening in our country, but what was happening to their grandmother’s brain. Our hearts were breaking for her, and for the world, all at the same chaotic time. “Let love reign,” is the symbolic message of the [...]

#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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

Immigrant Nations

2012-04-24T23:29:52-07:00Categories: travel, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , |

By the time you hear this, I’ll be in one of the world’s great immigrant nations: France. One in five people in France were either born in another country, or their parents were. In the United States, we count differently: “foreign-born” does not include children born here to immigrant parents, who are granted US citizenship at birth. So it’s hard to make a direct comparison. But the US Census says 12.7% of us are foreign-born, as of 2010, which is close to where we were 100 years ago, when immigration was at its peak. And yet former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had this to say in a recent speech: “I don’t know when immigrants became the enemy.”  She said one of the greatest disappointments of her career was the Bush administration’s failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. I know there’s a lot of anti-immigrant backlash in France, too, and I’m sure I’ll hear more about it on my trip. But it makes me sad to think that our country’s self-image of open arms and opportunity, of the Statue of Liberty lighting the way for newcomers to our shores, has slipped so far that effective immigration reform now seems further away than ever. Condi Rice went on to say our immigrant culture is, quote, “at the core of our strength.” She’s right.  And we forget, at our peril, that nearly all of us have immigrant roots. After France, I’m headed for the first time in my life to the country my own ancestors came from: Finland. [...]

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, [...]