Pandemic. laurawrites shares a poem: Keeping Quiet. Pablo Neruda Speaks.

This is my first post in almost five years. I thought, though I never committed to the idea, that I was done with this blog. We are in the midst of a worldwide health pandemic. You know what is going on. Being in contact with human beings has never been any more important than now and Facebook has hardly ever seemed less appealing to me in its corporation-ness. I am home with my family–my now-18-year-old and my partner, M., like I was often when I started this blog.

I came across this poem, by a favorite poet of mine, now long dead. Pablo Neruda. I have turned to him so many times for so many reasons. Neruda could not have envisioned this particular moment, but he had something important to say about this time.

Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda is a Chilean poet, who started writings poems at the age of 13. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971.




Julian Bond

Julian Bond, then

the Julian Bond I met at Starbucks

Julian Bond, 1940-2015

I was sad to hear that we lost a great hero and an important man last weekend when I learned that Julian Bond died. There is so much we should all know about Julian Bond. I am not going to write any of it here. We should all take the time to learn more than whatever we already know about him, and about what he did throughout his life.

As a young person I watched and listened to Julian Bond on television and in newspapers, as I watched the black civil rights movement unfold with great admiration and interest. I lived in Chicago and I watched him with great interest at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the convention that turned bloody and violent and that later made a mockery of justice, in my own city. He was young too, and I think I completely understood that he was not so much older than I was and that he was a model, not just because he was principled, but because he was a young person who was so brilliant and willing to act and to speak up– a young person of great courage and principle who had a significant voice in a world of older adults. I think his courage and principle as young black man spoke to me as a young person and it spoke to me as a female trying to find a voice in a world of male voices.

One day about nine years ago, I walked into a very small Starbucks, here in Washington, DC and there, at the counter, facing the street, was Julian Bond.  I hesitated for a bit, argued with myself, but I wanted so badly to speak to him.  I was scared and embarrassed, and perhaps I started to leave, but I thought better of it. I walked over to him and I said, Are you Julian Bond? He looked up from his coffee and said, yes, in a slow, low voice, wondering, I think, what he was about to be in for, given that he was just out for a cup of coffee by himself on a Sunday morning.  He did not seem to welcome the conversation I was starting, and I think I understood why that would be so, and I was mindful.  But after a split second’s consideration of his privacy vs. what I wanted to say, I persisted.  I told him that I had known who he was since I was a very young girl.  I told him that he was my hero and role model as a young girl and that I had watched everything I could about what he had done– on tv and in newspapers. I told him that I now had (then) a five-year-old daughter. And that one of my biggest hopes for her was that she would grow up with people as brave and as smart as he was, and that she would have these people to look to for inspiration as she grew. He considered this for just a moment and said, in the most matter-of-fact way, she will have brave people to inspire her. And then he looked back down at his newspaper. I said thank you, and I left.

Crush– new crush on a not-new movie. Begin Again

I get crushes.  I always have. Life with a partner and daughter and just being older– haven’t stopped me.  I get crushes on people sometimes, but I also get crushes on art, music, poems, bands, movies. I think perhaps the definition of a crush in our isolated, too-cool, too-fast society is “not being numb”. Being openly, sometimes wildly, enthusiastic about someone or something. Whatever you call it I still get interested in something or someone and I want more, want to hear that song over and over and over, introduce it to my friends and learn everything there is to know about the singer. It goes something like that.

This list is not even close to exhaustive, but I had a huge crush on two Paul Simon albums many years apart; There Goes Rhymin Simon and Graceland both of which still sound fresh and alive to me. I once saw Whoopi Goldberg in an admittedly 3rd rate comedy-mystery, Jumpin Jack Flash, five times over the course of about four days because she was just so freaking great. (Yes, that means I saw the movie twice on one day.)

As a working parent who since the birth of my daughter, has prioritized other things over going out on a Saturday night to catch a movie and loved our Saturday nights with kids doing talent shows, sleepovers and other things, I’m generally at least a year or many behind on my movie-watching.  Thus my movie crushes are always late and out of synch with most who loved a movie. I currently have a huge movie crush on Begin Again— released in 2013.

I don’t have the time right now to check my own blog to see if I blogged about the movie, Once, but I assume I did. More than once. About a year or so ago, my sister told me John Carney (Irish filmmaker who did Once) had made Begin Again. Begin Again is less low-budget and it features actors you’ve heard of. (I am not suggesting that actors you’ve heard of are or could be better than Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of Once— they were both fabulous and gave nuanced, interesting performances, as well as being amazing musicians).

Because of the great capitalist progress in the world, my beloved and reliable last and final video store hold-out closed about a year or so ago. It’s a terrible loss and our whole family has suffered as a result of giving up our tradition of going to the video rental place on a Friday, renting a half dozen movies and getting to sit down together to watch throughout a weekend. I got Netflix but it barely rises to the level of a really lousy substitute for our former great, local, independent video store. You cannot browse the shelves and there is no one with a great, arty eye finding cool things and displaying them prominently.

Because of this turn of events I was completely thrilled when I found Begin Again on the sale shelf ($6.99) of the Main Street Market grocery store in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. There began, based on what I think was my sister’s movie crush, my own new movie crush. I won’t say what I love about the movie though I may in a subsequent post– but you watch it.  And then consider watching it again. Or don’t, because after all it is my movie crush and if you want, you can write and tell me about yours.

All of my blog posts start with “after a long absence”…

But here I am again, trying again. I started this post over a week ago, while we were on our annual trip to Door County, Wisconsin. I started again, after another long absence — back in Door County, Wisconsin–at Nicolet Bay beach– on Green Bay, close to sunset with half a ten mile ride under my belt. The trip and my one long vacation for the year was almost at its end. My daughter is older now and extremely competent on her bike. I told M. that now, in her (M’s 60’s) she is clearly stronger and more competent on the bike than she was when started taking this trip 9 years ago.


I love this light– when the sky is dark with sunshine shining through and I love Lake Michigan as much or more when it is like this– blacker and choppier than on bright sunny days.  I didn’t write about N’s 8th grade graduation or about her high school applications and her choice of high school–nor did I write about her Bat Mitzvah last November– the Bat Mitzvah that she had at times convinced us she couldn’t pull off– the Bat Mitzvah at which I saw a girl, a young woman; competent, smart, compassionate and fully in charge.  The Bat Mitzvah that yielded many thank you notes all of which she began by saying, “thank you for coming to my amazing Bat Mitzvah”.

For me much of this time of change has felt like walking around with my skin coming off– vulnerable and with exquisite, acute feelings, like life with a newborn– where everything, every joy and every danger appears in sharp relief.  For her this passage of time, these milestones are all that growing up is– interesting, so much ahead to look forward to, her mind’s eye with a growing picture of who she is and what she wants. This is the blog post with no single point, no real end point, but a chance to bring myself to the task again, to try again to squeeze a writing life into a life that fills and fills with things I love to do and things I don’t at all care about– so here I go. Again.

Humbly, after a long absence, I ask you to join me. Again.

Everything is changed and all is well.  I disappeared for a long, long time– there are several draft blog posts saved but unfinished in my WordPress drafts file.  There are no posts about what my daughter rightly refers to as “my amazing Bat Mitzvah” which happened in November 2014 and which moved me so deeply.  There are no posts about so many things, but they happened without writing about them.

I was gone from writing for a reason and now I return, unsure of whether I will come back to this blogging regularly or not, but happy to be here now.  Along with this writing– I have returned to other things I love to do, to places and to people with great enthusiasm and relief.  I finished the job I’ve had working for an elected official who lost reelection after many terms in office.  I was there for three years.  I walked out the door at 3 p.m. on December 31 having tried to tell a beautiful, warm, funny man who is the security guard there– what a difference he made to me, very single day.  I got in my car and came home on New Year’s Eve as I had been coming home every night– but I was different– changed.  The job had about a million things to recommend it and I did such interesting, important work there.  But so much was overshadowed by the challenge of an angry, unpredictable boss.  It was often a job that felt as though it would eat me alive, depressed me, made me weep at the distance it imposed between my family and friends and me.  But I prevailed.  I didn’t quit in despair, I didn’t get fired, I made friends, I got a lot done and I finished– triumphant.

I started 2015– the secular new year– fresh.  So much has changed in the three years I spent lost in my office and in fears and worries.  The three closest young people in my life are four years apart in descending order– and in these three years each has avanced to the end of some part of their education.  Nephew I-man will graduate from college, nephew J-J will graduate from high school and my own little girl, now not a little girl in any way whatsoever, except in my memory,  will graduate from 8th grade and will start high school in 2015.  We don’t yet know where she will attend high school but her tight and interesting 8th grade group will be dispersed from one another which makes her and makes me sad.

I start a new job in a little more than a week.  I’m excited about almost everything about the job– the respectful process that led to my getting the job; my soon-to-be and very thoughtful female boss, and the work itself.  I also get to think fresh about this next chapter in my life. How will writing and art and poetry figure into this next period?  I’ve spent the weeks since my job ended mostly trying to think about and experiment with how to retool a relationship with my daughter who is now a teenager and resuming responsibility in the household that I had left increasingly to M.  I have also sought to take on the issue of my health and well-being and have been pushing myself hard– to go to the gym 3 or 4 times each week.

I think about this time warp in so many ways.  The rest of my life.  Fast forward to the different job of parenting a teen.  People have gotten sick and died during this time, people in my life have gotten sick and lived and thrived.  I feel happy to be alive, going to the gym, drinking decaf cappucino most days, greeting my daughter after school most days,  and lucky that you are reading this.

Door County, Wisconsin 2014

We are back in Door County this summer. Week two is coming to a close, but my head is still very much here. It is beautiful, it is home in a certain way, and it is vacation–time together for my sweetheart, M, my daughter, N, and me. The past two and a half years in my job have taken a huge toll on my real-time connections to both partner and daughter and I’ve literally been at work and missed more of our lives together than I can really stand.

My mom is with us for the whole trip and my sister, J, and her son, J-J, are on their way to join us tonight. We all love being with them. I have never stopped missing Lake Michigan since moving to the East coast. This big dose of looking at the lake at all times of day, while biking along the shore, driving, swimming and sitting on the sand helps me feel solidly connected to myself and to what is real and important.

We’re in a rented house right in Fish Creek and on my bike we are less than 6 minutes (yes, I timed it) from the entrance to the Sunset Trail in Peninsula State Park. We spend a lot of our time in Peninsula State Park and counting all members of the family who are with us for any part of the trip, we join the other 999,994 visitors to the park this summer.

The house we rented has been the perfect set-up for N in this phase of still-young-girlhood-and-now-a-teen life. There is a loft bedroom up a flight of stairs. The loft is her room and she keeps her stuff up there out of our sight and she stays up there for a few hours of “alone-time” at night after dinner and other times of day. From the living room I can hear her laughing while she watches silly you-tube videos and tv. Then she comes downstairs by her choice at about midnight (some nights well after I have gone to bed) to cuddle up and sleep. The teen and the young girl who needs her moms.

My sister, J, came by herself last Friday night for the weekend. Even more than Lake Michigan, I love being with her. We do our own thing which includes getting up earlier than the rest and heading out for a look at the water and decaf cappuccino from the nearby café. She is training for a half-marathon and last Saturday morning I biked with her on a ten-mile run/ride as her water carrier and sag wagon.

I have also fallen in love again with M on this trip. Not that I ever fell out of… but slowing down and being away from work has me able to feel why I loved her to begin with, why I love her now. We’ve been together so long now, have so many sweet memories of beach vacations together– with my sister and nephews and without, with daughter and before.

Tuesday was the 2nd of only two rainy and cool days. I woke up desperately fearful, worried about what is to become of me in terms of work. My job, which I want to leave, hopefully to regain some flexibility and resume mothering in the way I want to, ends December 31. But until I have something secured, I’m once again facing the possibility of unemployment. I’m scared and often hopeless about finding a right spot for myself. The combination of sexism and ageism aimed at women as we push well past 50 is fierce and it often feels as though those forces will win this battle and my desire for good work that I like and feel respected doing, will lose.

Those worries weighed heavily when I woke up Tuesday morning and I sat in the living room, twisting in my hard feelings. After a couple hours, as people were getting up, I figured that seeing Lake Michigan on a cool, windy, cloudy day and making my body work hard were the only ways out. So I biked alone to the state park and shore. I wasn’t exactly happy or hopeful, but I loved the dark gray choppy water, the wind, the hard work and loved being in my long-sleeved shirt, hoody and windbreaker. I arrived at Nicolet Bay calmer on the inside and spattered with gravel and dirt on the outside.

I know I have a battle ahead– against my own insecurities and against the real live sexism that will try to thwart me. I wish I could wage it with mighty Lake Michigan (and these particular people I love) a lot closer, but these two weeks are a start.

After my longest absence to date– I am back again.

I left you dangling with my girl in Spain. She came home safe and sound. Her birthday came and went– without a post or a picture. She’s 13. My birthday came and went. I’m older by a lot.

We are in Door County, Wisconsin. We– is my mother, my daughter, N., partner M. I am trying to relax while also exercising, writing, thinking about my next job and attending to my family. I will write of some of my recent adventures soon and will post pictures.

I am reading two southern stories of race and gender told from the point of view of young white females–

    To Kill a Mockingbird


    The Secret Life of Bees


And I return with stories to tell which I will begin again tomorrow or the next or the next day after that.

Change of life III and Happy Mother’s day

Happy mother’s day to all you who are mothers. To your mothers. To the mothers we don’t know who live very different lives from yours or mine. Lots to write about mothers, mother’s day and the treatment of mothers, but not today. I’ve gotten some great wishes today–some very unexpected, like from a very quiet co-worker of mine and from my sister. I got a Skype Instant Message from my daughter, who I miss so much, and texts and emails from expected and surprising people. I’ve sent a number of messages via all of the electronic messaging tools at my disposal– from email, to text, to Facebook, to What’s App– the App of choice for all the parents here and in Spain, of the kids of the Bilbao/US exchange. I wrote to all the mothers of 11 and 12 year olds– mothers who, like M and me, have worked their asses off to organize and fundraise and make great, this trip my daughter is on right now. I am completely alone in the house– daughter in Spain, and girlfriend/partner in Indiana with her mom and her sister. It’s a mixed bag to be here alone this morning.

Soon, I have to go back to work and slog through more of the work on our Legislative Report, associated with the FY 2015 budget which is the same project I’ve worked on until after 11:00 p.m. all last week and all day yesterday. But I am cheered knowing my daughter isn’t waiting for me to come home and knowing this is the third, but last time I will ever do this, because my job will end before this happens again next year.

But I do have time to post pictures as the adventure of N, in Bilbao halfway around the world, continues. And as her Mommy (my partner) and Mama (me) hang in there. These are pictures that make me happy as a mother. N looks so great and so loving and loved by the people she is foto 2

Gorgeous beach and cliffs and friends.  She is looking at an iPod with her friend, E-- a boy she's known since kindergarten and a really wonderful boy.  The other picture looks to me like the morning after a slumber party, with S, one of the Bilbao girls-- best friend of N's Bilbao sister, Aida, and a girl  that N got to know when Bilbao kids were here and who, from pictures, it looks like she's gotten closer to on this trip.  Laughing, laughing.

Gorgeous beach and cliffs and friends. She is looking at an iPod with her friend, E– a boy she’s known since kindergarten and a really wonderful boy. The other picture looks to me like the morning after a slumber party, with S, one of the Bilbao girls– best friend of N’s Bilbao sister, Aida, and girl that N got to know when Bilbao kids were here and who, from pictures, it looks like she's gotten closer to on this trip. Laughing, laughing.

Change of life part two; one dad’s perspective

N is just about done with her first week in Bilbao, Spain.  I can’t tell exactly how it’s going– but we adults seem to want to categorize things simply and I think it’s complicated.  She’s really sick with either allergies or a sinus infection– I can’t really tell what’s going on exactly, but I can tell she feels kind of lousy but not so lousy that she stops doing all the stuff they are doing each day.  When I see the photos that come through she seems like she is really enjoying herself.  But also on one night mid-week she texted me– very early in the morning in Spain– too early to be awake– and said, “I feel so, so bad, Mama.  Can I come home now?”  So, I think it’s both, a great and awesome trip and a trip that is hard and challenging in different ways.  I get confused, but I am moving toward understanding that it may be hard, but it is not too hard for her to handle.  She doesn’t need someone to rescue her, but it’s good she can show me that it’s very hard some of the time.  

Just two weeks ago, we spent much of the day at the Shabbat service marking the Bat Mitzvah of a friend of my daughter.  Another Jewish girl of color, a girl we knew from the park, from preschool days, and then the two girls were in elementary school together until my daughter’s friend went on, as did a number of N’s friends, to a different middle school.  

I forgot (I really did) as we walked into the synagogue, that my daughter is older now and wouldn’t sit with us, but would join her many friends in the synagogue. So M and I sat together in the service, holding hands some of the time, and M cried openly through a lot of it.  I think she was crying about the passage of time, growing-up daughters and I don’t know exactly what else.  

At the party that night– a nice dinner and a rockin, rockin dance party– we sat with a dad– Jim– whose daughter is still in middle school with mine.  His wife was home with a bad back.  I’ve always been a little intimidated by him.  He is a very progressive US Representative from a small-to-mid-size, very working-class city on the east coast.  He told me that until he was elected he had lived in the same district, same precinct his whole life. He doesn’t come off as a really a big-city, cosmopolitan kind of guy, which I really like about him.  I’ve hardly ever talked with him at all.   He is as unpretentious and good-hearted a person as you could ever hope to sit next to at a dinner party and it was great talking with him.  He’s extremely low-key and most things come out in about the same tone regardless of what he’s saying.  

At some point he told me how lucky he feels that he doesn’t just love his daughter, but he really, really likes her– thinks she’s great and fun to be around and great to play with and talk to.  She struggles with reading and academics in school, I think.  In the 4th grade, she discovered, and we all found out, she is an awesome basketball player. She had a great coach– my partner, M– and she’s all about basketball these days.  

Anyway, at a certain point in the conversation I said– something about the hard time I am having getting my mind around and adjusting to all these changes– to the fact that these girls, recently little girls, seem so grown up now and getting more so week by week.  I didn’t want to be perceived as overly sentimental or as a mother who cannot let go.  So I threw in, “I know kids have been growing up for thousands and thousands of years….” and I was ready to follow it with something– that I now cannot remember.     But Jim interrupted me in the most animated and booming voice and cut me off.  He said, “Yeah, but not our kids, not our kids– our kids have never grown up before“.  Enough said.

Change of life

I don’t mean the euphemism for menopause. But I am very much in the midst of a change of life—actually several changes. I will experiment with trying to write some different posts around this change of life theme in the coming days.

A few teasers are: My daughter (age 12) is, this very morning, in Bilbao, Spain on the second half of an exchange program with her middle school. She chose to take on the project of making such a big trip (and she really did make a big internal decision about this trip that her moms had nothing to do with). Now, for the first time since we brought our baby home, we find ourselves in the house with her away for two weeks. I am thinking about things I wanted her to know about, things I wanted her to know how to do before she went off on her own, and how we found times to talk about those things. All of this, time without her at home, working to get her ready to do something big without us– all a big change of life for me, and for M and me. Last night and today I am taking a deep, internal breath and reflecting on her strengths, her ability to form deep connections with people, her smarts and good common sense, her generosity and clarity about certain things. All this leaves me incredibly proud of her, fairly secure that she will be ok, and ready for her to do this. All that is a big change of life.

This Bilbao adventure has involved three parts that I know of, and there will surely be at least a fourth– the aftermath, but that’s for later. Part One, was my daughter’s decision to go, and all the collective work of the young people, parents, and school administration to plan and fundraise for a big trip that is not managed by an international travel company—it is managed by us parents. Part Two, was our Bilbao “daughter’s” trip here along with the rest of the Bilbao kids and chaperones and our many adventures in large and small groups with them. I loved that part and was more profoundly affected by it than I ever anticipated. So I have meant, for nearly two months, to finish some writing about parts one and two of the Bilbao adventure—the months and weeks leading up to, and the two weeks our Bilbao “daughter” was here all of which were eventful and rich with feeling and insights. But now I will skip to part three–what is happening yesterday and today and tomorrow– my daughter, N, in Bilbao.

Another teaser for another post in the Change of Life series. As you may or may not know or remember, I work for a state-level elected official. I work for a state-level elected official in a jurisdiction that is so Blue that the election is, in most races, over when the outcome of the Democratic primary has been determined. And in April, my boss, after four terms in office, and in a huge surprise upset, lost the Democratic primary. So I will be out of a job come December. Since the election, the fact that this job will end has felt like liberation, a very good thing. As my feelings and struggles about what I want or wanted from my career continue to evolve, I face this change as a definite, immovable next chance to figure out some important things about me, and work, and what I love and value. It is a chance to maybe do something closer to exactly what I want.

That’s the brief update, and those are the teasers. Being the parent of an internationally traveling young person who is still, (happily, for us) extremely connected to her moms, is like this. You help pack her things and take a deep breath and cry sometime—like before or after or at the airport—and give a some big hugs and send your big girl off. Then, in this magical era of texts and phones that take amazing photos and Skype and Facetime, you live like the parent of an infant but with less control. You should sleep and work when you can, because you will not sleep through the night and you will no longer be able to do anything without interruption. We got a Skype call at 1:00 a.m. (EST) when she landed for a layover in Paris and a series of dinging, ringing alerts at about 6:00 a.m. when the first parent learned that they landed safely in Bilbao and we all started writing each other and sharing photos that had been texted to us. And as I drove, late to work at about 9:00 a.m. here, the Skype call I’d been waiting for came in. N– safe and sound in a bedroom far, far away with her Bilbao “sister/ friend”, A. There they both were, together.

One last thought for now. Here’s the start and end point for me about the stunning fact of very tiny babies you once held in your arms, growing up. She is wearing a pink tie dye tee shirt she absconded with from me. A tee shirt I bought at our first trip out of our hotel, in El Paso, Texas, where she was born, to Target, when she was 12 days old and under 7 lbs. It looks awesome on her.

That is my first installment on Change of Life. Photos of travelers below but I loaded them in reverse order– Look first at the Air France desk where we checked in yesterday, next see N. sitting around the airport with her fellow middle-school travelers and parents and teachers milling around photographing the young people. Finally daughter N., and one of her best friends, Y.,– seated together on plane. And the text messaging began.