Tag Archives: hope

Poetry and Hope, for many reasons

There is quite a lot of inauguration buzz around me these recent days.  For me, the thing that stands out about this election and this inauguration is that in some major way we won.  An important win.  The racism of Mitt Romney’s and others of the Republican campaigns was so virulent, so wide open, so vast, so carefully calibrated to pull at people’s fears and confusions.  But it didn’t win.  We won.  

Two friends have pointed me to this recently.  One, a beautiful, tireless and hopeful activist, a close friend–posted this quote on her own website as she works, and I do mean works, at caring for herself and keeping life in order as she goes through treatment for cancer.  The second, another beautiful woman, a Jewish woman, just sent it to me this morning.

 It’s Adrienne Rich, but no one has yet been able to identify for me what poem this is from.  If you know where it came from please send the poem’s title and/or the title of the book it is from as a comment or email me privately if you prefer.  

On Monday at the inaugural ceremony we will hear from Richard Blanco– a Latino gay man who will read a poem of his own creation and mind.  I don’t know him or his poetry, nor do I know whether I will love the poem or not.  But I will love that there will be poetry there.  And with Obama’s inauguration and inaugural poetry, more hope and more poetry to come.

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope? 
You yourself must change it. 
what would it feel like to know
your country was changing? 
You yourself must change it. 
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?

Adrienne Rich 1983

Rewrite. My life in music and my old friend I’ve never met. Paul Simon.

I love music.  I think most of us are wired to this language of feeling and memory.  When I was very young my parents had albums of classical music that affected and moved me to unstoppable tears.  I would often ask them not to play that music, because it made me too sad.  Too sad for a five-year old without enough of a venue for the heavy tears I seemed to need to cry.

Later, I discovered my own varied and eclectic musical taste and I chose things I liked and I listened a lot.   Music is  and often the backdrop that allows me to face grief and loss fully and honestly.  But music is often part of the scene when I can really feel that the world is good and that it is good– I mean extraordinarily good– to be alive.  I think I approach each day from the perspective that it is really good to be alive.  But I don’t think I am someone who actually feels that joyful, good-to-be-alive way every day.  Or even most days.

As I see my daughter getting older, facing the struggles of her world– which are big struggles– the struggles of class and race, the struggles of female internalized oppression and the harshness among girls, the struggles to learn and try new things and fit it all in and stay close to us and others and not get discouraged– I have been fighting myself, to be in touch, more and more often with a genuine, hopeful, it’s-great-to-be-alive feeling.  I do it for me and I do it for her.  Listening to music often helps me turn my mind toward the goodness of my life and of the world even with all its harshness and horror.

Paul Simon is one musician of my era, whose work I’ve loved since I was very young.  I was a lot younger and he was a lot younger when I first heard his music.  As I have grown older so has he and so has his work.  His music and something about his Jewish and generous and quirky sensibility all feel like reassuring, old friends to me.

The other day I heard on NPR, a great talk by a pop music critic about some of the critic’s favorite music of 2011.  Among many artists and albums the critic mentioned was a new album of Paul Simon’s– released earlier this year, “So Beautiful or So What”.   I had not heard of it.  (Do people still say “album”? or is that a total anachronism?)  But I digress.

I have always loved Simon’s music and his songwriting;  his interesting, intelligent and sometimes poetic, sometimes narrative, and often funny, lyrics.  His beautiful melodies, easy to sing along with but unpredictable and complex.  I love his voice, acoustic guitar, his use of whistling and every conceivable instrument.  He has done some remarkable collaborations with other singers and musicians.  Listening to his music makes me happy and the very fact of another human being engaged in the endeavor of making the kind of music he does, makes me happy.  Good-to-be-alive kind of happy.

And Paul Simon is definitely a big commercial success but he has eschewed a the of commercialism that seems less and less possible for younger musicians to eschew and still be heard.  He has pursued for more than 40 years, a kind of artistry that stands out our increasingly commercial, logo’d, PR’d, photoshopped, advertised, bought-and-sold world.

I fell in love with the song that was reviewed, called “Rewrite”.  Then I got curious and learned that Paul Simon turned 70 in October.  I must say there is something fabulous about a still-very- talented- popular singer-songwriter at 70.  And something ironic, poignant, and a little close to home–about his singing “Rewrite”.  After all, if we’re honest, don’t we all, especially as we get older, have parts of the story we’d rewrite if we could?

After “Rewrite” are three videos with Paul Simon, literally half his lifetime ago, on the Graceland tour in Zimbabwe, which was recorded and performed in collaboration with an astounding group of African musicians and singers; including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  The recording and tour were set against the backdrop of a turning point in the world’s history– as freedom fighters were on the brink of ending apartheid in South Africa.

Under African Skies

Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes

Michael Moore in Wisconsin, Saturday, March 5, 2011

It’s Sunday morning and it is still snowy and wintry cold in Wisconsin.  I have another post– one about mothering and adoption that I promise will go up very soon, but I continue to write about Wisconsin here, because it has certainly moved me.  And I believe that what is going on is so very important.

In Wisconsin, a certain kind of immediate drama has ended.  The teachers have gone back to work, the Capitol has been cleared– but teachers, workers, students, parents– still have not gotten discouraged, given up or stopped.  The Fab 14– the Democrats who have gone to Illinois to block a vote, still have not given in and returned to Wisconsin, not one of them.  They remain in Illinois and they continue to refuse to be part of what Governor Scott Walker is trying to force on the state and its people.  A movement is building that is not dependent on more dramatic events (though important) like occupying the Capitol or staying out of work.  This movement, the people there, seem to be digging in for the longer haul.

Wisconsin is like the one young person you once kept your eye on in school– the one who did something brave or out of the mainstream; the one who reminded you of who you were but were too scared.  But after watching that other young person for days or weeks, or maybe years,  you said to yourself, “maybe, just maybe I could be that brave.  Maybe if she could do that or could just be that much herself, maybe I could too.”

I am hungry for this news about Wisconsin, this growing resistance to things gone so wrong, this growing understanding of our strength and power– the strength of of our ideas about what is right and the strength of our unity.  More and more of us are watching.  The Wisconsin workers don’t know where this will end, and neither do I.  But it seems more possible than it has seemed in a long time that we could get for ourselves something better than we have imagined as we have shaken our heads with sighs and resignation as things have gotten worse and worse.

I am hungry for news each day.  I leave cell phone messages, I email and await the calls from my sister and her sons in Milwaukee, my close teacher friend and another of my oldest friends, in Madison– to hear the things they don’t report in the press.  As much detail as they have time to give me.  I sat and read a long, long email from my friend M. about last weekend and the discomfort and the beauty of falling asleep on a cold marble floor, looking up at the Capitol rotunda.  Yesterday in the midst of two car rides– hers in Wisconsin and mine here– my friend, A., who is the teacher in Madison about whom I’ve written here, called and told me about her Saturday– going with her own family and a bunch of people and gathering in the fire station.  What it was like to march with the firefighters with their bagpipes and the ancient, soulful sound they make, the cheers of the crowds as they marched to the State Capitol.

The filmmaker, Michael Moore is feeling the way I am.  He made the spontaneous decision very early Saturday morning to get on a plane and go to Madison, to join for the day, what has become a huge, regular Saturday protest in support of teachers, public workers and all working people.  Below is the Youtube link to hear the speech he gave.  The camera is dizzyingly shaky early on, but hang in and it settles down.  The crowd, however, appears to be settling for less and less.  Moore’s speech, America is Not Broke– offers a perspective (that I believe is accurate) about what has happened in the economic life of our country over the past many years.  Michael Moore is unabashedly excited and very proud of Wisconsin and so am I.  


Wisconsin. Hope.

This gallery contains 4 photos.

What is going on in Wisconsin is not just theoretical to me.  Nor as distant as you might think.  Besides having many close relationships there– I am still unemployed, after all.  There is something about this; about what does or … Continue reading


If you long for many things to change in the world as I do, you may think a lot about the hopelessness and sense of defeat that seems so endemic (both of which feelings– defeat and hopelessness, I often experience myself).  When you periodically come upon the thrilling surprise, the amazing mystery of moments where a wildfire of activism, courage and dedicated, thoughtful, collective risk-taking, speaking-truth-to-power–are set in motion, you may wonder, “why did this moment result in forward motion rather than more hopelessness and inertia?”  I want to understand better and better what allows these hopeful, forward moving times to happen.  I want to bask in these moments of thoughtful, hopeful, determined action, and hopefully be part of one or more movements in which many of us will generate more moments that give way to action and forward motion.  So let’s talk about Wisconsin.

On Thursday, midday, I ran into a friend and neighbor who unexpectedly took me to lunch.  At the very end of our time together– she tossed out a quick comment about the wild uprising in Wisconsin.  I had heard from neither my sister nor one of my closest friends, both of whom live in Wisconsin.  I had no idea what she was talking about.

I raised a questioning eyebrow, she told me a tiny bit and we said goodbye.  I promptly searched the internet, and turned on CNN (despite an almost immovable policy to never watch tv during the day while unemployed).   I learned that in Madison, a mass protest was (and is still) underway led by roughly 35,000 school teachers, other public sector employees, and I think many students– in response to a bill that the recently elected, utterly dishonest Tea-party Republican governor, Scott Walker, introduced a week ago Friday– which would strip away most of the hard-won collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin public sector employees.

The bill was introduced on Friday, February 11 and slated for a vote on Thursday, February 17.  And the protest was going strong.  There are thousands of people who were and are still sitting in and protesting at the State Capitol in Madison.   I called one of my closest friends, a Madison public school counselor and learned more from her.  She had been at the State Capitol on and off for days and was involved as a member of her union, in the decisions made that set all of this in motion.  The reporting by CNN about Wisconsin consisted of truly reprehensible and utterly biased verbal attacks on the Democratic State Senators who had left the state house, in a legitimate strategic move to block a vote on a terrible piece of legislation that was going to be forced on the state of Wisconsin with less than a week’s time for public discourse, debate or amendment.  The CNN anchor kept throwing out accusations that in leaving the state to ensure that there wouldn’t be a quorum, that the Democratic State Senators were “not doing the jobs they were elected to do”.   In the most vicious and derisive tone.  When the spokesperson the anchor was beating up on, countered that the Governor had given no notice, no indication in his campaign that he intended to pass legislation that would strip workers of collective bargaining rights, the anchor said “Oh that’s just politics”.  Apparently lying in electoral campaigns is ok, but taking procedural steps, as an elected official, to block a vote on legislation with which you and thousands of your constituents have disagreement, is simply lazy.  If it helps to put all this in context, the Governor had sent the police out after the missing Democratic State Senators– to try to drag them to the State Capitol to ensure a quorum for the vote on Thursday.  I could and should go on and on about the distortions and bias of the CNN anchors on Thursday afternoon.  That what I heard from two different CNN anchors on Thursday afternoon pass as legitimate journalism astounds me.

But back to the subject at hand– I am deeply proud of the solidarity that is being demonstrated by the Wisconsin protesters.  And although I won’t try right now to articulate why; I think it is no coincidence– that this uprising, this saying of “No, we are not going to take these lies and moves to further silence working people” is happening in the Midwest.  I am proud of the Wisconsin protesters, of the history of protest in Wisconsin and I am proud that this is happening in my Midwest.

Although I have lived on the East Coast for over 20 years, I am a Midwesterner through and through.  This truth about me shows itself in many ways– for one, when I open my mouth and speak.  I was born and grew up in Chicago and suburban Chicago.  I got a lot of excellent higher education in the 70s and 80’s– all of it in Madison, Wisconsin.  I lived in Madison for about 10 years.  I learned a lot there– both in and out of the classroom.  I have often said that Chicago is my hometown but Wisconsin is my state.  So look beyond the mainstream media, and dig deep to follow this.  Although you won’t find much helpful or honest on CNN, Rachel Maddow, the Christian Science Monitor and many others have had some interesting things to say.   Wisconsin is important and what is going on there is profoundly important.  To you and to me and to all of us.