20 August 2017


Charlottesville is consuming me. I admit to being obsessed with all the coverage and interviews. It cannot be good for me to watch too much CNN and listen to too many talking heads, but I cannot look away. I am fascinated by how human beings can grow such hate in their hearts and minds, hate that leads them to see others as less than human. It’s a specific kind of selfishness that is truly terrifying. It’s fear. It has always been fear and it will always be fear.

Look into your own family, look at the people you love. Why do they lash out, why do they do hurtful things, even to people they love?  Fear.  

I look at my own children, who I know are good and kind people, and I’m shocked multiple times a week at how vicious they can be with each other, how immediately defensive they are when they feel threatened and fearful. If they are about to get in trouble, if they know they did something hurtful, if they think they are about to get steamrolled -- they are virulently defensive. They feed each other to the wolves.

It’s disheartening to see, partly because it suggests that we, their parents, aren’t doing a very good job at helping them navigate interpersonal relationships. We want them to know, in their hearts, the power of a sincere apology, of raw empathy and kindness. As parents, we know that these things are the foundation of relationships that sustain us and ultimately bring us peace and joy.

Relationships that sustain us: this is what we need in our culture and communities. What is so terribly sad to me is to look back 25 years, to the way I saw the world when I first joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and to recognize that at that time, I thought I lived in a progression that was taking the country forward. I thought I was on and part of a path that was bringing more good into the world, more love and compassion, more empathy and understanding. Less divisiveness.

But when I look at what’s happening -- everything from the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, to the way we attack "neglectful" parents when their children get hurt, to the relentless viciousness of social media -- I am chilled by how far it seems we have gone in the other direction. Children of the world, THIS is why parents are alarmed at what the culture is teaching you, showing you and planting in you. We do not want you to look around and see the nastiness and the vapidness and grow up breathing that air. I do not want my daughters to see the Kardashians, laugh at the shallowness with which that family is portrayed for the sake of ratings, and simply be entertained. I do not want my sons to see tasteless memes about sex, and simply be amused.

There is a through line, for me, between these mindless, slippery slope allowances and the hate and hurt assaulting our communities. Both are about demeaning others and putting things (profit? power?) before people. Neither will ever help us build the relationships we need.

When Trump was elected, I wept bitterly because I felt fear. It was, then, an unnamed fear of something sinister coming, or more rightly, being revealed. I knew, in my bones, that the weeks and months ahead would be filled with things that would make me ache for people, for my children and for the children of people I don't understand, like the neo-nazi's filling the TV screen. Watching recent days unfold, I feel as though I am watching my fears materialize, those fears of what Trump’s presidency would usher in. I knew this would happen. Standing in my kitchen on election night, I wept each time my son came in to tell me that another state had been called for Trump. And I knew we should be bracing ourselves for ugliness, for the infliction of pain and for all manner of affronts to human dignity and goodness. I knew Charlottesville was coming.

How can simple human kindness make a difference? It doesn't seem strong enough in the face of hate marches and seas of swastikas and weaponized cars. It doesn't seem like enough, until I look at the most important times in my own life, those that have transformed me and brought me peace. They are all intimate and personal occasions of connection -- falling in love, the birth of a child, listening to a friend's story of suffering.  The private moments when we are most present to each other are the moments that make us the strongest.  

This is my activism, paying attention to the private moments that connect us all and looking for more and more of them to sustain me.

My children, my sweet children, those I’ve given birth to and those I haven't, I know who you are. I know you are made of goodness and kindness to your core. I know, and you know, that the behavior we are witnessing is antithetical to love and humanity. Find ways to rise above your own fear and defensiveness; find ways to rise above others’ as well. Reject, resist, and repel the hatred you see swirling around us. Learn about it, understand what is out there, but turn to the people around you and cultivate the habits of being that drive out hate. Start with the people closest to you, then turn outwards to others, but keep it going. Never stop radiating love, patience and empathy. Never, ever stop. You are what the world needs now.

30 January 2017

Thank God for Freezing Soccer Mornings

We were up at 6am, in rural Turlock, California, ready to cheer on a field full of 10-year olds competing in their early morning State Cup Quarterfinal.

It was 34 degrees outside -- not so impressive if you're playing winter soccer in Chicago, or New York, or Kansas, but pretty freakin' cold if you happen to be 10-year old California girls and their parents.

The grass crunched beneath our feet. We blew frosty smoke rings from our mouths. We stomped our feet and talked about how it was damn cold but WOW it could be even colder, and at least the sun was out.

We cheered on our girls, hoping to will them to victory with our support and encouragement. And then, we felt heartsick and helpless as we watched them go down in defeat. We fretted to each other that they deserved this win, that the score didn't tell the real story.

We joked "At least we'll get our Sunday back," since by midway through the second half it was clear that we weren't returning for a 2pm Semifinal. None of us really wanted our Sunday back.

We high fived the losing team -- our daughters -- as they ran by our outstretched hands at the end of it all. I slapped my own daughter's hand as she ran by in a blur, and saw eyes full of tears and a face crumpled in torment. She, with visions of being the next Carly Lloyd, had run smack dab into the wall of 10-year old failure and was feelin' it, big time.

We took the team to crepes afterwards, in rural, sleepy Turlock, where we enjoyed the parent table a few feet from the player table, where they stuffed themselves with crepes piled high with nutella and strawberries and whipped cream: no need for our young athletes to be smart and healthy with no afternoon game beckoning.

It was a bittersweet morning, and I will forever love these days, as gut-wrenching as they can be.

The owners of the Creperie in rural, sleepy Turlock were absolutely thrilled to see us pile into their small cafe. Thrilled, cheerful, welcoming, and then, as our large group kept streaming in, ever so slightly panicked and then downright stressed out by the impact we had on their three crepe machine establishment. It took forever to get our food. For. Eh. Ver.

The owners of the Creperie in rural, sleepy Turlock are, as it happens, Syrian immigrants.

That’s how we spent our Sunday morning, and thank God we did. Because had I not been there, riding the wave and crash of U11 competitive soccer, I would have been in front of a screen somewhere, swallowing up the fear and rage that I find rising in me lately when I see my Facebook feed, check Twitter for the current outrage, and scan npr.org’s pages.

There are more than enough horrors happening in our country these days to fill our every moment and every breath. There are marches to go to and phone calls to make and airports to occupy. There are difficult conversations to have – with people we agree with as much as those we don’t. If we are to be responsible and well-informed, we have to do the work to make sure we are getting real information.

We will see more horrors. Of course we will. The time to wonder if this will be the thing that does him in is over. The time to make this – or the next thing, or the thing after that – be the thing that wakes up our country and unites us in ridding ourselves of this orange cancer is here and now.

But for today, I am grateful for the freezing cold pitch beneath my feet and the chance to watch my daughter lose her soccer game, because I needed a wee-bit of a break from the chaos of the real world. Today, I am grateful for delicious crepes, sweet balm after a tough loss, prepared with love and enthusiasm by a lovely Syrian couple now living in the middle of California.

My daughter is sleeping on the couch next to me, still in her stinky soccer socks.

Tomorrow morning, she will shower. And tomorrow morning, I will call some US Representatives who need to know that I oppose Betsy De Vos’s nomination as Education Secretary and that I want him or her to vote against it. Tomorrow, I will tell a friend of mine that yes, I will go with her to my local representative’s office to thank him for opposing DJT so far and to let him know that I expect him to continue to do exactly that at every turn. Tomorrow, I will search for reliable news sources, and I will resist the click bait that beckons me and my righteous indignation.

Today, I am grateful that I got to watch my 10-year old daughter play her heart out and lose her State Cup Quarterfinal. There’s always next year, and maybe we can go back and visit the Syrians.

01 January 2017

What Can Be Our Response?

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand.
It is wide open. The sword is taken away,
but we do not know it. I am present
without knowing it at all, in this unspeakable paradise, and I behold this secret, this wide open secret which is there for everyone, free.
– Thomas Merton 
Thank you, Thomas Merton, for your words, and thank you to my friend Linda for sharing them on Facebook this morning to usher in 2017.  

Perhaps this is what all angst and anxiety stem from: we are present in unspeakable paradise without knowing it, even while we search for it high and low, with desperation and urgency.  We are searching for that paradise with every resolution, every firm decision to be better, do better, love better.  Paradise is all around us: why don't we see it?  Why aren't we aware of every moment we are living in it?  Why don't we know it?

That existential crisis will be even more palpable in this, our beloved country, as we watch Donald J. Trump assume the mantle of leadership and tweet his strange brand of narcissism and megalomania into the world.  

What can be our response, not only to Trump but to the slings and arrows of daily, difficult, wrenching life?  We must see, enjoy, create, share and demand beauty.  We must make something beautiful and put it out into the world.  We must light that small candle in the darkness.  We must.  It is essential.  It is all that matters.  

Write.  Make music.  Paint.  Draw.  Grow things.  Tend to animals.  Read.  Cook.  Teach.  Design.  Push.  Resistance takes a million forms, so pick the one that fits you like a warm and loving sweater, but pick one or you will spend your time in this paradise feeling cold and shackled.  Pick one, so that you can begin to see the paradise all around you.  Pick one: it is there for you, for everyone, free.

* * *

17 February 2016

Comedy Planet with Little T


Little T: "Daddy, we're learning all about the planets and the solar system!  Did you know that Pluto is not considered a planet anymore?"

Daddy: "No, I didn't know that.  What about Uranus?"

Little T: "Your anus is considered a moon."

She'll be here all night, folks!  Really.  Aaaaallll night.

* * *

14 February 2016

An A+ on at least one thing

Not sure we've done much right as parents, but I take great comfort in knowing that my kids will forever find joy in brand new sketch books. 

29 January 2016

On Migraines and Laughter

OK folks, I come roaring back to the blogging world with two things.

Thing one: Yesterday, I got a migraine.  The kind that makes you weep and call for your mommy when you're pushing 50.  The kind that makes decapitation seem like a viable option.  The kind that makes you shake your fist and curse at whatever creature you were in a past life. 

Come to think of it, there is no another kind of migraine.  They are all like that.

My kids know what to do when I get one of these: keep the house quiet.  But knowing what to do and being good at doing it are two very, very different things.  They mean well, of course, but their execution needs a bit of work.  

Case in point.  This is a picture of the sign my daughter made for the rest of the family and propped up on my bedroom door last night:

She propped it up on my door.  On a hard wood floor.  Where it kept sliding down and clattering on the floor, banging into the door on the way down.  Not to be deterred, she kept putting it back.  Roughly.  Noisily.  Slamming it against the door in an effort to make. it. stay.

Then she would pound down the stairs.  And the damn thing would slide, bang and clatter.  And she would pound back up the stairs and slam it back into place.

I was, sad to say, sorely desterbed.

* * *

Thing two: As of tomorrow, my parents have been married for fifty-one years.  FIFTY-ONE.  612 months.  2,652 weeks.  18,615 days.  That just boggles the mind.  My beloved and I haven't even made it to 20 yet, and there are days I'm amazed he hasn't woken up, realized what he really got himself into, and walked off hysterical.  (I mean, who could blame him, I'm kind of a nightmare.)   Here are Larry and Rose back in 1965:

I'm willing to bet that the thing that has helped them last so long, perhaps more than anything else, is their great big, generous senses of humor, and their complete joy in things that make each other laugh.  Just yesterday, my dad remarked on how wonderful it is to see my mom laugh at the Frasier re-runs they've been watching for weeks now.  And even in my mother's current situation -- struggling with a vague diagnosis of dementia and unable to live in the home she loves -- she is still "killin' it," as the saying goes.  I asked her if she had any words of wisdom about how they have stayed married for so long.  Her instant reply: "Nope.  Just a lack of imagination."

There aren't words to describe the breadth and depth of delight I felt when she said that.  It was delightful, joyful, hopeful, hilarious…and just so completely her and them.  The past few years, we've all struggled with her not being able to be more herself.  And in an instant, there she was.

There is no lack of imagination there whatsoever.  So I guess they must really love each other.  

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!  And thank you for all the laughter!  

* * *

(Hmmm, note to self: make Rick laugh more and maybe he'll see this thing through!)


Postscript: I had to edit this post after a dear friend and reader did the math. FIFTY ONE NOT SIXTY ONE!  I'd be embarrassed if I didn't have that migraine to blame...

25 November 2015

I Came From a Dry Creek Bed

my beloved creek, captured on a
rainy spring day in 2012
My sister and her family recently bought a house.  They moved in this past weekend, just in time for Thanksgiving 2015.  It must be a thing our family does: exactly forty years ago, my family moved at this same time of year from San Francisco to Sonoma.  We enjoyed our first "country" Thanksgiving -- pizza -- on paper plates, sitting on the dining room floor in our new-to-us (but built in 1918) home.

My sister's move prompted me to tell my kids about that Thanksgiving in 1975 and about moving when I was seven.  My daughter asked me if the new house was a lot nicer than the one we left behind in Bernal Heights.  No, I told her.  I loved our SF house, as much as I loved this new one. I loved the way our old house was actually two of those classic San Francisco houses, smashed up next to each other.  Ours was connected on the inside, with our bedrooms and living areas on one side, and my dad's pottery studio on the other.  I loved that we lived right across the street from Paul Revere School, and I loved the community mural on the street side of the school wall, where my dad had painted my brother and sister and me.  I loved that our house was perched on top of a great big hill.  I loved my bedroom and our kitchen.

I loved the new house too: it's old fashioned style was perfect for my Laura Ingalls-leaning imagination.  I really loved the attic room I would share with my sister for the next decade.  Both houses were wonderful.  But the SF house just couldn't compete with the single greatest thing that ever happened to my childhood: Nathanson Creek.  For a day-dreamy, reader of a girl like me, whose imaginary friends were far more plentiful than real life ones, there could be nothing better than moving in right next door to a creek, one that ran full and fast in the winter and dried out completely in the summer, providing the most amazing set for my elaborate and long-running imaginary dramas.  In the Spring, when enough rocks and "shoreline" emerged that I could play next to running water, I pretended to go fishing for my meals.  In the summer, I jumped from mossy rock to mossy rock, climbed under the bridge at the front of our property, conjured long drawn out stories that were part pioneer girl and part romance.

Our yard was also amazing.  To my fanciful imaginings, I could add feasts of blackberries, apples and plums.  Cherries, if the birds didn't beat me to them.  Figs and kumquats.  Persimmons in November.  Mind you, if I were given a chore by my parents to pick those apples and plums and whatnot, I complained like a champ, but if it happened to blend in with whatever narrative I was spinning at the time, then I could work for hours.

The entire property was magical, with just enough room to get lost and feel far from home, but close enough for lunch or dinner to be moments away.  When my parents put a small vineyard in the back forty, they provided me with yet another landscape for my silly and serious adventures.  Growing up on that land gave me many, many gifts that I didn't know I'd cherish until years later: the sound of gravel crunching under foot; the feel of hot, dirty, sweaty skin after playing outside all day; the sting of blackberry brambles scratching my skin.

But what I remember most about that creek -- the place I think I truly come from -- is the smell of a hot, dry summer day, down in the rocks.  It smelled like dirt and leaves, and utter freedom.  Today, that smell makes me feel like time has stopped, like there is all the time in the world for dreaming up stories and acting them out.  Like there are no burdens or demands on my time.  No place to be but there in the brambles and rocks and dry grasses of Sonoma.

Did you know that nostalgia causes actual physical pain?  Or is that just me?

Still, that pang, that stab of sweetness, is how I know that I come from Sonoma's Nathanson Creek.

I wonder where my children will say they come from, forty years from now when they look back on their childhood, a much more urban one than my own.  It feels like a loss to me, that they haven't grown up next to a creek.  I hope there is a good smell or a good memory that takes them back and makes them feel, in their very bones, who they are.  I have no idea what that might be, but I hope they feel that pang and then tell my grandchildren all about it.