Forgotten Phone

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Girl in a Bonnet Tied with a Large Pink Bow.girl in bonnet

 

As I was driving back into Manhattan Thursday night, I realized that I’d left my phone plugged in to a charging station at my kids’ school. Should I turn around and drive the 10 minutes back to Riverdale to get it? No, I had another social engagement; I wanted to get to book club — we’d read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I was looking forward to the discussion.

Besides, I thought, as soon as I arrive, I’ll call Cate who could email her dean and ask her to hold my phone. But we didn’t bother the dean. Because Cate reassured me, “It’ll be there in the morning. I’ll get it for you. You’ll be fine. It’ll be like a game. See how you do without your phone.”

Occasionally, on Friday, I found myself reaching for my phone, like a phantom limb. Especially, last night. See, I had an invitation to a preview of a show at Christie’s auction house and wanted to to snap a pic of the two- to three-million-dollar painting by Mary Cassatt of a girl in a bonnet.

The girl’s eyes drift to the side. She looks ready to play. Or maybe she is not allowed to play and she has become reflective. There seems to be as much nuance in her expression as in Mona Lisa’s smile. She is watching something. (She is not on her phone.)

Without my phone to snap the painting, I had to simply gaze at Cassatt’s intense colors and brushstrokes. Apparently, at an auction house, you don’t have to keep back from the art like you do at a museum, you can get right up in a painting’s grill.

Mind-blowing. The girl’s peachy skin reflected the peachy color of the bow. There was a quality of androgyny to the girl that I don’t think you can get in the reproduction.

Also, a painting, like this one, probably took forever to paint whereas a phone photo is snapped in an instant. In those museum photo grabs, the painting is like an animal — once hunted, purposefully captured, immediately stashed, promptly forgotten.

Having to look at the painting, without photographing it, made me remember it and interact with it. There was no screen, no filter. Nothing between me and the painting. It was refreshing. It was meaningful. It was a moment.

On the M5 bus ride home from Christie’s, if I’d had my phone, I would’ve gazed at the screen. Maybe scrolled through my Twitter feed, become irate at the first 100 days of the pres’s failing administration. I’d have begun to seethe.

But, without my phone, I read the Christie’s catalog. I learned Cassatt painted many children in bonnets. I thought about art. I gazed out the bus window. I saw many people with their heads down, looking at their phones.

When I returned home, Cate handed me my phone. She told me that it’d been right where I’d left it, at the charging station. I set my phone down.

“You were right. I don’t need it. I’m fine.” I’d been recharged by art without my phone.

International Women’s Day

Why Resist?

Because I believe in protecting the rights of the marginalized, especially women, children, and the disabled.

Even though we have much to work do in our country, I tell myself to work on myself. Make a difference in the ways I can. Work on the things in my realm. This is the way I dug myself out of the 9 11 morass. I did small acts of kindness. I cleaned my kitchen. I joined forces with people who focused on children. I worked for social justice, which means a lot to me. I worked with the General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Women. My life has been about fostering sisterhood and brotherhood across borders and countries, which are, let’s face it, arbitrary lines on a map, subject to interpretation. I’m now teaching. And teachers can make a difference.

malala

Why International Women?

When I went to China for the women’s conference in 1995, I was amazed by the beautiful diversity of women around the globe and the work they do. Especially women activists – rural women, college women, labor advocates, environmentalists. I don’t know if international women will save the world. But I think it’s possible. I find hope in knowing that there are countries where women political leaders are not anomalies. Diverse leadership teams always succeed in ways that homogeneous teams do not.

Young international women, too, like Malala Yousafzai, are making a world of difference. Can you imagine being shot by the Taliban and then rising like a phoenix from those ashes to write and speak so brilliantly (and win a Nobel prize!)?

well behaved womenSo Why Now?

I enjoy Maria Shriver’s weekly newsletter. In last Sunday’s paper, she said:

Feminine power is available to every woman because power starts within. You don’t have to act like a guy, talk like a guy, or dress like a guy to be powerful. You have to talk, act, dress, and think like the person that you are.

It’s not a man’s world. It’s everyone’s world, and it’s ours to go out and make better.

Yes, we have the power. We have the international connections. We have the authenticity to start right where we are. To do something, anything — with compassion. We can write a postcard, support a teacher, speak highly of women leaders, join a march,  vote, organize a huddle, diversify our boardrooms, or run for office.

On International Women’s Day and every day, women are looking out for each other, for children, for people with disabilities. And we are facing fear with love. We are calling out hypocrisies. We are finding our why and sharing it.

These are some of the reasons why I’m proud to wear red today and I’m proud to be a woman every day. I celebrate international womanhood and sisterhood!

Giving Up for Lent

I am not giving up wine or chocolate this Lent. I am looking at my life and making an impact – socially, spiritually, physically, creatively, professionally, politically, and family-wise. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a reminder that we are all going to die. And Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the night before Ash Wednesday, reminds us that we are going to live until we die. Lent is 40 days of intentional living.

Here are my aims, remembering that this life is but a whisper.

Socially

Speak with words of deep love and mutual respect
No gossip or judgment – Believe everyone is doing their best
If I’m on time I’m late; Arrive early

Spiritually

20130425-085137.jpgPray and meditate
Practice mindfulness
Celebrate the diversity of religions

Physically

Stay fit
Train for a 10K in June
Eat more greens (fruits and vegetables) and less whites (carbs)

Creatively

Make art, especially cards and my art journal
Write in my journal every day
Send work out to be published
Less time passively taking in social media, more time producing art

Professionally

Read about what makes for good teaching every day
Listen well to students and colleagues
Be firm, but loving with classroom management
Remain organized with lesson plans – organization is the key to success

Politically

Give to: the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, International Women’s Writing Guild, and United Methodist Women
Support women and children who are marginalized and oppressed
Honor the sanctuary movement
Write to thank the activists on the frontlines
Support independent and women artists and commercial establishments
Speak up about gender equality
Celebrate and preserve the freedom of the press

Family-wise

Remain true to Chris and the kids
Do not overparent but guide my nearly-adult children to independence
Listen to and encourage the dreams of my children and family
Play more board games

I know I should make these resolutions SMART goals — measurable and time-sensitive. But for now, this is where I am starting. This is the beautiful thing about Lent — it is manageable; we travel from winter to spring. The miracle of renewal and resurrection is right around the corner. Stay optimistic. Have faith.

More on mindfulness.

 

A Girl Plays Football

“Hey, the Packers are going to beat your Cowgirls!” a student said.

And I corrected the student, “Don’t put down a team by calling them girls.” See, I believe in gender equality. I am a follower of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who believed that everyone should have equal access to opportunity.

Last year there was an ad on during the SuperBowl. It was about running like a girl. Did you see it?

The commercial spoofed the stereotype that girls could not run well. But they can. The ad showed that many kids thought the phrase, “run like a girl,” was an insult. But it’s not. It’s the opposite. Run, fight, throw like a girl. That takes courage. We all must do things that require courage. We all must be unconventional.

I’m going to tell you a little story.

This is the story of a girl who played a lot of two-hand touch football with her brothers and cousins. Her Uncle Tom N. was a great coach in Park Ridge, Illinois. One boy who went on to play college football and become a coach himself said Mr. N. was the best coach he ever had. Uncle Tom was patient, kind, smart. But he made one big mistake at a family party.

See, at this big party with lots of cousins, Uncle Tom was throwing a nerf football around the dining room to only the boys. But one girl jumped up and caught it. An interception. Yes. the girl.

“Hey, you’re pretty good. Too bad you’re a girl. And you can’t play football.”

“I can play,” the girl said.

“No you can’t. But just to prove it — If you want to try out tomorrow for the team, you can. But I won’t give you any special consideration because you’re a girl or because you’re my niece,” he said.  “Don’t feel bad if you get cut — Only half of the boys who try out make the cut.”

So this girl showed up with her little brother John to try out for the Mighty Might football team, the Vikings. She was very scared. But she did not let on.

She did her very best. There were tires on the ground and she hiked up her knees and hopped in and out of the tires. And there was a catching practice. And she caught it just like she always did when playing with her brothers or her cousins – one hand on top, one hand on the bottom and she hugged it to herself and ran fast. Faster than the boys.

And during the scrimmage of the touch football – they didn’t have their equipment yet — she was so scared of getting tagged, she ran even faster. She played her heart out. She even got to throw the ball and she jerked it back next to her ear just like she always did. ‘Cause see, she played like a girl – a fast, athletic, capable girl.

After the tryout, when her father picked her and her brother up from the tryout, she told him that she and John had done well. She felt proud. She felt like a winner.

And that night they got a phone call. The girl made the team, but her little brother John didn’t. (In fairness to John, he did not make the age cut off. It had nothing to do with ability.) But she never went on to play in a team. She just wanted to prove that she could make the team. And she did.

And that girl was me. So, never say, a girl can’t play football, because she can. She just might not want to.

When I was a girl, schools did not really implement Title IX yet. You know what it is, right? It’s a law that says public schools have to give equal funding to girls’ sports as boys’. And there were other ways that schools, when I was little, weren’t fair. I loved wood shop, but I could only take shop one quarter of the year and three-quarters of the year, I had to take cooking and sewing.

title-9

That didn’t seem right. So in middle school, I ran for and became the first girl president of Lincoln Junior High. I’m not sure if I made much of a difference. But there was an article in the local newspapers and maybe some minds started to change through my small acts of resistance about what girls could do.

Although women are not represented very well in the government in the U.S., in many countries half of the elected officials are women. In churches too, we have come a long way but we have a ways to go. As a girl, before Third Grade, I attended Saint Joan of Arc school in Skokie, Illinois and I could not be an Altar Boy. In Communion class in Second Grade, I asked the priest, Why can’t women be priests? And I’m still asking that.

So my message is: we must judge one another on the content of our characters and not on the way we look.

We can do better. We must do better.

  1. Girls are just as good as boys.
  2. Do not judge a book by its cover.

In English class we talked about how cool it is when a character is not how they, at first, appear. Take Chewbacca in Star Wars. How does he look? (Wait) Big, scary, mean. But you couldn’t have a better friend — a gentle giant.

Dr. Martin Luther King talked about we need to do in a sermon that is often called “A Tough Mind, A Tender Heart.” He talked about a creative solution to resist inequality. Thank you to Rev. Andrew Stehlik of Rutgers Church for his sermon on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, which inspired me.

Dr. Martin Luther King said:

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the political officials and protectors of the old order.  He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So he said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the mist of wolves.”

And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

That was what he said. We must have soft hearts. We must give everyone a chance and we must be aware of the potential in everyone. We must encourage everyone. We must ask, Why? Why can’t we all be equal? Why should we put someone down for how they look? Or whether they are a boy or girl?

What can we do? Resist the status quo. Do not become lazy or timid when you hear someone put another person down. Or when you hear a boy call another boy, ‘a girl’ as an insult.

And this goes for ourselves too. Do not put yourselves down.

I tell you:  be more loving. To each other and to ourselves. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that. So did Jesus. Dr. King said we have to love everyone, even those who were hating on us. He said, “Through nonviolent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system.”

In other words, love the hater but reject the system that encourages hate.

At the end of his sermon, Dr. King said,

When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.  When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in God’s nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

I want to end with one more upshot to my brief career as a football player. After that Vikings football season, between fifth and sixth grade, I took a summer school class on newspaper reporting. I wrote about my experience playing football. And a lot of other students, and even teachers and parents, said they saw my article in the school paper and they liked it. It made them think. And that summer school class probably inspired me in high school to work on the school paper, and, years later, to become a professional writer.

I saw that writing might start to change people’s minds –and I would not have not known that, had I not tried out for the football team. So take a risk, try something new. Just because everyone says you’re good at football doesn’t mean you can’t knit too. In fact, when I was a girl, there was a football player named Rosie Grier and he was a writer too, He wrote a book, Needlepoint for Men.

He was unconventional. So was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So was Jesus. You should be unconventional too.

This is a slightly revised version of a chapel talk I gave to elementary school students after Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

Health Care for All

I believe in covering children for health care. I believe in health insurance for families of disabled people and those with preexisting conditions, like Parkinson’s. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease and he has been on Social Security Disability for years. He has also taken early retirement.

These supports were important to us as a family – they kept us afloat as I changed jobs from writing to teaching. As I started a small business. And as Chris received less work as an actor.

I feel ashamed to see Congress stripping away the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). They voted down support for young people on their parents’ coverage, veteran’s health, and CHIP, Children’s Health Insurance Program. They gutted programs at 1 in the morning when they thought no one is looking.

I am looking.

It is hard to look. I am still in such a state of shock for our country and, these days, I turn away more often than not.


I’m in a pretty hectic job; our daughter is going away to a semester school; my family house, Skenewood, is sold; my son is home from college. And every night I have to help put dinner on the table. I cannot do everything. But I can do some things.

I am going to the women’s march in DC next weekend.

I’m not giving up. I’m saying my piece. My peace. I’m seeking peace.

I believe in Obamacare, in health care for all. I believe in looking out for the marginalized, especially children and people with disabilities. Having health care has helped me and my family survive. I believe it is a right not a privilege. We can do better.

Stay Happy-Go-Lucky

“I will never stop fighting for justice.” I told my daughter at the kitchen table, the morning after the election.

“I know, Mom,” she said.

I was glad that she knew this. I was glad that I had not lost the fight. I have been focused on teaching well and not so much on writing well over the last few months. I have felt defeated by this beautiful country that I love and the election results. But I refuse to give up. Je refuse. 

I will find beauty. I will make sure kindness wins. I will serve others. Throughout my journey, I will remain happy-go-lucky. It is my rebellion – to fight for happiness and to remain carefree. Despite my cares. I worry, mostly, about the progression of Chris’s Parkinson’s.

Last night Chris and I watched The End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace. Chris loves getting movies from the library. I love movies about writers. It’s a win/win.

It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do this.

-From David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on my blog every other Sunday morning before noon.

Yesterday, Jolain and I went to the Cloisters. Here are a few photos from the day.

The Common Good

Last night, I had book club; a group of nine of us who’ve been meeting for, like, 14 years. This month we read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a national Book Award finalist. It is magical and disturbing; and although it is fiction it seems undeniably true. For that, I am so sorry.

Last year teaching Seventh Grade Social Studies, our class discussed the underground railroad. And it is a common misunderstanding for Middle Schoolers to think the slave path towards freedom is actually a railroad. We celebrated Sojourner Truth in that class. And we talked about what made her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” so good – the repetition, the asking questions of the audience, the passion.

I’m grateful for my book club for all the times we’ve read and discussed books. We never run out of things to say. And there’s always another great book out there. The previous month we’d read Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove. And next month we’re reading Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife.

Great friends and good books are keys to happiness. Joy is found in our everyday blessings.