Turmoil, Three Miracles

Three small miracles I saw today because I forced myself outside for a walk:

Two tiny finches circling and twittering around one another, one with a bright splash of orange on the top of its head, and another with a bright splash of yellow in the same spot

Three grey tufted titmice, who used to come to my feeder all the time when I lived closer to woods

A whole little flock of birds I don’t know how to identify, but who may be cedar waxwings: the size of a robin, but with a brilliant side patch of orange and an orange beak.

Also, deer tracks.

Some things keep happening in spite of humanity’s foibles. Even in times of great catastrophe, even in times of war and death and turmoil, the sun rises, the spring comes, the leaves fall, the birds migrate.

In Memoriam: Trayvon Martin

I’ve been largely silent regarding the issue of Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal. As a white woman living in Boston, I don’t see the ongoing effects of racism in the same way that I did when I was living on the north side of Poughkeepsie, or growing up in a housing project in Stamford. But racism still affects me and those I love. I’d like to take a moment to honor the friends and loved ones whom I know deal with racism on a daily basis — and the friends and loved ones I never met or never got to know well because of the racist and segregated society in which I live.

From a New York Times editorial published July 14, 2013:

While Mr. Zimmerman’s conviction might have provided an emotional catharsis, we would still be a country plagued by racism, which persists in ever more insidious forms despite the Supreme Court’s sanguine assessment that “things have changed dramatically,” as it said in last month’s ruling striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act.

Beltane 2013: Union and Loneliness

Beltane fell on a Wednesday this year. It’s my favorite holiday, but even though it is a holiday of union, this year it leaves me feeling rather lonely. On Sunday I’d intended to rise early and make the trip across the river to my old church for the annual Beltane service — a tradition I resurrected when I was a part of the congregation and the Women’s Sacred Circle. It’s good to know that it still happens without me, but bittersweet. Even before M and I took the plunge and moved in together, I’d begun to pull back from the community at First Parish. It’s hard to say exactly why, although it’s definitely for more than one reason. Since the church is in Cambridge, there’s a regular turnover in membership. People finish their schooling and move away, or they pair up and move off to more affordable parts of the world. Once I’d looked on those people with disdain, but like so many of the people whom I’ve judged in my life, I came to find myself following that same natural progression.

I still remember the incredulity and joy I felt the first time I walked into the First Parish Cambridge Meeting House on a Sunday morning and heard an old, white man in a black robe saying things from a high pulpit that I actually agreed with. Things about the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, the importance of social justice, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. There was a banner above the door that said “Support Marriage Equality — We Do” — and this was long, long before the tipping point of public opinion on that issue.

Before I ever made it to the Meeting House on a Sunday morning, I’d attended the CUUPs rituals in the Barn Room. Two warm and wonderful Texans I’d met at a public ritual on the Boston Common brought me to my first Yule in the Barn Room. Then later, after I’d left Quick and moved to Cambridge, after I’d reveled in my freedom for a while and dated lots of people, after the rather disastrous end of a rebound relationship, I found myself sinking deeper into depression and isolation.

A woman I met on Craigslist–a recovering Southern Baptist–took me to the rounds of potlucks and parties in the winter. It sounds trite, but those potlucks and parties saved my life. At the time, I was looking up the lethal dosage of my medications, seriously considering death as an option. But I had a party to go to instead. One night, the movie I Heart Huckabees convinced me not to end my life. That same woman started rousting me out of the house on the third Friday of the month for Women’s Sacred Circle. I’d known about the group for years, but was intimidated by the fact that it was closed to new members except for once a year. And Fridays are tough in general, but Fridays in October, the month they open to new members, are brutal.

The community at First Parish was so cohesive and yet so varied. College professors, software developers, non-profit do-goodniks, menstruation rights activists, environmentalists, atheists, pagans, Buddhists, old-school UUs with Puritan pedigrees, a few token queers (I was one), believers and doubters and  folks who showed up for the community and the cookies — all these people came together to the Meeting House for a service where they sang hymns like “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and listened to sermons about Martin Luther King and the importance of comprehensive sex education. It was a place where anyone, even a woman, even a lay person, even me — sinner and witch and lapsed Catholic that I was — could organize a service. It was the first place I truly felt that I belonged since I moved to Boston from Hartford almost 5 years before.

After a year or so, though, the bloom came off the rose. Some members of the thirtysomethings group decided to invite all the “cool” people to a Christmas party the same weekend as one my girlfriend was throwing. I noticed the stranglehold of the current leadership of CUUPs; they said they wanted new members, but they didn’t actually let the new members participate in any planning decisions. Friends paired off, got married, moved off and had babies, never to be heard from again.

Even the Women’s Sacred Circle, with all its magic and mystery, began to feel like a chore instead of a place of union and spiritual growth. During my stint on the leadership council, it was not unusual for meetings to run for five hours. And I realized, as perhaps all of us realize as we push on into our late 30s, that my time and energy were sadly finite. I wondered where else I might be spending it.

I began to direct it elsewhere. Slowly but surely, M and I began the careful steps to bring our households together. Settling in took longer than I thought. I mourned my old life in Camberville: the friends an easy T ride away, the streets, the back way from Arlington to Harvard Square, the Trader Joe’s at the Fresh Pond rotary, the summer meadow just beyond it, next to the Fresh Pond Reservoir, the water itself enclosed in a chain link fence. Some of them I still keep in touch with, but the meetings require planning, long drives. Weeks and months might pass before we see one another. Sometimes one or the other of us cancels, and so more weeks and months pass. We keep in touch on the Intartubes, but there’s no substitute for physical presence.

Nine months after the move, I joined a poetry workshop one of my circle sisters has been attending for years. The critiques were tough, but I appreciated the focus on concrete results — publication — and the practical tips given and shared to help us all achieve the same goal. In December I had my first success: my work was accepted at Lyrical Somerville and will be published next week. In April I read at Porter Square Books, and I am scheduled to read again at the Newton Public Library in October. After the reading, the workshop leader said “you surprised us!” She’d never seem or heard my finished poems, only the unfinished ones I brought to workshop. Buoyed by the praise I’d coveted for so long, I submitted to two journals.

Finances demanded that I take a hiatus from the workshop for a few months. With the world’s sap rising, I find myself composing more and see how my own eye has changed, my writing more careful — sometimes for the better, and sometimes not.

As I write this, the sun shines in the back courtyard on the forsythia bushes, all yellow in the bright spring light. Birds come and go from the feeder I installed last year; this spring I know most of their names. The leaves and spines of my garden wave in the breeze. The cats wander in and out of the treeline. For the first time ever in my life, I have a room in my home that is three walls open air, the solid brick behind me. The oaks have just begun unfurling their leaves, but for now the sun shines unimpeded on the bed I planted one week ago, on the pots I brought with me from Camberville. A nature-worshipper, I have access to more actual nature than I’ve ever had before. It’s right outside my door, front and back, and yet I’m a five-minute drive from Jamaica Plain, Boston’s answer to Cambridge.

It’s not the same, though. I am too far from my old circles. It’s a distance through both space and time. We’ve scattered and settled elsewhere. The bonds grow weaker. And I’m not sure I have the energy, the strength, or even the inclination, to build another circle from scratch around me here.

I don’t regret the union I entered into when I moved to this new green and alien place. I bathe in it every day, and the water is sweet. But I do regret the interconnected web of existence I left behind in Cambridge.

Facts about the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare")

The ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare) means the following:

  • Insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime limits on the amount of care you receive.
  • They can no longer discriminate against children with preexisting conditions.
  • They can no longer drop your coverage if you get sick.
  • They can no longer jack up your premiums without reason.
  • They have to provide free preventive care like check-ups and mammograms
  • Young adults under the age of 26 can stay on their parent’s health care plans
  • Senior citizens save money on prescription drugs

Starting in 2014:

  • Insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against anyone with a preexisting health condition
  • They won’t be able to charge you more just because you’re a woman.
  • They won’t be able to bill you into bankruptcy.

Soure: WhiteHouse.gov

When Mitt Romney’s health insurance reform passed in Massachusetts, I was disgusted to discover that it included an individual mandate — in other words, that everyone in the state HAD to buy health insurance. At the time, I was self-employed and was barely able to pay my bills. Health insurance, especially in the days before the exchanges, was completely out of the question.

The health insurance mandate was one of the big reasons why I decided to take a full-time job with a larger company, but it wasn’t the only reason. The other big reason had to do with access to health care. During my years of self-employment, I paid for all of my health care out of pocket: visits to the doctor, prescription medication, diagnostic tests, and the rest. I’ve been living with a chronic illness since my late teens. And there were some things I just couldn’t afford, things that would have made it possible to manage my illness much more effectively. Toward the end of my years living uninsured, I could see myself getting sicker and sicker. I knew that I needed to have better access to health care; if I didn’t, I would become so sick that I wouldn’t be able to work at all.

What I find most disgusting about the national debate on health care is that the individual mandate — the very thing that Republicans and Tea Partiers wail and gnash their teeth about, the thing they decry as socialist government control — was their idea in the first place.

But what I find just as disgusting — flabbergasting, even — is the Left’s inability to effectively mobilize and stay on message around this issue. So that many of the people who most desperately need better health care coverage, the people who benefit most from the passage of the ACA, are the same people wailing and gnashing their teeth about it. Ah, well. Perhaps they’ll be happier in Canada.

Rest in Peace Adrienne Rich: Fellow Poet, Feminist, Queer Woman, Trail-Blazer

Last week, I was about to board a plan to San Francisco when I saw Adrienne Rich’s obituary on the front page of the New York Times.

It’s hard to describe Adrienne Rich’s impact on my life with grace and brevity. That’s because my relationship to her work mirrors my relationship to the literary establishment as a whole. I first heard of her when I was a junior in high school, young poet full of promise and bereft of friends after the class of 1989 graduated and scattered off to college. A precocious freshman named Deborah, with reddish hair and presumptuous mannerisms, was shocked to learn I hadn’t already read and loved her work. What Deborah didn’t know (and neither did I) was that I’d been raised on the literary canon, comprised then as it is now almost exclusively of men. Five years later I wrote my senior thesis at Vassar on her work and the arc of her life. Seventeen years later, Margalit Fox‘s obituary said it better than I ever could.

Continue reading “Rest in Peace Adrienne Rich: Fellow Poet, Feminist, Queer Woman, Trail-Blazer”

Open Letter to Senator Scott Brown Regarding SOPA

Dear Senator Brown:

I’ve been watching your first term in office with interest. I’ve also been a web developer since the early days of the web. The entire course of my life has been affected by its tides. So I have a personal stake in the passage of the SOPA bill.

This new piece of legislation promoted by powerful industry groups like the RIAA and the MPAA would stifle the free exchange and flow of ideas that has allowed many people — myself included — to change the course of their lives. It is essentially unenforceable and flies in the face of the spirit of collaboration that allowed nerds, geeks, hackers, designers, writers, and artists to make the Internet the thriving, global, decentralized entity that it is today.

There’s a lot of talk in the media these days about how large corporations are using their money to shape policy and legislation to benefit themselves instead of the American people as a whole. In your newsletters, you often talk about bringing jobs to Massachusetts. As you well know, the Boston metro is a hub for innovation in technology. Its residents even helped to develop the technology that made the Internet as we know it today. SOPA would kill the ability for thousands of small companies and individuals to express themselves freely and even make their fortunes on the web — all so that a few greedy corporations could keep even more money for themselves.

I know that you receive a great deal of funding from the lobbying groups promoting this bill. I and people like me — and there are a great many people like me in the state of Massachusetts — will be watching closely to see how you vote on this issue.

Sincerely,

Me

Pepper Spray, Football, and Other Words that Don't Mean What We Think They Mean

Last night, as Army Guy and I sat down for a late dinner at Galway House, tables filled with (mostly) large (mostly) men shouted at the plasma screens as men in tight pants ran around and jumped on each other*. Eating at Galway House is like eating in your uncle’s rec room, if your uncle were Irish and liked Pabst Blue Ribbon and had a lot of boozers for friends — and liked to cook you really tasty food.

This was the first time I’ve been there during Monday Night Football season. Football, cheerleaders, and NASCAR aren’t really my thing, but I do love the Galway, in part because you’re as likely to find a Lesbian Avenger at the booth next to you as you are a member of the IBEW. And as Jamaica Plain follows the same path of gentrification that Cambridge and Somerville have, I find myself more and more drawn to the places I avoided when I was younger and upwardly mobile.

Last night we had to shout to hear one another, though, which was less pleasant. And looking back on the evening, I find the context of our conversation that much more disorienting. Surrounded by middle-class Americans enjoying a quintessential American pastime (drinking beers and watching football), Army Guy proceeded to explain to me the meaning behind the innocuous-sounding headlines I’ve been hearing on the radio. It wasn’t tabasco they were spraying on the faces of those kids who linked arms and sat down at U.C. Davis. It was a chemical compound 15 times as strong as a habanero pepper. And they didn’t just spray it at them. According to U.C. Davis Professor Nathan Brown’s open letter to the school’s Chancellor (which has since become a petition):

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

There’s more. This article in the Atlantic documents use of “less-than-lethal” force against OWS protesters across the country. The Washington Post also reports on “esclating protests”.

Our police are attacking our own citizens — our own children — with chemical weapons and clubs because they linked arms and sat down and refused to move. I turn on the news and I don’t know whether I’m hearing about Cairo or California. History is happening before me, and I’m watching it from the sidelines, more confused than a schoolchild will be in forty years reading about it from a book.

“It’s been fifty years since the 1960s,” I shouted across the table last night as our neighbors drank beer and watched football.

“Yes? And?” he replied.

“I guess it’s time for another round.”

We paused and contemplated the flat-screen TVs, the tinsel snowflakes and shamrocks that dangled from the ceiling.

“All those years ago in the 80s when people were telling me I was born too late while I ran around with a long skirt and a peace sign around my neck… I wasn’t born too late, or too soon. I was born at just the right time.”

I think about language, and how the language we use betrays our beliefs. As the bifurcation of America continues, I wonder how long it will be before we can agree to use any of the same words at all. Nonviolence or nuisance. GLBT or homosexual. ObamaCare or health care reform. Austerity or social injustice. Pepper spray or chemical agent.

And I realize something about myself, something disappointing and also something that makes me settle deeper into a sense of who I am. My days of protesting are over. I won’t be camping out in Dewey Square, although I will donate money and materials to those who do. I’m not brave enough to link arms and sit down in front of men in uniform holding weapons. But I trust that I have a purpose, some bit part in history to play, even if it’s a stack of journals in a dusty attic and a neglected little blog. And I will cheer my team on the plasma screen as I eat my steak at the Galway.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that at least one screen was dedicated to the Bruins (hockey) rather than the Patriots (football). There is no line of sight in the Galway that does not include a plasma screen TV.

Open letter to my representative about the current budget debate in Congress

In case your attention has been elsewhere, there’s been some major drama on Capitol Hill about the Federal Budget. Worst case scenario is worse than the government shutdown of the 1990s. It would actually give the U.S. government the same kind of credit rating I had a year after my layoff back in 2002.

To sum up the debate, Democrats think we should raise taxes and cut some social programs. Republicans think we should just cut social programs. Because, you know, rich people create jobs. It’s magic!

Some background from more objective sources here:
New York Times: Federal Budget 2011 and 2012

Boehner and Obama Nearing Budget Deal, Leaders Told (New York Times, July 21, 2011)

Did Obama Walk out on Republicans? (Gawker)

Income Gap Between Rich, Poor the Widest Ever (CBS)

The Great Overpaid CEO Debate (CNET)

Dear Rep. Markey:

I wanted to thank you for signing the letter from the Progressive Caucus saying you will vote NO on any bill that cuts Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.

I’ve seen the pie charts of the federal budget and realize that entitlements make up a substantial chunk. I’m more realistic than some folks and doubt that we will be able to get through the current economic crisis without at least some cuts to social programs. But doing so while the richest among us continue to enjoy tax cuts given to them during the Bush administration isn’t just unfair or unjust: it’s downright disgusting.

As a native of Boston, I’m sure you’re familiar with the statues erected in honor of the Irish who suffered through the potato famine of 1847 — you may even have ancestors who arrived on these shores as a result of it. The memorial on the Cambridge Common includes the inscription, “Never again should a people starve in a land of plenty.” Recently I noticed a piece of graffiti written under it saying “and yet they still do.” And it’s true — there are people going hungry right here in the Boston metro area, in spite of our exemplary social programs.

I thank you for standing up to the interests of the large corporations and rich individuals who find it so easy to access our country’s leaders. Your recent speech about the GOP’s “Deficit Attention Disorder” made me particularly proud to have you as my representative in Congress.

Sincerely,

Frances Donovan

Family Research Council: Hateful, Bigoted, Fearmongering Spam-house.

I joined the FRC mailing list about six years ago because I thought it might be a good idea to know what the other side was up to. You know: a little friendly political espionage. I forgot that hateful political discourse gives me wicked agita.

After at least three requests to be removed from their mailing list, I’m still on it. I know spamming is illegal — the startup I worked for back in 1998 had to hire someone just to straighten out their newsletter management system and keep from getting sued — but for the life of me I’m not sure which authority to complain to. The FCC? Any clues?

For those of you living in blessed ignorance, the Family Research Council is a very vocal, very conservative, very antifeminist, very homophobic, very bigoted organization that appears to speak for some Americans.

Most of its email alerts about efforts to thwart the homosexual agenda and keep women from killing babies (because we all know that homosexuals and women like nothing better than to work every day to tear down the very fabric of society as we know it).

This last unwanted missive from them, however, is all about the worst threat of all. What’s that, you ask? Nuclear annihilation? Global warming? Poverty and disenfranchisement that leads to terrorism? Why NO! It’s our very own elected officials’ eveeel attempt to stage a government takeover of health care!

The subject line of the email pretty much sums up FRC’s fearmongering rhetoric: “Frances, Your Liberty is at Stake.” Silly me. I thought that health care reform would actually help more Americans become free of preventable illnesses, economic anxiety, and an arbitrary system that grants some people access to awesome services with few out of pocket costs while forcing others to wait in long lines and navigate endless bureaucracies for crappy care. I see I was wrong. The government isn’t trying to help more people get access to some of the best doctors in the country. They’re trying to take our liberty! Clearly, this is just part of Obama’s plan to eventually hand over our country to the terrorists and force all men to grow long beards and pray to Allah five times a day. I suppose Tony Perkins wouldn’t mind it if women weren’t allowed to own property, work, or walk outside without a burqa, though.

If you, like me, would like your liberty taken away by a government takeover of the healthcare system and the inevitable rise of fascism that will follow, I encourage you to take a moment to contact your representatives in Congress to ask them pass this clearly horrific bill.

Right Livelihood and the Woman Warrior

From the Daily Dharma:

October 23, 2009
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

Being a Buddhist Police Officer

For thirteen years I was a law enforcement officer. In the dark humor of that environment, we called ourselves “paid killers for the country.” No one else wanted to be in out boots. I did not identify myself as a Buddhist; I was not aware that the way I behaved and experienced the world fit squarely with the Buddha’s teachings. It is clear to me now that we could have been, and were, instruments of karma. But skillful action, discriminating awareness, karma, the law of causality were not terms in law enforcement basic training.

For a Buddhist in police work, the most important thing is to be constantly aware of ego. It is not your anger, not your revenge, not your judgment, no matter how personal the event. I was paid and trained to take spirit-bruising abuse. I endured things of which the majority of women in America will never even dream. For me it was not judgment, in the Western sense, but discernment. This kept me, and others, alive and healthy. This discernment allowed me to act skillfully in crisis. The law of causality allowed me to know that if I could not stop the perpetrator of violence or pain or loss, that some other vehicle would reach that person—karma.

– Laurel Graham, from “Vajra Gun,” Tricycle, Winter 1998

I think a lot about right livelihood. For me, it means not only not causing harm, but also finding purpose and meaning in my work. Like most challenges of this magnitude, I rarely fulfill them perfectly. But I do strive toward them.

Being in relationship with a veteran has given me a new perspective on the life of a soldier — a warrior. I’ve always had a sort of fascination with this archetype. I view the realities of being a warrior with a mixture of horror and respect. It’s a way of life, a mindset, that in some ways I wish I were more able to stomach. What I’ve realized, though, is that being a warrior — a soldier/a police officer/a litigator/a fighter — doesn’t always mean fighting.

People who have been trained in competitive conflict and who have seen “action” have about them a quiet assurance in their own abilities, as well as a healthy respect for the consequences of violence. It’s one of the things that I find so attractive and admirable in M, and it’s one of the things I wish I had more of in my own self.