Friday, December 20, 2013

A Holiday Movie You Must See!



This piece appeared first in the Huffington Post.


“White Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life, “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Carol,” "Home Alone." 

Chances are, you’ve seen them all, and some of them over and over again.

But now comes along a marvelous Christmas movie you haven’t seen but should.

Called “The Child King,” this feature-length film stars a young man named Peter Johnson, a charismatic actor who happens to have Down Syndrome. The movie isn’t new, but it’s had a limited circulation since it was made in 2007.

Johnson (as Jeremy West) plays the older of two brothers in the film. After the younger brother Jarret (played by Will Kellem) claims that there is no Santa Claus, the older brother steals the family van and the two boys set off on a quest to find the North Pole.  With Johnson at the steering wheel, the boys are aided along their way by none other than Santa himself, who appears in various guises at those moments when the boys are in danger.

The title comes from a fairy tale that Jeremy’s and Jarrett’s mother adored before she died. In that inner tale, a king decides to switch his infant son, who is abnormal, with another baby. The two intertwined stories come together with classic fairy-tale endings.

Filmed on a shoestring, the movie is the work of two brothers, Jeff and Frank Kerr.  Jeff wrote the screenplay and after considerable hounding he convinced brother Frank, a professional filmmaker, to direct and co-produce the film.
Jeff admits that they were taking a chance casting Johnson in the film’s lead role. But he says he wrote the screenplay after meeting a friend’s young child with Down Syndrome. He was convinced that he wanted the hero of the story be someone with special needs.

At the start, Jeff  -- who dug into his own pocket to make the film -- admits that using an untrained actor in the lead role was a gamble. Both of the Kerr brothers wondered if Peter would remember his lines, take cues and interact appropriately with other actors.  
The day that Jeff and Frank visited Peter at his home (he lives with parents Jane and Charlie near Boston) to discuss the movie, Peter “was extremely "shy,” Jeff says. “And a week before filming was set to begin, Peter was in rehearsal and he froze up. Things didn’t look promising.” But lo and behold, when filming began, Peter turned it around. “Now he’s a little movie star,” Jeff says.

For his part, Johnson is proud of the fact that his performance highlights the capabilities of individuals with developmental disabilities.  “It’s a shout out to people with special needs, ” Peter says. My conversation with Peter over coffee last week left no doubt that he can easily turn on the charm and become Mr. Personality.


Apart from the movie, Johnson has a full plate of activities. He attends a day program near his home and has three jobs – one as host at a local Irish pub, the second as a busboy in a Mexican restaurant.  In the third, he works with young kids at the local YMCA. He participates in all of the Special Olympics, and this year he is scheduled to represent Massachusetts in tennis (he’s on the board for the Massachusetts Special Olympics.)

Peter, who is now 26, is also an avid Red Sox fan; he has a photo of him side by side with David Ortiz. He also finds time to deliver inspirational lectures to businesses and other groups in Boston.
Being as busy as he is, it’s understandable that Peter has not had any roles in other movies. But he says he would be delighted to act again.

“The Child King” is available on DVD for purchase at www.TheChildKing.com. All proceeds from sales of the film are donated to a foundation that makes grants to organizations serving people with special needs.

The film has been shown to several audiences to people with special needs. One of those recent showings was at Riverbrook, a residential facility in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, that serves 21 women with special needs.

The crowd was hushed as they watched, and afterwards, they thronged around Peter. Several of the women wanted photos with him, and he was more than happy to accommodate the requests.
“All I can say is ‘Wow,” Peter says.

And when I told him that I liked “The Child King” as much as “Home Alone,” Peter was ecstatic. “Home Alone” happens to be one of his all time favorite movies; he watches that and the sequels over and over again. 

“Wow, to have it compared to “Home Alone” he says, beaming. “What can I say, Wow!”



Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fasting Vigils Push for Immigration Reform

This post appeared first in the Huffington Post


It's a cold December evening on the Capitol Mall, but several dozen activists are staying warm in a large white tent set up to house the ever-growing number of activists calling for passage of the immigration bill. Dozens of these activists are demonstrating their support by fasting.

The fasting protest comes in the same week as the world is honoring the spirit and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Protesters say they are emboldened by Mandela's lifelong commitment to human rights.

President and Michelle Obama visited the protesters on Thanksgiving Day to show their support for the fasting vigil.
       
The target of the immigration protest is legislators in the U. S. House of Representatives, specifically Speaker of the House John Boehner, who is sitting on the immigration bill, refusing to let it come to a vote. The Senate passed their version of the bill earlier this year.

"It's been 28 days, four weeks, and the number of people fasting just keeps growing," says Scott Washburn, an SEIU organizer from Arizona, who is coordinating the evening's activities.  Washburn says that initially there were only five or six people fasting on the mall, but now, the number has grown to 175, some of whom have fasted for 22 or more days.

The protest on the mall culminated on Thursday, December 12th, when activists brought their cause to legislative offices in the Capitol. Meanwhile, groups around the nation will be staging fasting protests in support of the immigration cause. In my legislative district, fasting protests took place in six of Congressman Chris Wilson's offices. I joined protesters on Thursday afternoon in Wilson's Kinderhook, New York office to show my support for the protest.

For more information on the national and local protests, visit the website, Fast4Families.org. 
       
On the Capitol mall, activists gather every night from 6 to 7 p.m. to stoke up the ever-growing focus immigration reform. The fasters - wearing chocolate brown sweatshirts with the words "ACT: FAST" on the front and "FAST FOR FAMILIES" in white letters on the back - are joined by dozens of supporters.
       
The daily meetings, which build the activists' spirits consist of rousing speeches by local, national and international participants, a review of the fasting efforts as well as slam poetry, syncopated hand clapping, and a concluding prayer.
         
"There's a spirit here that we really feel," says Washburn. "There's a spirit that draws together all sorts of different people united to call for immigration reform." At one point during the meeting, the group shouts out, "Si se puede," and applauds efforts to reform.
         
Slam poet and high school teacher Clint Smith performs a piece about the dreamers whose lives and families are torn apart by immigration issues. He gets a standing ovation for a second poem that focuses in on the poverty and frustration experienced by young students in his classroom.
         
A mother and daughter take the microphone to address the group in Spanish - with a minister translating - saying that undocumented immigrants, many of whom are parents, should not be deported and separated from their children. The daughter holds up a stack of white envelopes containing the pleas of children, begging Boehner and President Obama to pass the immigration bill.
       
At one point, someone hears that Boehner is attending a meeting nearby the Capitol; three activists head outdoors to see if they can get two minutes of the Speaker's time to plead their cause.
       
They are successful in finding the Speaker, but he ducked their pleas, driving off in his black SUV, his head down. The activists return to the white tent, triumphant about the fact that  "they spoiled Boehner's evening."

 The activists are ever more committed to bringing public support and attention to the immigration cause. Nationwide, there are some 6,000 people fasting as a way of calling on House members to vote on the bill.
       
After a dozen or more speeches, fasting activity is reviewed. All the fasters sit side by side in the front row and are applauded for their efforts. New fasters are adorned with small crucifixes that are made out of twigs and string.
         
There is no way you could sit in this tent without being swept up by the spirit of the event.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

After the Metro North Disaster: Does Everything Happen for a Reason?


This piece appeared first on December 2, 2013, in The Huffington Post.

As the National Transportation Safety Board launches its investigation into Sunday’s Metro North accident, which killed four and injured more than 60, I am reminded of countless classroom discussions on the subject of disasters. They always came down to the same question, does everything happen for a reason?
Whether it was a natural disaster – a hurricane wipes out the Phillipines, a tsunami crashes into Indonesia – or a nightmarish mass murder caused by deranged people armed with guns or bombs, the majority of the class would decide that indeed,  “everything does happen for a reason.”
“OK,” I would ask the students, “ so then what is that reason?”
No one in the class could ever come up with a satisfactory answer to that question, but that wouldn’t matter. Even in the face of monumental death and destruction, the college-aged students would stubbornly stick to their belief that there was some kind of overarching logic, some sort of rational explanation.
The discussion would inevitably turn back to their own lives.  Students clung to the notion that no matter how severe their life circumstances were, there was always some logic, an ultimate explanation. This explanation usually resolved into personal or even heroic triumph over difficult life issues.
For some students, it simply came down to religious beliefs.  An all-powerful God would never permit a personal disaster, no matter that the reason remained obscure. Your mom abandoned you? Your dad was in jail for murder? Your family ends up homeless? No matter, the situation ultimately forced the student to step up, to work harder, to make sure the choices they made in their own lives were consistent with a God who is good.
Of course, it isn’t just students who grapple with these issues. In the face of excruciating loss, all of us are puzzled by the questions why and how? No matter what your religious affiliation, death and destruction always bring us face to face with an age-old question that philosophers through the ages have wrestled with: the notion of evil.
One of the most popular novels we have read in the classroom, Sula, by Toni Morrison, presented an easy rationale. God, she posited, had not three faces in the form of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has a fourth face, Morrison contends,  the one that embodies the devil, all the bad or evil things that happen in our lives.
 I would try to force the students to widen their thinking by taking into account this notion of a God who wasn’t all good or all kind. I would suggest they embrace the notion that “stuff happens,” and we are forced to live with that stuff.
I would ask them to consider a different idea about God, one that goes far beyond human love and logic. A God that is some kind of energy, some force that no one will ever be able to explain.
We build our religions to conform to human logic, I’d tell then, but isn’t everything about the universe a marvel that cannot be fathomed? I would ask them to explain wondrous miracles: flowers blooming, babies who emerge out of two cells? I would ask them to explain human consciousness or the fact that I could stand in front of the class saying words that students could hear and understand. Or I’d tell them to go home some night and just lay down under a sky full of stars, and ask yourself, how far does the sky go? And what lies beyond that ultimate border?
Whatever transpired inside the classroom, students would emerge from the discussion thinking about questions in ways that they hadn’t really considered before.
Perhaps, I would say, the notion of God in human terms misses the mark. Maybe disasters force all of us to go well beyond human knowing to fathom an energy, a powerful force the source of which we cannot comprehend in human terms.
In the end, I left the students asking big questions for which there are ultimately no answers. Questions that make all of us stop and wonder every time we confront a disaster like Metro North or personal disasters that occur every day in our lives. As long as we live, we will continue to ask “why?”

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Real Thanksgiving Hero

After his parents divorced in September of 1985, Scott Macauley of Melrose, Massachsetts, found himself in a quandary -- which parent was he going to celebrate with on Thanksgiving? So he decided that he wanted to cook his own Thanksgiving dinner. With one twist: he put an ad in the local paper: if people found themselves alone on the holiday, they could come to his house.

"Thanksgiving is not about or fireworks or hoopla. It's a meal around a table where you give thanks for the blessings you have and you really can't do that by yourself and have much fun."

A few people responded to the ad, and Macauley was delighted tht he did a decent job making dinner.

He has done the same thing every year since 1985. Last year, there were 84 people who attended. Macauley's community Thanksgiving -- which is now situated at a local church -- draws a wide range of people: new people in town, people recently divorced or widowed. He's had people who can't speak English. He's had poor people and people who are in AA.  He always feeds the local firefighters and police, too.

A couple years back, a woman with Parkinson's who had been in a nursing home for seven years, and who had never been out, hired an ambulance at $200 to bring her to the dinner. She cried when the ambulance came back to get her. She didn't want to return to the nursing home.

Macauley says that most of the people he feeds on Thanksgiving don't know who he is.



"They know that there's some skinny guy in the kitchen, but they don't my name. I think the theme of my life, and everything I do, could be summed up with the name of an old hymn called "Brighten the Corner Where You Are." I hope my legacy will be that I came into the world, I brightened the corner, and then I quietly left the world unnoticed."


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Breathing Light, Feeling Love


Recently one of my meditation teachers suggested that I try heart-centered meditation.



"The Source of all Being is in your heart," she said.  "Imagine that with every breath, there's a flame or golden light that grows brighter."

So I did that. And then I did something else she recommended. She told me to focus on the feeling of love. "Imagine the purist love you can possibly imagine," she said.

"By breathing into the heart, and focusing on love, you will feel your heart grow warm. Just keep breathing and let the lightllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll fill your whole bodddddddddddy."

So I tried it this morning, and something delightful happened. My chest indeed grew warm. Even now, several minutes after I blew out the flame of my candle, my heart still feels as though it is comforted in billowy golden pillows of light.  A feeling that is quietly pulsing.

There is so much warmth spilling out of my heart that my whole body feels like it is glowing. And then I remembered something else my meditation teacher said: "Focusing on your heart, you will get to a Divine source of Being, and infinite Source of Love and Light filling you up."

Incredible, how amazing this feeling is. My heart feels as though it is a flame and it is sending heat up through my neck and arms, and downward to the bottom of my lungs.

What's next? What will happen the next time I meditate?

And what about this connection between Light and Love? And why is it that in the first sentence of the the Bible, "God said, Let there be Light; and there was Light. God saw that the light was good..."

And why is it that there is nothing that travels faster than the speed of light? What is that all about? Here is what the physicists say.


But today I am happier with the explanation my meditation teacher has provided. I'd suggest you try this kind of meditation. Focusing on your heart is way more comforting than simply watching your breath. At least it is for me...

More later!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Miracles Are These?

Yesterday I happened to be watching a couple of wonderful animated videos on human fetal development.

The first video showed billions of sperm
racing toward the egg as part of conception.

A later video showed the
billions of neurons that form in a baby's brain.

I had the same reaction to both images. While the numbers of sperm and neurons aren't exactly infinite, for all practical purposes they seem endless. And for that reason, they fascinate me. They overwhelm my imagination!

Then it hit me: I have those very same feelings when I am outdoors staring into
a dark sky, a sky filled with billions of twinkling stars, a sky that seems to have no limit.

How amazing are these neurons, these sperm, these stars.

One might even call them miracles.

And that got me thinking about A Course in MiraclesIn chapter one of the book, "a self-study curriculum which aims to assist the reachers in achieving spiritual transformation," the book lays out the principles of miracles.

One of those principles is this: "Miracles as such do not matter. The only thing that matters is their Source, which is far beyond evaluation."

Friday, November 01, 2013

Republicans and Their Fear-Mongering


"If You Like Your Health Insurance, You Can Keep It"

By Richard Kirsch 

When President Obama told Americans "if you like your health insurance you can keep it," he was exaggerating slightly. He did that in order to counteract Republican fear-mongering and provide more and better health coverage to all Americans.

There are good reasons why President Obama’s leading message on health care during the 2008 campaign, often repeated since, was “if you like your health insurance, you can keep it.” That message was created to overcome the fear-mongering that had blocked legislative efforts to make health care a government-guaranteed right in the United States for a century.
Our health is of central importance to our lives, deeply personal to our well-being and those of our loved ones. That concern has translated politically; for decades, people have told pollsters that health care is a top concern. It is why every 15 to 20 years – from 1912 to 2008 – the nation has returned to a discussion about whether and how the government should guarantee health coverage, the debate rising phoenix-like from one spectacular defeat after another. A big reason for those defeats has been that opponents have exploited those deep feelings to scare the public about proposed reforms.
As one of the people who engaged early on in building the effort that led to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, I am keenly aware of this history. I wrote in 2003 that debates over health care turn dramatically when they move from the problem to the solution. Almost everyone agrees there’s a problem, but when a solution is proposed, people’s first question will be, “how will it impact me?”
The extensive public opinion research we conducted from 2006 to 2008 emphasized that same point: people would look closely at how any proposed reforms impacted their lives. Yes, Americans are worried about high health care costs and alarmed at the prospect of losing coverage. Yes, they may be unhappy with the quality and security of the coverage they have. But at the same time, they are desperate to hold on to it, because at least it’s something.   
We also knew that those who wanted to block health care reform would play on people’s fears, a lesson learned most recently in the 1993-1994 fight over the Clinton health plan, in which opponents made wild claims about government bureaucrats coming between you and your doctor and denying you coverage.
In that context, it was essential to assure the 85 percent of Americans with health coverage that reform would not be a threat. Hence, “If you like your health care, you can keep it.” That message reassured people and let them be open to the rest of the message: proposed reforms would guarantee quality, affordable coverage to everyone and fix the real problems people were facing. After all, the first part of that sentence, "if you like it," implies that lots of people would love to improve their coverage by making it more affordable and secure and by ending insurance company abuses.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign understood this early on, and she used the message consistently when she talked about health care reform during the Democratic primaries. Soon after she dropped out, Obama made it a key part of his health care message. But the promise that you could keep your health care was more than just a message; for almost everyone, it was an accurate description of the almost identical reform policies proposed by Clinton and Obama, which became the foundation for the Affordable Care Act.
The ACA preserves (with small but important improvements) the current system of health care financing for the vast majority of Americans: employer-based coverage, Medicare, and Medicaid. Those are the 94 percent of people with coverage for whom the “if you like it, you can keep it” promise is true.
For the 6 percent of insured who buy coverage on their own, the more accurate message would have been, “If you have good insurance and you like it, you can keep it.” The ACA reforms a corrupt individual insurance market. No longer can insurers turn people down due to a pre-existing condition or raise rates and drop people because they get sick. The ACA bans the sale of plans with such skimpy benefits and high-out-of-pockets costs that they are worthless if someone gets seriously ill.
As we predicted, the opponents of reform used fear-mongering – death panels, government takeover of health care, and on and on – to try to kill the Affordable Care Act. They are still at it, including cynically jumping on the website’s enrollment problems and now insurance companies sending letters to customers which hide the fact that companies are being forced for the first time to sell a good, reliable product.
The opponents of reform have used reckless, baseless charges to try to kill reform. I’m glad that President Obama used a slight exaggeration to finally provide secure health coverage for all Americans.
Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform. This piece is cross-posted with Roosevelt Institute's blog, Next New Deal.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

SUNRISE WAY: A poem




By Sharon Flitterman-King
       
-- for Davis Flitterman

Palm trees line the street
  beyond the driveway
where we sit
you, my father
wheeled into the sunshine
by these hands
the hands that write
  this poem

Plaid blanket
  on your knees
soft calfskin slippers
on the feet that slip
  off metal footrests

Your hands are folded
  quietly
a thinking posture
  for these hands
these fingers that I touch

I kneel beside you
  holding on holding on
Mid-sentence you look past
  my eyes and say
  pointing to my hair
You have some white
  a silver strand
  behind my ear

So do you, I laugh
A secret that we share
  this growing old
  this love

Sharon Flitterman-King, who holds a PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of  "A Secret Star."  She lives in Hillsdale, New York with her husband, David King.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

CHAPTER 67, SISTER MYSTERIES: Renata has to go back to jail before she can go free!!

What follows is one of the last chapters of my on-line novel, Sister Mysteries. I have finally figured out the ending. Further chapters will follow, and only a few remain!




It is mid-day, beastly hot, the sky a warm resilient blue. Arthur has not been able to push the horse faster than a walk. The wagon's slow pace is making Renata impatient. Her face is flushed and warm and the thermos of lemonade that Teresa made for her is almost empty. There are three canteens of water which may not last the trip.

At one point Renata reaches over and takes Teresa's hand. That's when Teresa reveals that she has been saying the rosary on the rainbow-colored beads clutched in her palm. "May I pray with you?" Renata whispers and Teresa nods her head and smiles. She takes Renata's fingers and closes them around the beads. The two nuns pray silently for the next hour.

Teresa is praying that the lawyer, DeLuria, will have some idea how to introduce the missing journal pages to the court so that Renata's new evidence will convince the judge that the case should be reopened and the verdict overturned. Unfortunately, Renata is right about DeLuria, he's never had a bit of imagination or inspiration before, so it's hard to imagine that given one more chance to prove himself, he's likely to rise to the occasion.  

Arthur pulls up the reins, stopping the horse. "We are almost at the crest of the hill where it dips down into town," he says. "Are we headed straight to the courthouse and jail or..."

"Before we go there we want to visit with Renata's lawyer, a fellow named DeLuria," Teresa explains. Renata clucks her tongue. "His office is half-way down the hill, before the store and the church." 

He snaps up the reins and pushes the horse forward, at the same slow pace that he's followed all morning. "I see a creek running down the hill there," Arthur says gesturing with his chin. "I ought to stop as soon as we can get closer in, give the horse some water, and a good rest."

Which they do in the next few minutes. He unhitches the horse from the wagon while Renata and Teresa descend to the stream next to a grassy knoll.  Renata drops to her knees by the creek, bends over and splashes cold water on her flushed face. Then she cups her two hands together to drink.  When she stands she has muddied her calico dress with two large wet spots of dirt at the knees.

"Please tell me you brought something else to wear in court," Teresa says, eyeing the mud. "You could lose your appeal if they feel you are disrespecting the judge or the legal system."

"Oh well I'm not trying to win a fashion contest," Renata says. "I have only this one dress."

"If only I could have loaned you a habit," Teresa said, her face sad.

"Don't trouble yourself about things you cannot fix, my dear girl. We will have to make do with a muddy dress."

Soon the three of them are back in the wagon and the horse is leading them slowly into town. Teresa points to the General store and tells Arthur to pull up there. Teresa drops down first. "Assuming he's even there," she says, "I will explain the situation to him, and see what he has to offer." She inhales and drops the rosary beads into her pocket.  "We won't get our hopes up yet."

Renata smirks. "We won't get our hopes up period."

Teresa ignores the comment and enters the wooden building, where DeLuria occupies an office on the second floor.  The office building was once a small two-story house, so she climbs a winding staircase to reach his door. She knocks.

"Come in."

Teresa's heart jumps just a little.

She opens the door. "Hello, I am sorry to barge in on you without any warning, but something extraordinary has happened with Sister Renata's case."

DeLuria's face is lacking the least bit of emotion, while Teresa's face and voice are flooded with urgency and passion.  Tenting his long bony fingers together over his white frocked shirt, De Luria raises his head to suggest that he is listening.  "To what do we own this extraordinary development?" he asks.

Teresa moves into the office and without asking, takes a seat before DeLuria's mahogany desk. It is absent of any papers, or file folders, or books, which Teresa finds surprising.

"Do you remember Señora Ramos, Antonie's Mexican housekeeper?" Still holding his fingers tented and resting against his closed lips, De Luria nods yes.  "I guess I've seen her a few times in court and making regular trips to the jail to bring Renata a guitar and foods in baskets and other such things."

"Yes, well, if you recall we have always made a big point of saying that Renata's journal was missing some crucial pages, pages that described the way in which Antonie died.  Until now, Renata has refused to produce those pages and wouldn't even explain why."

"Of course I remember the missing pages." DeLuria now looks impatient, and even a little disgusted. "I told Renata time and again that she had to produce those pages if she wanted a prayer of a chance to go free. I told her that she had to have an alibi and she consistently and completely ignored me.  Now what's she up to? It's a little late for whatever it is she's got up her nun's sleeve." DeLuria has a know-it-all sneer on his face.  Suddenly Teresa wants to be done with him and this place. It gives her the creeps.

"Well, Mr. DeLuria, it seems as though Señora Ramos has fallen into a coma, or some kind of deep sleep, but before she did, she begged Sister Renata to produce those missing pages and to turn them in to prove her innocence. And voila, Renata was finally convinced to do what she's got to do. We have them with us in the wagon."

DeLuria drops his hands to his desk. "We? What do you mean 'we'? She's back? She actually had the audacity to come strutting back to town, to the court that ordered her hanged? Is she crazy? She must be to walk back into the jail and straight to the gallows."

He stands at that point, and so does Teresa. "I know you are surprised. Just as we were in the convent when she turned up. But she is so certain that she can prove her innocence that she insisted on coming back today." Before Teresa can say anymore, DeLuria is out of the office and heading downstairs and outside.

His face breaks into a shrewd grin. "Well if it isn't the nun on the run," he says, his eyes glued to Renata. "You've got gumption my girl, that's for sure. That someone in your situation, facing the gallows, would walk right back into jail, where the rope is swinging, that is downright astonishing."

Renata dismisses his tone. "I wish that you would keep all of your comments to yourself," she says dryly. "It wasn't my idea to stop here. But Teresa insisted that if I was turning myself in I would do better to have you at my side."

"Glad you decided to heed Teresa's advice," DeLuria says, slipping his thumbs under each of his suspenders. His hair has grown longer, and curlier and it rests on his collar now.

"Well then are you ready to help?" Renata crosses her arms in defiance.

"I will indeed accompany you to the court. But if you think for a moment that we can just waltz in, you are a fool. That's not how things are done. No one is sitting there waiting. I will send word to the Judge immediately that you are prepared to turn yourself in. Knowing Judge Perkins, and the urgency of this case, he will see you this afternoon. I would recommend you come in and freshen up before you go to court."

Renata finds her heart beating beneath her crossed arms. She uncrosses her arms and takes a drink of water from one of the canteens. Teresa is standing by the wagon to help Renata step down.  Which she does, not because she wants to talk to DeLuria, but because she really has no other practical way of turning herself in.

"Will she be able to ask for leniency?" Teresa asks.

"Of course not," De Luria practically spits out the words. "She's been on the lamb for months. She'll be lucky if they don't hang her on the spot."

"Look," Renata says, stopping in her tracks, "I'm only going back because Antonie's housekeeper, Señora Ramos told me that I must, she insisted that I..."

"How nice of her, Renata. Now a question: since when have you been taking legal advice from a housekeeper?" DeLuria's words always come out sounding like a snarl.

Renata bites down hard into her lower lip, to keep from responding. She locks eyes with Teresa. "I am going it alone," she announces. "I don't need your help. Come on Teresa, Arthur, we have a job to do and we aren't going to get it done hanging around here."

Teresa turns to Renata and takes hold of her by both shoulders. "Don't do this Renata. You've got to let DeLuria help, he can introduce the new evidence, he can do it the right way and maybe make them see that you are..."

"NO!" Renata is trembling from head to foot and her mouth is like cotton. She pushes Teresa's arms away. "I don't care if I die in the gallows, I'm not putting myself at the mercy of this man ever again. I can present the evidence myself and when I do I will have the spirit of the Virgin Mary there to support me. That's what Señora told me would happen and that's exactly what I am going to do."

Nothing Teresa says persuades Renata to come into DeLuria's office. An hour passes before Teresa finally agrees to climb into the wagon. She sits down next to Renata and Arthur quietly takes up the reins and pushes the horse into a walk down the long hill to the courtroom and jail.  As they grow near they can see the gallows still in place, the rope shaped like a single teardrop falling from the crosspole, waiting to hang Renata.

.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gertrude Stein Said It Best!

A ROSE




IS A ROSE




IS A ROSE



IS A ROSE



 On this, the first day of fall, I never expected another rose.  What good fortune this is!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Taking a Sad Song and Making it Better


So my brother calls me this morning, right at the moment that I am crying because my husband and I have just opened an anniversary card from our middle child and it was so so beautiful and she lives so far away.

We have this conversation, my brother and me. I tell him that I am having great difficulty handling the emotions associated with letting go of my adult children.

I tell him – and he agrees – that it’s really ironic that I am having this problem, considering the fact that I was so intent on getting away from my own family as a young woman.

And without missing a beat, he says he thinks that there is a ying and yang here, that is, the emotions that drove me to leave my past behind, are related to the emotions that I am experiencing now.

He has known me all my life of course. He reminds me that as a child I had what we call the “aroo tummin?” (are you coming?) complex, shorthand for me not ever wanting to separate from my mother. This separation anxiety was so severe that at age 12, when I went to stay with my cousin one summer, I wet my bed. I think I remember coming home to my Mom earlier than I was supposed to.

I remember a conversation with her afterwards that went something like this: “Mom, if I can’t leave you now then how am I going to get married someday?” My mom, smiling, responded by saying, “Well, I guess we’ll all just have to come with you, in a caravan of cars!”

My brother (who is older than me by almost two years) noted that when I turned seventeen I wanted nothing more than to escape the family. I needed to go as far away as possible in order to become the person I was going to be. I spent years living in California and a variety of other places.

And then, boom, at 29 or 30 I made another switch, this time deciding I wanted to have my own family. My husband and I came back to live only an hour from my folks. I folded my emotions into my three kids, and enjoyed close relationships with my parents and siblings and other members of my family. Through all the kids' growing up years, I didn't give much thought to the fact that like me, my three offspring were going to have to separate in order to live their own independent and productive lives. My mother would express this irony with one of her favorite phraises: "What goes around comes around."

So here I am today, with the kids grown, reliving the same emotions that I felt as a child, terrified of the separation, worrying and anxious that I’ll never accept the fact that children grow up and move away. The empty nest remains the empty nest, until you as a parent fill your life with new activities and meaningful relationships.

And of course you continue to love your children. And of course you have relationships with each of them. But you don’t put yourself through misery every time you think about how wonderful it was to have your kids as they grew up. You listen to your husband ask “Aren’t you glad your children are happy and productive people?” and "Can't you enjoy all the wonderful memories you have of them?"

Just then the tears bubble up and that’s precisely the moment my brother calls to ask me about this hotel in Rome and after I answer him, he asks how I am and instead of lying and saying I’m fine, I tell him the truth: that I am having trouble adjusting to my role as the mother of adult children. He tells me that yes it’s an objectively difficult problem, and then he offers his wisdom, that some of the impulses and emotions I feel today are intricately tied up in with the way I felt as a child growing up. He adds: “Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.”

I thank him and say that I am afraid if I write about this issue, I am going to make myself depressed and he says “No, I think just the opposite is going to happen.” He says he thinks that I need to deal with this problem and writing about it in a clear way might be exactly the right cure.

I’m not sure about that, but then again, as soon as I hung up the phone, I ran to my computer and wrote down what you see here.



To be continued… 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Don't Miss This Powerful Book!!


I used to be a writer. I used to think it mattered what images I saw in my head. I used to spend considerable time finding just the right words to capture those images on paper. I used to stare off into space, seeing the faces of my characters in what felt like a movie strip. I could see how they walked, and laughed. I could see the color and texture of their hair and the lines in their faces.

I used to care what these characters thought, how they felt and acted, and what motivated them to do what they do. I used to sit for hours joyfully creating whole worlds that my characters and I would inhabit.  I loved babbling away on paper. It made me very very happy to write.

So what happened ? How is it that I can hardly bring myself to the keyboard anymore.  Where has my inspiration gone? Why have the cinema strips gone dark?

My husband says I let rejection slips sap my creative spirit. He may be right. Today I received another rejection on my second novel. The agent I had sent it to spoke of the pleasure that she had reading my opening chapters. But as she wasn’t "passionate about the voice or the plot, " she was going to pass. I think I have received the exact letter from a dozen other agents, just in the last couple of months.

If you are not careful or you don’t have a Teflon personality, those rejections can poison your spirit.

Try as I might, I’ve let the rejection letters seep like toxic water, deep into my heart. They have helped to ruin my love of writing.  They have convinced me that writing fiction is a total waste of time, because I’m never going to have anyone to publish or read it. If I want it published, I have to do it myself. I have to spend the money to publish it and then find the energy to carry the books to bookstores and signings. I have to scramble to get reviewers who will take my writing seriously. I have to stand up to the constant feeling that I am not a “real” writer because my fiction has not been recognized by the major literary marketplace.

No matter that my first novel (a mother/daughter story called Dreaming Maples) was very well received. No matter that the novel was nominated for a Pushcart prize. That doesn’t matter.

I could be sitting here now with tears brimming. I could be crying over the fact that what I used to love doing, what used to feed my soul, all that creative energy, has fizzled away.

But last week I met this dynamic woman -– Suzi Banks Baum -- who writes 1,000 word a day. She happily publishes on her blog. She doesn’t talk about rejections. She is too busy writing and bringing together a bunch of other women who write about motherhood and art and the creative force.  In the words of one of these women, Suzi has “pulled us all into her powerful orbit" where she holds the women in a circle of creativity. Recently Suzi served as editor for a collection of women's writing in a book called An Anthology of Babes. The book features the writings and visual art of 36 women who combine mothering with their art. This is a book you should buy and read from cover to cover. It’s electrifying to feel the energy and passion these writers and artists have.

This book, and Suzi, and the collection of writers she has assembled, have had a profound effect on me. For the first time in months, I am excited to start writing again. Once again, I am getting inspired to see my filmstrip rolling.

So if you need a jumpstart on your writing, buy this book. And if you like to read inspiring essays, buy this book. It's well worth supporting this dynamic group of women  artists. 

There's one other reason to buy the book: part of the proceeds from book sales help to support two organizations that provide vital services to women in Berkshire County. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Magical Morning with Thich Nhat Hanh

Anyone who has read his amazing books knows that spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh has a profound ability to make us feel deep appreciation for the moments we live.

He reminds us over and over again that being happy doesn't involve waiting for some future event to arrive, or in acquiring some object or satisfying some desire. Thai -- the name he uses -- shows us that joy is right here in this very moment we take our next breath. Happiness lies in the ability to be mindful of all of the joy and mystery of life. One of his many quotes is this one:

"Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. This is the present moment, this is a wonderful moment."

Indeed, every moment of life is a miracle.

On Sunday, I had the good fortune (along with about 1500 other people) to spend the morning with Thich Nhat Hanh, who was in retreat at the Blue Cliff monastery in Pine Bush, N.Y. I have always loved Thich Nhat Hanh's books and messages, but I wasn't sure what to expect of him as a speaker. I was astonished at Thai's ability to make so many of us in the huge crowd smile. He reminded us that we can be in contact with joy simply by taking the time to focus on the in-and-out of breathing and so many other of life's mysteries.

Many of us who crowded into the monastery on Sunday to hear the humble 87-year old Vietnamese monk speak were smiling during the entire presentation.

He has the remarkable capability of communicating profoundly moving ideas in simple words and images.  While acknowledging that life inevitably involves suffering and loss, he makes us see that peace and joy lie in appreciating (being mindful of) so many of life's everyday activities.

At the end of his talk, Thai invited all of us to take a mindful walk. I was sitting with friends in a tent outside the monastery hall, which was packed and overflowing. But it turns out that our tent seats were ideal. As Thai proceeded to lead the mindful walking, he headed directly toward us, and came so close that we fell right in step only a few feet behind him. While the skies were threatening rain, and the rumbling of thunder filled the air, we made our way around the Blue Cliff's beautiful grounds.

And then, Thai stopped, and sat down, and prepared to give a blessing.

My friend Christine, who once before encountered the monk at another retreat (she passed him on a walk and he handed her a Bodhi leaf), sat very close to the spiritual leader. (She is the blonde woman in the photo.) But no matter how close you were to the spiritual leader on Sunday, you felt the power and magic of his message and the peace and joy that fills his life and the lives of all who are fortunate enough to hear his message.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Quintessence of the Rose of Sharon



right here
in a flower.
the power
of a color
tender lavender
petals

All year we wait for
our beloved blooms to arrive.
Now they are here
outside the window
now
the Rose of Sharon


how 
do eye take them
in the lavender
 there is a 
red star that explodes
in five 

in every
direction and frames
 the fuzzy
stamen inside.

don't look past the flower.
trace it

In the blink of your
eye,

you will see

in the dictionary that the

stamen

is

"the fundamental element or                                             quintessence of a thing."


How do we possibly
absorb 
the quintessence
of flowerness

Close your eyes
try to picture it 
snap a photo
to capture

Try to make it last
in the camera of the 
mind's eye
but it
only
lasts
as long
as you
 stare some more.