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MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2005
What a relief! I awoke to sunny skies and very little snow remaining on the ground. After taking care of computer business, I got out on the roads to celebrate the return of spring. My eyes were so delighted with all I was seeing that I just couldn't put down my camera. I photographed tulips (photo #1 & #2), narcissus, and tulips and daffodils, forsythia, green leafed and flowering trees, a green shrub with grape hyacinths at its base, a side street lit up by lime-green trees, and a close-up of leaves unfolding that turned out exceptionally well (if I do say so myself).
After enjoying an egg salad sandwich outside with Ed at his office, I scooted home and painted intuitively all that I had seen. I call it "Spring's Return."
Everyone I talked with today at the library, the market, on the street, and tonight at the pool admitted to feeling depressed over the weekend. After such a long harsh winter, I think we all feared that spring had been an illusion. But today proved us wrong. We now know that no unseasonable snow can take away what we have gained.
The return of spring wasn't today's only good news. I learned that tonight would be Mr. John Bruce's last meeting as president of the Library Board. If you recall, he was at the heart of our struggles to get a fair contract for our librarians and library staff last summer. Whatever the reason--Perhaps pressure put on by the library supporters?--after twelve years, Mr. Bruce is retiring from the Library Board. We respect and applaud his decision.
There's another bit of good news that I think I forgot to tell you. After hours and days and weeks of phone calls, online research, composing a group letter and informational handout sheets, and gathering a group of us to speak up at a School Board Meeting, we adult lap swimmers were given back our second hour of swim time, the hour that we'd lost in the winter session to a youth swim club. Happily for us, they didn't get enough kids to sign up to swim during the spring session, so we're back to our Monday and Wednesday lap swims from 7:30-9:30 PM. At least now the powers-that-be know how deeply we adult swimmers care about our swim times...and that we will fight to keep them, if need be.
My last piece of news is that my computer has been acting fine and dandy since I had a phone visit with a helpful Apple tech support person on Saturday. But having this problem encouraged me to back up all my stuff onto CDs, so it was well worth the scare.
TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 2005
Tonight I am reminded of a poem I wrote in September 2003.
A Line of Poetry for Every Headline
The weight of a world on a laptop screen
Cries contained within commas
Anger blazing out of words backlit in a
A world so small my footprint
shades it all
The world is larger than this
It spins and dips on an axis defined by
forces we think we understand but
It contains the uncontainable
the silken path of an ant
the song of a hummingbird's wings
the kick of a baby dancing to her mother's heartbeat
the crash of buildings hit by bombs
the tender moans of elderly lovers
the rush of hurricane-swelled rivers
the whisper of a butterfly breaking free of its cocoon
The world is so large that we can never know it
But we must try
We must keep our eyes
--the eyes of our heart and our bodies--
We must allow silence to teach us as much as
We must entertain the mysteries as honored
We must read a line of poetry for every
Detroit, Michigan, USA
September 22, 2003
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 27, 2005
Holistic health practitioners encourage one to "listen to" one's body. Not only listen but respond respectfully to its nonverbal communications. Why is that so hard? Because it means giving up control. My mind, the faculty that makes plans, sets priorities and forms personal agendas, doesn't like to be second-guessed by what it considers to be a more primitive mechanism. But if I let my mind have its way, it would run my body ragged. I know that for a fact.
So every time I listen and say yes to my body's insistence that I slow down--its most common request--I strengthen our connection and save myself from potential injury or dis-ease. For the body always has the last say. If I ignore its whispered requests, it must "raise its voice" which, in my case, usually means taking a fall.
The down side of this holistic self-discipline is needing to be willing to change one's plans at the last minute. Listening to one's body is not easy for a people-pleaser. It's counter-cultural. Doesn't our culture value those who "keep to their word" no matter what? Perhaps it's that internalized attitude that makes it so hard for us to see our body as a higher authority than our "word."
This subject is alive in me tonight because I've listened to my body twice in the past four days. In both cases it meant not doing something I'd planned to do.
On Saturday morning I woke up knowing I was done, running on empty, needing to take a day off. I'm sure part of the problem was my having participated in a cold rainy Raging Grannies demo from 4-5:30 PM on Friday afternoon, but even more significant was the simple fact that I'd been on the go for more days than I could count. In this case, listening to my body meant cancelling out of the long-planned Earth Day song celebration that we Great Lakes Basin women of O Beautiful Gaia were to facilitate at the IHM Motherhouse in Monroe, Michigan on Saturday evening.
Then at 6:30 PM this afternoon I said yes to my body's strong insistence that I take a nap. That meant I would not be swimming tonight. When I awoke two hours later feeling wonderfully rested, I knew I'd made the right decision.
As long as I continue to befriend my body in this way, I trust it will serve me well. It certainly has thus far.
I'd like to put up two pictures--photo #1 & #2--taken today at lunch with my friends Brigitte and Joan. We three first met in a water aerobics class at our community park in the summer of 2001. The first lunch we shared was at Atom's Juice Cafe. The date was Monday, September 10, 2001. I recall Brigitte telling us about the year she had spent scavenging for food and shelter all over Germany with her teacher and five other girls. It was shortly after World War II had ended and she was eleven years old. I remember having written about her story in my journal entry that night. The next morning, everything had changed.
Anyway, today was our last lunch--at least for now--because in a week Joan will be moving to Sante Fe. We will miss her.
I have one more picture for you. It is of our neighborhood cardinal taking a bath in yesterday's gentle spring rain.
THURSDAY, APRIL 28, 2005
Such a rich, full day! School was fabulous and I even have some photos that I can show you of a group of fourth graders with their tempera-painted clay masks, first graders working on their spring-inspired clay nests with birds and/or eggs in them (photos #1, #2 & #3), the best art teacher in the world, Ms. Susan Briggs, and two of my most recent classroom art projects (photos #1 & #2). During lunch I was saying to Susan how much I love these kids and she replied with a smile, "Oh, Patricia, you always get mushy at this time of year!"
After school I had two hours until my next activity, so I went to a local Lebanese restaurant and had a yummy falafel/hummous/taboulleh sandwich and a pistachio cream pastry for dessert. I read Adrienne Rich's most recent book, "The School Among the Ruins: Poems 200-2004"--that is AMAZING!!!--while I ate. Then I drove to Day House about 5:30 PM, picked up my friend Pat Kolon and went over to Wayne State University for the second in a three-part series of panel discussions/public meetings called "Changing Detroit: Past, Present, Future." Tonight's topic was "Thinking outside the Box: Identities In Change."
Detroit's 90 year-old matriarch of community activism and current Urban Woman Writer in Residence at WSU, Grace Lee Boggs, is facilitating this series with Shea Howell of Detroit Summer and the Michigan Citizen newspaper, and Charles Simmons, co-chair of the Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit and a professor of journalism at Eastern Michigan University. Tonight there were about 65 people in attendance, a wonderful mix of Detroit city residents and suburbanites, young and old, persons of color and white folks, women and men--every one committed to Detroit and wanting to be part of the city's revitalization.
Instead of presenting socio-cultural analyses, Grace, Charles and Shea shared their own personal stories about life changing experiences that have helped to form their identities. They then asked each of us to write a paragraph that completed the following sentence: "When I think about changing Detroit, I recall this experience that changed my thinking..." After writing for about six minutes, we went around the room and counted off from 1-8. Then each group met with a facilitator and shared what they'd written and/or their thoughts about this topic. The evening ended with a spokesperson from each group reporting on what had been said in their group. On May 26, we will meet again for the final program in the series. This one is called "Creating a New We."
Don't you see why I love living so close to Detroit? There's no place like it, and, more importantly, no people like the people who live here. Detroiters are the best!
FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2005
"It would be so not fair if you came and only stayed a week!" That was Sana's response to my saying I was planning to stay a week when I come to visit them in Beirut next October. "A week goes by so fast we'd hardly know you were here. You have to stay at least two weeks!"
This afternoon I talked on the phone with Sulaima, Rabih and 16 year-old Sana in Lebanon and told them I'd definitely be coming to visit them next October. It was gratifying to hear their enthusiastic response to my news. How I love this family and long to see them again. Well, to be precise, I'll be seeing Sulaima, Sana, Sami, Rami and Oussama again, but, hard as it is to believe, Rabih and I will be meeting for the first time. And, of course, I'll also be seeing baby Ibrahim for the first time. I am beyond excited!!!!
Today I went to the US Post Office and submitted my application for a new passport and paid my $97 application fee. That makes it all seem real. Somehow going to the Middle East fills me with an almost spiritual fervor. Since the first Gulf War began in 1991, that part of the world has held my heart. It isn't just Iraq, either, but Israel and the suffering Palestinians, and America's ongoing threats of military action against Iran and Syria, and now the historic political events in Lebanon during these past months. So much is happening in that part of the world, the cradle of civilization. To be there and breathe the air, experience the bustling city of Beirut, see the beauty of the mountains and sea, deserts, lush farmland and orchards, to taste the food I already love, to hear Arabic--that beautiful language--spoken all around me, to get to know firsthand the depths of wisdom and grace of the people who live there. I can't think of a more spiritually nourishing place to go. But just to be with my sister and brother and their children is the greatest gift of all.
This has been a week of wonderful happenings.
In the mail on Saturday I received a copy of the March-April 2005 issue of off our backs, the feminist newsjournal. In it is an article I wrote--based on my online description of the event--called "J20 Counter Inaugural Journal: A Raging Granny's View." They used three of my digital photos--two to illustrate the article and one on the front cover. Since early February when they first found my J20 Counter-Inaugural journal and photo albums online, I've had wonderful email dealings with the collective of women who put this, the oldest feminist publication in the United States, out six times a year. And the editing job they did on my original journal entry was superb. Not a word was changed; they simply moved things around in such a way that almost 1000 words could be deleted!
Then last night I returned home to find a package had arrived in the mail containing four copies of the May issue of New Mobility Magazine. In it was my article that they'd renamed, "Pumping Iron: Oh Yeah!". I was surprised and delighted to find it was a featured article listed in the table of contents. And the photo Ed and I had worked so hard to email to the magazine's graphic department while I was in San Francisco had turned out crisp and clear.
Ed was cute last night. After reading the article and giving me kudos, he said, "Now you have 30 minutes to openly gloat!" I used up 22 of the 30 and had a blast doing it. It's funny how different it feels to have things published in hard copy.
I hope both articles will encourage readers to push the envelope politically and physically. Change only comes when we dare to risk being seen as fools. Life is not for the faint-hearted.
SUNDAY, MAY 1, 2005
Last night I discovered what has been missing in my life of late--live jazz! It had been a surprising two and a half months since I'd been to a jazz concert--the last had been David "Fathead" Newman at the Firefly in Ann Arbor on Saturday, February 19. How could it have been so long! Well, there was my 12-day trip to San Francisco, singing with Carolyn McDade at the Leaven Center weekend before last, the Great Lakes Gaia monthly gatherings, etc., etc.
Now it isn't as if I hadn't heard jazz since February 19. I listen to jazz on CBC radio--After Hours with Ross Porter from 10-midnight M-F, and Jazz Beat with Katie Malloch from 8-10 PM every Sunday--and on my CDs in the car and at home practically every day. But there's NOTHING like experiencing the energy of musicians playing to a live audience...especially musicians as fabulous as the ones I heard last night at the SereNgety Gallery in downtown Detroit.
Bill Foster in collaboration with the Jazz Legacy Foundation brought in the Winard Harper Sextet from New York City to perform on Friday and Saturday night. On Saturday, Pat Kolon and I got to the gallery fifteen minutes before the first set was scheduled to begin at 9 PM. The audience started out small but grew as the evening wore on. And we didn't leave until 1:40 AM! During those four hours I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven. I wish I could give you an audio-version of what we experienced, but words and pictures will have to do.
First of all, let me introduce you to the band. Winard Harper is an already-legendary drummer at the young age of 42. Of course, we counted up the years he's been performing jazz in public and it comes to 31! Joining him on percussion, specifically the djembe and other African drums, is Alioune Faye from Senegal. Ameen Saleem is on the stand-up bass, Brian Horton on tenor sax, T.W. Sample on piano, and the youngest member of the group at 20 years old, Josh Evans, on trumpet and flugelhorn. Both T.W. annd Josh have only been performing with Winard and the others for a few weeks, but you'd never know it. Their musicianship and energy are a perfect fit. I bought two of their CDs and would have bought more if they'd had them. You can find out how and where to buy CDs on Winard Harper's web site.
This group offers an unusual range of moods, rhythms, textures and instruments. Without missing a beat, they take you from the streets of New York--where they're now based--to Africa where Alioune was born and raised. No one dominates; each artist has a chance to solo and to back up his brother musicians. They smile and connect with one another throughout. You get the feeling they genuinely like and respect one another. They go from classical jazz favorites--always done in their own unique style--to original compositions filled with unexpected combinations of sounds.
A special treat was when Marcus Belgrave, our own Detroit-based jazz legend, showed up and added his trumpet to the mix for one number. But I appreciated his sensitivity in saying he just wanted to sit back and listen to Josh play. That young man really is exceptional.
If you live in the Chicago area you can see and hear the Winard Harper Sextet at the Jazz Showcase from June 28-July 2. Who knows, you might even see Pat and me there too.
TUESDAY, MAY 3, 2005
This is such an odd spring. After a spell of unseasonably hot weather two weeks ago, we were hit on April 23-24 with two days of wet heavy snow that was followed by five days of normal late April temperatures in the 60s F. After a few days of much-needed rain, this morning it was 42 degrees when I drove (in my minivan not on my scooter) to the gym. Under cloudy skies, it felt quite chilly. Those sunny warm days I spent reading Adrienne Rich's poems beside the lake now seem like a dream. But I know it won't be long before cold weather will be a distant memory.
Yesterday I went to school and had a great time with Susan and the kids. She and most of the fourth graders will be at camp on Thursday so that's why I shifted my regular day. Then last night at swimming I heard about yet another local issue that pushed my activist's button.
Our school system apparently has a projected $2 million shortfall in the 2005-06 budget, and the school board is seriously considering privatizing a portion of the janitorial and all of the cafeteria services in order to save money. I believe this would be a big mistake. Whenever services are contracted out to a private company, the community loses control and accountability. Besides I can't imagine what this would mean to our present employees, many of whom have been with our school system for decades.
For instance, last night I learned from John Dixon at the middle school where I swim that he's been a custodian with our school system for 22 years, his co-worker for 27 years, and his boss for 37 years. And, from what I see in the pool area, the girls' locker room and the halls I scoot down twice a week during the school year, they do an excellent job. Not to mention the fact that they know and are committed to our students, teachers, office staff and parents.
So after I got home from swimming last night, I went online and found the article in our local paper online that discussed what's going on. I then wrote a letter to the editor and today wrote another letter to the school board members. Even though it will mean missing swimming--which doesn't make me happy--I'll probably go to next Monday's school board meeting and speak out on this subject.
Here's a copy of the letter I sent to the members of our school board:
I appreciate the dilemma you face in trying to find $2 million to balance the 2005-06 budget. I also hear and value the parents' concerns over the possibility that programs like music and athletics might suffer. But I would like to address the issue of the possible privatization of school services.
Privatization always brings a savings of money in the short run, but its costs in the long run are high. They include the loss of accountability and community control.
Yes, you as the Board of Education can always terminate your contract with the private company involved, but this action would require that they make a serous breach of contract. The day-to-day operation of, in this case, the custodial and cafeteria services for our schools would lie exclusively in the hands of a for-profit company that has no sense of commitment to our children and their best interests.
How different this would be from what we have grown to expect here in our community. I'm referring to the special considerations and treatment that our current custodial and cafeteria routinely offer our students and their parents.
After my lap swim at Brownell last night, I spoke briefly with John Dixon, a custodian who went through our schools as a child and has worked here as a school custodian for 22 years. I asked him about the extras he and his co-workers do for our students. Among other things, he mentioned staying with children whose rides had not shown up on time, opening the office so they could call their parents, and letting them wait inside the building until they're picked up. He also brought up the common occurrence of taking anxious parents and children from room to room looking for lost or forgotten items.
Do we really think a $8-12 per hour employee of a private company would be as sensitive to our students' needs as John and his co-workers?
Privatization is a slippery slope that we should avoid at all costs. Better to raise taxes than to give up community control over any aspect of our schools' operation. I'm afraid it will be our children who pay if we choose privatization.
I'm finding it interesting that, after years of focusing my activist efforts on the global and national scene, I'm finally taking it to the local level. And I have my friendly librarians and library staff to thank for that.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 4, 2005
I was there...but I wasn't. I couldn't let myself be there while it was happening. And now, eleven years later, it is time.
Tonight I just happened to tune into a movie on PBS while I was eating a late supper after swimming. At first I didn't know what it was about, but soon I did. It was about Rwanda. The massacre of the Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda. The movie was called "Sometimes In April" and it told the truth of those dark, dark days.
In 1994 while the massacre was going on I was volunteering at a refugee shelter in Detroit. Soon after the killings were done, we started getting Rwandan refugees in the house. First it was the Tutsis who had survived, and then it was Hutus trying to escape retribution by the Tutsis. Every single person, no matter what their ethnic origin, was traumatized. What I remember most were their eyes: hollow orbs of pain and fear. No one talked in detail about what they had been through; it was enough to say, "I'm from Rwanda." Even their drawings did not show what had happened. When I asked them to draw why they'd had to leave their country--as I asked every refugee no matter what their country of origin--they could not bring themselves to do it. I remember drawings of a beautiful tropical country with jungles and animals. No blood, no death.
Yet can I trust my memories or have I blocked out the truth? I no longer know for sure. What I do know is that, until tonight, I hadn't a clue what it was really like in Rwanda during that time.
I watched much of the movie with my fists covering my mouth. As if to keep myself from screaming. The only time I wept was when the people in the swamp were being rescued by the Tutsi military. But that was after close to a million people had already been massacred.
I don't know what to do with my feelings. On the one hand I can't see how I could have stayed so numb when I was with these people who had suffered so much. Maybe their own numbness was catching. Maybe I just couldn't let myself imagine what they had lived through, what would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Whether they were the almost-killed or the killers. Even now, even after seeing this film that showed it like I'm sure it was, I can't take it in. How could I? It seems impossible that one human could do such things to another.
And yet, unimaginably horrible things are happening right now. In Palestine. In Iraq. In the Congo. In the Sudan. In places I know nothing about. I think of a drawing I made of a quote by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh:
How to embrace the whole of reality without destroying yourself. How to love in the midst of so much pain. I guess that's what it means to be fully human.
FRIDAY, MAY 6, 2005
I feel like I'm playing catch-up here. I keep going places and doing things and taking photos of what I see, then I'm either too sleepy to put them up on my journal or something else grabs my attention and kicks the photos off the page. So here are a few days worth...
Spring continues to move forward from beauty to beauty. Because our temps have been mild but not what I'd call warm, the tulips have stayed fresh and perky. Not just the tulips, but daffodils and grape hyacinths too. And now the azaleas are also showing their colors. Many trees are lacy green or flowery pink, purple and white. The pool at the park is full of water even though it isn't scheduled to open until Memorial Day weekend, and boats have started appearing in the harbor. Yesterday it was warm enough for me to sit comfortably by the water and contemplate the mysterious play of letters I kept seeing in the foamy waves.
On Wednesday my friends Sooz and Judy drove with me to Windsor for haircuts at Leesa's. While there we met a charming little girl named Madelyn. Her mom, Denise, was charming too. And getting haircuts with my girlfriends was such a kick! It reminded me of high school days. After we'd enjoyed a carry-out lunch beside the Detroit River, we joined our Windsor sisters in front of the entrance to the Ambassador Bridge for their weekly Women In Black vigil (photos #1, #2 & #3).
Late yesterday afternoon (Thursday) I drove to Dearborn for the historic opening of the Arab American National Museum, the first such museum in the United States. Significantly, it is built right beside the existing structures along Michigan Avenue at Schaefer, yet has an air of dignity and grace. There were many politicians and dignitaries on hand for the ribbon-cutting, in addition to hundreds of bored children and interested adults. Actually, the children were only bored with the speeches. Once the musuem tours began, the street and park were filled with musicians and dancers from diverse cultures--photos #1 & #2)--face painters, stiltwalkers, clowns, arts & crafts facilitators, and the featured musicians--the Arab Drumming Ensemble and Chorus from the school where I volunteer. Finally, I can show you photos of my kids! Photos #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, & #8. They did us proud.
About 8 PM I scooted over to a nearby restaurant for dinner. As I devoured a bowl of crushed lentil soup and a falafel sandwich, I kept looking over at two women sitting in a booth. They looked so familiar. I finally figured that I probably knew them from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Apparently they were doing the same thing, but they'd gotten further with it than I. After awhile they came over to my table and said, "Hey, Patricia!"
Well, that began a wonderful conversation about Fest, one that proved healing to me. I don't know if you remember my telling you about the unpleasant experience I'd had on the MWMF online bulletin board a few months back. I still carried hurt feelings from that encounter and had been back and forth for months about whether or not I wanted to go to Fest at all this August. Well, within a short twenty minutes, Pam and Elaine had soothed my hurt and pumped me up about attending festival again this year. And as a crowning touch, they showed me the car Elaine recently bought for $1 from one of the posters on the MWMF bulletin board. Such tangible evidence of what this global community of women truly is! Yes, I'll be there in August.
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2005
Serpent As Teacher
My skin stretches taut
What fit before no longer does
Irritation is the sign
It is time to move on
What fit before no longer does
Too tight, too tight I cry
It is time to move on
Beyond all I know and am
Too tight, too tight I cry
My body has grown or my skin has shrunk
Beyond all I know and am
The serpent says, shed this skin
My body has grown or my skin has shrunk
Irritation is the sign
The serpent says, shed this skin
My skin stretches taut
This pantoum poem I wrote today while sitting out back in my tiny patch of wilderness (photos #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 & #6), says it all. I am coming into a new place and the old, some of which sustained and delighted me for years, no longer does. Not ALL of the old, mind, just certain parts of it. I have been through this before--many times, in fact--so I recognize the signs. As the poem says, irritation is my primary sign. When the same things start getting under my skin time after time after time, that is a sign that something is out of kilter. It's up to me to figure out exactly what that is, and then to do something about it.
Ed and I were talking about this at dinner tonight and he reminded me that a snake has to shed its skin in its entirety because the snake has grown and the skin hasn't. It can't, actually, because a snake's skin has no elasticity; it stays the same size no matter what. As humans who continue to grow and change throughout our lives, our skin must either grow with us or we too must shed it. A "skin" may be a career, a relationship, hobby, community, activity, way of thinking, or way of being in the world. Sometimes these skins are resilient and can accommodate change, other times they can't. And sometimes these skins fit the majority of folks, but not you.
I've been fortunate that the most important parts of my life--at the top of that list is my marriage to Ed--have had skin supple enough to take on many different forms over the years. But other things--the religion of my birth, for instance--did not manage to grow as I grew, so had to be shed more than a decade ago. The same was true for my original sense of patriotism. That too-small skin was sluffed off during Bush's daddy's first war on Iraq. But for millions of other Christians and Americans, these two skins still fit fine. That's the wonder of our uniqueness.
Carolyn McDade has a song that always comes to mind during times like this:
In the places that reek of impossibility
the serpent of life coils.
She crawls upon the swollen stone,
crawls upon the swollen stone,
crawls upon the swollen stone,
and loosens her only garment.
MONDAY, MAY 9, 2005
As the Bush administration escalates its slash-and-burn environmental policies, I find myself on outrage-overload. I mean, how much outrage can one person feel in a lifetime? Since taking office in January 2001, George W. Bush and his gang have consistently enraged, outraged, disgusted, saddened, discouraged and repulsed me. So how much of this can I continue to feel without drying up and blowing away?
A few days ago I received an email from my friend Jeff. The subject was "Bush continues to ravage unchecked" and it told of his outright nausea upon hearing the news that Bush had rescinded one of Bill Clinton's most important final presidential orders and was opening up 58.5 million acres of pristine wilderness in America's western states and Alaska to road-builders, miners, drillers, loggers and all the industrial/commercial powers that lay waste to our lands, waters and air. These fellows are also among the bigtime donors who got GWB re-elected in November, so of course they must be rewarded. And he has.
TUESDAY, MAY 10, 2005
I can't get enough of this spring. The green leaves bursting open on the trees, the radiant flowers, their fragrances triggering sweet yet elusive memories, the golden sun making everything sparkle especially people's smiles, the warm air even at night. I've been outside every minute that I could these past three days, whether scooting down the singing street, sitting beside the lake, reading out on our screened porch or sharing our wild back yard with birds, squirrels, spiders and ants. Every place I go, I carry my camera. It no longer matters to me whether or not these photos will go up on my web site or blog; I just have to take them. It's almost as if I can't see into something deeply enough if I don't take a photo of it. Tonight I decided that I'd like to share my latest batch of photos with you. I call this photo album Spring 2005.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 11, 2005
"Supporting our troops means a lot more than buying a $2 yellow magnet for your car and waving the flag. It means demanding answers and holding people accountable."
"I will continue to speak out until the last soldier leaves Iraq and the last veteran gets the care they are owed."
These are the words of Patrick Resta, Specialist/E4, who served as an Army medic in Iraq with the 30th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. He was stationed in in northeastern Iraq from March 12, 2004 to November 15, 2004. Since returning home Resta has been speaking out against the war and occupation, and is involved with Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Tonight I will be attending a Pointes For Peace talk featuring Patrick Resta. In preparation, I read an interview with him that I found online. I wish every single solitary American would read what this young man has to say. He tells it like it is for American troops in Iraq.
This returning soldier believes that the American people are being duped by a government with its own agenda and a media that has its own reasons for passing on propaganda in the guise of news. Who would know better what is really going on in Iraq than someone who has been stationed there himself?
In another intervew--this one with Kevin Zeese, director of DemocracyRising.US--there was an exchange I found to be particularly interesting:
Zeese: The major argument for staying in Iraq is if the U.S. leaves there will be greater chaos. How do you see this -- is the U.S. minimizing the chaos in Iraq?
Resta: I always ask people to describe the situation now. Is it not chaos? To me the definition of a civil war is when people from a country kill other people from that country. That's what happening now in Iraq. US troops are the problem, not the solution. We are reliving the Vietnam War now and it's sad. We're reliving it because the people in power didn't learn anything from that event. They were too busy dreaming up ways to dodge the draft.
Tank battalions will never rebuild power and water purification plants no matter how long they stay in Iraq. Halliburton and Bechtel didn't build Iraq, so why are they rebuilding it? If you really want Iraqis to have democracy let them run their own affairs. When you break something in a store you don't sit there with crazy glue trying to piece it back together. And you most certainly don't run around with a bat breaking more things. What you do is apologize, write them a check, and get out before you do anymore damage.
Makes sense to me.
Patrick Resta began his presentation with this quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
"Our lives begin to end when we stay silent about the things that matter."
"That is why I do what I do," which is to travel around the country giving talks and interviews about his experiences as an Army medic in Iraq and urging people to wake up and see that we must end this war and occupation.
Although I took notes, I would be hard put to even begin to tell you what we learned tonight from this courageous National Guardsman. All you've read about our troops being ill prepared and ill equipped is not only true but much, much worse than has been publicized. For instance, Patrick was given 48 hours notice to report to Fort Bragg Army base for deployment to Iraq. Once on base he and his unit received two days of training. The rifle he trained with ended up belonging to someone else, so he was sent to Iraq with a Vietnam-era weapon that did not even have its sights set for him. Not only that, he received the last gas mask and it was too small.
When he and his unit arrived in Iraq, they had a 500 mile convoy ride to the Diyala province where they were to be stationed. For that dangerous journey, they were transported in troop trucks and humvees covered with plywood "protections" that were painted to resemble steel. On the first day a 20 year-old member of their unit was wounded and later died of injuries sustained when his vehicle ran over a roadside bomb. From then on Patrick sat on the $1500 armor he had borrowed money at his credit unit to buy before setting off for Iraq.
What I experienced as I listened to Patrick share his stories and give his incisive analyses of the situation in Iraq was a deep awareness of the never-ending fear that dogged them day and night. I also heard his pain at remembering the deaths of both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. His voice shook as he described one of many times that civilians were "in the wrong place at the wrong time" and ended up being shot by fearful American soldiers.
Patrick helped me see that not all of our troops become hardened and/or cruel under such stresses. He reported how he would go into town and talk with the Iraqi people to see how they felt about the war and occupation. He said they would tell him that even though things had been bad under Saddam Hussein, at least they'd had work and some sense of ownership of their country. But now they have nothing. All they want is the Americans out! And Patrick agrees. "We must get out of Iraq as soon as possible. All we're doing is reliving everything that happened in Vietnam. And it is only getting worse."
I needed to meet and hear Patrick Resta. I've not been recognizing that most of the troops over in Iraq do not want to be there, see through Bush's lies about why they're there, and want nothing more than to leave. As the sign that was propped up beside Patrick said, "Support the Troops; Bring Them Home."
THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2005
The kids at school are proving to be great language teachers. Ever since I asked them to help me learn some Arabic before I go visit my friends in Lebanon, they've been hard at work. Today we added a good number of words and phrases to my limited vocabulary that had only included how to greet people and to say thank you. Now I can (sort of) say:
What are you doing?
How are you?
Do you want anything?
Today is beautiful.
Do you want to play?
This is good food.
Where is the bathroom?
All aged kids are involved in this project, from first graders to fifth graders. I'm finding each one to be infinitely patient and excellent at pronouncing things slowly and repeatedly until I begin to get it. Of course, for the vast majority of our students, Arabic was their first language. They didn't learn English until they started kindergarten or had an older sibling come home from school speaking English. Yet, most of them have no accents.
It reminds me of the children I knew at the refugee shelter and how they always picked up English within a matter of weeks. They spoke without accents too. As I understand it, this facility is due in part to the fact that children's soft palates have not yet hardened into the shapes it takes to speak their first language. They learn everything by mimicking what they hear, whereas adults must work at learning a new language and often have trouble making sounds that differ from those they use when speaking their own language. I'm certainly finding that to be true with Arabic.
Now I'm considering the possibility of taking a summer class in conversational Arabic or maybe even finding a tutor to work with me privately. I would love to have a little bit of the language before I visit Rabih, Sulaima and the kids in Beirut next autumn. By the way, Rabih emailed a few days ago with the news that Ramadan comes in October this year, so we've postponed my trip until after November 4. And my passport came yesterday. After only a week! I am really getting excited about this trip.
FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2005
This web world is amazing. After writing yesterday about wanting to take a class or find a tutor to teach me some Arabic, tonight I received an email from a reader who gave me a link to the Continuing Education summer schedule for a metro Detroit community college. And what should they be offering but a class in Arabic on Wednesdays from 6-8:15 PM starting on June 8 and continuing until July 20! The class description is:
Develop the ability to converse in Arabic. Shed light on some regional dialects. Learn the vocabulary and principles of Arabic pronunciation and key phrases needed for everyday situations, travel and emergencies. No text required.
Does that sound perfect or what! I'll have to miss the second class because I'll be in Saskachewan, but except for that I should be able to make all the others. Within minutes of having read her email, I'd clicked on the link, read the info, downloaded and completed the class registration form to fax in tomorrow, and printed out MapQuest directions from my home to the campus. I am SO ready for this.
Thank you, dear Fran, for being such a faithful reader and for taking the time to send me this information.
SATURDAY, MAY 14, 2005
On the way home from a fabulous concert by the Spencer Barefield Quartet, I realized that what happens to me when I experience live jazz is on a cellular level. I literally vibrate for hours afterwards. But it has to be live. Much as I love listening to jazz on the radio and on CDs, it isn't the same. That's like comparing a photograph with seeing something with your own eyes.
Speaking of photographs, if you look at my new journal photo above, I think you'll see what I mean about my having embodied the music. Barbara Barefield, Spencer's wife took this photo of Akira and me immediately following tonight's concert, and when I saw it I recognized the spirit of life that had enveloped me throughout the performance.
After the concert, I drove home from Ann Arbor--they'd performed at the Kerrytown Concert House--and never turned on my CD player. I didn't have to; the music was still playing in my body. It reminded me of the sound healing I'd experienced at the National Women's Music Festival several years ago. That day, my body was played by, among others, Kay Gardner on the flute, Mary Watson on piano and Edwina Lee Tyler on drums. Tonight it was Spencer Barefield on guitar, Diego Rivera on sax, Dave Young on bass and Djallo Djakate Keita on drums.
I feel so fortunate to have discovered over 48 years ago, the type of music that resonates deeply in my body. I know jazz isn't for everyone, but it sure is for me.
SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2005
Does anyone else spend time fretting about whether or not they'll make it to the bathroom in time? I'm sure they do, I just don't find them talking or writing about it. Well, here goes...
My only concern about my upcoming trip to Lebanon revolves around this uncomfortable subject. Here at home I'm grateful that my bedroom floor is hardwood because (whoops) sometimes I don't quite make it. Especially in the middle of the night. Now that's OK in my own home but not something I want to happen when visiting friends. I brought my concerns to Ed tonight and his response was wonderfully sensible. He said, "Why don't you go to a urologist and ask her about it? Check out your options." I think I'll do just that.
Sometimes it pays to mention the unmentionable.
MONDAY, MAY 16, 2005
Once in a long while a movie pulls me into its depths so strongly that I have trouble disengaging myself when it ends. That happened tonight with "A House of Sand and Fog." I'd never heard of it before but when I saw it on the library shelf, it looked interesting. Besides it starred Ben Kingsley and I'll see anything he chooses to play in. All I can say is that Mr. Kingsley should have received an Oscar for his portrayal of an Iranian-American colonel in this 2003 film. Let me warn you, though, this movie is not for the faint of heart. It packs a powerful punch. But my real life today was so gentle-spirited that I could handle it.
Spring continues to enthrall me. Now most of the deciduous trees are fully-leafed, lilacs, iris and dogwood in bloom, flowering trees extravagant in sight and scent, and baseball season in full swing. I even saw a big juicy fungus on a tree beside a busy street. But we're not putting away our snow shovel just yet. Last time I sent Ed down to the basement with it, we got hit with that crazy weekend blizzard. Nope, we're not going to tempt the gods again. That shovel and our jug of salt are staying on the porch until June. This is Michigan after all.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 18, 2005
I didn't post an entry yesterday because I got home late from another wonderful jazz event in Ann Arbor. Reedman Andrew Bishop, bassist Tim Flood and drummer Gerald Cleaver gave a concert at the Kerrytown Concert House to celebrate the release of their brand new CD, Time and Imaginary Time. I'd seen this superbly original group at the Edgefest last October and didn't want to miss an opportunity to see them again. Since Gerald now lives in New York, such opportunities are all too rare. Andrew Bishop, who seems able to play just about any reed instrument he chooses, formed this trio a number of years ago. He also composes all their music.
I wish I had words to describe the imaginative, cutting-edge excitement of his compositions. They are obviously musically demanding but there's such a flow that when they're being played, you ride the waves with trust that you'll end up exactly where you want to go. And it's always someplace surprising. I must admit I listened to most of the concert with my eyes closed. I wanted to look at these wonderful musicians as they played but just couldn't keep my eyes open. The music pulled me into its depths with such force that I had to go wherever it wanted to take me. A Zen-like experience.
But yesterday was filled with more than music; I also spent a couple of hours scooting and then sitting quietly in Ann Arbor's lovely Geddes Park. The Huron River is its centerpiece and whenever I'm there I remember all the times Ed and I biked--first on our racing bikes and then on our tandem--through the park. We've even canoed the river a couple of times. All fond memories. I took so many pictures that today I turned them into a Geddes Park/Huron River photo album.
I also gave myself some downtown AA and University of Michigan time. Some things never change around there, frisbee-throwing on the Diag being one. Another is hearing and/or seeing young people drumming over by the People's Food Co-op. College towns certainly keep you feeling young.
THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2005
"Do you think she's a boy? She has a boy's hair."
"Yeah, and she has a red backpack like boys use."
This was a snippet of a conversation I heard going on behind my back (literally) today in art class at school. The two boys discussing this intriguing possibility were referring to me although nothing was said to me directly. Gosh, I wonder if it's true!
It had been several days since I'd checked the news...which I usually do every day on commondreams.org. Sometimes I need a break. But coming back after even a few days off can be disturbing in the extreme.
So Real ID is now a soon-to-be-enacted fact, and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, with the support of the White House, is working on a bill to expand the powers of the U.S. Patriot Act and to make its temporary provisions permanent. Anyone else reminded of Orwell in all of this?
And now 1000 U.S. troops have done to Al Qa'im what they did to Falluja six months ago. This on top of the retracted-but-all-too-believable reports of the Quran being flushed down the toilet by Quantanamo interrogators will surely fan the ever-growing flames of anti-American sentiment around the world.
How far must this madness go before the American people wake up and say, "NO MORE!"? Will they ever wake up, or will we, like countless empires before us, have to follow this path to its inevitable end...our own self-destruction and the destruction of much of our world?
Instead of fiddling while Rome burns, our people are shopping at Wal-Mart, listening to their ipods, watching Fox News, cheering their sports teams, driving SUVs and waving the American flag while this nation, that was founded on the ideals of liberty and justice for all, is stolen out from under them by a fanatical few. What a sad story it will be if we let them get away with it.
Don't give in or give up, my friends. We must keep on keepin' on. Think of the children.
FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2005
If you're a regular reader of my journal or blog you know how I struggle with the state of the world as it is today. The wars, the religious fanaticism, the suffering of the innocent, the arrogance of the powerful, the institutionalized inequalities, the human-induced damage to our planet and its inhabitants can fill me with alternating impotence, rage and despair.
Yes I do what I can to offer other options, whether that means taking to the streets with the Raging Grannies, aligning myself with the marginalized and victims of injustice, creating art and song to heal and inspire, or trying to present the truth as I see it on my web site and blog, but keeping myself grounded and at peace can be a real challenge. Yesterday's entry was a good example of that fact. So to say I am at a time of unrest may be an understatement.
It has been my lived experience that such times open me up to new possibilities. Like shifting tectonic plates, my consciousness can undergo a seismic shift only when I am the least settled and self-satisfied. I also know that what or who appears as changemaker is usually a simple thread woven into the fabric of my ordinary existence. No bells ring, no choir sings, no announcement is made, and the "teacher" is often unaware of the impact she or he is having on my life.
So when I stopped in at Borders bookstore today to look for a book/CD to help prepare for my upcoming Arabic language classes, I was unaware that Frank, the bookseller who assisted me in finding the correct section, was going to assist me in ways I could not have anticipated.
We started by talking about why I wanted to study Arabic. He told me about his friend who has been in this country for years but is planning to return to Lebanon, his birthplace, when he retires in two years. We talked about how 9/11 and all that has come out of it has made Frank's friend feel less at home here in the US. I told him about my friend Rabih's nineteen months in jail and his secret deportation. That led us to a general discussion about activism.
Frank said that he used to be an activist and a union organizer but had decided several years ago that he could better follow his path by giving up activism and becoming a healer, specifically a practitioner of reiki, energy work and healing touch. He shared his dreams of bringing his healing work to our military veterans of war. He then asked if I'd by any chance read Deepak Chopra's new book called "Peace Is the Way." I mentioned my long-held reluctance to read Chopra's books mainly because of his superstar status. Frank just said, "Would it be all right if I just bring over a copy of his book on peace for you to see?" I said of course he could.
Two pages into that book I knew it was just what I needed...and that it had come at just the right time. What I need and want to do is become less anti-war and more pro-peace. But more than that, I want to become peace. And that is exactly what Deepak Chopra is saying we need. As long as we (I) stay focused on all that is wrong with our world, we/I will be feeding into that cycle of violence. It is only when I take the path of peace that I can help transform our world...and myself.
In our conversation Frank spoke several times about Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who is known and respected worldwide as a peacemaker. I told him about the pen-and-ink drawing I'd made twelve years ago in which I'd used a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh that set forth what I believe is the way to peace. I couldn't recall the exact words then but now I see they were:
"What we need are people who are capable of loving, of not taking sides so that they can embrace the whole of reality as a mother hen embraces all her chicks with two fully spread wings."
I have a long way to go to live into Thich Nhat Hanh's words and the attitude they reflect, but now's the time to start. Thank you, Frank, for opening a door I feel ready to walk through.
SATURDAY, MAY 21, 2005
We've had two beautiful warm sunny days in a row and I have a sunburn to show for it. I just can't stay inside. I know, I know, I should be wearing sunscreen.
Yesterday I started out by scooting to the gym for my Friday morning workout. Matt pronounced it my best workout ever; I did feel very strong. Afterwards I scooted down to our community's shopping street where I stocked up on Middle Eastern food from the grocery store and then went to Borders where I encountered Frank the wise bookseller. After that I went to Ed's office but didn't find him home, so I scooted across the street and ate a picnic lunch at one of the tables next to the high school track. After about a half hour, Ed joined me there. As we were leaving, we learned that the Southeastern Michigan Regional High School Track Meet was going to be held there the next day (Saturday). I promised myself that I'd be there.
Of course I had to take some pictures of what I saw as I scooted along. That included this example of the colors of spring, a close-up of a rhododendrum in bloom, a pink dogwood tree, a street and a sidewalk I scooted down. I also ran into my neighbor friends, Peter and Elyse. Elyse's 11th birthday party had just ended and she showed me her newly-painted fingernails and toenails. It had been a "spa" party for 13 of her best friends. It's hard to believe Elyse is now 11 and Peter's 15. When I first took their pictures for my journal, they were 7 and 11.
Today I did as I'd promised myself and scooted down to the Regional Track Meet at the high school. Such excitement, energy and talent on display! And it was great to see the rich diversity of races and ages in the stands and on the field. Just as I wish our community were all the time. Folks were friendly and supportive of all the athletes, cheering for their own but also for students from other schools. And it seemed there were superb runners from every school. But talented or not, every single kid gave it their best. There was lots of heart out there today.
I took these pictures of the runners: photos #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7 & #8.
Tonight after dinner I came upstairs and painted Hope #1 and Hope #2.
SUNDAY, MAY 22, 2005
I'm trying not to gobble up Deepak Chopra's book, "Peace Is the Way," but to take my time and read it reflectively. I have so much inner work to do here.
Already I see that the dualities, the "us" and "them" attitudes that lead to war, are present within me. Yes, my "them" is different from their "them," but it's the same thing. I've lumped certain individuals and groups into a category that, if I used such words, would be called "evil." Again my Axis of Evil is different from the one put forward by leaders in my government, but it has the same power to demonize the "other."
For every time I cry out, "When will they EVER wake up?", don't you think they're crying out the same thing about me?
And when I go out on the streets to protest war, am I doing it with the same inner hatred that fuels that war and keeps it burning bright? If I am anti-war or anti-anything, how can that negativity bring about anything approaching peace? What is peace anyway? Simply the absence of war, or is it something I have yet to understand?
Ah, there is so much to consider...and even more to change. Not out there, but within myself.
MONDAY, MAY 23, 2005
I not only painted A World of Friends today but experienced their presence by phone.
Around noon I visited my friend Margaretha in Sweden. It had been months since we'd talked but that didn't stop us from picking up the threads of our friendship and continuing to weave a close connection. Margaretha and I see the world, both inner and outer, in similar ways and never run out of subjects to discuss. We can even imagine where each of us is sitting and what we're seeing because we've shared so many digital photos of our environs in the years that we've known one another.
Like my brother Rabih, Margaretha and I have never met in person but that hasn't mattered; we know one another by heart.
Then a little after 3 PM I travelled to Lebanon where I had a grand phone visit with Sana, Rabih and Sulaima's 15 year-old daughter. Her parents were out so Sana and I were free to have our own heart-to-heart. We talked about so many things, including the day we first met in December 2001.
That was the day of her father's first immigration court hearing after he'd been arrested and put in jail with no charges and no bail. Sana remembered that she and her brothers were so thirsty and here came this woman they didn't even know who gave them her bottle of juice. Sana said that meant so much because, after what they'd just been through, they thought all Americans hated them. But obviously I didn't.
We also talked at length about my upcoming trip to Lebanon in November. Sana said she hoped I wouldn't be disappointed. I said that would be impossible because I have absolutely no expectations. It's all going to be new to me.
How I love and respect this young woman.
I've been reading with great interest "Pity The Nation," Robert Fisk's book about Lebanon's recent history. Rabih recommended it to me when I asked for a list of books to read in preparation for my trip. I am deeply moved by the number of wars and armed conflicts that have been fought on Lebanon's soil over the past century.
It makes me realize how protected we Americans have been from such immediate and tangible reminders of the costs of war. Maybe that's why our people seem so oblivious to the suffering we inflict on countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The other painting I made today--Footprints In Time--was probably inspired by my reading about Lebanon. It is such an ancient civilization. America is a baby in comparison.
© 2005 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.
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