I didn’t grow up politically-minded, not like my young sons who a decade ago acted like I was offering a trip to Disney when I said:
“Obama and Clinton will be in NH next week.”
On the morning of the rally in Unity, I only had to wake them once. You’d think it was Christmas, but with longs lines and heat and lots of speeches, and they were just as into it.
They’ve grown up just next door, in Vermont, and I give our small state credit for maturing me toward citizenship.
Chicken BBQs with Bernie.
Rallies with my neighbors.
And it’s not that I wasn’t exposed to politics growing up. The nightly news flooded our living room with scenes of Vietnam. My parents regularly argued about the Irish question. My grandfather was the President of the Union League–the oldest Republican organization in his southern NJ county. My grandmother wept in front of the black and white on the day Nixon resigned.
I never understood my lack of interest in all things political, and always felt lesser for it, but it wasn’t until last summer, at the pond, at the age of 52, that a lifelong activist from the city suggested a new frame:
“Maybe you couldn’t relate to the voices around you until you moved to Vermont.”
Maybe she was right.
Politics had always seemed too sport-like for me–lots of us and them and ugliness; and yet, Social Studies had always been my favorite subject. I actually bought my sixth-grade text book at the end of the school year because I couldn’t bear to part with it; while my Junior High field trip to the United Nations was my version of Christmas.
As a kid, I ran Muscular Dystrophy carnivals in my backyard and picked up trash around the neighborhood with the kids in my club.
We moved a lot because my dad was in school and then in the Army, and I frequently befriended those who others excluded, not out of pity, but out of kindness and something more–interest: my neighbor who went to the special school, my classmates whose parents didn’t speak English, the elderly at every occasion.
At home, I was regularly sent to my room from the dinner table for speaking out against injustice (aka. talking back.)
As I came into adolescence, however, I begin to lose my bearings. We moved back to Cape May County, and I remember cringing in my Catholic high school as my Social Studies classmates mocked the President. I don’t think it mattered much to me who he was, except that he seemed gentle and kind, as did the quirky English teacher who they regularly harassed.
Later, when I backpacked through Europe during college, I remember being challenged, particularly by the Irish, for my lack of awareness of how my country was engaging abroad.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling both foolish and criminal, not to mention entitled and clueless.
“Bleeding Heart,” a lifelong friend said after we’d graduated. He’d said it with affection–about his two favorite people–“his kindred souls,” he called us–but I could tell that he hadn’t meant it as a compliment.
Later I would come to realize that he was a Republican while we would become Democrats.
“La La land,” my father said, as I began expressing my emerging political views.
But those were the good ole days. Because now what I’m called or referred to or accused of by GOP-voting friends is so hostile and reviled and “other,” that I’m struck and hurt and confused (while my liberal friends dish it right back out to the GOP.)
For instance, this week it’s history that I want to destroy. This, from friends who didn’t even like history in school, while I went on to teach it, as does my husband.
Before that, I’d been assigned the absence of patriotism. This while raising sons steeped in the understanding of democracy. No television. No game boys. Lots of reading. Lots of conversation. Lots of field trips.
Before that, I was accused of not living in reality.
Is television reality?
I guess so, because look who is President.
I must be in La La Land because I thought that if nothing else my fellow Americans held some truths to be self-evident, beyond partisanship.
Have you seen it?
In its entirety?
It was such a disgrace and such an alarm that for the first time, I’ve left my civil-tongue behind:
I can’t recall ever using this term before, but after watching 45’s speech, this is clearly what wanted expression.
He is playing us–ALL of us.
Because he can.
Because he’s smart.
Because he doesn’t care.
And most of all, because he’s threatened.
“Be kind, Kelly,” a GOP-voting friend says as I use the word “fuck” all over his steady stream about statues.
I reply with a quote from Marianne Williamson:
Love is always the answer, but sometimes love says NO.
Not NO to my friend for whom I allow differences and continued affection, but NO to this President and NO to my friend’s distraction from what is staring us in the face.
WE must wake the fuck up, and come shoulder to shoulder (with those we have demonized)–for democracy, for decency, for humanity, for the planet, for the future.
A rainy Wednesday in March brings to mind the memory of orange, chocolate-chip scones.
This would be just the day to sit a spell at the counter at Sweeties on Route 9 in Marlboro–sipping a latte, taking in the aroma of bacon, the morning conversations, the ebb and flow of townspeople and tourists beginning their day
Sweeties has been closed now for a handful of years and we’ve all grown accustomed to having to leave town for gas or a six-pack, but the absence lingers like a loved one, and sometimes rises like an ache, particularly in wintry months or on rainy days like today.
“After the General Store, comes the Post Office,” says a neighbor. “Then the school.”
Marlboro School was at the center of last week’s Pre-Town Meeting in response to Act 46 which seeks to consolidate school governance.
“Forced, short-sighted, rushed through legislation,” is how one woman described it.
A discussion of the unintended consequences of Act 46 ensues; and I’m surprised by a consideration that hadn’t occurred to me until then, and how deeply it shakes me–not the loss of our precious Junior High, or the loss of our vibrant voice; or how these losses will reshape our school, and our town; but something that strikes at the center of self-governance:
I know not everyone can make it on the first Tuesday in March, and I know that efforts in other towns to shift the meeting to an evening or a weekend haven’t produced the desired results; But our old Town House fills up with body heat and breath and voice and community, and that’s something.
And even in the years when you’re not in a chair or on a bench or at that front table or up at the podium, the gathering holds space for who we are and how we live and what happens here, not just in Marlboro, but all over the Green Mountain state, and even across our nation, as Bernie proved to be true.
Sure Town Meeting would continue for awhile; the old timers here are hearty like that; but the absence of the school budget–ie. the absence of children at the heart of decision making–would hollow out the gathering, until it became a dusty relic of itself.
Just before our Pre-Town Meeting closes, a follow up question about our “Geographically Isolated” and “Structurally Isolated” school comes from the floor:
“If we find that it doesn’t work for our town, can we go back to what we had?”
The response sends a chill through my body, particularly this year:
“Once you take it apart, you can’t build it again.”
without acting on it
enlarges our freedom
We came to Vermont for the clean air, the heightened perspective, the depth of thought and consciousness.
We gave up cable long before we arrived.
Once here, in a town without a traffic light, we learned to live with even less distraction. To embrace silence. Early nights. Slow reads. Pillow talk. Sleep.
Then came the internet.
The web expanded our horizons, enriched our conversations, increased our opportunity, and fractured our attention.
The single screen in the den was replaced by individual screens, of all sizes, in each pair of hands, in every room, at every hour, on workdays and weekends and holidays.
Family time, once incidental, now needed to be scheduled and rescheduled and relinquished in favor of independent pleasures. Moments passing and glancing at each others screens. Morning spaciousness obsolete. Bedtimes later. Pillow talk extinct. Books ornamental.
It’s come to this. To know. That my attention. Has rarely been singular.
In a weekend retreat with Tara Brach at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, I make a discovery. Once singularly focused on nothing but my breath, I am overcome. By anxiety.
Soon after, I realize. It’s time.
The first 24 hours are agonizing. The next 48 touch and go. An entire week disrupted by unrequited desire.
Gradually, Facebook fades to the background. Cravings pass like those for sugar following a post-holiday detox.
But in the absence of posting and notifications, something else arises:
Day after day.
Night after night.
Death. Decay. Disaster.
I stay. I notice. I breathe. I take my supplements.
(I drink a little.)
The weeks pass and I begin to notice something else arising, anew:
Like a seedling in May. Or an early morning in June. Or the cool grass under my feet. Or the hush of days end. Or the call of the hermit thrush from deep in the woods. Or the sound of rain on our metal roof.
Attention and intention aligned once again.
At the end of the month, I come upon this Rumi quote in Tara’s book, True Refuge:
Do you pay regular visits to yourself?
I feel the invitation; but I don’t know how to RSVP.
I’m already intoxicated by all there is to share and receive.
And yet, I also sense a subtle shift.
The world conspired to keep me awake. The warm air. The intoxicating sounds. The sky. Especially the sky! First Mars. Then all those constellations whose shapes & names I never bothered to learn. Then something else. A first for the season! So soon? Maybe it was a plane. A falling star. A UFO. I got up three times. After midnight. To be sure.
My guys strut around in the Rockin Rose towels I bought for spring, Makes my feminist heart sing.
Here’s to black fly bites & ant infestations.
Without which we’d drown in the intoxication of May.
I suppose I was 17 and she was not quite 2. We dove under the sea together and the salt water soaked her long lashes and made the gift of her in my arms under the warm sun almost unbearable.
“You have such pretty eyes, Bon Bon,” I said.
After which, she looked at me, just as earnestly, with the sand kissing the fine hairs of my face, and said,
“You have two eyes too, Kel Kel!”
One year ago today. Bernie announced his campaign. On the waterfront. In Burlington, Vermont.
both boys back in the house
At 52, I’ve become such a risk taker. In relationship. First with a friend. Then a sister.
Exposing where I’ve been hurt instead of tucking it inside. To fester.
After I share, I listen and respond to the ways I’ve presented a similar challenge. To them.
I am so brave. And vulnerable.
We all are.
after 10 days away, i love re-integrating back home
under the cover
Another day, another graduate!
May 21, 2016
Am I pretty?
52, and I still want
to know. Daddy,
do you think so?
Medicine enters the next generation…
Nephew Corey (my sister Robin’s oldest and the first of our next gen) JUST graduated from Medical School.
Continuing on the path of his father (ER doc), grandfather (Surgeon) & grandmother (Nurse), great-grandfather (Surgeon), great-great grandfather (Physician) & great-great grandmother (Nurse), and his great-great-great grandfather (Health Officer.)
The island in May. Empty of commerce. Pulsing in preparation. Landscapers. Dune-shapers. Painters. Stockers. Deliverers. A shoulder season like September, but intemperate & gusty with an unwelcome chill. A desire for baring, not covering. Skin. Aching for swimsuits, not sweatshirts. The anxious cheer of Open for Business. Eager staff training & being trained. Busboys seeking anything upon which to apply clean rags. Everyone practicing on pretend customers, like me, before the real ones arrive, in throngs, in season, with the height of the summer sun…
Happy 26th Anniversary of our Marriage, Casey
the “backdrop to women’s oppression for centuries”
(I wouldn’t want to live inside this institution with anyone else.)
Though I was born here, and lived here from time to time throughout my life, it is the returning that I most appreciate. And in this, I have been well received, both by the sea, and by those who have welcomed me and my family over a lifetime. First grandparents, then parents and in-laws, aunts & uncles, siblings, cousins, friends, friends of siblings, parents of friends–each providing spare bedrooms, empty apartments, entire homes–so that I might know, and always remember, that I belong.
The pre-patriarchal goddess, Hera, returned for a ritual bath to the Spring of Kanathus every year to renew her Virginity–the quality of belonging to herself.
~Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
In my bag, I have packed, just about 700 pages
Ready for gentle eyes
If ever cease I to call Vermont my home, this may be what I’ll miss most…
To her home state. The great state of North Carolina.
“Let us learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past… Let us write a different story this time.”
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch
How often have I lived my life in compensation…
for another’s lived or unlived life…
Or my own…
How might I live without it…
Where does the balance of self reside?
Healers, artists, builders, coaches, counselors, teachers.This rich village in which we raise children.With special gratitude for Beverly Current at the Colonial Pool & Spa, who retires this summer, but not before coaxing a reluctant swimmer into proficiency & delight. True mastery.
I don’t read a lot of fiction. Because I feel manipulated and all. But my favorite fiction is once read. Sent by a friend. Who just had to share. Post office and all. Hoping I’d love it too.
I guess there’s some alchemy to an old white guy reminding us who we are as a country (and who we are not.)
30 years ago. The phone rang. It was Casey Deane.
Calling for a job.
what if i didn’t try to change how i was feeling.
what if i felt tired or depressed or heavy or all three and i just let that be. as if there was nothing wrong with me. as if how i am feeling is an invitation. as is. to really know. me. nothing to change. nothing to fix. nothing to flee.
next time, i’ll try this.
today i had chocolate. (lots of it.)
~EARTHSHINE: Sunlight reflects off the earth and lights up the moon; most intensely just before & after the New Moon of April & May.
Mothers Day sightings:
Racoon. Porcupine. (both dead)
Fox with two kits. Crossing road.
Turkey. Crossing highway.
Mouse. Crossing Rte 9.
(honorable mention: Golden Eagle, seated, on Rte 9, the week prior.)
Mothers day. Every day.
Feel the love. The sacrifice. THE POWER.
~A middle-aged man & woman, searching for trash along the side of the road, pause to exchange a touch & a kiss. #GreenUpDay
~A silver-haired man wipes tears from his cheek as the chorus sings, “Every week, I visit my mother. She lives in a place where they can take care of her. She’s not sure that I’m her daughter, but that no longer makes me cry.” #BrattleboroWomensChorus
~HEROINES with young children at performances throughout time, braving the gauntlet of breakdowns, while the rest of us get to focus so intently that we bristle at each squeak. #Motherhood
Celebrating all the ways we’ve been mothered well, and all the ways we can mother ourselves…
I can look out the window and see another dreary day or I can see the carpet of white blossoms on the greening earth.
I can look toward my kitchen and see the crumbs and disarray, or I can sense into the years of feeding a family and celebrating home.
I can look into the past and remember a mother who abandoned her children or I can see a woman who looked her demons in the eye and invited to them to the table where she nourished my soul.
Even the cd shuffler knows that stealing the sun after a few hours flirtation is crueler than another day without it.
Daffodils on a string of cold, dreary days; like sunny people at funerals.
You know that moment just before you transition into deep sleep? It’s there that He appears. Waking me. With a startle. Each night since Cruz dropped out. (Thank the Lord.) But now there’s no more pretending. He’s their guy. #Trump
Yesterday I finally tracked down a beloved. I can’t believe how hard she’s been to find. Made simpler by one fact: the smile that greeted me every morning in 7th, 8th & 9th grade was the same one she beamed at 51.
From her obituary.
That in every country of the world, women may be honored and respected and that their essential contribution to society may be highly esteemed.
After a 6 month hiatus, I’m struck by a tidal wave of sensation. Fear. Constriction. Resistance. A
nd something even more immobilizing:
Who do I think I am?!
The stakes are this high.
9 years of experience washed away.
Forced back to the beginning.
The initiation. Ishvara Pranidhana. Let my successes and my failures be an offering. #TeacherAppreciationDay#Unmasked
I asked Father Hodges–the one who wore a hair shirt and had us sing Irish drinking tunes in our senior theology class at Wildwood Catholic High–if I might be excused from getting on my knees and saying the rosary.
“I’m not Catholic,” I said.
The next day he volunteered me to crown Mary in the May pageant.
I first met Connie in Chile at an international conference for the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living. Geographically speaking, Connie and I were neighbors, but the lifestyles and topography of Manhattan and Marlboro were worlds apart–her island that never sleeps meets my mountain town and dirt roads without a traffic light in sight.
Santiago is where the conference took place. It was 2011. I was the Assistant to the Director of Federation EIL. Connie served as our United Nations representative. This immediately lent her my affection. (I’d had a thing for the UN since I was a kid.)
Connie didn’t make it to the conference the following year in Japan or to the one after that in Vermont, and I didn’t make it to Ireland, and neither of us was in New Zealand, but our friendship, seeded in Santiago, deepened into a seasonal rhythm that presenced itself each March around the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW.)
“Expect chaos,” Connie wrote, when I first inquired about how to navigate the event.
Thousands of NGO representatives–mostly women–from around the world convened each year at the United Nations; which I found so thrilling, that I kept returning. Each time Connie encouraged me and we shaped plans to get together.
That first year, we met up between meetings, and later in the week for lunch, and on the last evening, Connie invited all the representatives from our organization to her home in the Upper West. She cooked. We brought salads and desserts and wine.
This ritual of connection continued year after year. One March, Connie and I caught up for lunch at the American Wing at the MET. Another time at Pain Le Quotodien on 2nd Avenue; while last year, a bunch of us gathered back at her home for dinner after the day’s events. Connie cooked then too. We provided the accessories again. Everyone stayed late into the night.
In the kitchen, Connie told me that she hadn’t made it to any of the meetings; that she’d been at the doctor’s. She shook her head as if to say: Things don’t look so good. I hugged her more earnestly that night.
When I returned to New York a year later for the 60th Commission on the Status of Women, I saw Connie everywhere. In the park. At the MET. At Pain Le Quotodien. At the United Nations. At the Church Center across the street.
I’ve been home from the city for about a week, settling back into the rhythms of my dirt road, and now is about the time when she and I would exchange a volley of emails about the results of the Commission–where there was hope and where there was frustration–and Connie would invariably include a photo or two of spring in New York… a flowering tree perhaps, or a set of bulbs pushing through the ground in Central Park–to serve as an encouragement–to both of us–at the end of a long, cold winter.
This year, spring has come early to both Manhattan and Marlboro.
Look Connie… even in my backyard…
A former member of the US Committee for UNICEF, Connie Crosson served as the UN Representative for The Federation of the Experiment in International Living from 2008 until her death in 2015. Connie was a graduate of the School for International Training (SIT) at World Learning, a mother of an Experimenter to Germany, a host for many other Experimenters from around the world, and the director of a management training and consulting firm for nonprofit organizations.
Twenty-three years ago, I took a big pay cut and moved to Vermont. Another year later, I surrendered that income to invest myself in motherhood–because unlike work and success and travel, motherhood hadn’t come easy to me.
As a stay at home mom, I couldn’t afford to go out for coffee. I’m not exaggerating. My husband was a new teacher, and we had to pay for insurance out of pocket, and the cost of living in Vermont was surprisingly higher than New Jersey. I had a college degree and 8 years in the classroom; prefaced by a handful of years managing a restaurant; but I felt compelled to give my all to motherhood just as I had to the endeavors that came before it.
More than a decade passed before I let some other interests back in. My sons no longer needed me in the hour to the hour, but I was terrified of awakening passion for something other than them. I played it safe, in part-time roles, and little by little my sense of a separate self began to re-emerge.
More than anything, I longed to travel–to know myself in some foreign place again–but another decade passed before I left the country; unless you count crossing the border of Vermont into Canada; which admittedly was a huge thrill–all three times.
I was approaching 50 when I was offered another safe, part-time position, in a tiny rural office. I almost fell out of the interview chair, however, when I was asked if I had a valid passport. 5 months later, I was in Chile. The following year, Japan.
Surprisingly, it was my stay-at-home grandmothers who planted the seed of travel in me. As a girl, I sat at my great-grandmother Mildred’s knee, and watched as she brushed her hand across the cover of her huge atlas, turning page after page, as she pointed–to all the places she had traveled with her husband after his retirement as a Merchant Marine.
I’m 52 now, and I’ve given up that traveling job for something else.
During my years at home, I discovered what a wise woman once said:
Our true passion brings us balance.
Even though I did it so well, and gave it my all–managing a restaurant and a classroom and a home and a non-profit, none of these were my passion.
I was the last to realize my own.
Others called me a writer first.
For the past few years, I’ve dedicated myself to the page. I can afford a cup of coffee now, even lattes, lots of them, but not much else. My husband is still a teacher and we still have one son at home. The other is abroad, living the life I once knew.