The Broad is Back!

January 28, 2017

Carnival of Love 2017, We Love You, Skid Row

In one of the crazier things I’ve ever done, chalk this: I flew from Tennessee to Los Angeles to participate in the 2017 We Love You Skid Row Carnival of Love.

The day was full of smiles and tears and children’s laughter as they got to play games, draw, eat ice cream and get toys. It was full of music and dancing and hugging.

There were a number of guests who seemed overwhelmed. Quite a few were obviously mentally ill, withdrawn and abrupt. But that’s ok. I was there to serve.

I came with my son. He was a guide, who brought guests through the myriad of services—clothes, shoes, hygiene products, blankets, a full barbecue dinner, ice cream, legal services, therapy services, DMV services to get IDs, barbering, hairdressing, medical screenings, pet grooming, animal services, glasses, hearing checks, massage, foot washing and hot showers. Every bit of this was donated or sponsored. Many of those giving out services were students from nursing programs or hairdressing programs, but there were fully fledged professionals giving up their Saturday to help people in need.

A touching fact—the foot washing volunteer positions were the first to fill up. That’s the kind of people this event attracted.

I was a listener and a hugger. I would listen to people who had to talk. Not many wanted to, and most just asked questions, but I gave out a lot of hugs.

Many thanked me for giving them a wonderful day. I didn’t. They gave me a wonderful day. One young man said, “Thank you so much. You know, you guys thought of everything. I’m a vegetarian, and you have vegetarian meals. Just because I’m homeless, I don’t want to eat meat.” He wanted a big hug. He got one. I told him he’s not forgotten in his ear, and I got a good squeeze. And we can’t forget him.

Two guy guides were flummoxed by a crying baby while her mamma was getting medical checks, so I stepped in and got to hold a beautiful 23 month old little girl. I guessed she was Latina, so I used Spanish. She didn’t answer, but she calmed down and let me show her the dancers and street performers. We bopped to the music and watched the TV reporters with their camera folks. Her mamma told me yes, she understands Spanish and her name is Melissa. She’s too thin and homeless right now. But she was beautiful and I snuck in some kisses on her temple. She’s a baby like any other.

The reason for the cameras was Justin Baldoni, who’s project of love this really is. He’s one of the great ensemble cast of the CW’s Jane the Virgin, a Peabody award winning, tongue-in-cheek telenovela dramedy with true heart. I am not a television watcher except for BBC stuff and now a full roster of CW shows of which Jane the Virgin is my absolute favorite. I started following most of the cast on twitter because they are some of the most positive, loving and role-modely folks I follow (I needed to make that a parallel sentence. Deal with it). I saw almost all of the ensemble at today’s event, not being “TV stars” but in there working like the rest of the volunteers. Watching the show, I sense the love and respect they have for one another, and seeing that love in action was wonderful.

img_20170128_153112

Justin thanking us for making the day possible. But he did the heavy lifting. Thank you, Little Brother.

 

I’m not one to hold actors in awe, seeing as my brother has acted, my son is an actor and I spend a lot of time with them what with occasionally directing and being on the board of a NYC theater. I know better than most that actors are people with a cool (and very hard) job, but there are the ones who are a little too invested in ego. Today I saw technically beautiful people, yes, but their goodness made them more beautiful. There were some other CW stars there, as well, supporting and just being people.

They were gracious and did pose for selfies because they realize that it’s their names that draw people, but they were also working hard. I didn’t ask for any selfies. While I love these people, for their hearts and talents, today was not for that for me. I think my age helps. If I were 20 and still had those youthful good looks, it might be a different story.

Justin’s wife, Emily, also an actor, is his true partner and was there working hard, but smiling and gracious even as she flew about the place. She’s Swedish, so my son and I chatted with her a few minutes in Swedish early in the day before the guests arrived. I make judgements about people quickly based on many things. She’s genuine in her love and her love of service. She thanked us and gave us real hugs. She’s good people.

img_20170128_105636

It was hard to get a good picture of Emily during the speeches. This isn’t very good, but she’s a typical Swedish beauty.

The Baldonis are Baha’i and they live their faith openly by showing faith in action. That is what I try very hard to do in my life, and while not a Baha’i, I also believe that all are my brothers and sisters. Little Brother and Little Sister are a joy to watch. But this was not a religious event. A Christian mission lent its parking lot for the “restaurant,” a church overlooked us physically, some volunteers wore overtly Christian shirts to identify why they were there, I saw a number of Muslim women judging by the hijabs, so I assume Muslim men, as well, and some folks there are just good people without a faith motivation.

img_20170128_151105

While I no longer identify as Christian (I’m a Believer), I found this symbolic.

CBS Cares and CW Cares sent a number of folks, and Justin’s own production company, Wayfarer, formed a foundation to support charitable events. This was huge and as someone who has “done” events, this represented hours and hours of hard grunt work.

While I loved interacting with the guests (sort of an extension of my day job), probably the proudest moment for me was as a mom, seeing my son interact with the folks he was escorting. He didn’t know I was watching and to see him smiling, polite, and waiting on the men he was helping brought tears to my eyes. I tried to raise a good person, and I did. He was born that way, but I encouraged it. Parenting is hard, so please excuse my moment of motherly pride.

Justin explained that he wanted a carnival because it’s fun. Seeing people who live in a tent city or sleep on cardboard boxes dropping their cares for four hours, playing some games, dancing, laughing, enjoying a street fair where they are welcomed, not hurried off by security, filled my heart to bursting. I needed this day as much as they needed it, I think.

Walking toward the site around 8 that morning, my son and I passed many people sleeping on the street. Then we saw the tent city and my heart broke. How can I live in one of the richest countries in the world, be in one of the richest cities in the country, and see this level of poverty?

I actually asked, out loud, “What kind of country am I living in?”

I know much of the answer, of course. Many mental health facilities were closed in the 80s, so mentally ill folks were often left unmedicated and unhelped. Soon they were on the streets. That trend hasn’t stopped. We have a safety net in this country, but there are folks who thought they were okay, but lost so much in the financial crash of ’07 that they are forced out. Some have temporary setbacks like domestic violence or job loss. Others were thrown away by their families because of teen pregnancy, being gay, being transgendered or some other perceived trespass.

Many have addictions and aren’t ready to stop them yet. When drugs or alcohol take over your life, homelessness can often follow. We know scientifically that addiction is an illness, but many still moralize about it and think addicts “deserve” what they get. I am the last to romanticize addiction, having seen it up close and personal, hating every moment of it. Addicts can be really terrible people who do horrible things. But they are still humans who deserve our help if at all possible.

I did have sort of an ulterior motive for going. I would like to bring this idea back to my community. If all the thrift stores in town and their organizations pull together, bring in the Lions, the Rotary, the local hospital center and so on, we could so do this. Justin said he wants to see this idea spread. We need this in America, so while I post this not to show off about how “good” I am (I am so not good) or how wonderful the Baldonis are (they are), I do post it to encourage folks to help.

A carnival is a huge undertaking. Most of us don’t live in communities that have famous names to draw attention. But we can organize clothing drives, offer a hot meal once a week or once a month, be kind to folk. Smile at a homeless person instead of rushing past. I’ve seen folks drop a dollar in a cup without even acknowledging the person asking. Smile. Say hello. Yes, some are mentally ill. But most will respond, many with gratitude for being seen. We strip the homeless of their humanity in this country. We strip the poor, as well. But they truly are our brothers and sisters.

Here are some images–there aren’t many because I was busy doing not photographing, but some street performers, a little boy dancing at the Dance Par-tay, a little boy sitting on Justin’s shoulders during a live musical performance by Justin’s friend, Andy Grammer, finally, Tyrone and Justin. Tyrone is a resident who has danced up a storm for the past three years. I saw him dancing from 12 noon till it ended at 4. The man is a dance machine!

Thank you, Justin and Emily and Wayfarer for this wonderful opportunity to serve.

January 27, 2017

Too Big to Fail

When the financial crisis of ’07-08 was addressed by incoming president Barack Obama, many Americans were unhappy with the resolution. Yes, we got “back on track,” and things did get better for many. But banks were declared “too big to fail” and were bailed out.  That, I think, was one of the seeds that led to our current president.

For good reason, people blamed the banks. When banks got help and no punishment, many Americans who had lost homes, cars, jobs, and even a lifetime’s work got rightfully angry. And for the next six years that anger brewed.

Sure we got the ACA, which to me will always be Romneycare as I first encountered in when I came back to the US in ’07 and lived in Massachusetts, but I know people who literally had to choose between insurance and food. Even the subsidies through the ACA were not enough. It depends, of course. When I came back to the US the second time, I used the ACA because I had no health care in my part time jobs. I paid a lot but got excellent coverage. My subsidy was about $500 a month, but since I literally paid more into the government in taxes than American Airlines, United Continental, and Hewlitt-Packard, and now it seems, President Trump, my conscience is clear. I have always paid every penny of taxes due, and I am willing to pay them to cover things like medical care and roads and so on.

So in spite of the ACA, we have millions of people who realized that they were unimportant to the government in spite of all its propaganda. Protecting the banks was protecting them, we were told, because if the big banks failed, the economy would suffer.

Well, you know what else is too big to fail? The United States of America. And failing we are.

We have a sitting president who is totally unfit for the job. Yes, he is a businessman who gets things done, (including bankrupting himself and many, many small businesses left in his wake) but countries are not businesses. It’s not about the bottom line. It’s about people’s lives. He has not divested himself from his businesses. He has named unfit people for almost every position in his Cabinet. Most are now in the position to make the very wealthy even wealthier. Many of them have outright conflicts of interest.

Many don’t know a thing about the departments they’ve been nominated to head. I could see Ben Carson as Attorney General. I wouldn’t like it, but the man is a physician. But as head of HHD? No experience. And don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos. As a career professor, I am appalled. I have been teaching students who have suffered at the hands of federal interference in education for decades. I’ve seen the steady decline in knowledge and skills. Not intelligence—preparedness. The thought of her policies literally makes me shudder. And I know the meaning of literal.

Ironically, in light of people’s growing fears of more wars, I think one of his best picks for a Cabinet position is Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense. While more hawkish than I’d like, he has the experience needed and is respected by folks in the Pentagon.

But the worst thing I see is the polarization between every day Americans. It’s been growing since the 2016 election cycle started, but instead of calming down, it’s getting worse. We are hating like we haven’t in a long while. We’re mean, petty, bitter, snide, personal, not only to people in government, but to one another.

We call each other names, generalize and stereotype. We’re more openly prejudiced than we have been in the past 50 years, not just against race but against one another based on political beliefs. I was never a fan of being “politically correct,” but I have always been a fan of trying not to offend people. I try to use non-gendered and people first language. I try to use the identifiers people prefer. To me, that’s just good manners and a fulfillment of the Golden Rule. Many quip that the new Golden Rule is “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Not a quip, the truth, and always has been the truth. But if we say we are the best country on earth, let’s treat each other with respect and humanity. Let’s act like the nicest people on earth. Bullying and hatred are not parts of greatness.

Don’t like someone’s choices? Think their life is a sin? Fine. But don’t curse them, threaten them, harm them or kill them. That’s not acceptable. And I’m not looking at one side or another or another here. I see people on ALL sides of the political spectrum acting unacceptably.

The true core values of our country, democracy, equality, and freedom, have eroded at a pace that frightens me. America is the only thing that’s too big to fail. And we are. America is an idea. And ideal, really. And because we are no longer living up to our ideals, because democracy was trampled on for decades, because corporations have the same rights as citizens, we’ve been a functional oligarchy for a long time. Equality in this country is a joke. Some lives are just worth less. Many see this on color lines, but I believe it’s more on wealth lines. The poor of this country have been abused, manipulated, lied to, and used as tools of the ruling powers since the beginning.

Race is also a problem. A middle class person of color does face stereotypes and prejudice. I am not unaware of the problem, and I’m not stupid. My own son identifies as “non-White” and has faced prejudice both from law enforcement and regular folks. But a poor white person has more problems and inherent difficulties than that middle class person of color. I live in a predominantly white place and the problems of poverty I see are only slightly different than the ones I saw in NYC. Drugs, poor education, lack of family structure (I’m not saying a traditional family is necessary, but when mom and dad are meth dealers, life is nowhere near normal), poor nutrition, poor medical care, and the list goes on.

This economic disparity, this racism, this throwback to “traditional Christian values” of intolerance and hatred for those who choose to live outside one’s ideas of Christianity, these are also seeds that led to Trump’s shocking victory.

Folks like to argue that race is the only reason he’s president, but that’s balderdash. Back in ’92, Bill Clinton’s famous campaign reminder was “it’s the economy, stupid” hasn’t changed these 24 years later. We allowed the oligarchy to grow, and now the White House has become the Palace of Versailles, especially the gilded New York White House in Trump Tower. Cronies and supporters are put into positions of power, regardless of ability, and dissent is harshly treated.

I’m not buying into Trump’s rhetoric of “make America great again.” It has needed work my entire life, but it’s always been a great country. Things are possible here. I am the daughter of a construction worker who earned a PhD. I have taught young people who have literally gone on to change the world, young people who grew up in poverty, or were immigrants, or were people of color, or all of the above. They are America. I love my country, and I love its people. We are what’s made America great, but America has failed too many because money rules.

Greed is not one of America’s values. We’re too great to fail, and this is something that needs to be addressed. I am not calling for communism. That was tried and failed in the USSR and China, among other places. I’m calling for competence in government, experts in charge of departments, not political cronies, corporations losing the rights of citizens, and support for measures that give a leg up. I’m calling for democracy to come back, unhindered by lobbyists, restrictive voting laws and outside manipulation, for freedom to come back through solid educations so that people can make good choices and for humans to live as they wish as long as they remember that their rights extend no further than the tip of their noses. That’s what I learned in 7th grade social studies. My rights are for me, and I can not force others to do what I think is right unless it’s something protected by the Constitution. And finally equality. No human being is born better than another. There is one race, the human race. Because of my personal beliefs, I believe we are all brothers and sisters, and I should treat you as I would a sibling. You may infuriate me, you may test me, but at the end of the day, I do love you. But you do not have to share my beliefs. Believe me, most people don’t as I don’t identify as any specific religion. But as members of the same race, we have to work together.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is my manifesto, I guess. We’re too big to fail. We’re an experiment in democracy that needs to backtrack a bit and see where we went wrong. I’m pretty sure I know where that was. Who will join me?

July 6, 2016

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night

Today I am broken-hearted. I was upset about the state of humanity this morning, but this afternoon is when the blow came. I lost a former student.

I hate that euphemism. He died. Ethan Taranto-Kent, a young man I taught in 2007-08. Thanks to the internet, we stayed connected and got to know each other as people. He was a fine one.

ethan pawla truck

He was also a young story teller, author, director and lead of the web series Mad Nation, which you can watch on his YouTube channel, Pernicious Paradise.  A post-apocalyptic action/adventure/rumination on humanity, he had hopes of growing the show. Now that will never happen.

Ethan and I would talk a lot, chat online more, about all sorts of things: humans, responsibility, politics, art, the Constitution, guns, knives, dogs, LA, acting, people. I really enjoyed out chats because Ethan was a thinker. He was serious and he cared. He never let me give the blithe answer–the joke. He pressed me to be serious, not something people commonly do these days. At his heart, he was serious and talented and deep.

He was also sweet and loving. I’ve digitally met his fiance Nikki. My heart grieves for her, too. Just a few months ago, Ethan was griping about something and said it was what he lived for. I said, no, Nikki and Pawla are who you live for, and if he and Nikki broke up, I would cry. Today I cried for her. Pawla is their rescue dog. If you want the essence of Ethan and Nikki, watch their beautiful video about Pawla’s adoption.

ethan and nikki

Ethan’s not the first student I’ve lost, but that doesn’t make it any easier. There have been cancers, accidents, suicides, the usual suspects that take young lives. I don’t even know how Ethan died, only that it was sudden and totally unexpected.

But if we love people, we’re probably going to lose some of them, and that’s the price we pay for loving. As with most people, it was totally worth the price of loving this young man.

Ethan, I will miss you. Thank you for being my friend, for pushing me when I didn’t want to be pushed, for living your dream, for loving Nikki and Pawla, for letting me into your world and sharing your loves with us, for being a Light in the world. That Light is gone, but the art you leave behind you and the memories you leave those of us still here will keep you evergreen.

ethan peeingethan and pawlaethan in costume

June 12, 2016

Broken Country, Broken Heart

When did it become ok to kill people we disagree with? Whose choices we disapprove of?

Oh, never?

People aren’t getting the message.

We’ve been beating and killing folks in the LGBT community for eons, and even here in America, where people are free to choose, where freedom is an enduring ideal, we don’t allow people to be free to be who they were born to be.

Most religions are hetero-normative. Fine. If your religion tells you that being gay is a sin, you deal with it. I hope you weren’t born gay, though.

Because people are. They just are. It’s not a learned trait. No one can “turn” someone gay just as no one can “turn” someone hetero (I dislike the term straight because it implies something else is crooked or off).

Someone can learn to unpeel the socialization that makes us behave in a certain way, that makes us hide who we really are. Then when someone comes out, some may think “they were ‘turned'”.

Today our country suffered the worst mass shooting in our history. The first reports didn’t even mention that it was at a gay bar.

But 50 people were killed because of who they were and because someone thought gay people are evil. A kiss disturbed him is the going rumor.

Some are saying “oh, he’s Muslim, that’s why”. No, that’s not why. He was a selfish, mentally unstable person with a gross sense of entitlement.I know many Muslims. None of them are killers. They might think gayness is a sin, but they don’t kill people for it. Nor do they condone Islamic countries that do. They consider it barbaric.

My heart is broken for all those lives lost, for the fears that my LGBT brothers and sisters are facing. All people are my brothers and sisters, and I am called to love them. I don’t  hate the shooter. I pity him his twisted mind that drove him to kill and be killed. I hate what he did.

In the coming days, let’s see what we can do to help the survivors heal, the mourning be comforted. It’s time to reach out in love, not anger or hatred.

 

 

July 23, 2013

Babies are Signs of Love I Thought

Yesterday, a baby was born. A little boy who seems destined to take a role in the world, one he didn’t ask for, but that’s the point of destiny.  His birth became an event, and it was celebrated around the world.  He is not the savior of the world, but people need something happy to latch on to, so they latched on to his arrival.

Like all babies, he’s a sign of love and hope, but you wouldn’t always know that reading press reports.

The press has been waiting outside the hospital where he arrived for the past two weeks, just waiting for his mother to go into labor. When she arrived early Monday morning, a feeding frenzy started. I was amused. A first baby? Nothing is going to happen for a while.  The parents, knowing that this child of theirs would also belong to the world on many levels, waited four hours to announce his birth. They had four precious hours when their boy was theirs and theirs alone.

Yesterday somewhere around 370,000 other babies were also born. Each one’s life just as precious as the one born in St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington.  But these little ones are not carrying the baggage of a 1000 year old monarchy on their little heads.

Too many of yesterday’s babies will die in the first years. Others will live a life of grinding poverty, be exiled from their homelands, be terrorized by war. Still others will grow up happy and comfortable, educated, pampered and secure.  Most are loved, though some are unwanted.

But each of these babies is a blessing–a sign that the world is still going to continue and should still continue.

I am happy to share in the birth of a baby–any baby, really. Parents sharing their joy with us makes the world a better place. Some of those parents are people I know, yet others are in a public position.

Unless there is a radical change to the structure of British government, that one baby boy in London will someday become king. As an American, I don’t really “get” monarchy, but as a scholar of English literature, I surely do “get” how important his ancestors have been. And he may very well take his place in a long line. His job will be ceremonial, but for many people he’s a symbol of something they love and hold dear.

But for many other people, he’s a symbol of all that’s wrong with the world. Once again, at what is a happy event, I see vitriol being poured out, aimed at a little tiny baby too young to have done much of anything yet but eat, sleep, cry and poop.  And again, I don’t really understand vitriol.

I’m amazed at how many people waste precious energy hating, hating with a passion.  Yes, we all do actually know that there are babies being born every day who will live lives of unutterable misery. Yes, we need to remember that and work to change to world every day.

Many of my fellow Americans are mad for British royalty, but most of the people I know don’t seem to care all that much. That’s fine. Ignore, but hate? I don’t get it. Anger? Why be angry at other people’s joy?  Some people just confuse me.

Personally, I’d like to welcome him to earth, him and all the little ones who joined us yesterday. They are all made of stardust, and deserve love and magic.

I wish the new little one health, happiness and love. Many blessings on the new little prince and on his parents. New parenthood is tough, and I do not envy their visibility.

And I wish the same to all of yesterday’s children. Many blessings on all the babies born.

And may we all be blessed with the wisdom to find ways to make all babies’ lives better

June 8, 2013

Grattis Madeleine och Chris

It’s a big day in Sweden today. Princess Madeleine, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia’s youngest child, married her Anglo-American fiance Chris O’Neil.  Who doesn’t love a pretty wedding? And as a former Swedish resident, I was curious.

When I was learning Swedish I read the two national tabloids most days to work on my vocabulary. We owned a shop which sold them, so it was easy enough to do.  And the one thing that gets covered ad nauseum in the tabloids is the royal family, so I’m surprisingly familiar with them. That adds to my curiosity, of course. I’ve watched this woman in the media for over 10 years. She’s familiar.

But I was curious for another reason. Princess Madeleine has been living in New York City for the past three years, and I actually came face to face with her early one morning on a coffee run. A narrow door: she was coming out, I was going in, so we were inches apart. I recognized her face, thought she was a former student, but then realized, no, that’s the princess. Five years in Sweden, never see a royal. Here in NYC? Come face to face with one. No words were spoken, just the usual polite smiles exchanged as one person steps aside for the other. Besides, I’m far too much of a New Yorker to react to a famous face, and she was just another New Yorker during the early morning rush.

But having seen the woman in the flesh, I was curious about her wedding.  Three years ago, her sister, Crown Princess Victoria, got married. I was curious then, as well, so I checked out the Swedish websites that day and was truly happy for her.  And homesick for Sweden.

Leading up to today, I was feeling much less nostalgic for Sweden, but of course, the first thing I did this morning was to log on to the website of Sweden’s biggest tabloid, Aftonbladet, to check out the pictures.

I loved it. The Swedish princesses are very pretty women with excellent taste in clothing. The bride’s Valentino dress was stunning and the bride looked like, well, a princess from a storybook. Everything about the wedding was lovely. The flowers, the children singing in the church, the reading by the Crown Princess. And I was struck at how much seeing Stockholm in all its summer beauty made me homesick.

There are videos on the site, of course, and the one that made me go all soft and gooey was the short one of Madeleine going up the aisle on her father’s arm. The shots of Chris O’Neil showed him visibly moved, unsuccessfully holding back tears. Yesterday I didn’t know the guy from Adam. Today, I think he’s a sweetie.

For all the royal pomp and circumstance, the overwhelming feeling I got from the pictures was love and warmth. The bridal pair is obviously besotted. Watching the royal family interact one can see the strong family love and connection. Victoria’s daughter, the littlest princess, Estelle, is 15 months old, but even she was at the wedding interacting with her mother, father and grandmother.

Seeing such obvious joy on the faces of Madeleine and Chris and their families just felt good. Watching something lovely set in the magnificent royal chapel and then later on the streets of Stockholm on a glorious summer day was a welcome respite from the “real world”. It was a moment away from school shootings, illegal wiretaps, financial meltdown and all the harsh realities we usually see in the news.

I feel the same way about all the weddings I attend, but this summer I don’t have any lined up, so I have to look to Sweden. I know there are American celebrity weddings, but I don’t recognize most of the people involved. And those weddings are not semi-state occasions, put on, in part, for public consumption. If celebrities get married and want privacy, they should have it. If they don’t, well, then I’ll look at their pictures, too.

We all need joy and happiness, reasons to celebrate and a reminder that love is something real that should be celebrated.  Part of me feels silly, uncool, and somewhat old fashioned for watching a royal wedding, but after all, I am a child of my times. Back when I was a little girl, fairy tale weddings were something to dream about. So for the most part it made me feel good to watch, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling good.

Madeleine och Chris: Grattis på ditt äktenskap. Må Gud välsigna er med ett långt och lyckligt liv tillsammans.

And Chris? Good luck learning Swedish!

May 13, 2011

Speech for the Graduates

Last night I had the great honor to give the keynote speech at the farewell dinner for graduating seniors in the Union College AOP/HEOP program. While all my students are special to me in their own way, this class holds a special place in my heart because they were the first class I taught in America after being away for 12 years.

For those unfamiliar with AOP or New York State’s program HEOP, these are fantastic programs to help bright, talented students with potential be able to attend schools they might not otherwise have been able to due to financial considerations.  Most of these students are from poorer areas with weaker public schools, so they also lack college preparation.  The students are often given an immersion program the summer before school, which Union College provides, and tutoring during the school year.  It was in the pre-freshman immersion summer that I met this graduating group.

Every single one of this group of 21 had distinguished him or herself in some way while at college, through leadership, scholarship, talent, service to the college or local community through volunteering or a combination of these areas.  AOP/HEOP programs nurture students, and with that little bit of extra care, these students blossom into the type of graduate America is hungry for.

I wanted to share the speech, minus the introductory and concluding comments, because I ad-libbed them, because what I have to say, while especially for that very special group, stands for many of the graduates of 2011.

So now, here’s the speech. Congratulations, as well, to all 2011 graduates.

I had many brilliant ideas for this talk. Sheer unadulterated rhetorical brilliance. But they all happened late at night, between sleep and wakefulness and I was too lazy to write them down, so by morning they were gone. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

At times I was seriously tempted to just get up here and wing it. I’m good at improv and sometimes just seeing your faces would have given me plenty of stories to embarrass you with.  But since this is a one shot deal, if it flopped, there’s no redoing it tomorrow.  So I thought the better of that idea.

Instead I wrote this, so I hope it’s OK. And I’m going to read it, more or less, and I know you’re not used to that from me, but if I don’t I might get off track and go on a tangent and who knows where we’ll end up.  And if I don’t have something to focus on up here, I might possible let some water leak out of my eye or something and  that would be gross.

Because I am that proud.

I look out you graduating seniors and my heart swells with love and pride. I remember the kids I met the summer of ’07. Shy, cocky, brash, brilliant, brats, unpolished but so much potential. I’ve watched you over the years, even though I’m far away I’ve got cyber eyes.  Between Facebook and a few summers coming back, I’ve stayed in the loop, and I’ve watched you become the outstanding men and women sitting here today.

You’ve accomplished so much in your four years here. Every time I hear about your studies abroad, your internships, your mentoring, the shows, awards, I feel pride again.

Now it’s traditional to tell graduates that they are the future of the nation because in reality, they are. No getting around that, and as I told you that first time I ever met you, I took your education seriously because you’re going to be taking care of me when I’m an old lady.

But you also know me. And tradition, while nice, is not all that important to me.  It’s good to know our roots but slavish following of what was done before is just foolish.

And you’re not just the future. You’re the now. You’re changing the world already. You’ve changed it already. You’re the role models to the kids in your neighborhoods, to your relatives, to the people who think they are unimportant in our society because our society shows them every day that they are not valued—the immigrants, the working class, the poor. Some of you are the first college graduate in your family, like I was. Through this achievement alone, you’ve already changed the entire trajectory of your family’s American history.  

That’s a pretty big responsibility for people so relatively young. But so far, you’re pulling it off with grace.

You’re a very lucky group people—you’re Union graduates. I’m not saying this because I’m at Union, but this is a school of which to be proud. Graduating from here grants you access to a different world, and your degree is a great gift. You worked very hard for that gift, but it’s still a gift thanks to the wonderful AOP/HEOP program that brought you to a school you might not otherwise have been able to attend.

But there’s a catch, and the gift comes with strings.  “to whom much has been given, much will be required” and no, I’m not paraphrasing Uncle Ben. He was paraphrasing the book of Luke, a much older source of wisdom.

The strings are in the choices you make. Humans are such interesting animals. They fascinate me. They are capable of much baseness and evil, and we see this every single day. yet at their best, they are brilliant. Most, though, choose mediocrity.  They take the easy path of going along to get along. They lose the spark and fade into age. 

Tonight, I am giving you a charge: Choose rightly: be magnificent. 

Choose whatever path you want to follow in life, even if you have to create the path as you go, but travel on that path with gusto. If you do something, do it flat out, no holds barred. Don’t hold back. As Emerson wrote, “Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

 This is a difficult choice I’m asking you to make. I know it. It is easier to hold back, to not give everything of one’s self. In the eyes of the world, it’s smarter. Protect yourself, they tell us. Don’t “wear your heart on your sleeve”. And for goodness sake, don’t be uncool. Chill, don’t be too enthusiastic. Not cool, man.

Edna St. Vincent Millay had this to say to them: “My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light!”

Be a child of light. Continue to be an illumination to this world. That is the charge I’m giving you.

And do it with love—let that be the source of your power because it really can move mountains and change the world.

In “Praise Song for the Day,” Elizabeth Alexander’s poem written for Barack Obama’s inauguration, she wrote:

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

I love those words. Love that casts a widening pool of light–what an image!  Can’t you just see the light of disinterested love widening from each person, enveloping one another in that healing, caring light–the light that drives out darkness?  As Dr. Martin Luther King tells us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that.“

These are the things that will change this world for the better. And I charge you to try.

And since you’re going to be busy being magnificent you will change the world. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Do you want a kinder world? Be kind. More just? Be just.  Whatever you do, do with thought.  Ask: What are the ramifications of my action?

Again, this is not an easy path. But have I ever asked you to take the easy way? The easy way’s not worth it. This is a hard won, stony path to choose. It is so much easier to be thoughtless. To react instead of acting from thought. Take it from me, I know. But you will never regret anything you do or say if you act and don’t react.

May 9, 2011

An American Strength

One thing Americans are good at–better than any other group I’ve lived with, I think–is raising money for charity in many, many ways.   And since right now I need something to feel good about, I wanted to write about this. And, I confess, I have an ulterior motive.

Over the years I’ve sold raffle tickets, baked countless cookies and brownies for bake sales (and unfortunately bought countless cookies and brownies from bake sales), done walk-a-thons, dance-a-thons, and one memorable year in a college, a diet-a-thon.  They probably wouldn’t be allowed anymore, as they sound like something that’s not encouraging healthy diet. But people sponsored us a set amount per pound. It went from the Friday before Spring break and ran for two weeks. The school nurse did the official weigh-in on her office scale.

My history professor, Dr. Vanderhoof, sponsored me a whopping dollar a pound (every one else was doing 10, maybe 25 cents). To both of our amazement, I lost 14 pounds, a feat I have never repeated in such a short time span, and have never forgotten. Much celery was involved.  Dr. Vanderhoof cheerfully forked over the money that went to the Council for Exceptional Children and became one of my favorite professors (for more than just  the sponsorship, really).

I’m not saying Americans are the most charitable group going, but a large percentage of Americans hand over money to friends for everything from cancer research to school book drives to animal shelter drives. These are the yearly events. Americans are usually pretty good at chipping in to the Red Cross for disaster relief for things like Katrina, Haiti and the new disasters in America’s south right now, as well. 

Checking to see if my hunch about Americans was correct, I found some amazing statistics.  According to the National Parks Service,

According to Giving USA, a report compiled annually by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, figures on American philanthropy showed that:

  • Americans gave more than $307.75 billion to their favorite causes despite the economic conditions in 2009. Total giving, when adjusted for inflation, was down 3.6 percent, the steepest decline since the Giving USA annual reports started in 1956. It’s important to keep in mind that despite the downturn, giving still totaled $307 billion.
  • The greatest portion of charitable giving, $227.41 billion, was given by individuals or household donors. In 2009, gifts from individuals represented 75 percent of all contributed dollars, similar to 2008 figures.

I think those are pretty cool numbers. 

And in the essay “A Nation of Givers” from the journal The American: the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, I found this incredible little bit of information:

when we measure monetary giving as a percentage of income in order to ascertain the level of one’s “sacrifice,” we find a surprising result: it is low-income working families that are the most generous group in America, giving away about 4.5 percent of their income on average. This compares to about 2.5 percent among the middle class, and 3 percent among high-income families.

Nice to know I’m helping the numbers of my demographic!

And I know the charity habit starts young. I did my first walk-a-thon, for the March of Dimes, when I was 10. It was 20 miles, people sponsored per mile, and that first year, I only walked 10 miles and was broken-hearted.

It seems that lately there’s a walk-a-thon once or twice a month, and blessedly, they are much shorter.  This coming Sunday is the AIDS WALK NY, and I’m walking in honor of all the friends I’ve lost over the years.  Since I’m not above shilling for charity, if you’d like to sponsor me, you can find the link to my page here.  I’m walking with the Harry Potter Alliance Team because a) you know I’m a Harry Potter geek, and b) “the weapon we have is love”.

April 29, 2011

Best Wishes, but I am so glad it’s over!

Usually, after the last toast has been made and the last piece of cake played with (I mean, really, who ever eats wedding cake?), the bride and groom’s families are heartily relieved the thing is over and done with. Anyone who has ever had a family wedding knows this–from the smallest backyard do to the grandest ballroom extravaganza, weddings are taxing. It seems that everything revolves around that one day for months and months beforehand. And once it ends, people kick off their shoes, heave a sigh of relief and start speculating about babies.

Well, for William and Catherine’s wedding, I think the whole world is heaving that sigh. It’s over. We can stop talking about it all the time.

Because it seems the whole world went crazy. I don’t really understand why. One blog I read (can’t remember where), attributed it to the “Diana factor”–that people are interested in William because of his mother. Maybe.  That might have been part of why I watched, but then I’m an 18th century British literature scholar by training. I think I’m contractually obligated to be interested in British pomp and circumstances.

But back in 1981, Diana fascinated me because we were the same age. I was far too young to be serious about a guy at that age, and there she was, marrying a prince. Cool. Odd, but cool. Then came William.  I was working as a reporter for a news service at the time, and my boss was covering the Saratoga horse sales, a big annual event. She always sold a lot of stories about it, so she invested some good money to stay there for the week and get lots of details.  She came back from that trip so mad she was sputtering. “All that investment, and that damn baby had to come and blow the horse sales news out of the water.” Papers were full of the new royal heir with no room for horse stories. I wonder if she’s forgiven him yet.

When Diana died, I was actually dating a man who had worked at Highgrove, Charles’s country estate. He had known her and was devastated at her death. Totally gutted, actually. He had told me stories of young William that made the prince seem more like a person to me. But more than that, I lost my dad  at 11, so I knew what it was like for the two young boys to lose a parent so suddenly and so young. Frankly, it is horrible. Yet, I was also a mom, so my heart went out to them from the adult perspective, as well.

But the boys grew up fine, more or less, and frankly, I don’t really care about them either way. I wish them no ill, but I don’t pay much attention, either. But as I wrote last week, a wedding is a wedding. So yes, I was up at 5AM watching the arrivals and then the ceremony. Just as the bride and groom arrived back at the palace, I had to dash out to work.

Frankly, I can understand dishing about it now that it’s over. That’s the fun part, the rehashing and the looking at the pretty pictures. But why did the world go so mad? Are we so overwhelmed by all the bad that’s happening that we have to get caught up in other people’s lives? Have we become such a celebrity-driven culture that a Windsor wedding, at the top of the celebrity heap, so to speak, draws all focus? Is it the Diana factor? Probably a mixture of all. 

I can understand the British going mad, but why did the American media whip up such a frenzy? I remember the first time I “experienced” a royal wedding.  It was Princess Anne to Mark Philips in November of 1973.  There was enough mention that a 12-year-old girl in America knew about it, but  back then I was also a huge Tudor geek.  I was obsessed with the Tudor family for some reason, so royalty interested me. Oh, and I saw a picture of the bride-to-be’s younger brother, Andrew, who was just about my age and, in to my 12-year-old mind, cute. So I got interested. I got up early and watched the wedding (and to my everlasting delight, Anne’s dress was an Elizabethan design–cue the Tudor fan-girl swoon).  But what’s the big deal to Americans? Why the unrelenting press coverage?

Princess Victoria of Sweden’s wedding barely made a splash over here. And she’s just as pretty as Catherine. And she’s next in line to the throne, not third like William. Why do Americans worship the Windsors? We certainly don’t understand the least thing about royalty. I was looking at People Magazine’s coverage of the wedding (pictures!), and was struck at how many nuances of royalty the reporters seem to miss. OK, and I was struck at how much I actually know.  But why the madness? 

Is it jealousy? Do we want royalty? I don’t think so at all. Based on talks I have with people and what I hear, most Americans have no idea of what it really means to be a subject, not a citizen. A hereditary head of state goes against everything we believe in as a nation. And really, this obsession is a relatively new phenomenon. Maybe it is the “Diana factor”.

All I know is I’m glad it’s over. Back to the every day. Back to the bad news–there’s a natural disaster than needs attention in America’s southland; there’s a space shuttle launch this very afternoon. So time to get back to real life.

But before I go, here’s the dish: loved her dress. Classic style beautifully done. The hats! Really, Beatrice, what were you thinking? The sermon was lovely–full of my favorite words–love, future, hope. And Prince Andrrew is sooooo not cute anymore.

Best wishes to the happy couple. a long and happy life together.

June 19, 2010

Princess Bride

Filed under: New Broads,Sweden — by maggiec @ 4:09 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Today Princess Victoria of Sweden married her long time boyfriend Daniel Westling.  I wish them long and happy.  Of course, I went to the website of Sweden’s biggest tabloid, Aftonbladet to look at the pictures–I have a soft spot for brides.  She looked lovely and radiantly happy, and it did my curmudgeonly old heart a world of good to see them.  And really, I’m not royalist, but royal families are pretty good at fabulous weddings, and if I am going to look at wedding pictures, I do so enjoy fabulous.

The royal wedding isn’t making much of a splash here in the US.  When I checked the NY Times, there was nothing, but then on Huffington Post I read that major news agencies refused to cover it because of what they termed “unfair restrictions” by Swedish national television. But I don’t think many people in the US care. I don’t think many know there is a king of Sweden much less a crown princess.  The  Twitterverse is hopping, and someone is tweeting the entire thing. No, I didn’t read it.  Just looked for research purposes.

But looking at the wedding pictures was bittersweet.  I occasionally miss Sweden, and today of all days it was looking its best.  Stockholm is an incredibly beautiful city, the Venice of the North, and those who showed up to watch the festivities were all ready to celebrate. And come summer, Swedes just love to celebrate!  This time of year the sun keeps going on 11 PM in Stockholm in the form of a lingering dusk.  You really should see it someday.  After the incredibly long nights of winter, this is the reward.  So I know I’m missing a good party.  Even though my Swedish husband is a staunch republican, he’s never said no to a good party.  And I suspect he harbors a soft spot for the princess.  She’s sweet and pretty and hasn’t actively done anything boneheaded in public to embarrass the country, unlike another Swedish royal I could name, but I won’t since it’s his daughter’s wedding day and all that.

But yes, I miss Sweden some days. I coincidentally looked at my passport today, and I still have my resident permit, so theoretically I could go back.  I could even get a job at my old university.  Some days it is incredibly tempting, but I know I won’t.  Too many things are still keeping me here in the US, and besides, the Swedish summer is fleeting.  All too soon it would be dark and cold, and I would be cursing my fate.

I just wanted to blog today since I’m feeling more Swedish than usual.  The opposite of that is that I’m feeling much more foreign today. Of course, my usual feeling of being Swedish is not at all, but I spent five years there thinking I’d be there for much much longer. I wanted to commemorate the day for Victoria as I never thought she’d see it.  Although she’s dated Daniel for eight years, he is a gym owner and her former personal trainer.  Not exactly prince material, though today he became Prince Daniel, Duke of Vastergotland, so fair play to you, Daniel.  You made it.

The face of monarchy is certainly changing.  And I was surprised at all the royalty I knew–watching the slideshow of pictures I could recognize most of the Scandinavian royalty as well as the English, Spanish, Dutch and Jordanian.  The only one I really care about is Queen Rania of Jordan, who is a powerhouse activist for things I deeply care about and blogs about her causes.  The royals are familiar to me because I learned a lot of Swedish reading the tabloids while I was working at our video shop.  We sold the papers, so I would read them to learn.  Since just like here, tabloids are written at about a third or fourth grade level, it was perfect for me.  Plus there were lots of pictures, and the royals of Europe would often make the pages.  And coincidentally, while I was living in Europe a lot of crown princes and princesses got married.

As with any wedding, I cooed over the bride and groom.  I did like her dress very much–very Swedish, I thought, modern Swedish design that is clean and classic–and she really did look amazingly happy.  So did Daniel. Her family looked happy as well.  There was only one picture in which her younger sister looked quite melancholy, but poor Madeleine’s own engagement broke up in April when her fiance cheated on her, and the other woman sold her story to the press.  Princess Madeleine is almost always “on,” so I was surprised at my reaction to the picture.  I felt sorry for her, but then I’d feel sorry for any woman in the same position, really.

I also made fun of some of the outfits.  Royalty can wear the most gawd-awful gowns!  Most of the men looked like toy soldiers with ribbons and medals and such, but some of the queens and princesses looked like they were wearing upholstery.

I felt a little silly wanting to write about this today, but with all the hate, anger and evil dominating the world’s attention now, sometimes it’s nice to focus on love, hope and promise. I will now go back to ignoring the Swedish royal family, something very easy to do, until the first royal baby.  Weddings make us think of babies, of course, and part of Victoria’s job description is providing an heir.  So I’m guessing right around this time next year, I’ll have another column talking about missing Sweden.

Grattis på bröllopsdagen, Victoria och Daniel!  Lycka till!

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.