Friday, May 31, 2013

Can You Spell?

 Human trafficking one night, the Scripps Spelling Bee the next. There's just something re-affirming about sitting on the couch, turning the television to ESPN, the all-time, all-everything about sports channel and watching the finals of the spelling bee. I don't know how ESPN nabbed the spelling bee, but it was a good move.

I cannot imagine the amount of time these kids spend on learning word roots, derivatives, etymology, rules across languages - all things linguistic.
I also love the fact that most of them still resort to fingering out the spelling of a word on their palms before speaking. I don't know if that ritual will change over time, but it harks back to those days of pens and pencils, back to a sensory way of knowing.

All the finalists had been contestants previously, and the ultimate winner, Avrind Mahankali, 13, of New York, had two third place finishes before winning the big one last night.
And as the group moved from eleven, then five, and finally down to three, even those eliminated remained pleased and involved. No crying, at least on stage, for being one of the last spellers standing. Just pleasure in the accomplishment. Obviously, all these young contestants had put extraordinary amounts of time into preparing for the Bee, sacrificing time with friends, playing the violin, viola and other instruments, doing physics and all sorts of random activities. One of the finalists might now put her time into preparing for a math bee. 
According to the papers, Arvind's victory continues the recent tradition of the winners being Indian-American. Not sure what that means. Just a fact.

Cyanophycean. Pancratiast. Pick your word. I wonder if my spell-check has either of those words in its hoard. 281 contenders made it through the rigorous early competition. One winner. Quite a contest indeed. Maybe this should be the next sport added to the Olympics, instead of wrestling. Nothing wrong with wrestling, and it does appear to be on the way to Olympic inclusion. Still, a global spelling bee might be more fun.


Thursday, May 30, 2013


Attended a film and a talk about human trafficking last night.  The focus was global, including what are called the 'Developed Economies and the European Union. Also including the United States, including Denver.

It was a hard, bleak reminder that the sex industry, especially the very young girl industry, caters to western tourists in places like India, Cambodia, etc.  And, of course, the internet has expanded the industry, making access possible to just about anyone. The 'what to do' and 'who is to do it' questions loom large and mostly unanswered. There has been progresss, true, and awareness has been heightned, but coordinated, sustained and sustainable global focus on dealing with these issues hasn't happened yet. Not telling you anything you don't know, but just passing along the obvious.

While the film focused primarily on sex trafficking, the panel discussion spent a significant amount of time talking about the larger commercial or labour trafficking problems - from Chilean goatherders to all sorts of workers. A representative from Denver talked about how difficult it is to close such businesses down, even when it's pretty obvious what is going on.
Suddenly - and probably very unfairly - I started thinking about all the nail salons in Denver where 100% of the employees are Vietnamese women, and often have a Vietnamese man who seems to be in charge. Then there are all those Pho restaurants and on and on and on....All sorts of businesses and industries seem to have the potential to be traffickers, right in one's own back yard.

There's more, lots more. But that was enough to make it a long time between my head hitting the pillow and sleep.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Interior Monologue

Finally took the walk down 6th Avenue to CO Blvd and back this morning. It was cool and drizzly and I was cold and uncomfortable.  The walking path is on a lush green parkway, separating east and west-bound drivers. The trees on each side of the walkway provide a deep green canopy on 6th Ave. During the spring, workers cut down and hauled away trunks and branches of old unhealthy trees and planted new bushes, flowers, plants. Truly a place of beauty. All day long joggers, dog walkers, runners and strollers usually follow the loop from one end to the other.
After my third precarious skid on the path (that's what happens if one goes out too early after watering days), I took notice of my interior monologue. What a mess. So much whining; "I'm cold," "my hands are freezing, my nose is running," "I think I'll turn back and go home," "that tiny, broken and empty robin's egg is a sign for me to take a very short walk today." And so it went. One whine after another; one complaint after the other - I was carrying this huge bag of negativity. As much as I muttered to myself, none of the load was lightened.
So I decided to think about Winter Pilgrim instead and what she might be doing while I was whining my way down a well-manicured urban parkway.
No slogging through the unpaved jungles for me, no traversing rivers trying to hold my backpack above my head, no reliance on strangers for a place to sleep or food to eat. And no-one was going to detain me on 6th Avenue, holding my passport hostage.
My reflections did shift my perspective, helped me realize that I was both chilled and close to home. My woes were surmountable; my whines pretty intolerable. Before I could wallow much longer, I was home with a cup of warm coffee in my hands.

With that, here's a small section from one of the days Ann was being detained in the Panama. Just a day in the life of a pilgrim....Don't know what interior monologue was happening in her head.

From Winter Pilgrim Ann's blog:

" 'Hola,' I said to the outpost soldier, heavily armed in his camoflage active-duty uniform, his face and hands painted to match, 'I'm happy to be in Panama. I'm American. I'd like to speak with your commandant, please.' (All of the dialog was in Spanish, of course.) He pointed to the larger tent of the encampment with the tip of his weapon with indifference. The capitán was neither friendly nor gruff but demanded my passport in a single word. I guided his fruitless search through my many pages filled with stamps and markings in many languages. I explained that I'm a pilgrim on foot to Mexico and for this reason I entered Panama as I did. I explained that despite my effort, there is no exit stamp from Colombia within it. I added the detail that the Catholic priest, pólice, and the military in Colombia helped me find this route through the Darien and that I was anxious to get an entry stamp as soon as possible.

'Search the backpack,' he ordered two soldiers. 'Where's the money,' a soldier asked, 'the valuables?' I explained that being a pilgrim, I have none and rely on people's kindness to help me reach my destination. Anything of value would be a temptation to steal, it wouldn't be just. 'No money,' he shouted to the capitan. 'Pity,' the capitan said. 'Pity,' the soldier repeated to me, 'the more money you have, the faster the process goes.' Huh?! was that a suggestion for a bribe? (I still lack experience with border point bribary - see the blog from my third pilgrimage when I crossed from Ukraine to Moldova without a transit visa, provisioned with purpose-stashed chocolate bars by some concerned Salesian nuns, but as it happened, the guards shared their chocolate with me, dissolving the need for a bribe.) In the jungle on the Panama side of the Darien, I felt my vulnerability again, this time without six Dominican witnesses. My sudden and thorough disappearance into the thick would be easily and permenantly achieved and eliminate some paperwork for the capitán. With my things strewn around the mess tent, the capitán told me with indifference and without returning my passport that I could bath in the river if I wished. 'What's the situation?, I asked wanting to control my expectations, 'What's the process from here? What can I expect to happen?' He walked away.

I oganized my few but important possessions, hanging my blanket and other wet things from the bottom of the pack on the clothesline above the smokey cookfire and went for my bath in the muddy wáter. Gleeful naked boys were swinging from vines into the depths of the riverbend. Women washed their clothes and dishes a little downstream. One soldier was shaving his youthful whiskers and another was waist-deep washing his shorts, still another swimming laps against the current. Thus began the military half of my detainment - neither charged and arrested for a crime nor at liberty to leave sight of an armed soldier. Photos taken, again please, you blinked."

To be continued.....

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day beliefs

There are so many versions of the origins of Memorial Day, with at least 24 cities claiming to have had the first celebration, so I guess we get to choose the story we wish or the story that best fits what we think the origin should be. Just google your time away until you find a tale, an origin, that fits your needs.
I like the following version,  posted it yesterday on FB, but still thinking about it so thought I'd post it here this morning.
" Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May, 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated."
Sounds all factual, filled with specific details, and it's so romantic. Fits with my needs so I'm sticking with it for now.

At the time, and for a while, the celebratory day was originally called Decoration Day; then in 1888, changed to Memorial Day. As a child I thought the day of taking geraniums to the cemetery was Decoration Day, a day declaring one's thanks and love to the dead who fought in wars, especially WW2.  I was a bit confused about the day of the poppies and the day of the geraniums, but finally figured that all out. And it took a poem to get me to understand the significance of the poppies, but that's another story.

Struck me as a rather strange day for John McCain to go to the trouble of visiting Syria for one hour, but I guess we all use symbols as we wish. And judging from the huge numbers of people buying plants at the local nurseries, there's a lot of decorating going on.

Hope you had time to reflect upon the idea of Memorial Day and to remember someone's life.  I thought a lot about my Uncle Dan, who survived the Bataan Death Maarch and years as a prisoner-of-war. When he was finally released, he came home and lived upstairs with my grandmother and two aunts in our two-family house. We could not ask him any questions about the war or being a prisoner, so it was years before I came to know much about him. But that is another story.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cicadas and the Journalist

This must be cheating, but I can't help myself. I'm posting Pat O'Driscoll's reply to my post on cicadas. And I didn't even ask him, but just figured so few people make or read comments, and no-one should miss Patrick's writing. You can take the journalist title out of the man, but you can't take away his journalistic genius. He's a match for E.B. and gives me a whole new perspective on the singing cicadas and my romanticized view of their 'charm.'

Interesting that the "brood" of cicadas that ol' E.B. wrote about is the same cycle as this year's . . . several 17-year patterns ago.

When I was at USA TODAY in the 1980s, we had the emergence of a different "class," also in 17-year cycles -- in spring/summer 1987. It was more a Mid-Atlantic/Midwest brood, with some geographical overlap with the Eastern brood that has emerged this year. It was very heavy in DC and suburban Virginia where I lived and worked. The "song" was deafening.

I was assigned to write a Cover Story on the phenomenon, and traveled to Cincinnati, which was ground zero for that emergence. I interviewed folks at that city's famous zoo (Jack Hanna of late-night talk show fame was once the boss there), talked to people who had cicada recipes (yum?), and visited back yards beneath stately, mature trees that were part of the cicada life cycle.

By the time I arrived, the ground beneath the trees had been punctured by thousands of holes about the size of your pinkie, where the "nymphs" had emerged, shed their larval coats, spread new filigree wings and flown up into the trees to feed, mate, lay eggs and, eventually, die. The feeding and egg-laying actually killed small leafy ends of the tree branches, known as "flags" because they would hang and flutter, limp and brown. Some would even fall to the ground.

Newborn cicada nymphs would drop to the ground (on their own or sometimes in the "flags") and burrow into the soil (a foot or more down). There they settle in to sip root juice for the next 17 years until re-emerging again. Freakin' nature!

Anyway, that brood did so in 2004, so no more of it again until 2021. Glad to hear you're "enjoying" the emergence of this year's brood . . . they tell me that if you get to the bugs before their exoskeletons harden, they can be made into tasty snacks. I guess the process is something like soft-shelled crabs, eh?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Right to Life; Right to Death

 Some catching up to do, now that I'm home. The easy part first.

A. Winter Pilgrim Ann is no longer a detainee and is on the road again. She did lots of writing while waiting to be released so we'll all get to read the details. I'll post most of it, but you can also go to if you want to catch up on your own.
B. The Boy Scouts of America organization has said it's ok to be an open and out gay Boy Scout.  However, one cannot be an open GLBT adult leader. Go figure. Don't know if it's 18 and gone or 21 and gone. A new rite of passage to go back into hiding. Must be something to be part of those discussions.
C. Read a short article from the Atlantic Wire about this being the summer of bug love - at least for those people on the east coast. Swarmageddon is the term being used.
D. Hung jury on the Death Penalty for Jody Arias. New jury to be chosen in July; the jury will be dedicated only to the decision on death or life imprisonment. Can't imagine how such a jury can be chosen or a decision to emerge.  Governor John Hickenlooper in CO is actively campaigning against the death penalty here in CO, so it all seems far too convoluted and complex for any sort of satisfying closure.
A, B, C and D are the easy parts of this post.  But...

Speaking of the death penalty, I've been pondering the right to life and the right to death recently. I've always been against the death penalty, and that hasn't changed. And this is not about the right to life in terms of the abortion issue. For me, a woman's right to choose is the answer. I'm pretty clear on that.

But I've been thinking the right to life and death and  about a good, dear, best friend recently. Wondering about the Death Penalty and the Life Penalty and how he fits into the schema. What are his rights and who decides what is right?

My friend has been in a 'home' - long-term care or whatever one calls those places for four years now.  For quite a while he battled early-onset dementia while living at home. His wife Shelly arranged things well and carefully; they lived a fairly normal life, traveled, and shared the world of books and movies. But it got harder and harder for her...and daughter Jessica and son Ian had their own adult lives, their own jobs, their own responsibilities where they lived. And Jessie had baby Max.

 The little things - Tom putting toothpaste all over his face and trying to shave - was something she had to work on. Separating tooth paste from shaving cream seems simple enough, but just think about it for a bit. Unless one is vigilantly watching, that's just one small example of a 24-7 job. Finally, it was Shelly's small stroke that convinced daughter Jessica that it was time for Dad to be somewhere to be cared for and watched over permanently.

So Tom was placed, unwillingly, in a pleasant, well-kept long-term home close to their permanent home. There's music, entertainment, good care and good food. The price is steep, but the quality is great. It's four years later.
The family visits; Shelly goes several times a week to sit, kiss Tom, and touch him. Rubs his hands and arms in human love. He sleeps most of the time; recognizes no-one. Rarely utters a syllable, this man who was the livliest storyteller I've ever known. He's been in hospice care a couple of times, but come out of it and returned to eating. He was moved from one floor to another, but recently returned to another floor.
As life, in all its richest ironies would have it, Tom now has a roommate who is a kleptomaniac. So everything must be locked away. One might think that should be no big deal, because he really doesn't recognize anyone or anything. But why shouldn't a man who spent his whole life teaching and reading literature have some books by his bedside. Who knows if he recognizes the 'feel' of a book? Why shouldn't he have a photo of his family next to him - even if he doesn't recognize anyone?  I know, the man with the kleptomaniac tendencies doesn't know what he is doing, so there's no-one or nothing to blame. It should all be ok.  But none of it feels ok. It feels bewildering, confusing, unfathomable.

Tom is in pretty good shape physically, high blood pressure under control, everything else pretty much pumping along. Theoretically, he could outlive Shelly. What's my point in this story? I don't know. I don't know what kinds of 'thoughts' Tom might have - if he has thoughts. Is the old Tom completely gone or is some part of him lingering in his consciousness or even in his unconscience? I don't know.

How many Toms are out there and how many more are coming? How many thousands of more people to be warehoused until they wear out?
When will Pat Summit join Tom and others and for how long? Researchers are under huge pressures - not to mention drug companies - to come up with something now. Now there's all sorts of testing for pre-Alzheimer's, early-onset Alzheimer's, cognitive disabilities associated with aging, but no cure available.

How do we know when it's time, time for someone to have the right to death and someone else the right to life. Is it a matter of being able to 'choose' one or the other? And who will do the choosing? What are we to do?


Music in the Schools

Back from West Hartford CT - the town that loves and nurtures music throughout the school system. For over thirty years, the Inter-Elementary choir, band and orchestra have performed to sold-out houses at the Bushnell Auditorium. A special event that demonstrates the transformative power of the arts.

In West Hartford, every fourth grader plays an instrument; the town rates in the very highest group for community support of music. High school jazz band is known throughout the country.

Amazing what can happen when a town or community decides a particular activity is of absolute value to everyone. The fourth and fifth graders try out for the Inter Elementary performance, and once they are selected, townwide rehearsals go on for weeks before the big community performance. School busses transport students from all the elementary school once a week to one school for practice.
The result is first class. Absolutely first class and stunning performances. Standing ovations.  After much foolishness in the audience, we did get Emma to recognize her family. What a show. And how special to be in the audience as a town-wide school system showcases its commitment to music and the arts.

Perhaps the taxpayers of every town and city that has cut its music or arts budget should be required to attend West Hartford's Inter-Elementary event. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cicadas Singing

I am in CT again, where I feel as if I am always in a forest - greener than even a week ago and the birds   seem to be a symphony, performing its own Ode to Joy.
It's humid, and there's talk of cicadas everywhere. Seventeen years in waiting to explode on the summer  of 2013.
A couple of days ago, my brother Garrett and I had been speaking of memoirs, cicadas, heat and humidity. Within twenty-four hours he sent me this piece from the wonderful E.B. White, written sixty eight years ago. Don't think anything was written prior or since E.B. White's Life in 1945 that captures the experience better. The cicadas are back, speaking of life.   E.B. White is back in our minds again.

by E.B. White
(from New Yorker 9/1/1945)
in E.B. White: Wrtitings From the New Yorker 1927-1976 edited by Rebecca M. Dale

At eight of a hot morning, the cicada speaks his first piece. He says of the world: heat. At eleven of the same day, still singing, he has not changed his note but has enlarged his theme. He says of the morning: love. In the sultry middle of the afternoon, when the sadness of love and heat have shaken him, his symphonic soul goes into the great movement and he says: death. But the thing isn't over. After supper he weaves heat, love, death into a final stanza, subtler and less brassy than the others. He has one last heroic monosyllable at his command. Life he says, reminiscing. Life.


Friday, May 17, 2013


I mentioned a couple of days ago that i hadn't heard from Winter Pilgrim, Ann Sieben. For two weeks she's been detained by authorities, so that's why there has been such a long period of silence.
Here's her quick post. Appears international tourism has turned the once almost inpenetrable Darien Gap into a holiday stop, and the hazards come after the passage:

Safe and Sound

The Great Silence was not my intention. The Darien Gap is a veritable Grand Central Station of international travelers. I passed safely with no wild adventures in two days.
I was poorly advised by not only Colombian authorities but also by a missionary priest – all helped me find the land route to Panama. No one told me that I’d be taken into custody by first the Panamanian military, then the Immigration Authority. I’ve been detained since May 2nd. Lacking a phone or money for a calling card, I haven’t been able to contact anyone, much less update this blog.
I am well and should be liberated soon(ish) and on my way northward. When possible, I’ll update the blog with the details of my “captivity” – much more adventurous than the jungles of the Darien.
This email is UNCLASSIFIED.
I'll keep you updated when I learn more about our spirited pilgrim.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hiding Places

"Love makes your soul come out from its hiding place."
                                                                         -Zora Neal Hurston

These spring mornings seem to bring out nature's soul from its hiding places also. Here a bud, there a growth, around the corner a new color emerging from the earth. Seems as if more people than usual had a hard time coming through the last wringers of winter and the cold, snowy April Tuesdays here in Colorado. And so, quietly and full of hope, we join our souls with nature and come out of our carefully carved hiding places and into the sunlight.

Speaking of hiding places, seems as if there is no place for the Obama administration to hide these days; the news just swings from Benghazi to the AP and Eric Holder and then on to the IRS. With news to cover and produce 24-7, the media is having itself a time. A lot of sound and fury, but not sure what it's all signifying for the White House.
Of all the quotes on the IRS scrutinty of conservative groups, this, from the front page of today's Washington Post, captured my attention:
“It was pretty much a proctology exam through your earlobe,” says a coordinator for a California tea party group that was sent 100 questions by the IRS.

 Better to being paying attention to the turning of the seasons than the churning of the news.  Come out, come out wherever you are.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Different Paths

All that anxiety about the final chemo treatment yesterday turned out to be for nought - there was no chemo and won't be for a while.

Turns out the treatment was doing more harm than good - basically beating up my body but not able to attack some of the more stubborn cancer cells. So I'm on leave, leave to get healthy by exercising, resting, relaxing and eating. I hit the scales at 95 lbs. yesterday, so have been put on a mission to gain at least ten pounds. No-one has ever told me to gain weight before this, but it's a challenge I think I can take on. And, supposedly, this respite will lift my psychological spirits also.

The doc thinks it will take me about three months to get back to what was my normal. That normal wasn't so great to begin with, but we'll see if I can get there.

So I am still a pilgrim - still making my way on a journey, just a slightly different path right now.

And here's a shoutout to public pilgrim Angelina Jolie for making her cancer journey so public and for creating so much awareness of the BRCA gene, breast and ovarian cancer.

Speaking of pilgrims, haven't heard from Ann Sieben, Winter Pilgrim, for a while. She's in the treacherous Darien Gap area so let's hope she's finding her way safely.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On Being a Pilgrim

 From The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

                          Being a Pilgrim

To journey without being changed
 is to be a nomad.

To change without journeying
is to be a chameleon.

To journey and to be transformed
by the journey
is to be a pilgrim.

Trying to allow some transformation to take place, to emerge as a pilgrim.  Today is supposed to be my last chemo (out of six) in this second round of the chemotherapy journey. The journey seems long, sometimes dreary,  and at times both a physical and psychological maze. Taking time this week for some reflection on how the journey is transforming me, allowing me to feel the joy and awe of being in this world.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Just in from short trip to CT and from what I saw spring is mud-lusciously gorgeous. Everything that isn't pink, white, or yellow is a dazzling shade of green. Trees still have that little tinge of yellow suggesting it's not quite full-blossom time, but very close.  It rained some - warm, soft rain, the type of rain that leaves every tree, every flower, every bush glistening. The sun would peek out, stay around for a while, and then go back in so the whole world would have a shade adjustment. Can't remember being so overwhelmed by the beauty of spring in a long, long time.

Both coming and going the airport and planes were filled with people off to college and university commencements. Even the shuttle bus talk at the airport was filled with bragging rights and pride in some young man or woman for having completed a degree.  Listening to two strangers chatting - one off to Yale for her niece's graduation and the other going to her grandson's community college commencement, I realized both had the same pride, same joy in accomplishment, and the same high hopes for their young persons. Aunts, uncles, friends, parents, boyfriends and girlfriends filled the friendly skies between Denver and Hartford. And, yes, of course, far too many complete strangers know my niece Sierra graduated from UMass this weekend. But then I heard many, many stories about grads from UConn and countless graduations coming up this weekend. So glad to be able to be in the buzz about graduations. Sure, there are people who won't get jobs, won't get jobs right away that use their education, but those degrees are in hand. Can't be disappeared or taken away, so I'm celebrating all the graduates and all the people, known and unknown, who made such graduations possible.

Of course, it was also Mother's Day weekend, so lots of celebrating of moms of all ages. This year there appeared to be greater acknowledgment of those people who act as moms, become moms by extension,  replace missing moms, take on the nurturing role associated with mothers. With gender roles shifting, and gender itself shifting, maybe the idea behind honoring mothers and fathers with their separate days of praise can be shifted also to include more of the human family. Not saying anything about eliminating those days - I personally love Mother's Day and love the extra attention from my sons, just don't want to exclude anyone who belongs in the group.

Last note on Mother's Day: How things change. People whose mothers were  labeled 'meanest,' 'most selfish,' 'bitch of the year,' 'most embarrassing woman on the earth' back in high school or college were being praised as mentors, guides, heroes, goddesses, the best ever on FB this weekend. Just a few reminders of how perspective shifts over time when I came across a couple of people whose mothers I knew paying great respect to those mothers. Helped me remember all too well some of the names I called my mother when I was a teenager. Now she is etched in my memory as perfect, the person I most admire.
Maybe that's the lesson of these celebratory days - we get to observe ourselves change in relationship to the person we honor.

A great weekend of celebrating beginnings, hope and perspective.

Friday, May 10, 2013


I've been reading about Heather Dewey-Hagborg, an information artist who creates masks of people based on DNA from hair, chewing gum, or cigarette butts left behind in public places. (Seriously, find the article on

Let's say you leave a piece of chewed gum on the bottom of your seat at the opera. Ms. Dewey-Hagborg can take that piece of gum, use her own personally created computer program on DNA samples of the gum and decode your gender, eye color and facial traits. Seriously. Next thing you know, your poster will be flashing all around the opera house and you will be tabbed a social outcast, someone Dorothy Parker would never sit next to again at the opera. Or dinner.

Apparently Dewey-Hagborg has created some pretty lifelike masks based on DNA left behind on cigarette butts. She uses a 3-D printer to create the life size likenesses.  I think I have a fairly flexible imagination, but creating life-size, look-a-like heads by decoding the DNA on a cigarette butt or piece of sugarless chewing gum stretches my mind much further than it normally expands.

I love the idea and wish that Sherlock Holmes had the opportunity to meet up with Heather Dewey-Hagborg - or even with DNA. Michelangelo might have had quite a time decoding DNA. According to the NYT article, Dewey-Hagborg is pursuing her PhD in electronic arts at Rensselaer Polytech in New York. Now there's an exhibit that would be worth seeing.

Good reminder to be careful what you leave behind and where you leave it. It's possible to become a poster child for  one of 'America's Most XXX' just by leaving a piece of hair on the subway.

Off to niece Sierra's college graduation. After her first year at a private college in NY, on a soccer scholarship, she decide to transfer and give up soccer. Just the opposite from what anyone in the family expected or wanted. Well, here she is, two transfers later, a couple of majors later, some interterm and summer courses, but she's graduating in four years. On time. UMass. Big shoutout to Sierra who proved we were all wrong for second-guessing her decision about who she was and what she wanted to do. She has a family peppered with educators with hours of phone, text, e-mail advice to give her about the mistake she was making. We're going to be loving her and happily easting that humble pie this weekend. Our decoding of her situation was all wrong.


Thursday, May 9, 2013


Presidential Election 2012
You probably read this yourself yesterday, but I love seeing it in print. For those of us who are old-time believers in voting, in voting as a basic reminder of the freedoms we have, this is good news. It's always good news when the disenfranchised get to feel a bit more powerful.  Bigger turnout of black voters, especially women, and women voters in general. Let's hope that Hispanic and Asians feel the power too - and that young voters show their stuff.

We don't always get what we want, or what we need when we vote, but we get to be counted. Some folks say we get what we deserve, but that's just a bit too harsh at times for me.
I don't know why 2 million fewer white Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008, but that is certainly not good news. There's a lot to untangle in these numbers, but for today I'm staying on the positive side with a shout out for the increase in number of black voters and the idea that voter education works.

May 8, 2013

Rate of Black Voters Surpassed That for Whites in 2012

The turnout rate of black voters surpassed the rate for whites for the first time on record in 2012, as more black voters went to the polls than in 2008 and fewer whites did, according to a census report released Wednesday.
The survey also found that Hispanics and Asians continue to turn out at much lower rates than other groups, and that women turn out at higher rates than men. The increase in black turnout was driven in significant part by more votes from black women.
According to the census report, 66.2 percent of eligible blacks voted in the 2012 election, compared with 64.1 percent of eligible non-Hispanic whites. An estimated 2 million fewer white Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008, just as about 1.8 million more blacks went to the polls, more than 90 percent of them voting to re-elect President Obama, exit polls showed.
“In 2008, we changed the guard. In 2012, we guard the change,” said Michael Blake, who ran the Obama campaign’s effort to reach out to black and minority voters, Operation Vote.
The overall turnout rate nationwide was 61.8 percent in 2012, a decline from 63.6 percent four years earlier. Researchers cautioned that their estimates might overstate how many people voted across the board, because they are based on surveys in which people were asked whether they had voted — a “socially desirable” activity.
The increase in black turnout seemed to stem from both energized voters and a successful voter-mobilization effort by the Obama campaign. Many black voters were motivated not only to protect the president, political organizers said, but also to demonstrate their own right to vote. In several states, Republican legislators tried to heighten voter-ID requirements, limit voting times and make registration more difficult, efforts that civil rights groups aggressively opposed.
“We are accustomed to people trying to deny us things, and I think sometimes you wake the sleeping giant, and that’s what happened here,” said Marvin Randolph, the N.A.A.C.P.'s senior vice president for campaigns.
Mr. Randolph added that voter education efforts drove many blacks to the polls early. The black early vote was 17 percent higher in 2012 than it was in 2008 in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Michigan.
“They stood in line so they wouldn’t get their vote denied,” Mr. Randolph added.
Thom File, the census report’s author, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, “Blacks for the first time in 2012 actually voted at rates higher than their eligibility would indicate.”
The census study also found a significant gender gap, with women voting at a 4-percentage-point higher rate than men (among blacks, the gap was 9 percentage points). The youth vote also dropped significantly after gains in 2008: 41.2 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 voted in 2012, down 7.3 percentage points.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Computer's been working all day following this mornings outage, so just a quick post and reminder to all writers and wish-to-be writers. Took this message
from Christy Bailey's Facebook post this afternoon. Christy's passing on Cheryl's post. (Christy was a guest blogger for me several months back and is a first-rate writer. Cheryl is the author of the best-selling Wild and other great things. Just making sure I'm giving credit where it's due.
...not that we're in it for the rejection, but rejection is just a part of the deal for all of us. Cheryl's message lifted my spirits this afternoon. Hope it lifts yours.

Going through a drawer I found the submissions/applications log I've kept off and on over the years. Just in case you think it's all been roses I'd like to report that Yaddo rejected me (as recently as 2011). McDowell rejected me. Hedgebrook rejected me twice. The Georgia Review rejected me and Ploughshares rejected me... and Tin House rejected me, as did about twenty other journals and magazines. Both The Sun and The Missouri Review rejected me before I appeared in their pages. Literary Arts declined to give me a fellowship three times before I won one. I've applied for an NEA five times and it's always been a no. Harper's magazine never even bothered to reply. I say it all the time but I'll say it again: keep on writing. Never give up. Rejection is part of a writer's life. Then, now, always.
Thanks, Cheryl.


The power has zapped on and off a couple of times this morning, so this will be short. Hate to be caught in the middle of some powerful, life-altering thought and have it whisked away forever.

So, comments on missing girls/women found, Chris Christie's lapband surgery, Amanda Knox, and other things will be left unsaid. Going to look at the buds on trees and bushes, leaving the tech world behind for a while before it sabotages me.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

No Spitting

Cloudy this morning in Denver, so that's an excuse to read an article that's fairly long and what some might call pedantic. If you care about language it's an extremely interesting one. I didn't know that words commonly had a lifetime of 9,000 years, but these are the real oldies. I like the idea of 'give' being around for 15,000 years.

The Washington Post

Linguists identify 15,000-year-old ‘ultraconserved words’

By , Published: May 6

You, hear me! Give this fire to that old man. Pull the black worm off the bark and give it to the mother. And no spitting in the ashes!
It’s an odd little speech. But if you went back 15,000 years and spoke these words to hunter-gatherers in Asia in any one of hundreds of modern languages, there is a chance they would understand at least some of what you were saying.
That’s because all of the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in the four sentences are words that have descended largely unchanged from a language that died out as the glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age. Those few words mean the same thing, and sound almost the same, as they did then.
The traditional view is that words can’t survive for more than 8,000 to 9,000 years. Evolution, linguistic “weathering” and the adoption of replacements from other languages eventually drive ancient words to extinction, just like the dinosaurs of the Jurassic era.
A new study, however, suggests that’s not always true.
A team of researchers has come up with a list of two dozen “ultraconserved words” that have survived 150 centuries. It includes some predictable entries: “mother,” “not,” “what,” “to hear” and “man.” It also contains surprises: “to flow,” “ashes” and “worm.”
The existence of the long-lived words suggests there was a “proto-Eurasiatic” language that was the common ancestor to about 700 contemporary languages that are the native tongues of more than half the world’s people.
“We’ve never heard this language, and it’s not written down anywhere,” said Mark Pagel, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in England who headed the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “But this ancestral language was spoken and heard. People sitting around campfires used it to talk to each other.”
In all, “proto-Eurasiatic” gave birth to seven language families. Several of the world’s important language families, however, fall outside that lineage, such as the one that includes Chinese and Tibetan; several African language families, and those of American Indians and Australian aborigines.
That a spoken sound carrying a specific meaning could remain unchanged over 15,000 years is a controversial idea for most historical linguists.
“Their general view is pessimistic,” said William Croft, a professor of linguistics at the University of New Mexico who studies the evolution of language and was not involved in the study. “They basically think there’s too little evidence to even propose a family like Eurasiatic.” In Croft’s view, however, the new study supports the plausibility of an ancestral language whose audible relics cross tongues today.
Pagel and three collaborators studied “cognates,” which are words that have the same meaning and a similar sound in different languages. Father (English), padre (Italian), pere (French), pater (Latin) and pitar (Sanskrit) are cognates. Those words, however, are from languages in one family, the Indo-European. The researchers looked much further afield, examining seven language families in all.
In addition to Indo-European, the language families included Altaic (whose modern members include Turkish, Uzbek and Mongolian); Chukchi-Kamchatkan (languages of far northeastern Siberia); Dravidian (languages of south India); Inuit-Yupik (Arctic languages); Kartvelian (Georgian and three related languages) and Uralic (Finnish, Hungarian and a few others).
They make up a diverse group. Some don’t use the Roman alphabet. Some had no written form until modern times. They sound different to the untrained ear. Their speakers live thousands of miles apart. In short, they seem unlikely candidates to share cognates.
Pagel’s team used as its starting material 200 words that linguists know to be the core vocabulary of all languages.
Other researchers had searched for cognates of those words in members of each of the seven Eurasiatic language families. They looked, for example, for similar-sounding words for “fish” or “to drink” in the Altaic family of languages or in the Indo-European languages. When they found cognates, they constructed what they imagined were the cognates’ ancestral words — a task that requires knowing how sounds change between languages, such as “f” in Germanic languages becoming “p” in Romance languages.
Those made-up words are called “proto-words.” Pagel’s team compared them among language families. They made thousands of comparisons, asking such questions as: Do the proto-word for “hand” in the Inuit-Yupik language family and the proto-word for “hand” in the Indo-European language family sound similar?
Surprisingly, the answer to that question and many others was yes.
The 23 entries on the list of ultraconserved words are cognates in four or more language families. Could they sound the same purely by chance? Pagel and his colleagues think not.
Linguists have calculated the rate at which words are replaced in a language. Common ones disappear the slowest. It’s those words that Pagel’s team found were most likely to have cognates among the seven families.
In fact, they calculated that words uttered at least 16 times per day by an average speaker had the greatest chance of being cognates in at least three language families. If chance had been the explanation, some rarely used words would have ended up on the list. But they didn’t.
As a group, the ultraconserved words give a hint of what has been important to people over the millennia.
“I was really delighted to see ‘to give’ there,” Pagel said. “Human society is characterized by a degree of cooperation and reciprocity that you simply don’t see in any other animal. Verbs tend to change fairly quickly, but that one hasn’t.”
Of course, one has to explain the presence of “bark.”
“I have spoken to some anthropologists about that, and they say that bark played a very significant role in the lives of forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers,” Pagel said. Bark was woven into baskets, stripped and braided into rope, burned as fuel, stuffed in empty spaces for insulation and consumed as medicine.
“To spit” is also a surprising survivor. It may be that the sound of that word is just so expressive of the sound of the activity — what linguists call “onomatopoeia” — that it simply couldn’t be improved on over 15,000 years.
As to the origin of the sound of the other ultraconserved words, and who made them up, that’s a question best left to the poets.

© The Washington Post Company

Monday, May 6, 2013

Changing Channels

Friday's casual plans to end the day at the movies got upended with the noon call that I needed to get a blood transfusion. My morning blood tests showed that all sorts of numbers were off - basically all too low, and red blood cells depleted by chemo. Given my energy level, I wasn't all that surprised, but had hoped I might put it off until today. But that wasn't to be.

It's a time-consuming procedure because the blood type has to be done first and then sent to the lab for analysis and a match. So, instead of going to my regular oncology lab that closes at 6:00 in the evening, I was sent to the hospital across the street. Aha, a bed instead of the usual chair. A television set, already tuned to CNN. Menu to order food - low carb, low fat, low whatever, sorts of choices. Immediately paranoid that my insurance wouldn't cover such luxuries, I ordered chicken and string beans. Thought about the carrots, but was afraid they'd cost $25 so passed on that. I kept being assured that my insurance would cover the stay, but, not being in a Kaiser facility, I didn't want to take any chances. Decided not to stay the night (how much does it cost to rent an overnight bed?), even though the process wouldn't end until after midnight.

Drifting in and out of sleep, Anderson Cooper repeated the news over and over as I tuned in and out. The news seemed to be changing - no it wasn't the news that was changing, but the slant on the news. Same stories, different views. "Good for Anderson, bringing in some other perspective," I thought. But the perspectives seemed a tad off. Then way off.

Opening my eyes and finally looking at the television, it became clear that somehow CNN had become FOX. How's that for a lack of connectedness?
And I wasn't hallucinating from the benedryl or excedrin. Guess I must have rolled over the tv changer and inadvertently changed the channel in my restless movements. Figuring it would be easier to turn the tv off than to find CNN, I clicked the button and stayed alert until my post-midnight dismissal.

That's entertainment.

Friday, May 3, 2013

No Free Lunch

"I thought of all the Africans who were brought to this country longing for freedom, coming on a nightmare and wishing for a dream. I thought of the Jews. I thought of the Arabs. I thought of people coming from Ireland when the potato blight had absolutely wiped out their country. I thought of all those people at Ellis Island. Of all those people who got off the slaveships in Jamestown."
                                               Maya Angelou in O Magazine, May 2013 and
                                                University of Hartford, decades ago.

Connections. Connectedness. Way back, in the '70's or '80's, Maya Angelou gave a talk at the University of Hartford for proud (many first-generation) students who had received scholarship to college. I can still  see myself sitting near the group of students who were receipients of a new scholarship - half-tuition scholarships for musically talented students who lived in the city of Hartford. There was much talk of the the students' talents, successes, support systems, etc. Lots of praise and joy. Maya Angelou was, of course, a knockout. She had everyone - yes, everyone - wiping away the tears that were rushing into their simultaneously smiling mouths.

She reminded the students that there was no free lunch, no 'free' scholarship, reminded them these scholarships came on the backs of slaves, of people fleeing pogroms, of people suffering blight, oppression, cruelty, people who put one foot in front of another so that on this day these students could put one foot in front of another and carry on the tradition. No free lunch.  We were all at the University on the backs of long lines of ancestors and others.
It was a breakthrough moment for me, a speech I never forgot, words that changed my perspective, words that helped me visualize the last potato pulled from the earth of a dying farm and dying people, words that helped me visualize long hauls by foot and by ship, nasty labor, and barely passable conditions that brought me to the very seat I was sitting in that day.

No free lunch. Never was and never will be.

Sitting in the bookstore yesterday, skimming through an O interview of Maya Angelo by Oprah Winfrey, Oprah asked Maya what she was thinking when Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. And there it was - same thoughts she had expressed so long ago to the young scholarship recipients. Gratitude.....gratitude for all who were part of the long struggle towards freedom.  And I felt such gratitude knowing that Maya Angelo is still with us to remind us of all those people who - willingly or unwillingly - put us in a position today to keeping moving forward.
Thankful and connected.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jamestown connections

For a couple of days now, I've been reflecting upon and writing about connections to the human spirit, how the individual 'I' is so necesssary to the collective 'we.'

Who would have thought this would lead to a meditation on cannibalism, to thoughts about life and death in Jamestown in 1609-1610? Oh, the human story is so complicated, filled with stories of great courage, determination, risk-taking and challenge. How does it unfold that the attempt to set out for freedom, for a better world,  leads to one person serving as food (and therefore survival) for the other seekers?

The archeological find, being covered by all the news media, and soon to be part of an exhibit on Jamestown, has caused us, once again, to review what we call our history.

I don't know if you have thought much beyond the muted school history books versions of survival in the early days of this country. And who would gather a group of fifth graders around the school table to tell them of cannibalism as a survival method during desperate times - even if the cases were anomalies? What should we know and when should we know it?

Somehow there is just as significant a connection to music, poetry, spirituals in  Mbiti's quote from yesterday - "I am because we are, and, since we are, therefore I am" - as there is about cannibalism and 'Jane', the young woman from Jamestown. We are all in this big story of who we are and how we got this far together.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Because We Are

"I am because we are,
and, since we are,
Therefore I am" 
                                             -  John Mbiti, East African philosopher

Call it serendipity, synchronicity, what you will, but this music, poetry, connections circle is surrounding me.  And it's all good.

Last night Art Jones, Creator and Director of the Spirituals Project, spoke  about spirituals, singing, rituals, and community at the Eisenhow Chapel in Lowry. Denver.
 No small task. Dr. Jones also teaches psychology and is an administrator at the University of Denver. The Spiritual Project's choir was not with him, but some of his song leaders were interspersed in the audience, serving to give the rest of us inspiration to sing and clap with enthusiasm. Having us all sing during at least half the night's event transformed us into a 'we' for the night, in spite of - or maybe because of - our 'I' ness.  Brilliant thinking and performance by Art.

The "I am because we are ..." quote served us well in understanding how the music and poetic language connected all of us.  We sang "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and discussed the ways in which the song connected us to the slaves and to our present conditions. We pondered the importance of the word 'Sometimes' in the narrative and how the music/poetry might encourage the feeling of not being a motherless child.

As for the phrase from John Mbiti, we sang This little light of mine, I'm going to make it shine, I'm going to make it shine and debated how different the message would be as This little light of ours, we're going to make it shine.
Our conversation led us to the power of the 'I' in the movement, the focus on the personal within the community. The 'I' makes the song mine, makes the statement mine - I am going to show up for the next meeting, the next movement, the next action. It's a 'trust me, I will be there as part of the group,' up-close, personal. It's My Light, along with your light, and your light and your light...makes the movement possible, the collective action capable of being carried out.

The dialogue also reinforced the connection between the past and the present. Although these songs are the music, the spirituals of the slaves, once we feel the power of the words, of the I and We, it's all connected. The original home of the music is the slave spiritual tradition, but this music can also be the music of the disenfranchised or disconnected in the present. Where would the civil rights movements of yesterday and today be without the poetry/music of the slaves?
There is lots more to say, but better to hear it said by someone else - or even better to hear it sung by someone else and join the singing whether you are in a traffic jam, a virtual space jam, or any kind of jam.

And I am reminded, once again, through Art Jones, David Young, John Mbiti, and all my friends and family of the power of connections.
'Since we are, therefore, I am.'