Category Archives: Who Does She Think She Is?

Baffling sights, aural delights, and notable encounters of 2018

Navigating life is a daunting challenge most of the time, to say nothing of the considerable regular effort required to behave like a competent, contributory human being.

I do not have a television, having abandoned the device and the medium ten years ago in an effort to firewall my thinking, to improve my experience of a day.  Avoiding the mawkish, trite, corporate free-for-all of advertising relieves me of some anxiety.  If I feel a need to escape, I watch movies without commercials.

Without the clutter of factoids about shootings and disasters, money- or sex-related scandals, political embarrassments and rumors delivered by TV news, which is sandwiched among depressingly un-nuanced dramatic shows and unfunny comedies, I’m able, on more occasions, to be more attuned to observing and listening to the lives and life around me. It’s never boring.

Oakland, California where I live:

Plagued by a volatile racial divide. Some days it cools and softens with the balm of open relaxed conversations or random acts of humanity.

Too many people wandering across busy streets against the light and with no fear.  Suicide by random passer-by.  John George, the psychiatric facility where adults experiencing severe and disabling mental illnesses may commit themselves or be committed, has patients sleeping on mats on the floor in a dorm, unsheltered from each other, medicated but unhealed.

The upcoming Women’s March, spending an obscene amount of money on an events that is unlikely to produce any timely or tangible assistance to swelling ranks of women on the margins of our community,  where domestic violence shelters are always full, too many women have not completed high school, do not know how to use computers, and virtually stagger through their days under the burden of traumas rooted in their poverty.

The City’s infested with the cheap scooters that expose riders without helmets to head injuries and pedestrians without warning to vehicular assault.

The losing battle in West Oakland against graffiti and random trash piles. Not much sense that this is a neighborhood worth valuing. We need to change that.

On the plus side:

white unbrella fungi on tree CU
photo by David Lent

The Yuba River still flows with enormous power; a hike in the forest in the riot of furry mosses and spritely fungi and elegant ferns and nude oaks that have lain down rugged brown carpets on ochre clay – that resets a weary soul.

Women’s issues steadily are gaining traction in the public conversation, suggesting more action to correct the inequities and predations on women that are inherent in our society.

 

I’ve discovered the amazing music of Jessica La Rel  http://www.jessicalarel.com/  

ODI Dance Kenya   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqmIT3dVQyY   

Sol Development   http://soldevelopmentmusic.com/

JAX (Haiti)   https://www.facebook.com/pg/jaxmusic4/about/

WCI and I survived and rebooted after soul-busting betrayals by trusted women.  New strong allies are arriving with reassuring regularity.

Several extraordinary women I know through Oakland Women’s Center have become wonderful friends.  I cherish my connection with them. Black and white women have more than they usually realize to offer each other.

My next book is coming out in January:  Trouble Ahead:  Dangerous Missions with Desperate People

3D-coverIt’s a compilation of journals – commentary from my numerous missions in East Africa and the birth stories of Women’s Centers International.

Publication announcement to come.

After the holiday slack-off, I’ll be ready again to advance WCI in serving the women who need it most.

A Moveable Life

Written in 2009   

When my daughter left home for college, she asked me to promise not to move anywhere for at least a year so she could come “home” if needed.  I was willing to make this commitment, knowing that at the end of it, I would be ready for the move I had been dreaming of for several years.  I wanted to live and work in Africa.

With her departure, the minutia of parenting evaporated. I no longer kept to a meal schedule, or did laundry every other day, or needed to monitor her comings and goings.  This was both a liberation and a great loss.  I cherished having her around, with her friends dropping by, listening to and/or spectating the dramas of teenage life and loves.  No one could excoriate an errant boyfriend with more vitality than her friends, a loyal group of talented, funny young women. Our home was a haven for that energy.

dusty trail
Traveling in Darfur 2009

I filled the empty space with work that fed my passion. For four years, I’d been riveted by the escalating chaos in Sudan. As the genocide in Darfur shifted into gear, I sought ways to replace my outrage with meaningful action.  I could not tolerate the unanswered brutality, kept pinching myself that, in spite of all the “never agains”, a full-blown premeditated mass slaughter was happening on my ‘watch.’  To be a conscious adult in such a time meant having to do whatever it took to make the killing stop.  I grieve that it does not, but I don’t give up.

The reason that many people don’t change their lives when “hole in the fence” presents is that takes a concerted work to jettison the accumulated trappings of adult life. We’d managed to buy a house. I finally had a collection of decent furnishing that didn’t previously belong to someone else. I’ve saved my daughter’s artwork and baby clothes, the sports gear, the miscellaneous tools and home-care devices, the photos, books, CDs , the files of tax returns and once-important documents, and all that weird stuff you save to  cleverly craft into some artistic statement … one day. In the end, it’s mostly baggage that sucks you in place like uber-gravity.

Fairness and justice seemed to have lost ground on our watch in our global village, and we still don’t have a clear line on what the hell we’re doing here. When the irrationality of it begins to weigh you down, get yourself promptly into something you consider important. You can transform the world one life at a time – and that’s really the best most of us can hope for.

What do you carry forward?

Turn off the TV.  Its purpose is to distribute anxiety.  Make your own news.

Never lose  the capacity for outrage, but learn how to channel it productively.

What do you need?

To linger

To laugh

To give – mentoring, resources, service, the wisdom of experience – at any age.

It takes a lot of persistance to make a ripple of change, and you might not live long enough to enjoy the eventual wave. But life is short and you’ve gotta get to it.

The Value of Cussedness

Day 25 as a non-smoker.  After many previous attempts, I’d decided to try a different approach (hypnosis) on a day (May 1) that encouraged easy calculation of how far I’d made it.

I truly have no desire for a cigarette, but pings of anxiety are not receding quite as fast.  I’m leaving behind this habit at a time when I feel I’ve  ‘lost my place’ in the world, or maybe it’s that I’m not entirely sure how to reinvest my considerable energy after four years of Oakland Women’s Center. I’ve been living solo all month as Dave does his migrant cameraman gigs in DC. May weather mostly bleak and overcast from the nippy dawn to 4pm-ish,  when an outbreak of sun may occur for a hour or two, then low grey clouds reclaim the sky.

Reading paradise
Inside the book tower at the Prague Main Library

It’s a compelling process to leave behind a habit as demanding as smoking,  I’d had to fill the ‘void’ with something useful and satisfying.   Gardening and mosaic art – both of which soothe me. Friends are inviting me over to spring clean their yards, an activity I find splendidly entertaining.

I read all the time – pretty much anything that draw my interest. To me, libraries are sacred places.

Slowly I’m returning to writing.  Working two major projects: a nonfiction book almost finished; and the VOG (the muse dazzles me with the one) just beginning.

Meanwhile, I drifted for five twilight-zonish hours in the DMV to replace a license plate that was stolen or jolted off the car.  Florescent glare; cubicles in circle-the-wagons array; clots of numbers streamed in an automated voice over a loudspeaker, flashed on large screens shared with assorted news, propaganda, and the weather; people of all sizes, shapes, colors, and afflictions shuffling to windows, the State raking in fees; everybody  resigned to waiting.  I was intrigued by one fine proposal from a fellow queue-stander on how to eliminate the choke points.

Overall, a week of hideous self-doubt that I’ve beaten back out of cheer cussedness. Giving up is not an attractive option.

Mayday Storytime

I used to write to help me understand my life experiences – especially when I traveled. Creating journals and stories satisfied my need to ‘process.’

I return to that now as a practice I have sorely missed. I expect to dedicate myself to restoring and extending my skills.

First up:  The Story of Susan Becoming a Non-smoker.

My father took up smoking at the age of 19 when he was sent off in 1944 to the Battle of Leyte, the largest naval battle in the history of the world. He never gave up the habit, even when he suffered emphysema. Smoking killed him.

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I was there to see him off, breathing tubes and all.

His habit influenced all of us in the family.  4 out of my 6 living siblings smokes, including me – ending three days ago.  I’d started and stopped many times over the last 20 years or so. Generally, I did my best to be a closet smoker, ashamed that I could not to put down the nasty habit when so many others had abandoned it.  Some of my associates must have sniffed it. But, since I was not overt, it all seemed to go unmentioned – except by my daughter and my husband, who both have had their stints as smokers.

I learned an important distinction: smoking is a habit, not an addiction. Addicts go through physical withdrawal; smokers get cranky. The subconscious has successfully overridden the front brain’s protests that smoking is self-inflicted harm on a human body, which already has enough environmental pollutants to contend with.

Most significant for me, smoking repudiates optimism. I have seen and experienced enough unjust shit, seen and heard enough egregious behavior to justify utter and complete pessimism.

However, I don’t have as much time left as I’ve already lived.  Being gloomy and cynical isn’t fun. I’d rather pump up optimism, and enjoy the goodness it draws from people.

Chop Chop.

Ironically, when I slow down, I see details more clearly. The habit of speeding through the days and years no longer appeals.

Day Three as a non-smoker has presented only a few moments that needed ‘management’. My daughter reassured:  “You’ve got this.”  Yes, yes I do.

Remediation

The massively unmet needs of poor women, particularly black women, have fueled my thinking since I began working in Africa two decades ago. In my hometown, Oakland CA, I see as little progress stanching the pain.

Over the last eighteen months, I’ve grown more intimate with the realities of the sisters’ piled-on issues. Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, breast cancer, addiction, abuse (historic and current), custody battles, low-wage quicksand jobs – because finishing high school never happened.

owc-logo-colorHealing the accumulated trauma requires a lot of courage. And support.

Every woman’s gotta pitch in to bring up every other woman.

Then we actually can reshape a vibrant future around what women are uniquely capable of doing. We are so much more than we’ve learned to be.