Most of these pieces appeared in the Huffington Post before that platform became so crowded with writers that it lost its appeal as a venue. It's amazing how many other sites pick up from HuffPo; one of these – I forget which one – ended up on so many thousands of sites I figured only bots were moving the words, or reading them. I'm having more fun now on Facebook, where real people respond.
The reunions are always tearful, the regrets enormous. "Birth mothers" describe decades of worry and sorrow; their children, grown, newly found, say that not knowing who their birth parents were has been a gaping wound in their lives.
This isn't one of those stories.
I've seen them, read them, and realized, with both relief and a touch of puzzlement that although I’ve shared the experience, I haven't shared the pain. It may...more
When Nature magazine announced that Jefferson’s DNA matches that of one of the children of Sally Hemings, the slave long rumored to have been his mistress—I was cheering.
The Jefferson/Hemings story has been dismissed by generations of white, male historians who could address their hero’s ownership of slaves but dismissed out of hand the possibility that he slept with one of them for 30 years, that he had children by...more
“Permission to engage your hand brake?”
You’re hearing this as you drive far faster than you know it’s wise to go—in circles—on a rubber raceway covered with water—soapy water. And the professional instructor in your passenger seat wants to pull the hand brake.
What the hell. “Sure.”
The car of course tails out, which is the point of the exercise: he wants to see what you do about that.
How did I get into such a...more
In the decades that I’ve been writing the stories of heroes, I’ve often felt dumbstruck with admiration. Never more so than in reading about Raoul Wallenberg.
His story is the stuff of legends, a tale so powerful it has moved hundreds of people to join in a demand to know how the story ends. Did Wallenberg die in 1947, as the Soviet government claimed? Was he alive as recently as 1987, as prisoners in Soviet prisons and mental...more
Although Lawrence Rockwood was commended as a Giraffe Hero over a decade earlier, I had never met him until an evening in San Diego, the city where he has settled into a new life as a teacher of history. The event was a private dinner honoring the Project’s work and two Giraffe Heroes in particular, Azim Khamisa and Larry Rockwood.
We talked at length, just hours after the passing of the Military Commissions Act by the Senate, a...more
An encounter with the breast-cancer industry...
Early in November [several years ago] I noticed that my breasts hurt. I found a lump in one. I made an appointment at our local clinic and was immediately given a blood test, an antibiotic and an appointment at a breast clinic. I wasn’t alarmed because breast cancer doesn’t hurt. Everybody knows that.
That evening, a television promo for the evening news promised news...more
Going to the White House, in another time...
This is a belated, and fairly impressionistic report to Possibly Interested Persons on my excursion to the first-ever White House conference on philanthropy. If you’ve had serious time in that building, this will be ho-hum. But if, like me, you can count your time there in minutes, this may be something to read.
The President and Mrs. Clinton request the pleasure…
It isn’t what the Chief had in mind, we’re sure, but over the years he’s acquired a couple of ghost writers (in the sky?).
The gorgeous environmental speech that is everywhere attributed to the nineteenth-century tribal leader was, in fact, written by screenwriter Ted Perry in 1971 for a film on ecology. And Perry based his script on the work of one Henry Smith who probably made up a good bit of it.
Shocked? So were we. We...more
In February of 2015, I was in Vietnam for the first time in over half a century, seeing Saigon and Hue again, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay for the first time.
It’s a country we “lost” in April of 1975. There were commemorations and announcements everywhere in 2015, celebrating the “reunification” of North and South Vietnam....more
I’ve got the hamburgers and the sparklers. Washed my red white and blue T shirt. Everybody’s got their assignments for the barbecue. And I find myself wondering—just what are we celebrating here?
Do you get a lump in your throat when the white-haired vets carry the flag by? Do you dream of home when you’re in another country, missing American voices, jokes, tastes and sights and smells? I do. But people all over the world have...more
A teen and a child shot by police, riots, marches, a grand jury, a storm of emotional opinions about it all—are you trying to figure out the whys of this mess?
My own mental filters definitely affect my efforts to understand, so let me make it clear that I grew up on military bases; my dad was a lifer and a combat veteran, totally committed to honor and duty. I get it. I've studied courage professionally for over three decades; I know...more
They've arrived. Six small pots, gifts of art to my family someday—delivery date to be determined by my life span. I decided to commission them (that sounds awfully grand) after my father died and I discovered that he had not only left directions for what he wanted done with his body, but he'd paid the bill. No trying, with my brother, to figure out "what Dad would have wanted." The guy knew his mind. Well, so do I.
Soon after getting...more
When the film "Philomena" went into wide release and was nominated for four Oscars -- I had a few words to say about the film and about the facts it was based on.
You might say I have standing in the matter.
The movie begins in an Irish convent, where Philomena Lee—an unmarried girl—gives birth to a son. A few years later, she's still at the convent, doing manual work as payment for her room and board and for the sin of being a...more
Setting: a house in the forest on a Puget Sound island, two people sitting on a porch at dusk, lovely dinner before us, good talk, perfect weather. And some flying thing lands fast on my arm and whips back into the forest. "That was weird." And we proceed with the salad.
A little later I saw there was dried blood my arm. Another weirdness. Washed it off and forgot about it.
Two nights later I'm in a carpool with friends and one...more
I learned a lot about the power of heroes from the world’s favorite teller of heroes’ tales, Joseph Campbell.
Back when I was getting the Giraffe Project started, friends and family were asking why I was putting so much into something that could well be a lost cause. Flying off to Paris from my Manhattan base to write a speech for the Aga Khan hadn’t been a bad way to make a living. Why was I going on and on with this...more
The Giraffe Heroes Project sent a team to the five-day Seeds of Compassion conference in Seattle. As a Giraffe staffer, I talked with hundreds of teachers and parents who had assembled there, telling them about Giraffe ways to foster compassion in the young.
After days of giving, I'm now struck by all the gifts I took away from those five days.
A quarter century ago I listened to the...more
Listening to interviews with Ken Burns about his WWII documentary, I've been drop-kicked into my own memories of those years. Burns has interviewed vets about their experiences—I don't know if he's included anyone who was a kid then, as I was.
Children were witnessing the adult drama of it all. A third-grader when it started, I was also waging my own "war effort." It was deeply magical thinking—I really thought what I did or didn't do...more
It helps to have lived in Vietnam and the Congo. I mean, I've seen poor, really poor. People sleeping in shifts on the dirt floors of scrap-metal shacks. Rice or manioc as the only food at a meal, and everyone thankful to have even that. Students using every square inch, front and back, of a piece of paper, using pencils down to a nub. Water being hauled home in jerry cans from distant pumps.
So when the US economy--and my household...more
“They got Pinky!"
I was calling out to my husband after turning on the radio to news that Bhutto had been assassinated. No, we’re not among the seeming hundreds who are now writing about their personal relationships with her. We encountered her just once, in 1989. She was giving a commencement address and receiving an honorary LLD. Harvard was welcoming her home, with fond memories of the days when she’d been known to all there as...more
“She was the most beautiful girl on our campus."
Paris. An American friend in his 30s is talking about a classmate whose first novel has just been published back in the States. A good story, wonderfully written. Clearly the author was more than beautiful. But the conversation stayed with beauty.
“I got a buddy of mine a date with her and he’s still thanking me. It must be strange for a woman to have that kind of effect on people...more
It’s interesting to be in the work of fostering citizen courage in this time when a growing national theme seems to be, Be afraid. Be very afraid.
“Interesting" is of course sarcasm. What I’m really feeling is anger.
Are you listening to our “leaders"? To people seeking higher office? To political pundits? To newscasters? A fat percentage of what too many of them say is fear-mongering.
With all the news of uprisings—Egypt, Tunisia, Libya—I've been rocketed back in time and space to the Congo, to Vietnam, where I got some first-hand experiences of what it's like when people make such dramatic moves. And what it's like to witness your own government making the wrong moves.
I was a bored Foreign Service wife in the Belgian Congo when the Belgians allowed the first election of "burgomeisters" in Leopoldville, the city...more
In Barbara Kingsolver's fascinating novel, The Lacuna, the protagonist writes this in a 1946 letter:
"The radio is at the root of the evil, their rule is: No silence, ever. When anything happens, the commentator has to speak without a moment's pause for gathering wisdom. Falsehood and inanity are preferable to silence. You can't imagine...more
For everyone who's read through J.K. Rowling's epic—it’s been a grand ride, hasn't it?
Thinking about the Potter phenomenon, I've been beguiled by the backstory—Repeatedly Rejected Manuscript Becomes Publishing Phenom—and annoyed with the critics who have dismissed the books as “rehashes" of earlier stories.
How about “re-telling of myths deeply rooted in our psyches"? That’s what I see in the series and in the world-wide thirst...more
I am getting a teeth-grinding effect from watching and reading the "news." Because of the writing. I'm a writer to the bone. I love this language you and I read, write and speak. It's called English. And I'm seriously doubting that it's known to some of the unseen people who write the news.
I don't seem to have much effect when I throw shoes at the television screen during a news broadcast, but perhaps I can at least urge a few...more
We've got class issues rumbling in this country. Or we should. Doors are slamming on the tradition that class doesn't lock the children of the poor in their parents' world, that with big dreams and hard work, capable American kids can move up.
The main way up has always been education. Barely literate grandparents got their kids to public schools and their kids got to college. You know people who have lived this story. You know...more
With the news that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has left this world, I'm posting scenes from a novel-in-progress that describe encounters with the man. Enjoy...
Fiuggi had been taken over by the Maharishi’s entourage and hundreds of transcendental meditators. Lee’s contact was the press officer of the operation, a young German baron, gracious and eager to introduce her to the spokesman for His Holiness, not so keen on the possibilities of...more
A football star admits he’s been involved in dogfighting. The fans and much of the country at-large go ballistic.
Well, let’s think a bit here. The guy excels at one of the most combative sports imaginable. He’s really good at it.
Why, please tell me, is it shocking that he’s also involved in an aggressive, dangerous competition that pits dogs against each other. Is that it? That people like dogs so much they think it’s fine to...more
The people looking at you in this photo are Job Bebenimibo and his students in the Giraffe Service Club International in Oporoza, Nigeria.
Take a good look. They may all be dead. On May 16 the village of Oporoza was attacked by the Nigerian military. The villagers who survived fled into the bush, where there is no medical care and no food. There may be no homes to go back to if they survive.
The kids were inspired to do service by...more
As the world got the news about the dismantling of Occupy Wall Street, I found my B.S. detector registering off the dial.
In mid-October, at the height of Occupy, I went to Zuccotti Park to carry out a plan hatched after watching a Jon Stewart show that focused some Occupy coverage on potty jokes. New York City hasn't allowed...more
When we’re kids, Presidents are of parental age. When we make it to adulthood, Presidents fall into the elder-sibling bracket. And then there’s the shock of a contemporary taking the office. If the President is your own age, Your Generation has taken charge.
Now, it's 2008 and I’m looking for the first time at a President young enough to be one of my kids. Ann Dunham’s son, Toot Dunham’s grandson, is in fact younger than two of my...more
Three words, five syllables, a theme of the Writers’ Guild of America. “Somebody wrote that." They’re the perfect words for sending this writer’s fist straight into the air with a fervent Yes!
I just heard someone say, after a report on the Guild’s strike, “I’m against strikes." Well, as a progressive, I am for many a strike and as a writer, I am wholeheartedly for this one.
The corporate owners of film studios, television...more
The afterword to Arias, Riffs & Whispers, my book of 70 poems, quotes Don Marquis, who wrote: “Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo." My afterword goes on to invite echoes from readers of the book.
Well, that rose petal does sometimes echo resoundingly in responses from readers. One came in a few days ago that about did me in.
A man in the southwest...more
We went to the out-of-town “opening night" of a musical headed for Broadway, an adaption of the movie, Young Frankenstein. Both the 33-year-old movie and this new musical are by a writer/ composer who’s 81, Mel Brooks. We’d just listened on CDs to his 2000-year Old-Man routines, recorded when he was in his 30s, laughing our way through a long car trip.
The man has been making me laugh all my life. The stage on opening night was deep in...more
The remote Puget Sound island where I live joined the great Aught Eight election excitement Saturday, the Democratic caucus bringing out so many citizens that cars lined the roads around the high school for a mile.
I can report out that the Maxwelton Valley sector of South Whidbey Island is sending 9 Obama and 3 Clinton delegates to the County convention. We were just one small subset of the biggest turnout ever seen here, just like...more
If McCain doesn't stop being a poster boy for senile dementia, I may start dissing seniors myself. And I am one. Sheesh!
Meanwhile, here's one fully cognizant elder with a few things to say about this election:
Point—I do not want to have a beer with the President of the United States. The POTUS should be taking care of business, not taking beer breaks with me.
Point—I do not want "someone like me" running the country. I...more
Longtime feminist here, contemporary of Steinem’s,* and one who wishes all young women grokked how different life was for us back in the day, how much they owe the women’s movement, how precarious the changes are that make their current opportunities seem givens—and permanent.
*Full disclosure: Steinem wrote a great blurb for a book of mine and I’ve admired her enormously for 40 years.
I’d like to believe the Gen Y...more
Friend of mine, a fellow writer, put the question to his email network last week: Would anyone join him in a hunger strike for the closing of Guantanamo?
He figures we have to do something to keep the Administration from destroying everything this country should stand for. Life’s been pretty tough for him lately and he’s decided he’d rather go out fighting for something big rather than being quietly done in by his malfunctioning...more
I’m in shock. It’s probably been decades since I found myself agreeing with anything coming out of the White House. This week it happened. A dress code was posted for visitors there, requiring a certain formality in entering that beautiful focal point of our national history. No jeans, sneakers, shorts, miniskirts, T-shirts, tank tops or FLIP FLOPS—the capitalization was theirs.
Wahoo! This is so overdue.
I’m thinking of the...more