I find it quite extraordinary that this item, which leads the BBC headlines, does not lead in the U.S. We are so distracted by our internal battles (which are, admittedly, nasty and getting nastier --and frightening) that we have not noticed this major step in foreign policy. Fifteen years ago this would have been major news.
I know. It's far from enough. But this administration is moving the previously frozen. I don't think most of us realize how significant this is.
All numbers are estimates because exact numbers are top secret.
Strategic nuclear warheads are designed to target cities, missile locations and military headquarters as part of a strategic plan.
Today was the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Monseñor Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador.
I will post more when my teaching week is over, but for now, here are two links.
At this one, which is mostly in Spanish but has links to other languages, you will find a wealth of resources including a slide show in PowerPoint (click on "XXX Aniversario") with rich quotes by Romero and many other words and images to ponder.
This one is a biography in English by a U.S. poet and activist who has engaged in Central America solidarity work for many, many years and knows what she is talking about.
"A church that does not unite itself to the poor in order to denounce from the place of the poor the injustice committed against them is not truly the Church of Jesus Christ."*-San Oscar Romero de las Americas
The campus popped into bloom this weekend while I was away. (Not away away, just home away, getting some quiet, getting some writing done, doing battle with the hydrangea bushes, and communing with the cat and yes, with the scriptures.) The flowering fruit trees, several kinds, and the magnolias are all ablossom.
Now, of course, it is overcast and about to rain. It poured buckets yesterday in the late afternoon and part of the night, but the beginning of the weekend was spectacular: sunny, dry, balmy, no humidity, and no mosquitoes yet. If it weren't still Lent I would say the A-word.
Meanwhile, in the mountains of Western North Carolina, three hours' drive from here, it is snowing.
Enough blabla. Here are some magnolias. These are all from the same tree in front of my office building. I took the first three in sunny weather this morning. I took the fourth in the early afternoon under overcast skies. [Correction: I think that fourth one is from a different tree.]
All right, I'm pulling out all the stops. BO WANTS YOU TO CALL YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS ONE MORE TIME. Seriously. Help the humans.
P.S. I say "a first step" because this plan is far from what many of us want, but politics, my purist friends, is the art of compromise, and we have to start somewhere. I'm with Rep. Dennis Kucinich on this.
Two years ago my parents' dear friend John Olver died. I only wrote the first of two posts I had planned to write on him. We had a visiting lecturer from Botswana at school on almost-last-minute notice and I never got to write more. But the first post is here and will tell you a bit about him. (There is a good link to a short bio.) John was a warm, witty, intelligent man who worked for UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme, for most of his life. I think of him when I hear news of Gaza because he was one of the few people who managed to get anything done there. In his case, it was bringing fresh water to Gaza. He wrote a book about it, but I think it was a self-publish and never got out there into the wide world. I once saw a used copy on Amazon, though. It was called Roadblocks and Mindblocks: Partnering with The PLO and Israel.
John died in March of 2008, a month full of deaths and with Holy Week in it besides.
Today John's wife Ruth Olver died. Ruth and my mother met at Hunter College in uptown Manhattan when they were in their late teens. They used to study at the library together, taking turns napping. Later, when they were both married, the two couples became close friends and my mother became godmother to Ruth's second child, a daughter. I used to get hand-me-down clothes from Amy; they would arrive in a package at our house in Paris, all the way from wherever the Olvers were at the time. For a while they lived in Geneva.
We received news of Ruth's passing from Ruth and John's son this evening. (Interesting note: both he and I entered the Episcopal Church in our middle age.) Ruth had been very ill for several years. She had Parkinson's and other ailments, and she had recently turned 92 years old.
Ruth Olver was an early civil rights activist, attempting to integrate public facilities in Washington, D.C. in the early 1940s (as did my mother's late brother, Don Rothenberg). Her son wrote, "A brilliant woman of her generation, after her marriage to the late John Olver in 1944 she devoted herself to rasing her children and supporting the UN career of our late father. However, she was always very active in organizing schools, supplies and other social support for children wherever he served, especially in Libya and later in the Palestinian Territories."
In her forties, back in the U.S., Ruth became a psychiatric social worker. In addition to an active clinical practice, she was a pioneer in campaigning against spousal and other domestic abuse in Westchester County. (For those of you who don't know, that's a suburban county north of New York City; part of it is fancy shmancy and it also has middle-class neighborhoods and towns and pockets of poverty; domestic abuse does not know class lines.) Ruth was a founder of the Women's Justice Council, which lobbies the police and courts for justice for victim-survivors of domestic abuse and and provides childcare and other support to them while they are pursuing their rights. (I'm paraphrasing Richard's letter here.)
Ruth was a founder of My Sister's Place, a Westchester County shelter for victims of abuse. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to that shelter.
Please remember Ruth Olver and her children and grandchildren in your prayers. Remember also John, who preceded her in death two years ago and who like her worked for the good of humanity. Remember also my parents, who have yet again lost a dear friend of their generation.
Someone on Facebook asked why my parents got married in Mexico City.
Since it's too long an answer for Facebook, here goes.
My father got his master's degree at the Columbia University Journalism School. He was not yet 21 years old. He graduated at the top of his class (1939) and was one of three recipients of a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. This gave him the opportunity to travel and write for a year.
He headed for Europe in June. He knew by then that he wanted to be a foreign correspondent. He traveled through Western Europe, then Eastern Europe and the USSR and back to Western Europe. Well, if you remember your world history, you remember what started happening on September 1, 1939. World War II broke out.
My father had hoped to stay and find work as a war correspondent, but despite his letters of recommendation, he couldn't find a job, and he went home, not on a Cunard liner as he had on the way over, but on a freighter taking refugees back to the U.S. Among the passengers was my father's cabin-mate --not by choice-- who turned out to be, so he said and my father had no reason to doubt him, Prince Felix Yussupov. You may remember him as the man who killed Rasputin. My father notes in his memoir that he "had never before met anybody who had killed a man, let alone boasted about it. Sharing a cabin with him was fun on an otherwise tense voyage, but I didn't sleep too well thinking about my new friend, the murderer." (p.23)
FoAoH decided to finish up his fellowship in Mexico City, so off he went. There were many estadounidenses there at the time: Mexico was warm, welcoming, and inexpensive. It was also, as my father discovered, desperately poor, and the Mexico City metropolitan area was already crowded then with a population over five million. He started freelancing and stringing (working part-time) for several newspapers and news services.
After he'd been there for a while, MoAoH got sick of waiting up in Brooklyn. She'd finished college by then, so, as I like to tell it, she said to her parents "Bye-bye, I'm going to marry FoAoH!" Okay, it wasn't entirely like that. My parents had both turned 21 by then, it was now early 1940, and my father saw that they could live quite well on under $15 a week, so they decided that they would get married sooner rather than later. My father wrote a letter to my mother's father, as one did in those days, and promised he would take good care of her. They had known each other for years so my mother's parents knew my father was a trustworthy sort, and they knew my parents wanted to get married. People didn't "get engaged" in those days, at least in my parents' circles. It was the Depression and nobody was buying or showing off diamonds on their left ring fingers, and my mother's family was never terribly conventional anyway, though they certainly believed in marriage.
My parents met at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York. They didn't become sweethearts till college but were in the same group of friends in high school. Like many in their high school --mostly children and grandchildren of Jewish immigrants-- they attended public colleges: she went to Hunter College, which was all women at the time; he went to City College, which was all men. Both of those schools were way uptown in Manhattan, of course, and my family's version of "In my day we had to walk five miles to school in the snow, uphill in both directions!" was "It was the Depression, we lived at home, and we took the subway to school an hour and a half in each direction." Three hours of commuting a day to get an education. My mother is the one who talks about this.
My father was editor of the college newspaper and helped get a corrupt college president on the road to resignation, but that is another story and you can read it in FoAoH's memoir. He went on to a private university (Columbia) for professional journalism study. My brother also went there, years later, and I contemplated doing the same but didn't.
Back to the Mexico story. My mother took the bus down to Mexico City from New York. Yes, the bus. More like buses. I think her first stop was Indianapolis because she had an uncle there. Not sure whether or where she stopped after that, but it was a five-day trip. At any rate, she got to Mexico City safe and sound on a Friday, and the following Tuesday she and my father were married.
They married at the American Embassy because they were patriotic young people and wanted to be married on American soil. But the Ambassador wasn't empowered to officiate at weddings (unlike some other foreign diplomats) so they got a Mexican Justice of the Peace. Only civil marriages were valid in Mexico. A wedding at the JP's Registry office would cost two pesos, but they decided to splurge and go for the 32-peso wedding, which is what it cost to get married outside the Registry. 32 pesos in those days was about 8 dollars.
Foreign Service officers couldn't officiate at marriages but they could witness them (in the church that's the same thing, so I don't quite get the distinction, but there you have it) and issue a certificate of marriage so in addition to the Mexican wedding certificate, my parents got a U.S. certificate (for one dollar extra). I'm not sure whether the Consul General or the Ambassador signed the piece of paper, but they were both there. The Ambassador at the time was Josephus Daniels, a former Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson who was a former newsman -- how appropriate. I remembered he was a Southerner, but what I had forgotten and just re-read in the Mexico chapter of the memoir is that he was the founder-editor of the Raleigh News & Observer. That's Raleigh, North Carolina.
Meanwhile, my paternal grandparents had expressed the desire for my parents to have a Jewish wedding ceremony, so several days later PoAoH located a rabbi, which in Mexico City was not so easy, and he witnessed and officiated at a religious ceremony. It was in Spanish and Hebrew and they had a sheet or a tablecloth for a chuppah (the traditional wedding canopy) and my father didn't have a kippah (yarmulke) so he used a handkerchief tied at four corners. The part of this story I love is that the rabbi lived on Jesus Maria Street. Now there's a title for a novel: The Rabbi on Jesus Maria Street.
Parents of Acts of Hope did have a little reception with a wedding cake. The cake was the work of two Greek-American pastry cooks from Manhattan who after fighting in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (i.e. against Franco's forces) had settled in Mexico and opened a restaurant and bakery.
My father's memoir doesn't say and I haven't asked my parents, but it occurred to me a few years ago upon re-reading my father's description that these guys, Nick and Mike, were probably a couple. But maybe they weren't.
The cake had two white doves on top.
The big story in 1940 in Mexico was, of course, Trostsky's assassination, and my father, as a freshly minted journalist, got to cover it. There was a substantial cast of characters in the background shenanigans leading up to the assassination, including an American woman who had been one of Trotsky's aides. My father was stringing for the Jack Starr-Hunt News Service and among their clients was the N.Y. Daily News tabloid, which could care less about the politics of the story. Who cared if Stalin's arch-enemy had just been killed? The Daily News fired off to my father a cable that read "RUSH 1,500 WORDS GIRLIE ANGLE." Welcome to highfalutin foreign correspondent work.
After a few months in Mexico, with the fellowship year over, my parents returned to the U.S. and Brooklyn, where both their families lived. My father got a stop-gap editing job at the Brooklyn Academy of Music while hunting for a real job in journalism. At last, after six months, a real job materialized, and off my parents went to Herkimer, New York (for those of you who don't know, that's in the boonies, at least from a New York City perspective) where my father worked on the Evening Telegram newspaper for the magnificent sum of $35 per week.
The following year Pearl Harbor happened and my parents moved to Washington.
The photos are a bit fuzzy, but still nice. Yesterday's were taken under gloomy skies, today's under bright sun. Clouds showed up later in the day though, and we had more rain. Also, we are losing an hour tonight because of Daylight Alleged Savings. BOO!
The Amazing Parents of Acts of Hope are still alive and kicking at 91, after a scare this winter when Mother of Acts of Hope had medical episode which put her in the hospital for a little under a week and sent me dashing up to Boston on four hours' notice back in January. It took a while for her to get better but she is up and about and we are grateful, because today is a big day. Seventy, yes, 70, count' em, 70 years ago, on March 12, 1940, Mother and Father of Acts of Hope were married in Mexico City. Why Mexico City? That is a tale for this weekend. What I can tell you now is that Mother of Acts of Hope, age 21 at the time, took the bus, or rather several buses, from Brooklyn, New York to Mexico, D.F., Mexico. Now there's determination. And love!
We children are not up in Boston but will be going there in a few weeks when everyone in several different countries can get schedules coordinated, and we are looking forward to it. For now we are using electronic means to communicate, and of course flowers.
I'm always hesitant to post family photos on the blog and never post photos of children anywhere on the Web, blog or Facebook or websites, but if you are on Facebook and are a FB friend of mine and go to my profile, you can see in one of ththe family album some photos of my parents which I put up a while back. Note: I am off Facebook on Fridays, Saturdays, and most of Sundays in Lent, and it's a good thing. I may do more of this after Lent is over.
It is spring break at Guilford and I have been sleeping long hours and working on the Big Tome as well as taking care of this and that (never enough time during term time to do the simplest things, like make phone calls to physicians about check-ups and clean the kitchen floor and find lost pieces of paper) so no special celebration on my end today, except for a little family-in-the-Spirit time locally. The Adorable Godson and his bff are coming here for lunch --we haven't had a meal together in too long -- and so I must go to the kitchen. Good thing the boys aren't coming till an hour from now.
In other news, the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Maya Pavlova, FBE, is lolling against the laptop, looking sweet and calm, but she has a serious case of spring fever and broke the glass in a picture frame two or three days ago in a morning mad dash about the house. Outdoors the daffodils are blooming under grey skies and the birds are out in full force. Over and out.
As you can see, we have a visual focus to greet people upon arrival and for when we open our eyes after Centering Prayer. We sit on the floor, though there are chairs for those who prefer. All are welcome. There is a ramp to the left of the house, for those who use wheels, crutches, or a walker.
More crocuses today (or rather yesterday, since it is now Wednesday, 1 a.m.). They came in threes. The first cluster was yesterday's lone crocus with two new companions. The second cluster was behind the house.
In a post from a year ago an Irish feminist, Aileen O'Carroll, posted this photo from New York a century ago. (Thanks to Indymedia Ireland for hosting Ms. O'Carroll's post.)
... With no profit to be made out of it, Ms. O'Carroll writes, the day is not exactly one that jumps out and grabs the attention. International Women's Day is an expressly political day. In 1907 women sweatshop workers marched in New York and thus the first International Women's day was born. Often when women are celebrated it is because they are either cute (Valentine's Day) or caring (Mothers' Day).
There is nothing wrong with being cute or caring, but on International Women's day we get to highlight those of us who are politically active, those who are fighting for a better world, those who know that there can be a better world.
From Tillie Olsen's Silences (New York: Delacorte Press / Seymour Lawrence, 1978).
In case it is not obvious, italics in black are my words. The words in color are Olsen's.
Literary history and the present are dark with silences: some the silences for years by our acknowledged great; some silences hidden; some the ceasing to publish after one work appears; some the never coming to book form at all.
What is it that happens with the creator, to the creative process, in that time? What are creation's needs for full functioning? Without intention of or pretension to literary scholarship, I have had special need to learn all I could of this over the years, myself so nearly remaining mute and having to let writing die over and over again in me.
These are not natural silences--what Keats called agonie ennuyeuse (the tedious agony)--that necessary time for renewal, lying fallow, gestation, in the natural cycle of creation. The silences I speak of here are unnatural: the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot. In the old, the obvious parallels: when the seed strikes stone; the soil will not sustain; the spring is false; the time is drought or blight or infestation; the frost comes premature.
The great in achievement have known such silences --Thomas Hardy, Melville, Rimbaud, Gerard Manley Hopkins. They tell us little as to why or how the creative working atrophied and died in them--if ever it did.
Kin to these years-long silences are the hidden silences; work aborted, deferred, denied --hidden by the work which does come to fruition...
Censorship silences. Deletions, omissions, abandonment of the medium (as with Hardy); paralyzing of capacity (as Dreiser's ten-year stasis on Jennie Gerhardt after the storm against Sister Carrie). Publishers' censorship, refusing subject matter or treatment as "not suitable" or "no market for." Self-censorship. Religious, political censorship --sometimes spurring inventiveness--most often (read Dostoyevsky's letter) a wearing attrition.
The extreme of this: those writers physically silenced by governments. Isaac Babel, the year of imprisonment, what took place in him with what wanted to be written? Or in Oscar Wilde, who was not permitted even a pencil until the last month of his imprisonment?
Other silences. The truly memorable poem, story, or book, then the writer ceasing to be published. Was one work all the writers had in them (life too thin for pressure of material, renewal) and the respect for literature too great to repeat themselves? Was it "the knife of the perfectionist attitude in art and life" at their throat? Were the conditions not present for establishing the habits of creativity (a young Colette who lacked a Willy to lock her in her room each day)? or--as instanced over and over--other claims, other responsibilities so writing could not be first? (The writer of a class, sex, color still marginal in literature, and whose coming to written voice at all against complex odds is exhausting achievement.) It is an eloquent commentary that this one-book silence has been true of most black writers; only eleven in the hundred years since 1850 have published novels more than twice.[Olsen backs up her statement with a citation; note that she was speaking in 1962.]
There is a prevalent silence I pass by quickly, the absence of creativity where it once had been; the ceasing to create literature, though the books may keep coming out year after year...
Almost unnoted are the foreground silences, before the achievement.[T.O. names writers including George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Isak Dinesen]-- all close to, or in their forties before they became published writers;[more names, including Laura Ingalls Wilder]in their sixties. Their capacities evident early in the "being one on whom nothing is lost;" in other writers' qualities. Not all struggling and anguished... ; some needing the immobilization of long illness or loss, or the sudden lifting of responsibility to make writing necessary, make writing possible; others waiting circumstances and encouragement...
Very close to this last grouping are the silences where the lives never came to writing. Among these, the mute inglorious Millions: those whose waking hours are all struggle for existence; the barely educated; the illiterate; women. Their silences the silence of centuries as to how life was, is, for most of humanity. Traces of their making, of course, in folk song, lullaby, language itself, jokes, maxims, superstitions--but we know nothing of the creators or how it was with them...
Olsen then quotes Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, as one expects. I think of Alice Walker's title essay in In Search of Our Mother's Gardens about the creative gifts of Black women. Olsen also quotes Rebecca Harding Davis, whowrites of the illiterate ironworker in Life in the Iron Mills who sculptured great shapes in the slag: "his fierce thirst for beautiy, to know it, to create it, to be something other than he is--a passion of pain."
..."Without duties, without almost without external communication," Rilke specifies, "unconfined solitude which takes every day like a life, a spaciousness which puts no limit to vision and in the midst of which infinities surround. "
Unconfined solitude as Joseph Conrad experienced it: ***"For twenty months I wrestled with the Lord for my creation... mind and will and conscience engaged to the full, hour after hour, day after day... a lonely struggle in a great isolation from the world. I suppose I slept and ate the food put before me and talked connectedly on suitable occasions, but I was never aware of the even flow of daily life, made easy and noiseless for me by a silent, watchful, tireless affection."
I'll bet that was a woman. Who was silent and watchful, that is, and made the food, and provided affection.
But what if there is not that fullness of time, let alone totality of self? What if the writers, as in some of these silences, must work regularly at something besides their own work--as do nearly all in the arts in the United Sates today.
I know the theory (kin to "starving in the garret makes great art") that it is this very circumstance which feeds creativity. .... But the actuality testifies: substantial creative work demands time, and with rare exceptions only full-time workers have achieved it. Where the claims of creation cannot be primary, the results are atrophy; unfinished work; minor effort and accomplishment; silences. (Desperation which accounts for the mountains of applications to the foundations for grants--undivided time-- in the strange bread-line system we have worked out for our artists.)
Twenty years went by on the writing of Ship of Fools, while Katherine Anne Porter, who needed only two, was "trying to get to that table, to that typewriter, away from my jobs of teaching and trooping this country and of keeping house: "Your subconscious needed that time to grow the layers of pearl," she was told. Perhaps, perhaps, but I doubt it. Subterranean forces can make you wait, but they are very finicky about the kind of waiting it has to be. Before they feed the creator back, they must be fed, passionately fed, what needs to be worked on. "We hold up our desire as one places a magnet over a composite dust from which the particle of iron will suddenly jump up," says Paul Valéry. A receptive waiting, that means, not demands which prevent "an undistracted center of being." And when the response comes, availability to work must be immediate. If not used at once, all may vanish as a dream; worse, future creation be endangered -- for only the removal and development of the material frees the forces for future work. ...
There is a life in which all this is documented: Franz Kafka's. For every one entry from his diaries here, there are fifty others than testify as unbearably to the driven stratagems for time, the work lost (to us), the damage to the creative powers (and the body) of having to deny, interrupt, postpone, put aside, let work die.
... [Excerpts from Kafka's diaries follow. Also comments on Rilke, who neglected and moved away from his wife and child to protect his poetry writing, and on marriage and childbearing and how rare, till recently, most women writers did not marry, or if they did, did not have children. Or if they did, they had household help.]
The power and the need to create, over and beyond reproduction, is native in both women and men. Where the gift among women (and men) have remained mute, or have never attained full capacity, it is because of circumstances, inner or outer, which oppose the needs of creation.
Wholly surrendered and dedicated lives; time as needed for the work; totality of self. But women are traditionally trained to place others' needs first, to feel these needs as their own...; their sphere, their satifaction to be in making it possible for others to use their abilities...
...[W]e are in a time of more and more hidden and foreground silences, women and men. Denied full writing life, more may try to "nurse through night" (that part-time, part-self night) "the ethereal spark," but it seems to me there would almost have had to be "flame on flame" first; and time as needed, afterwards; and enough of the self, the capacities, undamaged for the rebeginnings on the frightful task. I would like to believe this for what has not yet been written into literature. But it cannot reconcile for what is lost by unnatural silences.
*******Originally an unwritten talk, spoken from notes at the Radcliffe Institute in 1962, transcribed and edited, and published in this version in Harper's Magazine, October 1965.