There’s a Symphony Inside You

I’ve always thought the very best way to express one’s creativity is to sing. I sing every day. I doubt there’s ever been a day I haven’t sung, even if it hasn’t been out loud. As a matter of fact, I’m plagued by ear worms. A song can run through my head literally for weeks. If I love the song I don’t mind. But sometimes a song plagues me by playing over and over and over in my brain, and I don’t really even like it. I don’t sing in the shower, but I do sing along to the radio in the car, and if my stereo is playing, I’m singing. I seem to have a knack for remembering lyrics, and everything reminds me of a song. The sad thing is I really don’t have a good voice. My range is limited; if I sang in a choir, which I haven’t been lucky enough to do, I’d probably be put with the boys. But boy do I love it. I love it with all my heart.

Tonight Jim played for me a recording of Carole King and James Taylor giving a concert for public television. They’re both pushing 70 probably, but they sounded just as they always have, and they were so full of life. I knew every single song — all the words — and I sang along, except when tears constricted my throat. How people can sing sad songs is beyond me. How can Bonnie Raitt sing “I Can’t Make You Love Me if You Don’t” without crying? I’ve no idea.

The first time I ever heard Carole King’s Tapestry album was the summer after my senior year of high school. I was dating a submarine sailor named Tommy who I met on Virginia Beach, and we were making out to that album at his rented house. The relationship with Tommy went nowhere because I went off to college and forgot all about him. But my relationship with Carole King endured. She wrote a song called “So Far Away” which, to this day, I think is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I remember listening to it after I moved to Phoenix, Arizona when I was 19, pining away for my lost boyfriend.

So far away. 

Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?

It would be so fine to see your face at my door.

But it doesn’t help to know you’re so far away.

Long ago I reached for you and there you stood.

Holding you again could only do me good.

How I wish I could.  But you’re so far away.

What is it about that song? I don’t know, but I can’t sing it without a catch in my throat. Still.

And James Taylor. I made a CD for my mother of all my favorite James songs. When she lay in a hospice bed for a week, we played it for her again and again. She probably couldn’t hear it, but it comforted me to know James was with her. I first heard the Sweet Baby James album when I was about 13. That album cover! Never had a man been so beautiful to me, and his songs were singable for a teenage girl with a deep voice. I remember standing in line all night in the cold for tickets to his concert on my college campus. I wanted to have his children! Carly beat me to it, and when they split up, I actually cried.

So tonight, there he and Carole were, true friends and longtime collaborators, taking me back to my teenage years, when life was ahead of me and anything was possible. I sang the songs again, my voice echoing in our empty living room as we prepare to move after 20 years in the same house. Like Carole, like James, to my ears I sounded young.

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What So Proudly We Hailed

I was born in America, so I have no real idea what it would be like to long for citizenship in this country. I take for granted the privileges that have come to me simply because I was lucky enough to be born in a place where the livin’ is easy, relatively speaking. Sure, I rant about politics, and I get all riled up when my values are not shared by our elected officials. In fact lately, like millions of other Americans, I’m appalled by the things happening in Washington, and I worry about the future of our country. But deep down, I know I am free to speak my mind and make a decent living. I sleep safe in my bed and have abundant fresh food and water. I am among the luckiest people on earth.

The other day I witnessed a swearing-in ceremony for 31 new American citizens. The event was held at a public library, and the seats in the auditorium were packed with, not only family and friends of the citizens-to-be, but members of the public as well. On each of our chairs was a sheet of paper with the words to the Star Spangled Banner and the Pledge of Allegiance. In the audience, children who were all dressed up for the occasion waved little American flags. In the front two rows sat the applicants, solemnly looking straight ahead.

A representative of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service began the program by having us all stand for the national anthem. Led by members of the library’s Song Circle, we all sang out, and I found myself standing a little straighter than usual. Next, the emcee called out the names of the countries from which the applicants came; there was a man from Cuba, several people from Ukraine and India, one from Malaysia, and people from Honduras and Mexico. There was a couple from the U.K. and a man from Canada, too. As each country’s name was called, they stood, and we clapped.

One of my favorite moments came from a city councilwoman, who gave a heartfelt speech of welcome to her new neighbors. She told them she had special appreciation for naturalized citizens, because they had chosen their citizenship and worked hard to become Americans. Many had come from so far away, she said, and most native-born Americans could never imagine the kind of hardship they had suffered. As we enthusiastically applauded, the federal agent in charge stepped up to administer the oath of citizenship.

I hadn’t realized that the oath asks that new citizens renounce all “princes and potentates” as well as other governments and ideologies. It requires the oath takers to swear they will defend the U.S. Constitution through combat in the armed forces if necessary. It ends with the words “So help me, God.”

I have to admit I was surprised at the depth of my feelings during the ceremony. It occurred to me that each new citizen would probably sleep better that night, knowing that no one could round them up and send them to a detention center. I’ve heard that the citizenship test each applicant has to take is really difficult, and that most Americans can’t pass it. I was impressed at the new Americans’ English as they spoke with their family and friends after the ceremony.

As they left the auditorium, our newest citizens stopped at a table where volunteers were waiting to register them to vote in their new country. Some of us held out our hands in congratulations, our way of thanking them for their willingness to help make America better. Not great. Better.

 

Let’s Party Like it’s 1969

I have a debt to pay to society, and I’m gonna do it next Saturday in Washington D.C. Because I am among the most fortunate of women, I get to join my beloved sister-in-law and two 30-something nieces and go make some noise in our nation’s capital. Doesn’t that sound fun? Well, maybe being squeezed in a giant crowd of angry women in pink hats isn’t your cup of tea, but right now it is mine.

I never had to fight for the right to vote or surrender my fortune to my husband. I have always been able to drive a car and make my own living. I wear what I want, I can buy my own house and raise a child alone. In fact, I can choose not to have a child at all. The time and place in which I live have allowed me these precious freedoms, and more.

I have had to blaze a few trails, though admittedly not through the densest jungles. I once worked in a factory where it was okay for the guys to yell catcalls as we walked across the floor. When I first went to work in the TV newsroom, I was one of only a few women, and it was always way more important for me to look good than my male counterparts. Still is, for that matter. And I remember holding a rummage sale for a girl in our dorm at the University of Kansas in 1971 so she could go to New York to get an abortion. But mostly, the heavy lifting was done before my time by women who faced hardships I can’t imagine and had far more courage than I.

My first election was in 1972, when I was 18. The Vietnam war was raging, and thousands of young people were taking to the streets in protest. They demanded an end to the fighting, and they demanded a new world order, one of racial and gender equality. A world where peace and love were valued above everything. But there was violence too. In my world, students bombed the R.O.T.C. building in Lawrence, Kansas. Everybody remembers Kent State. There were the Black Panthers, the Students for a Democratic Society and the Simbionese Liberation Army that kidnapped Patty Hearst. Yes, those were heady times, and volatile and, my generation thought, precedent setting.

And what was my contribution to the revolution of the 60’s? In that election my father, a lifelong Republican, told me that if I did not vote for Richard Nixon for president, I could not come home, and that he would no longer pay for my college (all of $250 a semester.) So, in that polling booth with the red, white and blue striped curtain pulled around me, I pulled the lever for Richard M. Nixon. And that is why I am going to Washington next Saturday. I will join my fellow women to march in the streets. Yes, it will be because Donald Trump will assume the presidency of the United States the day before. But really, it will be because I helped Nixon become president in 1972. And I still carry that shame.

Mercy Mercy Me

Sometimes I have to remind myself that some believe the world is actually moving toward enlightenment. With unprecedented access to education and art and the writings of brilliant people, we are getting smarter. We know so much more about the world around us. We see injustice in black and white and can make judgements on how we want to conduct ourselves. We can decide to care for others and share what we have.

A friend told me recently that because I live in the blue bubble of Portland, Oregon, I can’t possibly understand how people outside my insulated world think. I’m sure he’s right, as far as it goes. Where I live the majority of people have enough to eat and can go to school.  We can say what we want, vote for whomever we like, go where we wish, buy what we need. Not all of us, but the majority. It is a protected world I live in. Rarified, really. But I understand that where you stand determines what you see, and I often need to remind myself of that, too.

This morning I’m having trouble holding on to that worldview. There are articles in today’s newspaper about two jurors from the Malheur Occupiers trial. One seeks to explain the jury’s reasoning when it acquitted all the defendants who, heavily armed, took over a federal wildlife facility in southeastern Oregon last year in protest. Apparently, prosecutors could not prove conspiracy to the jury’s satisfaction. The other article is about one juror who was removed from deliberations the day before the verdict. One of the jurors felt that this guy, who was known Juror Eleven, was biased and he asked the judge to remove him. Juror Eleven had worked for the BLM 20 years prior and had a different perspective about the case. It sounds as if the two butted heads in the jury room, and Juror Eleven says he feels attacked. Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this, and I pay attention to court reporting, having done some myself. And if this isn’t weird enough, there was a brief clash outside the courthouse the same day between people celebrating the acquittal and some “Don’t Shoot Portland” protestors who feel African Americans are being targeted by authorities. They point out that the Malheur occupiers, their lawyers and their jury were all white, which they believe explains the acquittal.

While I’m musing about this, I see a Washington Post piece that says that the US Justice Department believes James Comey of the FBI overstepped his authority when he announced a new investigation into emails regarding Anthony Wiener but which involve Hillary Clinton. The Justice Dept. spokesperson said this action goes against policy of 1) not discussing ongoing investigations, and 2) not appearing to take action that could be seen as influencing an election. Wow again! And of course, there’s the ongoing issue of one of the presidential candidates claiming the election will be rigged if he doesn’t win.

So here I sit, alarmed at the state of my divided country and for the larger world where thousands of people are under siege, starving and running for their lives. Though I’m confident the upcoming election will go my way, I worry that the great split down the middle of America will get violent. It already has. But as I look up from my computer, I realize that it is so easy for me to concentrate on moving toward enlightenment. Outside the piney forest of Central Oregon is dripping and fragrant with autumn rain. I’m warm and fed, and my beloved little dog is lying next to me. When I finish I can walk over to the indoor pool, steam room and hot tub. If I want to, I can watch a college football game or the World Series on TV. I’m reading a great novel right now, and I can always study my Spanish lesson. Oh, and let’s see, what should I make for dinner? So many choices, and all of them safe. Om.

What Would It Take?

All week I’ve been trying to figure something out. Why do I care so much what Donald Trump told some stupid TV host years ago when he didn’t know his mike was hot? There’s the obvious fact that it simply isn’t okay to talk like that about women. But it was more than that. Heck, we already know Trump is boorish and obnoxious. But what Trump said — and how he said it — triggered something in me. And I suspect millions of women feel the same way.

There’s an old Saturday Night Live bit called “What Would It Take?  It’s a game where an African American talk show host sets up a scenario for his players where President Obama does something really bad. Then, he asks: “Would this be enough for Obama to lose your support?” Every time, the players — all African American — hesitate a second, then say “Nah!” I always thought that was really funny. And I could relate to it. It would take a lot for President Obama to lose my support. But he could. If he had done any of the things Trump has done lately, he would, no matter what my political inclinations.

Talk to just about any woman of a certain age and we’ll tell you we’ve been putting up with unwanted sexual verbal attention and physical advances forever. I’ve actually joked about it, telling stories about the guy in the TV newsroom where I worked who came up behind me when I bent to tie my shoe and started humping me in front of everybody. Or the guy who used to follow me through the small factory where I worked, droning on about what he wanted to do to my body. How about the creep who put his hand down my pants while I was asleep in my dorm room and ran off when I woke up?  Even my dad used to tease me when I grew breasts that I should apply for a job as a Playboy bunny. I could go on, and just about all of my friends could, too.

So here comes this bully running for president who thinks his money and his bluster is all he needs to have his way with any woman he wants. Here is a smarmy, nearly 60-year-old guy who feels he has to brag about his stardom and his conquests. And when a few women are brave enough to step forward to tell ugly stories about encounters with him, what does he do? He denies it, of course, but he also sneers at them, wanting us to believe that he wouldn’t have hit on “that.”

If you watched the town hall debate a week or so ago, you probably noticed the way Trump tried to be physically intimidating while Clinton was talking. He stood up and paced behind her, glowering, making sure he was in the camera shot. I couldn’t believe the moderators let him get away with that. But it really tells the Trump story, doesn’t it? It was either George Will or David Brooks, both republican columnists by the way, who wrote that it was like a gorilla making a show. So maybe it was good that they let him do it. It reminds us of who we’re dealing with. And maybe it will actually be us women who end up bringing Trump down. Not just one woman. But a nation of women of all political views who cannot allow a gorilla to have the presidency.

The Incredible Journey of The One Schnoodle

When my son was little, he loved a movie he called The Two Dogs and the One Cat. Walt Disney titled it The Incredible Journey, but it was the story of a retriever, bull terrier and Siamese who are being cared for as a favor by a man whose friends are on vacation. The animals get loose, and against all odds, they traverse the Canadian wilderness for months, facing unspeakable dangers, trying to get home to their owners, a cute little boy and girl who think they’re dead and miss them terribly. Don’t confuse this movie with a later iteration, though, where the animals traverse the wilderness of L.A. In this version they talk, one of them in the voice of Michael J. Fox. No, The Two Dogs and the One Cat was old fashioned and narrated by good old Disney voiceover artist, Rex Allen. If you haven’t seen it, you should, or at least your grandchildren should.
A couple of weeks ago, our dear friends, Beth and Brett, were watching our dog, Stella, for us while we were at a wedding in Pennsylvania. They took her up to their house, which is a couple of miles away on the other side of a big hill that separates our suburb from downtown Portland. They live in the city, but it’s wooded and a favorite area for walkers and joggers and bikers. It’s also a popular driving route into downtown, so there is definitely traffic going through there. Our friends’ yard is fenced with a gate. These guys are dog people, and after losing their beloved Gus a year or so ago, they’re really nice about taking care of their friends’ dogs. You probably know where I’m going with this, but bear with me a minute while I tell you a little about Stella.

Not quite seven years ago, we saw an ad in the paper for a puppy. The litter was supposedly half schnauzer and half poodle. We figured that would be a good mix, so we drove 30 miles or so out in the country to see the dogs. We were appalled to find a couple of dilapidated mobile homes in a sort of compound peppered with garbage and rusty pick-up trucks. Very seedy and, if I’m honest, sinister; the kind of place you’d expect to find a meth lab. On the deck of one of the trailers were two makeshift pens full of puppies. It looked like two separate litters, at least a dozen little dogs. It was the dead of winter, and they lived outside. One of our sons was with us, and he immediately pointed at a little black-and-white pup pawiIMG_0475ng the side of the pen and said, “That one.” We pounded on the door and apparently woke the the old lady inside, who we had told we were coming. We paid her too much money and took our dog. As we were leaving, we passed an old man reeking of alcohol. It was a very sad place. We got in the car and left. The whole transaction had taken about 15 minutes.

The dog smelled really bad. I sat with her in the back seat as she shivered and cried. When we got home, we bathed her immediately, set her on a heating pad on my lap, and from that moment on, little Stella was ours. It was obvious her start was not good, and many times I’ve thought about those other puppies and feel guilty that I did not report those people to the authorities. Anyway, it took Stella a good while to feel comfortable with us and to get house trained. The vet said she was about three months old, had giardia and worms, and her fur was matted. Our terrier, Bertie, wasn’t exactly welcoming to her either, so Stella learned to cope by being submissive. At the drop of a hat, she’d roll over onto her back. She stayed close by us, and she still does. We don’t need a fence, really, because she sticks around. She weighs about 13 pounds, and since we live in an area where there are coyotes, we rarely let her out of our sight. Every day we walk her in the hills around our house. She’s well fed, well exercised and well loved. Now that Bertie is gone, she lives like a queen, sleeping on a fuzzy blanket every night at the foot of our bed. We’re crazy about our shy little rescue mutt, and everybody knows it, including Beth and Brett.

One morning while we were gone on this last trip, Brett let Stella out in the yard to pee. He went into the kitchen for a minute, and when he came out to get her, she was gone. When Beth came driving up from the gym, he asked if she’d seen Stella. Beth told me later her first thought was, Oh my God, Sandy is gonna kill us! In a panic, they both got in their cars and started searching. Some women out walking told Beth they’d seen her scampering up some wooden steps. A jogger told Brett she’d seen a little gray dog sniffing around on one of the streets at the top of the hill. On a hunch, Brett turned down a little lane that snakes through the hills and eventually leads to our house. There are walking trails through there, and he spotted Stella making her way down some steps between houses. He called out to her and tried to get her into the car, but she just darted away, heading down. He drove around and tried to catch her, knowing she was heading onto a busy street. Still she avoided him, and he stopped his car in the middle of that two-lane thoroughfare, making sure nobody hit her as she crossed the street. He finally caught up to her a few minutes later at our front door. It was only when he pretended to unlock it to let her in that he was able to scoop her up. Beth says she knew nothing about all this, having left her phone back at the house. I can only imagine how she felt, driving around and calling out Stella’s name.

When I heard about Stella’s big adventure, my first thought was that it must have taken years off Beth and Brett’s lives. What if Stella had been lost or hit or eaten by a coyote on their watch? They would have felt absolutely horrible. I acknowledged this to Beth, and thanked her profusely for caring for Stella. I wasn’t mad. This could happen to anybody, and we well know it. But Beth also told me something else. She said she was actually impressed. This timid little dog who lives a sheltered, cushy life in suburban Portland had the the nose and the brain and the courage to find her way back home. It wasn’t through the wilderness of Canada or the traffic of Los Angeles, I know, but we’re all looking at Stella with a little more respect these days. She has some serious street cred.

I’ll Be There for You

Last week I visited a woman I had not seen or even spoken to in 47 years. You might wonder why I would seek Betsey out after a lifetime of no contact. Until a few months ago, I had no idea where she lived, or even IF she lived. I didn’t know who she had become. Then one day I saw her name on Facebook and learned she lived in Philadelphia, a city I had been visiting nearly every year since 1997 because my husband’s family lived there. I sent a friend request, she accepted, and we exchanged basic information. We made plans to meet the next time I was in Philadelphia. Neither of us had any idea if we would still be friends.

Betsey and I met when I was 11 years old, in the second half of my sixth grade year, and my family moved from Oregon to Kansas City so my father could start a new job. She was the first friend I made in my new school. She, too, had just moved to Kansas City, but her family had come from the other side of the country in New Jersey. We spent those painful pubescent years together. I spent the night at her house. She spent the night at mine. We went trick-or-treating. We listened to Sonny and Cher. We tried to play the guitar and write songs. We dressed alike. We were in a play together. We whispered about our crushes, and worried together whether we were pretty enough. She got a boyfriend. I met some other girls when we got to high school. We started drifting apart. Then she moved away, and I grew up without her.

As the time for our visit approached, Betsey wrote that she’d been remembering things. She’d read about a scientific study that suggested that the brains of children in middle school are like sponges, absorbing and retaining information and experiences more thoroughly than at any other time of development. I had noticed something like that too. I had recently started studying Spanish for the first time since 7th grade and IMG_8466was astounded by how much I remembered. Betsey told me she could picture my parents and siblings clearly, and had vivid memories of my house. I agreed. The mental pictures and emotions of that time and our relationship were rising to the surface. I started to get excited, too.

When Betsey came to her door at my knock, we fell into each other’s arms, calling out to each other across nearly a half a century. Within seconds, we were talking and laughing and telling our stories. There was no awkwardness, no reticence to share. She was, in my 62-year-old eyes, exactly, remarkably, the same. She was my friend, as she aways had been.

How is that possible? We have lived on opposite sides of the country all these years. She had a daughter. I had one son and raised two more. She is highly educated; a professor of art at a university and a gifted painter. I never made it through college, and my path took me in the direction of journalism. But we found that even though we were lost to each other all that time, we still speak the same language. Our attitudes about life and love and work and art and beauty and humor are still in synch, just as they were when we were 12 years old. When I was at her house she asked me, what would we do if we lived near each other? Well that’s easy, I said. We’d be friends.