Women and Leadership

Zonta AwardIt was a thrill to receive one of three Women in Leadership awards from Zonta Club of Jamestown. The presentations from other award recipients and from the scholarship winners were inspiring!  The organizer asked me to post my remarks, so here they are.  Thank you, again, to Zonta for this honor and for a moving evening.


It is an honor to receive this award from Zonta, whose mission is empowering women through service and advocacy.  Because this is a Women in Leadership Award, I would like to focus my comments on two things: women and leadership.

I don’t recall the date, but I can tell you the exact moment I became a feminist. I was nine years old. My older brother had recently acquired a paper route, which in the late 1960’s was a great opportunity for kids to earn some spending money. So I wanted a paper route. Alas, I was informed that girls did not have paper routes.  Just boys had paper routes in those days.  “It’s not fair!” cried my 9-year-old self, and so a crusader for social justice was born.

Even as a child I knew in my brain and my heart that girls could do anything boys could do.  My three sisters and I proved it daily to our one brother.  Ever since then I have had an acute sense for disparity and contradiction, and have been an advocate for equality: in the home, in the workplace, and in the community. Deep within my psyche it’s ingrained that we still need the word “feminist” and the women’s movement to remind us that our quest for parity didn’t stop when suffragists won the right to vote in 1920, or in 1972 when Title IX was enacted prohibiting sex discrimination in federally supported education programs. There are mountains left to climb, including the whole issue of equal pay for equal work.

I was not the first woman to work in radio news in Jamestown. Far from it. Many women had come before me in that role. I was the first woman to be news director at a local radio station.  But let me tell you about an even more exciting prospect than being first.  It’s the day when “first” no longer counts.  I look forward to a time when women have filled as many top roles as men across all fields in community service, government, and across all economic sectors; and diversity is routine instead of being called out as some type of show.  That’s when we will actually judge each other based on skills and capacity and readiness and passion… and not on gender, or sexual orientation, or race, or religion.

On a recent late-night Facetime call with one of our daughters she was soul-searching about a problem she faced, and she said, “When men want something they just go for it.”  She is generally correct.  But sometimes as women we defer. Every day can be a struggle to engage and make a difference, and even an enlightened young woman like my daughter sometimes toils with the disparity.  Sometimes people who are still considered underdogs or “others” in our society purposely take a step back instead of forward.  We don’t always assert ourselves.  But we should. We should stand up, speak out, and be heard and seen.  Even when it’s hard. Because our perspective matters. Our energy matters. Our effort matters.  Note to all women:  You Matter.

Note to younger women especially: your lives are just beginning and wherever you go and whatever you do I hope you will carry yourself with personal integrity, strength, and a sense that you can make a difference.  I hope you will assert yourselves with dignity.

Leadership skills are sometimes defined as the ability to delegate or inspire.  If you’re in a leadership position some may see you as having power.  Power has never been in my wheelhouse. But communication is, and I do believe in the power of strong communication skills.  It has been my pleasure to put my skills to work with numerous people over the years to do some good.  In the case of my twelve years working for United Way that “help” ran to the tune of over fourteen-million dollars for programs that impacted countless lives in our community. On my current career path I serve businesses and communities all around Chautauqua County by working to create a stronger economic climate.  Through my current volunteer work, I help to raise funds for the Chautauqua Blind Association so that children can have eye exams and get the glasses they need to learn in school.

None of us makes it through life on our own. Even those of us who grew from being shy little kids to interviewing governors and senators had help from others. I was fortunate to have some amazing mentors and I have sincere gratitude for those people who consistently believed I was capable and showed me how to respect the nuances of language and uphold my personal principles in my work; to my family for constantly challenging me to think and keep learning; and to my husband for his endless love and support.

In my lexicon, to lead means to help or to serve.  Most of us don’t set out to lead, but we often set out to help.  We may serve physically, intellectually, or both.  But I can guarantee one thing: each woman in this room is helping to forge a path so that others can walk more comfortably in your footsteps.

You are all leaders and I am humbled by the recognition.  Thank you very much.

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Happy 60th to Me

IMG_7602webIt’s a gift to have your future ahead of you. It’s also a gift to live with wonderful memories. So here, sandwiched between those gifts, is a day that launches my next decade.

With 60 years now behind me, the memories are plentiful: family, friends, pets, travel, home, jobs, successes, failures. I wouldn’t trade any of it. Each one has been fruitful; packed with lessons, new skills, joy, grief, and emotions too numerous to name. Marriage to my husband more than 35 years ago was a huge step and one that has paid off in a lifelong bond of compassion and friendship and shared strengths that have overcome our individual weaknesses. The births of our daughters were amazing days, but all of the days since then have resulted in creating meaningful relationships with those two extraordinary humans as we have grown together and shared our lives. I look back on relationships formed over the simplest of things: a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a walk in the park.

Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken is one of my favorites and is sometimes misunderstood. Some readers think it speaks to regret, and some think it frames a particular choice that leads to success. I read it differently. Smack dab in the center, Frost says “though as for that passing there had worn them really about the same.” The roads may have led in different directions with different views and options along the way, but that’s not really the point. It’s not about a choice between conformity and individuality. It’s about merely making a decision. Robert Frost was also born on March 26. So was Steven Tyler of Aerosmith who sang “Walk This Way.” Coincidence? Perhaps.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

In Frost’s verse, each road had been traversed by others, but the traveler chose one. We choose. We try. Life’s journey rarely moves in a straight line. Often, we make our choices and fate makes other plans that disrupt our results. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t. But how lucky are we that we get to choose our own definition of success? My journey may appear successful to some and look like an abject failure to others. To me it has been just right so far. It features snippets of regret, just a pinch of disappointment, some buckets of heartbreak, and massive injections of love and friendship.

Recently, my definition of success has focused more around contentment than acquisitions. I choose the road that leads to satisfaction from a completed project, the gratification of a simple stroll under a blue sky, the serenity of relaxing with a good book, and the delight in the easy company of loved ones. That’s my road. While my introverted self often favors exploring the path alone so I can stop and capture images along the way, I also welcome the alliances made and the pleasure that comes from having companions. I’m bound to find some rocks and roots underfoot, but so fortunate to be able to take the walk and still get a glimpse of opportunity and hope.

Keeping Kindness

When you’re friends with someone you tend to see the whole person: the best and the worst. But let me tell you about my friend Debbie. It was hard to find any worsts in her.

We met through our husbands and became fast friends. We bonded over the silliness of performing together in a murder mystery fundraiser. During one of those early years (more than 30 years ago now) we were paired off as suspects. She was a perfectly prim and sweet character. I was rough around the edges. It was a metaphor for the people we are, now that I think of it. Typecasting. But we became friends.

During those early years in our friendship she was graceful in every way. She had a lovely singing voice and could dance up a storm. Her energy was contagious.

Debbie possessed many of the qualities that were harder for me to express. She was one of the kindest people ever to walk the face of the earth. She naturally felt compassion and empathy for others. It was not a show in any way, but rather a true sign of caring. Even the rare criticism leveled against anyone was always couched in kindness.

Armed with a degree in psychology, she had the sweetest way of getting people to open up. She would ask seemingly harmless but probing questions and before I knew it I was talking about my feelings on some matter. When I jokingly accused her of psychoanalyzing me she just smiled.

Debbie was ill for a long time. While her body became more and more frail, her spirit never dimmed. Her propensity for kindness continued to glow brightly. Once, when she was hospitalized and we paid a call on her, she made reference to feeling badly that the nurses had to do so much for her. That was their job, but she didn’t want them to be overworked on her account. No matter that she was the one suffering at the time. She also befriended people quickly. Everyone she met became a friend. She truly liked people and would have been the quintessential social butterfly if she had been able to move about on her own. We really were opposites in many ways.

Here’s another thing about Debbie, she suffered for years with a debilitating illness but always remained upbeat about life. There was always someone who was worse off; always a reason to be grateful.

Her son was just a few weeks older than our younger daughter. We had many a conversation about child rearing over the years. Debbie’s essential modus operandi was to provide copious quantities of love and guidance, mixed with just enough discipline. I am certain that her intense desire to watch her son grow up was part of what kept her going. In that effort she succeeded, as he is now a grown man working in his chosen field. She was enormously proud of him.

Debbie and her husband were an extraordinary team. He cared for her and focused his life around his work, her care, and the care of their son. Kindness and devotion were a two way street in their relationship. It was not an easy path for either of them, but when you love someone you do what needs to be done for them.

But now she is gone from this life. I am already missing my friend and feeling such pain for her husband, son, and sister. While I know she is no longer suffering physically, I also know she has left a void in many lives. She leaves a legacy of kindness and courage and an unflappable commitment to faith and positivity.

Be at peace Debbie. You made the world a better place.

Closing 2018 with Gratitude

We have come to the end of another year, so I can’t help but reflect once again.  Looking back on 2018 the key word that springs to mind is gratitude. I am so grateful for all of the people who have made it such an interesting and sometimes inspiring ride. My family tops the list. We were so fortunate to have both adult daughters home for ten days over Christmas. Their presence was better than any presents under the tree. Their energy once again filled our home, as did their friends, and their occasional giggles reminiscent of childhoods not that long ago.IMG_5532

My husband and I celebrated 35 years of married life this year, and our daughters gave us a spectacular sunset cruise aboard a clipper ship in New York Harbor to commemorate the occasion. We loved it. It is one of the moments that shines through the mundane clutter of much of the year.

We watched with glee with the rest of our community as a major new attraction opened in Jamestown with celebrities and street parties to spare. We enjoyed strolls along the newest section of the Jamestown Riverwalk. We hiked with our dog on several occasions and in several places. We managed some minimal home improvement and maintenance projects. We shared time and meals with my aging mother and celebrated her successful heart valve replacement procedure. We worked. We socialized. We tried to make our community a better place to live and visit. We met new friends and shared time with old friends, too, sharing conversation and ideas.

It has not been my most productive year. I did very little writing, but did throw myself into a summer project to rehab some terribly worn antique wicker furniture, completing it just in time to put it away in the fall. I did a little sewing and not as much reading as I would have liked.

At the end of each year I try to find a couple of key lessons learned. This year there is really one that stands out: let go and just live once in a while. I am guilty of getting caught up in the day to day and internalizing too much of the world’s troubles. While it’s true that we can all help to solve some of the major problems in the world by doing our own small part, we need to seek joy and contentment as well.

Through all of the routine, one night sticks out. It was a relatively warm evening, and we had read a report that the Northern Lights might be visible in some areas possibly as low as our latitude at 42 degrees north. Even though the night was clear we knew it was a stretch, but thought if we had any hope at all of getting a glimpse it would be from one of the highest altitudes nearby. So we waited until it was dark and drove out to a high hill. The sky was clear and the road was dark. With no street lights and no ambient lights from houses in sight the starlit sky was magnificent. There was no sign of the Aurora Borealis, but we didn’t care. The sheer number of visible stars and planets was breathtakingly beautiful. We stood still, in awe, trying to absorb the magnitude of the sight above us. The enormity of the universe was suddenly palpable. We tried to relish the moment before ceding to the tug of the impatient dog on a leash. But for a moment there was an overwhelming sense of wonder and a view of just how small we are on this planet. It was comforting and disconcerting all at the same time, and left me with a bit of a thrill.

If I was good at New Year’s resolutions, I would resolve to find more moments just like that; moments that take me away from time and space and task lists and anger at the fools ruining our planet and degrading our children’s futures. We all need more delight in our days. If you get a chance on a very clear night, just do it. Drive out to the darkest place you can find with no buildings in sight and look up. See. Enjoy. Just be.

Happy New Year!

A Free Press Upholds All Freedoms

Thomas Jefferson wrote extensively about freedom of the press. Yes, THAT Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence, third President of the United States. Jefferson was a lot of things, but he was foremost a writer. He staunchly believed in the power of the pen and called the printing of books an “art.”  By the time he was elected President, Jefferson had grown annoyed with how partisan newspapers had become. Despite that, he still believed in the essential right of the papers to not only report the news, but to offer opinions. He wrote, “The only security of all is in a free press.”

Calhoun cropped

From the National Postal Museum, Washington DC

The President of the United States swears an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Part of that Constitution is the Bill of Rights, including the top-loaded First Amendment which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Then, this week, President Donald J. Trump tweeted this: “The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!” This is just his most recent attack on a First Amendment right, not his only.

First of all, the consistent use of Twitter by the President is reckless behavior, at best. Official government communiques should reflect the gravity of their purpose. Twitter only offers opportunity for gravity when one has clearly, deliberately, and coherently considered how to craft a meaningful message in just 280 characters.  What we have seen from the President via Twitter is a slew of rash personal attacks and careless policy pronouncements which could have severe consequences.

Secondly, the phrase “fake news” is an oxymoron. News is real. You may not like what it tells you, but that doesn’t make it any less real. The truth is often hard to hear and accept, but that’s what adults do. They deal with the hard realities of life.

Thirdly, the continual verbal and written assaults on the free press do a grave injustice to all Americans, even those who may hate the media as much as the President. Others who have called the free press the “Enemy of the People” were dictators and thugs: Stalin, Lenin, Mao, and Goebbels. This is not good company to hold, Mr. President, and they all presided over regimes the United States fought against in a variety of conflicts over many decades.

Fourthly, it makes no sense to categorize a newspaper or a network in simply the columns of friend or foe. For better or worse, here’s how the media works here in the United States. Each outlet, whether it’s newspaper, radio, or television network, is a stand-alone corporation. That’s part of our system of capitalism at work. Those that can make money by selling ads or newspapers or both will continue. Those that can’t will perish. The rise of the internet has created new challenges for all mediums as they struggle to maintain ad revenue to keep cranking out the news, just as the rise of 24 hour news in the 1980’s opened up new challenges as well. Content was no longer focused on a single summary of the days’ events, but spread out to include breaking news, more global news (that has shrunk along with budgets), and more talking heads to spout opinion under the guise of “news” shows. Ted Turner was first, bringing CNN to life in 1980.  CNBC arose later that decade, and then FOX News and MSNBC joined the fray in the mid 1990’s. While the hosts of shows on each of these networks may have their own agendas, those agendas can change, so be careful who you choose to embrace or push away. People can be fickle, and so can advertisers.

It is worth noting that the current President has played the media to his own advantage for decades. He couldn’t get enough publicity from newspapers, magazines, and syndicated radio shows just for being a wealthy New York City socialite. So he created his own TV persona with The Apprentice that showcased him as a business mogul. It’s called reality TV, but I have sincerely always wondered whose reality these made up shows represent.

Donald Trump would not have been elected president if actual reporters had been doing their job in 2016. For decades every candidate for president has had their entire life scrutinized. Their personal lives have been examined and their finances dissected. Every paper they wrote in law school was studied. Every union position they held was analyzed. Every position they ever took on every issue when they were mayor or governor or senator was searched for underlying meaning. That was not the case with Donald Trump. The media never took him seriously as a candidate, so he did not receive the same kind of background research other candidates have faced. ALL other candidates, regardless of party. He understands how the media works and played that to his advantage. So some journalists gave him a pass. Not all, but some. And questions about his fitness for office and his financial dealings and his stands on actual policy were glossed over while his supporters shouted “build that wall” or “lock her up.”

He should be thanking the media. Instead, he now sees that they have come to their senses and are doing their job, which is to QUESTION EVERYTHING, just as they have with every single president for decades. Without journalists on the job the Watergate scandal would not have existed, and we never would have heard the name Monica Lewinsky. Journalists don’t really care about which political party elected a President, they just want to keep an eye and an ear on what the President is doing, because a President’s behavior and actions affect our entire country and often the world.  The media is not persecuting him. They are doing their job to expose the workings of government to the people.

Journalists don’t start wars, but they have died covering wars started by presidents, and they have died at the hands of dictators. And just six weeks ago some of them died at the hand of a shooter who felt a newspaper in Baltimore was his enemy.

Thank you journalists, for standing up to a bully who calls you the enemy. Thanks for getting back to business and reporting on the dangerous divisions in this bifurcated nation. You didn’t cause the discord, but you are calling it like you see it. We need you now more than ever, free press. Keep up the good work.

 

A Birthday Card to America

Happy Birthday, America.  We’ve been friends for my whole life, so I guess I can tell you that here in your 24th decade you’re looking a little haggard.

It must be painful for you. Here we are pledging to be “one nation…indivisible” and we seem to argue over absolutely everything, including the Bill of Rights. That First Amendment is a doozy and contains a whole lot of stuff including the right of the people to petition the government for redress of grievances.

So I have a grievance. The Declaration of Independence (your original birthday card) very specifically spells out the reasons why the United States of America was formed to begin with, to dissolve itself from the rule of a tyrant kiflagng for “cutting off trade with all parts of the world,” “depriving us in many cases of the benefit of trial by jury,” “made judges dependent on his will alone,” “combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution,” and “excited domestic insurrections amongst us,” just to name a few. Now we face those same threats internally and its more than a little disconcerting.

America, we have come a long way since 1776. We have liberated slaves who even at the time of your founding were considered to be personal property. We have granted women the full right of citizenship to vote and control their own destiny. We have invested in industry and science and education to make our people more knowledgeable and productive and healthy.  We have integrated immigrants from all over the world into our broad culture so that we can share our economic prosperity and learn from one another. We have taken steps to protect your beautiful landscapes from sea to shining sea so that amber waves of grain grown by our vital farmers can feed us and purple mountains majesty can remain home to wildlife and the natural springs that provide our life-giving water.

Recently, we have turned our backs on much of that progress, America. Instead of welcoming immigrants who add to our economic growth we are turning them away. Instead of opening our arms to refugees who are legally seeking asylum from the ravages of crime and horror in their home countries we are ripping their children from their arms and deporting them with no plan to put families back together. Instead of building up our public school systems so that all children can get a solid foundational education we are working to build stronger doctrine-centered private systems. Instead of cleaning harmful chemicals from public water systems we are ignoring the plight of lead poisoning in one of our largest cities. Instead of focusing on renewable energy sources where science and industry have made great progress we are pushing for increased use of limited and declining natural resources. Instead of working to lift populations out of poverty through improved educations and economic opportunities we are criminalizing the poor. Instead of giving veterans and senior citizens the rights they have earned through service and longevity, we are reducing their benefits. I’m being honest here, America, so I have to say there are many days now when I barely recognize you.

If we are defined by the way we treat our least self-sufficient then we are taking enormous strides backwards as a nation.  It could be argued that a people will earn the government it deserves. But, America, that’s not the promise you have always held for us. We have looked to your Declaration of Independence as a guiding beacon. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We can do better in these United States of America. Generations to come are depending on it.

My fellow Americans, please join me in the retrenchment of what it means to be a patriot. We can only serve our country by serving others. We can only become our best by serving our least. We have the knowledge and the power and the rights to make a difference, individually and collectively. We should not blindly pledge allegiance to a flag, but should deliberately renew the resolve set forth in the Declaration of Independence and use the full power and authority granted to each citizen under the Constitution of the United States.

America needs us. She’s looking pretty forlorn. Let’s give her a birthday makeover and get her pointed back in the right direction.

Mentor Memorium

He was a reporter. He was a writer. He was a lover of music, mostly jazz. He was interested in art and history. He was Hap Hazard, and now he is gone.

Hap was the news director at WJTN/SE-93 radio for forty years. He covered all of the major news events in southern Chautauqua County through most of the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. “Covering” the news is an old journalists term, which I use because I am one. But when I say that Hap covered stories, I mean just that: he went to a meeting, an event, or a fire or crime scene, and then he came back to the newsroom, wrote about it, and made sure it got on the air. Hap understood the key to reporting: write down what happened and tell the audience exactly that. Embellishment was generally not necessary, unless you were writing a feature story that was designed to make the listener feel, or react, or think in a new way.

In addition to writing radio news, Hap also wrote for the Buffalo News. He was a stringer, paid per story, so the newspapers in Buffalo could run articles from the Jamestown area even without sending a full-time reporter to the scene. Every day he sat in the newsroom at WJTN, clipped those articles out of the paper, and pasted them into scrapbooks. Those scrapbooks were a tremendous resource for our news department, providing a history of the region by way of daily reporting. But the scrapbooks only truly worked well with Hap’s memory to go along with them. An issue would arise and Hap would recall when something similar had happened before, or when a person was involved in the past or a building was dedicated or some such thing, and then he would remember about what year it happened and we would haul out the scrapbooks to get the scoop. We had a traditional clipping file, too, but wasn’t always as comprehensive as Hap’s scrapbooks.

Hap actually had very little air time himself until program director George Pfleeger retired in the 1980’s and was no longer there to read newscasts on the air. That’s when Hap stepped up to the microphone. Having long been a news reporter and writer up until then, he suddenly became an on air newscaster, and he did it with great aplomb.

Hap’s writing was exemplary. He could turn a phrase like fine wood on a lathe. I am convinced that ability was natural. He may have honed it over the years, but his writing was very much like his spoken voice: understated until the punch line.

If we’re lucky, there are people in our lives willing to take a chance on us. I will forever be grateful to Hap for the chance he took on me in 1982. I had already been working for the radio station as a producer and announcer for four years and had gotten to know Hap. He had a vacancy in the newsroom and asked if I would give it a try. I jumped at the chance. For twelve years we worked across a desk from one another in a noisy newsroom that was also home to a loud teletype machine, clattering typewriters, a TV, ringing telephones, the sports department, and announcers hanging around between their air shifts. It was chaotic, challenging, hilarious, sobering, and a tremendous learning environment.

After he retired in 1994, I became news director and also succeeded him as the southern Chautauqua County stringer for the Buffalo News. The greatest compliment I ever received was when Hap recommended me to the editors at the Buffalo News; “She’s savvy, and she’ll do a good job for you,” he said.

We made a point of having lunch together once a month, for several years after he retired. I talked him into writing some feature stories for the radio, which he continued for a while. Eventually our lunch dates became less frequent when the conversations grew shorter, and then stopped altogether after a few times when he would make a date with me and then forget to show up. There is often tragedy in the aging process. He passed away at the age of 87.

He was my teacher, my friend, and my mentor. He was Hap Hazard, and now he’s gone.

Busyness

It’s Saturday. The first Saturday in many weeks when I haven’t had any schedule or commitments. It feels good, but there is a small cloud of disappointment hanging overhead that has nothing to do with the brief afternoon shower dampening the lawn. Because of the busyness of recent weeks, I have missed a chance to do something I wanted to do. Now that opportunity is gone. 

I’m not sure how I got to this place where my time is not my own. But I did, and it’s (mostly) not. There are times in life when we prioritize everyone else’s needs or wants before our own needs and wants. In the end it’s not healthy. 

How do I know it’s not healthy? Because it’s Saturday afternoon and the leftover wine in the fridge almost looked like a good option for lunch. Instead, I went with a salad and topped it with some previously unopened smoked sausage leftover from Christmas. That’s probably not healthy either, but it’s better than wine in the middle of the day. 

I work. A lot. I even bring work home with me from time to time because my job is demanding and fast-paced. Sometimes it’s overwhelming and the ritualistic juggling act of trying to keep all the balls in the air falls apart. Other times it’s a little gratifying to pause and recognize that the effort meant something to someone else. 

I also volunteer for some things and that is the really satisfying work. To make an effort for someone else is the real substance of life. So even with no kids at home anymore to drive to tennis or music lessons, life is full. Sometimes too full.

Our small distraction.

We did make a choice to get a puppy several months ago, and she is simultaneously driving us crazy and keeping us sane. With two demanding jobs our schedules get a little crazy, but we HAVE TO make time for this precious little devil dog in each day. She demands it, and we need that touchpoint to connect with another being who relies on us for her very existence. She is filling our empty nest quite nicely and one thing we were glad to add to our schedules this week was the start of puppy manners classes. 

Yes, it has been a busy summer, which makes it sail by in a heartbeat. Fall will be here before we know it. But for now, I will take a few moments on this slightly rainy Saturday to regroup and consider where my real priorities lie. Too busy to meet my own needs? That has to stop. 

One thing that has gotten away from me entirely for many months is writing. Even creating a short blog post has felt overwhelming. It may partly be due to some mild depression I am experiencing over the state of our country, but I have not been able to write for a long time now. That’s the first thing I am reclaiming today, and there may be some other restructuring ahead. Caution: life (still) under construction. 

Caution: New Year Ahead

The close of each year is always a time of reflection for me, helping me to feel I can begin the next chapter with some sense of what I have learned and how to move forward.

Let’s start with the premise that 2016 was a tough year for a lot of people. We wept over acts of terrorism worldwide, violence in the streets at home, and an international refugee crisis. Even those who were happy with the outcome of the Presidential race still hated the campaign. Collectively, we lost so many influential and beloved icons in the past year: thinkers and writers Elie Wiesel and Edward Albee; pioneers John Glenn and Janet Reno; journalists Gwen Ifill and Morley Safer; musicians including David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen, and Prince; sports superstars Muhammed Ali and Arnold Palmer; actors Patty Duke and Alan Rickman; and some very creative people who made us laugh, Gary Marshall, Gary Shandling, and Gene Wilder. Then to top it all off, the final week of the year took George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds. Yeah…in many ways this year was a stinker.

Personally, we experienced some wonderful moments in 2016. We proudly watched our younger daughter march across the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree. I definitely shed tears of joy and pride as she graduated with honors, and then again as she began her first year at her first choice law school. Our elder daughter faced some challenges in her job, causing her to pursue other opportunities and eventually landing a position she loves while working with some very good people. She also resurrected her love of playing music.

As for us old folks at home, we keep on keeping on. There have been disappointments, but I am not letting them drag me down. Here’s the reality for some of us in our late 50’s: we are being passed over for new opportunities partly due to age. I don’t say that as any kind of slam against young people because I firmly believe there are many outstanding Gen Xers and Millennials who are passionate and doing great work for good causes. But I do share it as a moment of truth for those of us who still feel we have a lot to offer and are seeking professional growth; it’s harder to come by as you get older. Never-the-less, I have learned a number of lessons this year and will carry them into the new year with hope and optimism.

Lesson 1) No matter how old you are, you can still be productive and live your life with purpose. One of my chief role models for productive aging continues to be my mother who just turned 87 and remains active and purposeful daily.

Lesson 2) Keep chasing your passions and make room for new ones as they arise. My husband and I have been blessed to have raised children who are living their lives with purpose and passion and they inspire us daily.

Lesson 3) Good fortune has nothing to do with money. The older I get the more true this becomes. My husband and I will never be wealthy and we are more than okay with that. But we are fortunate to have a wonderful family, a comfortable home, food on the table, and enough that we can support some very worthwhile local causes that help our community.

Lesson 4) Women still have a long way to go to truly break the glass ceiling, but we will continue to work at it. This most recent Presidential election affirmed my beliefs that the smartest, most experienced, most qualified woman can still be shoved aside by a much less qualified and much less prepared man. It’s a tough lesson for feminists, but we don’t back down so the fight continues.

Lesson 5) Anti-intellectualism is not going to get me down and it shouldn’t get you down either. Education remains our greatest asset, and we need to continually strive to be well-educated, civil, polite, people. Smart is still cool, rudeness is still inappropriate, and our ability to get along with one another is crucial. Let’s all work on that in 2017.

Lesson 6) Some people are willing to believe anything just because they want it to be so. This is a tremendous challenge for each of us, personally, and for our nation. Journalism has taken a beating, but it is not dead yet and is working hard to make a come-back. Join me this year in reading at least one more newspaper each day. Read outside of your comfort zone and seek out the truth, not just the information you want. It may be an uphill climb, but we can all do this.

Lesson 7) There is an enormous ideological gap in our country. The gulf seems almost insurmountable. But we need to start somewhere in order to maintain this Republic which we all love. If you’re wondering how the reds and the blues can come together, I will remind you of the color wheel we all learned about in elementary school. Red and blue together make purple. Let’s all choose to be a little more purple. I’m not going to lie to you – this is extra hard for me because I am so blue I’m practically cerulean. But if we can find some common ground I’m willing to try.

My to-do list for 2017 is already laid out. I don’t need resolutions, because deep within me is the resolve that social justice is the core value that keeps our nation strong. My calling for the coming year has already bubbled to the surface. I plan to write a new blog to reflect on my renewed passion for political activism, and my first post is already in draft form. This blog will still be here and I will refocus it towards personal reflections on my aging, yet somewhat active, life. As always, you’ll be free to read either as you see fit. I choose to read a lot, write a bit, and to take action.

Welcome, 2017. Bring it on.

Speak Truth to Power

The Quakers are pacifists. “Speak truth to power” is part of the Quaker credo for seeking and maintaining peace in a troubled world. They recognize power as those responsible for making war, the groups who place people in positions of power, and the concept of power alone. Truth, in the Quaker tradition, stems from their age-old belief that love overcomes hate.

Being a pacifist in today’s world is not always popular and not an easy position to hold. It requires diligence and challenges us to maintain our strength even while faced with grim and stark realities.  I am a pacifist. Some may call that weak, but I don’t mind telling you that I also have a fiery temper and remaining a pacifist is a challenge of my strength almost daily. I am also a realist, yet always hold out a shred of optimism, for without that tiny bit of hope I would personally fall into the depths of depression pretty quickly. That’s not a pretty place to visit and having crawled out of it a couple of times in my life I prefer to not go back there.

I am also a former journalist. I got out of the news business years ago in order to seek a more stable lifestyle for raising my children. News doesn’t sleep, but parents must be there for our children. That was my moral imperative at the time and I have no regrets, especially since they seem to have turned out to be really good people.

For many years, I wrote and read news on the radio locally and wrote for a regional newspaper. People believed what I wrote and spoke. I was not accused of fabricating the news, nor degraded for reporting it. I even won a few awards for journalism back in the day. Despite a pivot in my career into communications for non-profits, my character and integrity have not changed.

The Presidential election this past week changed a lot of things. It did not change me. Although I no longer report the local news, I remain a student of government and news. I make a point of staying in touch with real world issues whether they are in my neighborhood, my country, or across the globe. Many Americans have chosen to shelter themselves from global problems as serious as famine and genocide because they are too busy working to keep their own lives together. I don’t fault them for that. I don’t fault people for feeling like they want a better life. We all do.

The results of the election did not go as I would have liked. I am not whining or complaining or despondent over it. I have not called people names. Despite being told for months that it’s okay to be politically incorrect, that’s not my style and never will be. I believe in civility and will be both courteous and kind. I will fight for change in the mid-term elections two years from now and in the Presidential election four years from now.

I will also speak truth to power. I will continue to point out injustice when it’s warranted. I will stand up for those who are protesting this election because they have First Amendment rights in this country. Here’s a refresher on the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Here are the facts:

  1. Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, by more than 600,000 votes at the latest count.
  2. Voter turnout was incredibly low. Just 55% of eligible voters cast a ballot this year. There may be several factors for that, but one was most likely that so many Americans couldn’t stand either of the major party candidates.
  3. Just after the election, House Speaker Paul Ryan, buoyed by the fact that Republican candidates won majorities in the House and Senate and claimed the Presidency, suggested that the Republican Party has a “mandate to govern.” That is not the case (see #1.)
  4. Millions of people feel disenfranchised by the outcome of this election (again, see #1.) They have every right to voice displeasure and concern (re-read the First Amendment, above.) No, they do not have a right to turn their protests into violence and thankfully that has not been the case in most of the protests.

And here is one more very ugly fact: hate crime spiked right after the election. Suddenly, swastikas appeared. In one incident just about an hour from my home a swastika was painted in a park along with the words “Make America White Again.” Our Governor has ordered a full hate crime investigation by the New York State Police and the State Division of Human Rights.  That is a single incident among many nationwide.

Donald Trump is poised to become the next President of the United States. He spent months telling people that they didn’t need to be civil and courteous anymore, that Latinos would be deported, and that Muslims would be rounded up. He degraded women. He instilled fear in African-Americans and the LGBT community. If he said those things without meaning them, then he now needs to tell his supporters to back off – swiftly and unequivocally. If he said those things and meant them, then he needs a really good lesson in the First Amendment (above.)

I will not sit down and shut up. Just because I live way out here in my sheltered suburban community where people aren’t protesting the vote doesn’t mean I can’t lodge my own protest. I will continue to write about wrongs, show people what’s really going on, and hope to rally the righteous against injustice. I will continue to be civil and kind to others. But I will not stand by and do nothing. Once the naysayers are silenced, then we have turned over our government and relinquished our responsibilities to allow the spread of hate and fascism and that is simply un-American. My friends are free to read what I write or to scroll past it in their news feeds and that is their choice.

My voice will not be silenced. My integrity won’t allow it. I will continue to speak truth to power.  Join me.