People Who Need People

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron advises us to cultivate curiosity, to promote loving kindness in ourselves so that we extend it to others. Even to strangers, which is why I smile or say hello to the most disheveled people walking my way.

All my life I’ve tried to find common ground with those I disagree with. I’m getting better at it. Finally. We all have our stereotypes. I used to really dislike Southerners.

Walking in our hood…the homeowner and sculptress chatted with us and gave us the cucumber she had just harvested. Such nice people live in Linden Hills!

Moving from my urban apartment to Marc’s house in lovely Linden Hills, selling most of my furniture, has been instructive. I didn’t know who would show up. People fascinate me.

In comes young, friendly Architect Guy to buy my orange chair for his modern living room. We get talking, like I always do.

He’s a Minnesota native. “I used to believe in all that good humanitarian stuff but LA did me in. I lived in MacArthur Park,” he tells me. “I had a gun put to my head. There were gangs all around.”

Happy with the orange chair, he cheerfully asks, “Got anything else to sell?”

Carrying an old wooden desk out to his car together, we get deeper into conversation. “I used to be a Democrat. Now I’m a Republican.”

“Oh no, you can’t be a Trumper!” I retort.

“I’m a Republican, I said. Yeah, he’s loony but I care about inflation now. And the price of gas.”

First I try to make sense to him, calling out the mafioso, truly insane crook that Trump is.

As I help Architect Guy lift the desk into his car I realize, He’s made his decision. There’s no use trying to convince him otherwise. Let him be, Sheila.

He hands me a $100 bill from his glove compartment.

At first, Architect guy doesn’t think the desk will fit into his car. I’m optimistic. I take pride in knowing that I’m right. I keep that to myself.

I think of him when a young Hispanic couple comes to pick up my free futon. The woman, who was bigger than her scrawny guy, is wearing blue scrubs.

“Are you a doctor?” I ask. “No, I’m a med tech,” she replies. I imagine my question making her feel good. She takes charge of unscrewing the futon parts, directing Scrawny Guy’s use of his Allen wrench, and the futon’s welcome removal from my apartment. Her guy’s humongous shiny shorts, nearly falling down to expose his ass, reminded me of my stereotype of those LA gang members Architect Guy abhors.

Scrawny Guy is also wearing a backwards baseball cap, a sure sign that he was a drug dealer (what my U.S. History teacher replacement at Mt.Desert Island High School told the kids back in 1990).

“Now we’ll have a place for Teresa and Matt to sleep when they visit this weekend,” says the woman excitedly.

“Yeah, let’s put it in the living room. It’s so nice,” responds Scrawny Guy. “Thank you so much!” he turns away from his girlfriend, hurling a big smile my way.

And, there you have it.

Posted in America WTF?, Fight wimpiness, Managing Minneapolis, Politics, The Rest of the World | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Kansas, Oh Kansas!

We’re steeped in Doublespeak. In the late 1970s I gave a talk at the Southwest Harbor Library on George Orwell’s “1984,” a prescient masterpiece that I’ve taught to high school students.

Did I ever imagine that historical lies would become the norm more than fifty years later?

There I was in my red flower-printed corduroy Laura Ashley dress, sitting pretty on a stool, my dark shoulder-length hair shining. Ready to expound. I was sharp back then and was able to think on my feet (or sitting on a stool).

No longer am I that sharp. But I still can’t stomach historical lies. And they abound.

Where do I go for history I can trust? If you don’t yet subscribe to Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American, do it now. She’s a Mainer, an historian who teaches at Boston College. Impeccable in her research, I pick up my phone to read her as soon as I awake.

The Kansas referendum vote to uphold abortion rights in their State Constitution surprised journalists and pundits. Loony Repugnicans will spin some sort of Doublespeak on that vote.

Oh, maybe hundreds of minority mothers stormed a voting place…

Some happily pregnant women have understandably been terrified by the onslaught of abortion restrictions:

“What if something goes wrong with my pregnancy? Will [the state] just let me die?”

Kansas, oh Kansas! You’ve given us hope! Down With Doublespeak!

Posted in America WTF?, Fight wimpiness, For Love of History, Politics, Read, Read, Read | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Missing Ashley

At Ashley’s Islesford home

Forget about Amazon.com! All book lovers, please purchase your books from bookshop.org! Not only will you be helping independent bookstores like my former Oz Books, but I’ll be suggesting book lists for anyone who’s interested.

My first list is, of course, focuses on my dear friend Ashley Bryan’s books about his life. His most powerful fiction/slave history book, Freedom Over Me, belongs in every social studies classroom and home library.

“Missing Ashley” is my first list of suggested autobiographical Ashely titles. All of his lively children’s books are available on Bookshop.org.

Ashley will be on my mind forever. Today I want to highlight his life, how his reliance on beauty and love can help to carry each of us through this tumultuous, dangerous time in our country’s history.

Will the United States continue as any semblance of a democracy?

Ok, I can’t totally neglect the January 6 committee’s hearings, well done as they are. I simply can’t watch these previous liars, like former attorney general William Barr, now telling the truth. Now he talks about the “insanity” of Trump’s post-election lies. Where was he in November 2020?

The only hearing I’ve been able to watch without flying into a rage was the one with the Arizona state senator and the two Georgia election officials who have told the truth since the presidential election.

Back to Ashley, the extreme opposite of he-who-must-not-be-named, and his administrations’s despicable excuses for humans.

Read, read, read. Learn, learn, learn. That’s all that will save us. Speak out when necessary. Believe in beauty and love.

And, watch for my future book lists — both quirky and informational — on bookshop.org.

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Almost in Maine

Beating my man three straight times at Bananagrams was a good sign. Unheard of! I taught him how to play and he took off, beating me all the time. Training for game nights on our upcoming week with my kids in Southwest Harbor worked.

Meanwhile, here in the big city, walking in my man’s Linden Hills neighborhood, delights me with myriad gardens and even some art.

Spoke to the creator of this woman beckoning the other night…

Gorgeous purple irises. But I’m ready for the wild ones by the ocean while walking along Ship Harbor.

Linden Hills irises

I’m ready for Maine.

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying more of Minnesota, venturing out of Minneapolis to learn about the rest of one the two GOOD M STATES.

Driving down Highway 61, the mighty Mississippi on our left, I marveled at plateaus in the distance. Like I haven’t seen since leaving the Southwest. Except these were so green. From far away they could have been covered with trees or moss. They could have been velvet.

On our way to the Minnesota Marine Museum in Winona [“Don’t Forget Winona;” what song is that from? I can’t remember. OK, I’ll turn 76 soon].

The Mighty Mississippi

I had no idea that two hours from the Twin Cities an art museum of such caliber existed. I was already in love with the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

So much beauty connected to water: a Jamie Wyeth ocean landscape with a giant seagull screeching in our faces; a Mary Cassatt portrait of a girly girl reading, a brook flowing out the window behind her; even a vibrant Marc Chagall love painting, with some body of water I couldn’t identify.

Impressions of Water: Prints by Clara Ueland not to be missed — depicting the Boundary Waters, so Zen, so lovely. All the steps going into her work were astounding. Such patience.

Still, I need more nature: Wonder Land, Cedar Spring Mountain, low tide islands in Southwest Harbor. And it’s June, my favorite month!

Ship Harbor

Twelve more days. My dear friend Claire, who will pick me up at the Portland Airport on June 12, says the green “is so nice and soft and inspiring in June.” By the end of summer, “the green is just too much!”

With the exploding green, I’m wondering what to expect this year on Mt. Desert Island: new restaurants, visits with dear friends, a women’s group meeting?

MDI pals: Anyone know of a sailboat we can rent for an afternoon? Two of my big kids are expert sailors, or perhaps a sailboat with a captain? Please let me know…

I’m trying to schedule a few activities for big kids, little kids, my man and me, for our week in an old friend’s magnificent home by the harbor. Hiking, sailing, enjoying delicious seafood dinners and one Thurston’s lobster feast, even perhaps winning at Bananagrams once or twice.

I can’t wait.

Posted in Baby Boomers, Family Matters, Food/happy hours, Managing Minneapolis, Mount Desert Island/Maine, Nature Girl, Old friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Heartsick: Get rid of the f**ing guns!

When Congressional greedy wimps didn’t do anything after Sandy Hook, I gave up on gun law restrictions. I couldn’t stand it. I’m old and couldn’t be sick to my stomach forever. This morning I heard a psychologist on NPR discuss ongoing physical trauma that pop up again and again in this country following every mass shooting by angry, isolated, racist, mostly white men.

I can’t take it anymore. I must do something. I’m a mother, grandmother, and former teacher. How can it be dangerous to attend elementary school, or go grocery shopping, or go to a movie?

But innocent children???? Today I donated $10 to Sandy Hook Promise, a great cause started by the mom of little Daniel, one of the murdered Sandy Hook kids.

“Best part of my day is picking my kid up from school, it should be the most basic guaranteed joy. I cannot fathom the grief and rage, this country is so cruel and lost”…Lucas Mann, retweeted by my daughter-in-law

If you read nothing else today, please take a look at Nicolas Kristof’s “How to Reduce Shootings” in yesterday’s NYTimes (May 24, first published in 2017, gives real solutions and real statistics, not “thoughts and prayers.” PLEASE READ!)

What would prioritize returning guns to reduce the outrageous statistic of 120 guns owned in the United States for every 100 people??

The U.S. Money God.

Perhaps, instead of going to outer space, the wealthiest among us — who care about the slaughter of innocent children — would offer dollars for guns returned. Especially AK-47s, which have no other purpose but to kill people. Children. Ten-year-olds. WTF?

WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT FREEDOM. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE SLAUGHTER OF INNOCENT YOUNG LIVES!!

Let these wealthy folks do something decent: Give $1000 to anyone who delivers a gun to their local police department, or food shelter director, minister, rabbi, or imam. Whomever they trust to get rid of these weapons of mass murder.

I’m not saying to deliver these killing machines to the Minneapolis Police Department, today marking the police murder of George Floyd, here in Minneapolis where I now live.

This is a sick society. Unfortunately, money may be the only thing that can cure this insanity.

Addendum: While looking for an appropriate photo to accompany this post, “Nagging questions about gun control,” popped up on my laptop screen, the only editorial that ever appeared in the Arizona Jewish Post. I insisted on writing it for the Jan. 11, 2011 issue, three days after former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot, along with the wounding of twelve others, and the murder of six, including nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green who was holding my friend Suzi Hileman’s hand. To its credit, the AJP reprinted that editorial today.

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A North Country Spring

Bees buzzing ferociously. Birds chirping, alighting from tree to tree. Buds popping up out of nowhere. Mosquitoes and black flies torment us later. We’re safe.

I forgot how early spring surprised us in Maine. I left for Tucson in 2002, never to return to winter (ha ha). I forgot how much I loved lilacs, both lavender and white versions, their branches nearly clinging to the side of my Seawall Road garage. Waking me from winter darkness.

In 2017, before putting my Maine house on the market, I ferociously cut back a giant forsythia bush for a better view of the harbor. The last summer in my home. Lilacs had their day before my arrival from Tucson. I had forgotten about their quick coming and going.

This week, purple life arrived in the north country of Minneapolis. I want lilacs near me wherever I go — in my car, by my laptop, next to the bed.

They intoxicate me. In a good way.

I had forgotten that ice-covered sidewalks were the norm just a few weeks ago.

Lilacs took over as I walked to Lake of the Isles today.

When I decided to move from Tucson to Minneapolis last July I wanted to participate more in my grandkids’ lives. Winter couldn’t be that bad. I deluded myself.

But how on Earth did I ever forget lilacs? What else have I forgotten over the past twenty years?

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Time is Weird…

   When you get to be our age. “You look back and you never know,”says a gray-haired man across the way at Isles Bun and Coffee saying. Sounds like an older guy on his best behavior, talking on a first-time online dating meet-up. 

She’s happy he’s talking. But he needs to shut up, let her speak too. Perhaps it’s all he’ll ever say.  

   At our age, I’m so glad I no longer need to do that. I wouldn’t. I came to Minneapolis to participate more in my grandkids’ life during this this last part of my life. Figured I would hold the fort on my couch during blizzards, reading and writing and doing my own thing.

   But here I am. Writing with my new man. A good one: a writer;  photographer; retired teacher; a traveler like me; a person who loves learning and tai chi and music and dancing and meditation.

The world is a messy, crazy place. I’m happy today. I’m lucky. Waiting for my dear son to return from one of the most exotic, dangerous parts of the world. My dear little granddaughter feels better, is back to her lively, talking self. I’m still coughing and sneezing but the sun is shining.

Lake of the Isles: ready for spring to take hold, the next season takes its time arriving in Minneapolis!

I ate some yummy quiche for breakfast. I have no idea what comes next. As my son says, I’m “forever curious.

At my age, one question is about the passage of time: My friend Carol sent a photo of herself sitting among the black rocks on the beaches of Normandy, France. Her photos bring to mind my beach photos, sitting among the strange orange rocks of Santa Barbara or the pink granite rocks of Mt. Desert Island.

At my age, does my mind take in these photos as one memory, being among these various rocks? I’m not sure.

I’m still at Isles Bun and Coffee when I hear a woman behind me say, “Everybody’s growing older and moving where they should be.” Was this comment meant for me? I wonder, knowing full well it would be pretty nutty if it was. Serendipity grabs my attention like a song.

There’s a lot on my mind. It’s been an intense time. Time is everything.

At my age, it will be the first time our entire small Wilensky family will gather together to mourn and celebrate one of our own: Sandra Borg Wilensky.

We will all arrive on Friday in Sudbury, Massachusetts, at my brother’s home for a memorial service the following day. Flying in from Istanbul, Minneapolis, Raleigh, San Francisco. Young grandchildren and cousins meeting for the first time, plus my brother meeting his great nephew and niece for the first time.

My two grown nieces, his two daughters, are doing all the work. Including taking care of their dad. They are both doing their mom proud. With both health challenges and lots of love, we will be there together to honor my late sister-in-law.

At my age, time is a conundrum. Time is at a premium. I’m lucky to have this time.

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My 2022 Resume!

Check it out on my Resume page…I’m very excited about my new updated look! I’m old but I still want to change the world, and damn it needs a whole lot of changing!

Wow! I KNOW shit that I didn’t even realize till updating my resume. And as my dear daughter-in-law Steph said, “You’ve done a lot!”

I’ll be submitting story pitches to magazines, journals, newsletters, and publishers. If you, dear readers, have ideas for me or have friends who need a dynamic editor or freelance writer, please let me know. Thank you.

Writing ideas on my mind: Taming the History Wars; How Howard Zinn Changed my Future; Work for the 21st Century, how to include everyone; Brain Science interviews/one with David Eagleman, Stanford prof; possible reprints/updating of my previous articles, such as “The Walking Brain” (Desert Leaf) or “The Heyday of Children’s Bookstores” (Publishers Weekly); Creativity in Septuagenarians; Interviews with the owners of The Children’s Book Shop, Brookline, Massachusetts, currently closing after 45 years in business.

Please write your comments letting me know your thoughts…thanks!

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The Glorious Guthrie

Iconic in its history as the chosen professional theater miles from Broadway, the Guthrie Theater dwells in kindness and joy. What a concept! It’s a premiere arts organization that treats patrons and staff with gratitude.

The Guthrie opened in Minneapolis in 1963. “The idea of a major resident theater was introduced to the American public in a small paragraph on the drama page of The New York Times on September 30, 1959, which invited cities to indicate interest in Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s idea. Seven cities responded: Waltham, Massachusetts; Cleveland; Chicago; Detroit; Milwaukee; San Francisco; and Minneapolis/St. Paul (which was not only interested but eager).” (guthrietheater.org)

My fellow ushers’ backgrounds are as unique as the Guthrie’s avante-garde building: high school kids; young college grads with theater backgrounds; retired teachers, engineers, a human rights consultant, a therapist, and an Apple employee.

The Glorious Guthrie (Flickr)

And there’s a bit of personal history hanging around in this uber-modern building. When my daughter moved to Minneapolis after college graduation in 1999, as a drama and religious studies major, she hoped work at the Guthrie. That didn’t happen. She moved to New York after a year. Here I am serving that familial desire. (She took the religious studies Ph.D route instead, but her theater successes had an enormous impact on her.)

Or as Thornton Wilder, author of the play “Our Town” wrote, “I regard theatre as the greatest art form of all, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

I’ve never worked in a place quite like the Guthrie. At the end of a two-hour shift overseeing vaccine checks or showing guests to their seats or answering myriad questions. House managers always thank ushers at the end of a shift. Tell us we did a terrific job.

Attending virtual staff meetings is an equitable experience. As an usher — working only ten to twelve hours weekly — I don’t feel anyone pointing to a hierarchy.

Then there are the patrons. A motley crew. I’ve learned a lot about people at the Guthrie, helping theatergoers prior to the performance. A few months ago many people asked, “Where can I get a drink?” Answer: During covid no alcohol or snacks are on sale.

Far and away the most curious thing, to me, is how many people don’t read the signs. Not just older folks but young people, too. “Where do I go?” is a common question despite the giant lit-up sign standing in front of them: PERFORMANCE CHECK-IN.

I used to think we were a nation of readers. No more. I can’t help realizing that conundrum following the election of he-who-shall-not-be-named.

I’ve learned about myself, too. Earlier on in my tenure as an usher a man asked where the coatroom was. When I told him there wasn’t one, he followed up: “What am I supposed to do with my coat?”

I couldn’t help it. “You’ll just have to sit on it,” I replied.

Now I smile more. I apologize. A few nights ago a woman strode up to have her ticket punched. Searching for it, she dropped the contents of her purse.

“This is the most confusing place I’ve ever been,” she complained. Projection? She of course meant, “I’m so confused.”

“I’m so sorry,” I smiled. Poor woman.

Another night an older gentleman tried to give me a one dollar tip for checking his vaccine card.

“Enjoy the show,” I typically say to everyone walking by me. Nearly everyone heading down the hall to the production smiles back, so happy to be there in person following months with the Guthrie closed.

Typically, each human joyfully responds, “I will!”

What a great place to work for an older people-person like me. Besides, I enjoy chatting with Chu and Sierra and Cal about what paths they’ll be scanning next in their young lives.

Meanwhile — Yes to arts education, Yes to gratitude, and Yes to the Guthrie!

Posted in Covid changes, Managing Minneapolis | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

From Place to Place

Living in three different parts of this country has been a life luxury. Visiting all fifty states has been an education, like getting a Ph.D. in U.S. Travel. My latest trip, to Santa Barbara, California, with my new love, merged a few of my life’s geographic attachments.

Living in Tucson for eighteen years opened the door to a blossoming March. Yes, I miss that. Santa Barbara — with its similar climate and Spanish influence — brought me back to the Southwest.

Photo: Marc Burgett

Wisteria, purple plumes atop an artsy entangled tree stump, thrilled me. Close to lilacs in their glorious color, their fragrance is less intoxicating. But wisteria, just hanging there, are more luxurious in their celebration of spring.

Life returning sprouted the joy of bees buzzing on Mt. Desert Island, which annually surprised me, following ruthless winter gale-force winds stirring the ocean into frothy waves, ice storms knocking out power lines, and snow piled to the top of my garage.

And that’s where I am now, emotionally and physically. I never expected to live in Arctic Minneapolis, here in the Midwest. So when Marc suggested a respite: Santa Barbara hiking, wine-tasting, and attending the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, I jumped in.

Nor did I expect to fall in love with the Pacific Ocean. I referred to it as “the other ocean” in my slightly OCDish way. But there I was, lounging on my rock couch, gazing at and listening to waves rolling over ancient rocks. Reading or writing fell away. Hours at the ocean’s edge felt sacred.

I recalled my friend Martha’s father, in his late 90s, sitting in her car at Seawall watching Atlantic waves roll onto the shore. A favorite activity of his. I empathized.

Here’s the beach across the street from our airbnb.

In sunny Santa Barbara, the Pacific finally seemed friendlier. Gazing at the Channel Islands helped, especially after our visit to the most beautiful island I’ve ever seen (sorry MDI!). Santa Cruz Island, an hour’s boat ride from nearby Ventura, enchanted me.

“I love this so much,” I repeated on a six-mile hike with Marc, who appreciated my happiness.

Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the Channel Islands. Here’s where we ate lunch…

I pictured Earth’s curvature in this photo I took there:

This view comforted me. One week after coming home, I think of a madman’s attempt at the annihilation of Ukraine. I will keep looking at this photo and remind myself of wave-watching solace.

Here we were in this exquisite primitive place. For me a place of exultation. Wishing that all humans could have the same opportunity to visit such a magnificent place.

Posted in Managing Minneapolis, Mount Desert Island/Maine, Nature Girl, Old friends, The Rest of the World | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments