YOU NEVER RETIRE FROM YOUR JOB AS A MOTHER — and that’s good

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Yes, yes, I know. Everyone says that, but what does it really mean? And notice that I used Mother not parent. Obviously I’m female and in most cases would be a “mother”. That’s what I know. But I suspect it is different for men – fathers. Although some changes have been taking place in sexual role identification, and some men are definitely more nurturing, I believe always showing up and being there has traditionally fallen to the Mother.

I just returned from a six week trip to visit my daughter in Florence, Italy. Nice, huh? Well it would have been nicer if it had been a more leisurely trip. My 32 year old daughter just moved to Florence to work for UNICEF, leaving her husband of one year in Bangkok to finish an assignment there before joining her. She had been having digestion issues, and before she took the new job, they had been trying to start a family.

All of a sudden, I get an IM with a picture of a pregnancy test that is positive. (To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure what it was a picture of, I thought it was some kind of funny paint brush. In my day, “the rabbit died.”) This is good news, right? Well yes except the digestion issues have continued and been diagnosed as gall bladder problems – she has attacks. Pregnancy is not a good time to have surgery, especially in your lower abdomen. So they start her on a stringent diet to prevent another episode. It doesn’t work.

She is taken by ambulance late at night to the hospital. Knowing very little Italian they tell her that the gall bladder is about to errupt and they must perform surgery. She explains that she is pregnant – gravadanza is one word she knows in Italian. They take every precaution and remove a gall stone nearly the size of an egg and her gall bladder using an ectopotapic technique that works through her belly button.

I was planning to visit her the next month, but someone has to be there to assist her after she leaves the hospital. Her husband is traveling in Southeast Asia, and she wants her mommy. I quickly change my flights and throw things in bags and fly from Albuquerque to Dallas – Dallas to Rome – train to Florence. Thank god, I’m met at the train station by an executive from her job who takes me to her in the hospital. (Thank you, Noboko).

I arrive just in time to help her check out and we take a cab to her apartment – the one where she has lived for less than one week. I begin my crash course in getting around central Florence and buying groceries and medicine. Talk about on the job training. My Italian is non existant; fortunately I speak fluent mime and the Italians will meet you half way. I found myself making clucking sounds in the grocery store when I wanted chicken.)

She is now well into her 2nd trimester. Ultra sounds indicate that the fetus is fine. She has recovered from the surgery and is back at work. I stayed on through my original departure and to go to the Rolling Stones Concert in Lucca, Italy – a long-planned event for my daughter, her mother-in-law and me. It was a bit much for all of us but we made it and Mick is still strutting.

I am not complaining; it is nice to be needed. As one gets older one is less crucial to the important things in life. It was nice to be her mommy again.

Now I just need to try to remember anything about the births of my children and their very early months. Nature has a way of turning it all into a blur. I would like to be helpful with my new grandchild.

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NOBODY LIKES A BULLY: The loneliness of the would be leader of the free world

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How can no one at the G20 want to talk to President Donald Trump?  I tell you, he STILL gets NO RESPECT!  Why bother to try to talk to him.  He doesn’t listen.  He cannot and will not evaluate himself or others.

I would have thought that this picture would have outraged him.  It catches him “down” and not on, not performing for the camera.  Alas, pay no attention to that man there; he is only an “act”, a performance, a con man delivering his schtick; he is empty and without consequence.  No matter how much power he accumulates, he never feels like he is in charge and on top — and he never will.

A leader is someone of substance.  The Donald is all smoke and mirrors.  Inevitably there is no one there.  No positive life force — no moral compass — no integrity and no curiosity and intelligence.  Unless he thinks someone is watching, he is not there.

How could the American electorate be so vulnerable to this con man?

CENSORSHIP: The Public Theatre’s Julius Caesar

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In many ways I’m glad that Shakespeare in the Park in New York City is causing such a fuss this summer.  It has been some time since we have had the arts’ nazis out in force because quite frankly our exhibits and productions were not controversial or even very interesting.  I hope we have finally passed that early part of a new century where we look back – a nostalgia fest – and are finally moving forward.

Of course Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare is hardly a new work.  The Public’s artistic director, Oscar Eustis,  has made some production choices that propel the play into today’s headlines.  Caesar looks a lot like Donald Trump with the bouffant blonde hair, the long red tie and the bulky physical presence.  Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife,  is tall and thin and speaks with a Slavic accent.  And Caesar’s assassination on the floor of the Roman Senate is bloody and graphic.  The liberal New York City audience loves it.  The Conservative Media is up in arms and demanding the play be censored as treason.

Ms. Sheaffer, a sales manager for Salem Media, a conservative-leaning media group, saw a performance on June 3. She described her dismay over the production in a conversation with the conservative radio host and comedian Joe Piscopo, then voiced her concern again to the media and politics site Mediaite, declaring “I don’t love President Trump, but he’s the president. You can’t assassinate him on a stage.” Mediaite made the most of the story, posting it with the headline “Senators Stab Trump to Death in Central Park Performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.”

Bank of America and Delta Airlines then got on board by withdrawing funding support for the production, with American Airlines and the National Endowment for the Arts clarifying that none of their funds for the Public Theatre had been used for this production.  It was CYA all the way!

Conversely NYC’s department of Cultural Affairs who also partly funded the production;  stated they are against any censorship. “Threatening funding for a group based on an artistic decision amounts to censorship,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs. “We don’t interfere with the content created by nonprofits that receive public support — period.”

Theater provokes a discourse, and we accept that — not every theater piece can please everybody,” stated a Board member of the Public Theatre.  “It’s an upsetting play, but if there’s a production of ‘Julius Caesar’ that doesn’t upset you, you’re sitting through a very bad production,” said Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

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Art as protest is important. We need these lightening rods now and then to remember how important freedom of expression is — especially in the theatre. A graphic murder on stage is very powerful. This makes me want to fly to NYC to see the production and give $$ to the Public. When Joe Papp died I thought, oh dear there goes another important institution. But they seem to be carrying on the tradition of reaching for that which is new and provocative. Corporate funding IS problematic. When you get in bed with Delta Airlines or Bank of America you might be getting more than a good night’s sleep.

This “Julius Caesar” is a deeply democratic offering, befitting both the Public and the public — and the times. If in achieving that goal it flirts a little with the violent impulses it otherwise hopes to contain, and risks arousing pro-Trump backlash, that’s unfortunate but forgivable. Mr. Eustis seems to have taken to heart Cassius’s admonition to Brutus when Brutus is still on the fence about taking action. “Think of the world,” he begs. It’s a line that cuts two ways.

The Delacorte production, vividly staged by the Public’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, bears the same message and, for good measure, comes with careful usage instructions. “Those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic methods,” Mr. Eustis recently explained in a statement, “pay a terrible price and destroy their republic.”

CAN ONE LEARN TO LOVE THE ARTS?

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For most of my career I was involved in arts education. As a drama educator I taught children creative dramatics; I studied with several leaders in this field, and eventually I helped create a program for young people at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

Arts advocacy was a part of my life. Conferences and retreats, lobbying federal, state and national politicians for arts funding and speaking at community events about the importance of the arts was part of my life. And, I never questioned the axiom that the arts are important. On the other hand, I never felt that I really converted anyone with talk and graphs and what have you.

Experiencing and appreciating the arts is intrinsic to the human experience — man meets and examines his image. We believe that artistic impulses and creativity are intrinsic, but are they also learned behavior? Do we learn how to listen to music and drama or appreciate a fine painting, or are we just BORN THIS WAY. Nurture or a Nature?

And why is the History of the United States so full of responses to the arts that blow hot and cold — acceptance and rejection. Why is it always a hot potato, a lightning rod of public political opinion?

My life has been a circle of enlightment – obscession – advocacy and now despair for the arts in our lives. Americans are unique in their distrust of the artistic. Most claim it descends from our Puritan heritage — Nothing Frivolous! What is it for? What will it do? Participating in and creating the arts is ephemeral, non- linear,too much fun, certainly not necessary.

For years arts educators have been trying to justify the arts in a public school curiculum by trying to develop and measure the contributions of the arts for children — to quantify what one really gets out of the arts. Of course, this is VERY SUBJECTIVE.

So is there any answer to getting the great unwashed to appreciate, nay even demand the arts in their lives? No one answer, I believe, but many answers.

Children who grow up to go to the symphony tend to be kids who were taken to the symphony by their family and are also kids who learned to play an instrument
People who appreciate the plastic arts usually have some experiences of going to see art in museums and galeries and in making art as they grew up.
Actors came to drama through the written word or through experience with improv and dancers came through movement and yes improvisation.

The key is familiarity. We are more comfortable with what we know. Where we may all possess the impulse to create, the appreciation and the doing is learned behavior. It is like reading. If you were read to and taken to the library; if your children saw you read — they will likely become readers.

So then, arts education is not just k-12; it is multi-generational. It does require an open mind and the ability to understand divergent thinking, but then shouldn’t all education require this?

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The arts are where man meets his image and contemplates his place in the universe. The arts bring us joy and reflection and greatly enhance the quality of life. Oh, if only we could all get to this place! I despair, but then I see a play or hear a piece of music and my heart is lifted and I have hope.

THE PUSSY HATS OF THE WOMEN’S MARCH What the hell is wrong here?

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Aren’t we Cute?

We recently witnessed a movement that is just plain pathetic. Millions of women and a few men have protested Donald Trump’s election with demonstrations whose trademark was the Pink Pussy Hat. HUH?

This failure to take women’s minds seriously, by large numbers of women who seem happy to confirm the most demeaning feminine stereotypes, is truly mind-boggling. The “inventors” nee promoters of this lame piece of apparell call it a “strong visual statement”. You bet. But what is it saying?

Although I realize  that these hats are meant to be ironic, their use as a symbol is reinforcing the same crap about women that has been spouted for millennia — women are other and are defined by their biology and hormones is misguided.  It is another acceptance of the old mansplaining admonition — “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about this, honey. It is just too difficult for you.”

If we want equality, shouldn’t we jetison this kind of thinking? If we want equality why must we turn every real, honest protest into something cute and tied to crafts? So many women who couldn’t make it to any march felt connected because they knited pink pussy hats for the marchers. Really? How about getting these women involved in truly meaningful ways, like voting and putting pressure on legislatures. Feel connected with your brain and your voice, not your knitting.

Of course, I am anti-crafts. Mostly because I have very little skill with my hands, but also because these activities scream “women’s work”. Yes, I know some men knit, but women’s reliance on busy work with their hands has been the hallmark of misplaced power. Women’s work is never done because so much of it is make work and silly stuff.

I like buying decorative items for my home and by body as much as the next woman, but dear god, it doesn’t define me. My intellect and my beliefs are what define me. My voice should be heard as much as any other person.

Then too, the Pussy Hats look like little cats with ears, but also are pink and suggestive of a woman’s labia. Perhaps it is time to drop the vagina as a protest symbol. Women aren’t supposed to be speaking to themselves in these protests. We are Way past raising awareness — or should be. Women are demanding power equal to men not because we have vaginas but because it does not matter that we have vaginas.

This anatomical focus erases women’s experience. Women are a caste within society, not because they are the owners of a particular body part. The vast majority of women do indeed have vaginas, but they aren’t preoccupied by that fact day to day. Vagina possession doesn’t explain why Mary voices an idea in a meeting but the boss listens only when Jim repeats it. When Kate does the dishes again, it isn’t because Bob’s genitalia prevented him from loading the dishwasher. It certainly is not a reason to pay women 80% of what men earn.

Yes, reproduction and child-care-related issues, not to mention sexual assault and domestic abuse, disproportionately affect women, and often involve women’s genitals. But even the women’s issues with some relationship to female anatomy aren’t really about vaginas.

We want to be seen as more than possessing vaginas. Our personhood is equal to all others. Don’t see me as a pussy — Donald don’t grab us by the pussy! It is degrading at the very least.
And yet – across the National Mall a sea of pink pussy hats takes the guts out of a massive and important demonstration.

The tyrany of madison avenue and the obscession with branding and logos no doubt is part of what brought this on. And sorry to say that women after years of prom planning and sorority rush and wedding decor don’t seem to get going on a project unless they know what the decor is. I recall my days in non-profit fundraising where the volunteers would spend countless womanhours working on the centerpieces and neglect the necessary task of the fundraising banquet — selling tickets. No butts in seats = no funds raised. The decor/centerpieces are not the important element of a successful fundraiser.

Please remember the medium is a big part of the message. I don’t think those of us demanding female rights in the 70’s would have thought the Pussy Hats were cute. But then, of course, we had to burn our bras and treat all the guys to a little skin. All this gets attention – but what kind of attention?

Women’s equality is a deadly serious business. Many men today want to reverse the strides made by the women’s movement and take us back to the days of asking our husbands for everything from money to control of our own bodies. They want to own our bodies and aren’t even willing to give us appropriate health care.

Time to get really angry — not time to get cute!

I was delighted to see that the Pussy Hats are marked down at the Nordstrom Half Yearly Sale – yes these symbols are mass produced. Maybe a few others figured out how frivolous a statement a knitted Pussy Hat makes about one-half the population denied equality.

I Certainly Hope So!

BOOK REVIEW The Shadow Sister (The Seven Sisters) by Lucinda Riley

Why Do I Keep Reading These Books?
I guess Lucinda Riley is a guilty pleasure. This is the third in her Seven Sister Series that I have read. I guess I’m a sucker for the greek astrological names and the ongoing mystery of these seven adopted girls named after the Seven Sisters of the Pleiads who grew up on the banks of Lake Geneva with adoptive parents Ma and Pa – he the ultra rich eccentric and she the unmarried earth mother.

Each Romance explores the back story of one girl — this one is about Star (Alcyone).
These are cozy mysteries with overtones of glam and exotic locales, stately homes, inheritances lost and found. Each girl is finding her origins and in so doing finding her future. Love of course plays a part, but you won’t find any soft core bodice ripping here. Love is chaste until – well it becomes perfect!
Lucinda gives us a few quirky supporting characters to keep us entertained and goes back in time for each girl so Historical Fiction buffs will be happy. (Shadow Sister is Edwardian with King Edward-Bertie and Beatrix Potter making appearances.)
At almost 500 pages, Lucinda gives you your money’s worth. There is a lot going on and a lot of detail in these books.
The next one promises to be about my least favorite sister, so maybe I will skip it. There is an overriding mystery about Pa that keeps you somewhat hooked — enough said. I gave it three stars.

NOT MY REVOLUTION Theatre Review Fusion Theatre, Albuquerque, NM

Written and performed by Elizabeth Huffman, Not My Revolution is a one-woman play/performance piece receiving its national debut at Fusion. The performance was substituted for the originally announced The Moors. I believe Fusion had problems with the rights for that play.

Ms Huffman is an international professional actress/director of Syrian heritage whose credits range from General Hospital to Sam Shepherd to West Side Story to the Circus. She now resides and works in Portland, Oregon and is active nationally and internationally as a guest artist, director and costumer designer. She is a mesmerizing mature actress at the top of her game who has worked with Fusion on several occasions.

Originally developed in Oregon as The Re-Imagining of French Gray by the Displaced Woman, the play melds the experiences of an upper class woman in Syria caught in the chaos of revolution with the imagined musings of Marie Antoinette in the French Revolution. A heady mix, to be sure, but Ms. Huffman navigates the myriad time slips with aplomb. Is the play the disjointed memory of a woman on the edge? A memory or a dream?
Laurie Thomas, co-founder and co-artistic chair of Fusion has taken on the task of directing Ms. Huffman and brings the considerable artistic resources of Fusion to staging the play. Of particular note is the sound design and the set/video design by Brent Stevens and Richard K. Hogue respectively. All enhance the performance and guide the audience through the swiftly shifting landscape of the play. Most one-person plays need a strong director and I suspect Ms. Thomas is responsible for much of the clarity of this performance.

This is a play worthy of Fusion’s commitment to professional standards and thought-provoking work. This theatre company is Albuquerque’s only fully professional theatre; Fusion is a great New Mexico cultural resource.