Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Bells

On this Christmas Day 2018 when the world seems so topsy-turvy, I give you the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written on Christmas Day 1863 in the middle of the American Civil War. (It was published two years later, February 1865.) The poem starts out rather melancholy, moves to despair, and ends in hope. 

May you find joy and hope in the notion that wrong shall fail and right prevail this holiday season. A voice, a chime, a chant sublime - Merry Christmas!

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth," I said;
    “For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thankful for Who I Am Now

Who I am now is a lot different from who I was a few months ago. Changes. Unexpected transitions. You know. Stuff happens, and it's altered who I am now.

I'm a person who moves on. From schools. From towns (except NYC - I'll always come back to you). From jobs. I'm just not a person who goes back. Forward is my primary direction. I am not who I was four months ago.

I am now a person whose only paid work responsibilities are to be cheerful, hospitable, and helpful, all while surrounded by fabulous art in a gorgeous Renzo Piano building. I am not responsible for anyone's comings-and-going, yearly reviews, office behavior, or work directives.

I'm now a person who works or volunteers in three of Atlanta's leading cultural entities: High Museum of Art, Atlanta History Center, and Center from Puppetry Arts. I am no longer expected to create anything clever, moving, or fabulous for a social media campaign, resource, exhibit hall display, or promotional giveaway.

My unpaid volunteer work lets me hang around the likes of Kermit and Miss Piggy, golfing great Bobby Jones, a multitude of fabulous authors, and Mali's Sogo Bo. I am no longer required to attend meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting (infinity), and impossible deadlines are no longer burdens I have to carry.

I like earning money, and thanks to the High Museum, I'm doing just that. Volunteering is lots of fun, but . . . money. Retirement holds no appeal for me as long as I'm healthy and in my right (sorta) mind.

I'm still Kate's mama, Greg's mama-in-law, and GrandMary to gorgeous, smart, funny, loving Liam and Charlotte. That part of me is deep and life-long.

In short, I'm not the producer or teacher or boss of anyone but my own self. Letting go of responsibility and office drama has been amazingly easy. I love not having to be on call 24/7. I love how varied and culturally enriching my work and volunteer life is now.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm supremely grateful for the opening of new doors, new opportunities, and new insights. And I plan to acknowledge that thanks with my family around a table full of good food, laughter, and love.

I'm thankful for the new me.

Monday, September 03, 2018

8 For What We Will

Happy Labor Day, y'all. It's a day to celebrate the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, a minimum wage (as small as it might be), collective bargaining rights (as small as they may be), and weekends! Safer workplaces and the absence of small children working dangerous machinery are a couple of other things to be thankful for.

In the late 19th century, the Gilded Age and Progressive Era ran smack into each other - boom! Thanks to brave politicians willing to reign in the robber barons and even braver working folks organizing for better working conditions, the American people tried to hammer out a way for those who had money to make more money, while not jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of most of the population who were just trying to make ends meet and still be alive at the end of the work day.

Just take in some of these pictures and stories. I've purposefully chosen those of women and children, though certainly men were abused in the same way. Look at them. All hard workers - no shirkers, here. Helping their families keep a roof overhead, food on the table, and medicine available when necessary. Young children and scary equipment. Women burned alive or dead from jumping out of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building. And the consequences of painting radium onto watch dials so they (the watch dials, but eventually the women themselves) could light up in the dark.

It took years to reckon with and legislate against the most heinous and unfair labor practices. True, factories with heavy machinery and any sort of mining jobs were and are inherently dangerous, But the late 19th-early 20th century labor movement worked to make earning a buck as safe as possible, even for the most hazardous occupations. For that alone we should be celebrating today.

But let's not be naive. First, who's missing in these pictures? Hard to find any black faces. That struggle is ongoing. And second, unfortunately, labor bosses evolved into the equivalent of mob bosses, their greed and forms of retribution as harsh as any Gilded Age captain of gelt. Thanks to the corruption of those bosses, unions and the labor movement are met with disdain and animosity today. A horrible dilemma, but not one we can't overcome.

Here's the thing. Most people want to work. I guarantee you there are more folks at the highest level of the food chain avoiding real work than there are in the middle and on the bottom. More folks at the top are gaming the system than ever were able to game it at the lowest rungs of the ladder. Let's stop making bad guys out of the women and men trying to better themselves through work and education. Don't be a work-snob. Work of all kinds is honorable, unless illegal or immoral, and, shoot, even then . . .  Show some gratitude. Treat people as the humans they are.

My prayer for this Labor Day is that we don't throw the safe, fair, moral baby out with the tainted bathwater. Folks shouldn't have to work two and three jobs to take care of hearth and health. Fair pay for a good day's work. And we've got to work out this healthcare thing. It should never have been tied to work in the first place. Yes, it's a Gordian Knot, but we can and must figure this out.

Consider how lucky many of us are for that 8 for work, 8 for rest, and 8 for what you will. It was won through much blood, sweat, and tears. Just look at the pictures.

I know we're in a time of high public immorality, but the wind has got to change for the better soon or we are doomed. So, consider that as you appreciate a good grilled burger and beer the Labor Day.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tales of a Junior High Gym Class, or What Fresh Hell is This?

While skimming through the New York Times trying to maintain my sanity by avoiding anything vaguely political (a hard thing to do these days, maintaining sanity and avoiding the political), I came across an article that made me wish I'd stuck with venom and politics. The article, "How You Felt About Gym Class May Impact Your Exercise Habits Today," opened a zombie-memory I'd thought was buried for good.

And like any good zombie, it burst forth with a vengeance.

The article had some kind of point, I'm sure, but "gym class" stopped me cold, and I do mean cold. I froze at the very thought of junior high physical education and those walking-dead memories of the teacher, the uniforms, the sound of tennis shoes squeaking on the gym floor, and the smell of Right Guard, Shalimar, Aqua Net, and sweat in the locker room.

We had a tyrant of a gym teacher, Miss Willie Jones. Broadminded, forgiving adult that I am, I'm willing to accept that Willie Jones had many fine qualities, it's just that none were even remotely evident to junior high me. As the school king/queen-maker, she held sway over who was in and who was out for class officers, cheerleaders, and all those other things that adolescents deem so important. Alas, I got off on the wrong foot with her simply by being my brother David's little sister. She never made it clear exactly what he'd done to her that was traumatic enough to impose guilt by relation on little me, but I was junior high-doomed once she found out. And I was at her mercy every day in the gym.

Then there was the rush and hurry of dressing out, changing out of whatever cute little outfit you'd so carefully chosen for the day and slipping into lovely black bloomer shorts and a white top. Yeah, that gym uniform that you might take home every couple of weeks to wash. Maybe. I mean, who had time to take dirty gym clothes to your locker after class, when your time was better spent trying to salvage that perfect flip hairdo gone limp from 45 minutes of so-called exercise?

And don't get me started on the team sports mentality of phys ed classes. I could climb anything like a monkey. I could roller and ice skate with the best of them. But volleyball, basketball, and softball? Nope nope-ity nope nope. Oh, sure, we had a few minutes of jumping jacks and the like at the first of class, and occasionally we learned some kind of little dance to "Alley Cat," but most of the time was spent popping blood vessels in our thumbs serving volleyballs, missing countless baskets in basketball, or wasting our precious youth in the outfield of a softball game. And for those of us chosen last for teams, well, you know the drill: the dreaded humiliation as you and some other poor shlub stood waiting to learn which of you would be the bigger disappointment to one of the teams.

After class, the locker room was a cloud of aerosol - Right Guard, Shalimar, Ambush, AquaNet, Adorn - all of which did more damage to our young lungs than smoking ever did, I'm sure. Thank goodness, I never smoked or my lungs would be well and truly shot by now. Those clouds of fragrance combined with some good old teenage sweat remains one of my most traumatic olfactory memories.

Funny thing, memories. All of my gym tales of the zombie persuasion seem to be of the junior high variety. I don't remember much about phys ed in high school, though I know I had to take it my sophomore and junior years. Maybe those memories are so deeply repressed that they're not surfacing in my dotage. Or maybe it's because nothing could top the shudder-inducing thoughts of Willie Jones, the last-chosen humiliations, and the fog of Right Guard and cheap cologne.

Now, excuse me while I head off for the best workout I know: settling in with a good book.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

How Musical Theater Restores My Faith in Everything

Years ago, I told a friend that someday I was going to write a book called Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals. For instance, did you know that the rain in Spain does NOT fall mainly in the plain? Now see, I wouldn't care one way or another except for loving My Fair Lady (the Julie Andrews/Rex Harrison soundtrack) and being a curious 14-year-old wanting to know if that song lyric was, indeed, factual. The point being that many a song from a musical has led me to further research on a variety of topics, most of which have proven of more use than where rain falls in Spain.

The impact of American musical theater on my life is incalculable. I know you're thinking "Wow! How shallow!" But the stories, the performances, the music, the lyrics, the costumes, the scenery, and the sheer energy of pulling all of that together make my spirit soar. Is it any wonder that musicals are getting me through this dark time in our history?

Last week, daughter and I did a whirlwind trip to New York to see Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! Kate managed to nab tickets to a Hamilton matinee for the same day. We were on our way to an afternoon and evening that restored my faith in some important things: all the ways we need to live and work together, how crooked paths can be made straight, how gifted storytellers, musicians, and actors can show us truth and love and laughter when we need it most. 

Both Hamilton and Dolly! showcase the indomitable American spirit. As different as they are, both shows capture the get-'er-done drive that has been a hallmark of our collective personality. And both expose some serious flaws in our collective DNA, as well. By highlighting our brilliance and our faults, Hamilton and Dolly! give me faith not only in the way our stories get told, but in the truth-telling stories themselves.

So, raise a glass to freedom before the parade passes by. Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out, and look around look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. I wanna be in the room where it happens room where it happens, because it only takes a moment to be loved a whole life long. (Pardon the mash-up, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jerry Herman.) Faith and courage restored. The will to persevere and fight for our better selves returned.

And as for writing that book about learning everything from musicals, I still might do it, who knows? 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Mother's Story: Dare to Be Brave

This is a Mother's Day story. It's not about my mother. I've written about her wonderful, loving, quirky self many times. It's not about me. That's a story someone else will have to write. But it is a story about the woman who made me a mother and grandmother. And about bravery. Not the running into a burning building kind of courage, but bravery all the same.

A month or so ago, daughter Kate was offered the opportunity to sing for 4,000 people at the Beautycounter Leadership Summit in Minneapolis, which took place last weekend. Now, this child of mine has a fabulous voice, but she isn't a professional singer. She did a fair amount of singing at All Saints' Church as a child and played Guys and Dolls' Miss Adelaide in middle school. In high school she carried around a guitar around doing the Jewel and Sarah McLachlan thing. And I think she spent much of her 20's showcasing her pipes in Buckhead karaoke bars. But unless she has a secret showbiz life that I don't know about, this opportunity was somewhat unexpected.

Now, she could've said, "Y'all, I'm flattered, but why don't you go for Gaga or Justin Timberlake?" Or, "I'd love to, but I'm out of practice." Or, "Are you kidding me? What if I screw up? What if I disappoint everybody? What if I embarrass myself?"

But she said, "Yes." Bravely. Yes. Brene Brown would be so proud. But not as proud as Kate's mama. Heck, yeah, let's do this!

The whole thing was kept mostly under wraps. Only a few of us knew what was going on. She had a quick trip to NYC to get the arrangement down and do a little practicing. I think she had a run-through Wednesday before the Saturday performance, then had a dress rehearsal the morning of. She sent me a video of the rehearsal early afternoon, and I was blown away. I never doubted she could do it, but after watching what she'd sent, I knew she'd kill it.

And she did. She bravely took the stage and cut loose in front of 4,000 people, closing the conference with a bang.

What does this have to do with Mother's Day? Well, to me it has everything to do with all the makings of a good mama. It's no wonder a woman that brave is a wonderful mother, too. The example she sets every day for Liam and Charlotte demonstrates the courage and reward of saying "Yes." Even if unsure. Or nervous. Or stressed. Even if failure is an option. Say yes and give it all ya' got. Practice, practice, practice. (Study, study, study.)
Listen to your heart. Say yes to good things. Dream big. Be fearless even when fearful. Step out and sing your song.

Happy Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Appreciation? Not a Strong Enough Word for a Great Teacher.

It's Teacher Appreciation Day. If Facebook says it's so, it must be so. Having been taught by the best (and a few of the worst) and having headed up a high school classroom of my own, "appreciation" seems a pretty tame word for the glory, laud, and honor (and money) we owe teachers.

Let's get this out of the way first. Yes, there are crappy, mean, awful teachers, though I venture to guess there are far fewer of these than, say, the same crappy/mean/awful folks in politics, business, religion, and internet provider-world. Dedicated, knowledgeable, caring, passionate teachers far out-number the bad ones. And yes, I'm talking about public school teachers. They are, on the whole, amazing.

So on this Teacher Praise To High Heaven Day, I offer two personal reflections. One about the teacher who most influenced my life, and one about recent contact with a former student of mine.

She was young. She was pretty. She was smart. Sixth grade can be hard because all sorts of stuff is happening to you physically and emotionally. And 1962-63? The space race. Integration and civil rights. Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy vs Khrushchev were our headlines. Monster Mash, Sherry, and Surfin' Safari led Dick Clark's Top 10.

We were on the brink personally, nationally, and internationally. The perfect time for a teacher who demanded excellence, who asked questions about what we thought we knew and what we might need to explore further before being so all-fired sure about the answers, and who put up with our budding adolescent nonsense. She was 29 years old, and we helped celebrate her #30 in April 1963. That was our teacher, Marilyn Rushlow. Appreciation? Way bigger than that.

In the mid-90's I set out to find her. I wanted to reconnect to let her know what a force she'd been in my life. This was before the internet people-finding capabilities we have now, though I did employ The Chattanooga Public Library and CD-ROMs of old newspapers. (Obituaries are a goldmine of information, by the way). It was a process, but I did find her in Lompoc, California, where she was still teaching.

From that point on we stayed connected. I visited her in California. She and husband Dewey visited me in Atlanta and New York. I called her about every three months or so. There's so much more I can reflect on about her, but my heart is still too full.

Marilyn Rushlow Maxwell died April 19, just a couple of weeks after turning 85. Appreciation? Deep, deep, life-changing gratitude is more like it.

Late last year a former student of mine from Chattahoochee High School reached out to me via email. I'd taught Advanced Placement Government & Politics, US + International, and Lauren had been one of my students. Back in the early 2000's, we'd worked a lot on political and personal efficacy (sometimes I'm really low on both) and staying engaged in the system, even when you disagreed or things looked bleak.

Lauren reconnected with me because she believed that those lessons from almost 20 years ago had prepared her for this moment in time.

We were finally able to meet face-to-face last week. It's a new kind of relationship now. Much as I discovered with Marilyn, it's not teacher-student but adult-to-adult, and very gratifying. I'm happy to report Lauren has grown and traveled and put her writing ad marketing abilities to good use. She's also a hands-on political activist, working to ensure the future for her generation and those after her will be safer, cleaner, more civil. And "appreciation" for her reaching out, for putting her AP knowledge to work? How about "pride" and "hopeful," from me? It's one of the many pay-offs of teaching.

Which teachers changed your life? Which influenced the way you write a sentence, understand history, put science to work every day? I suspect "appreciation" doesn't even begin to cover it.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Where Do I Want To Go?

I'm suffering from a little bit of wanderlust. I want to go somewhere, but I don't know where. Not sure why this is getting under my skin, this need to go some place other than where I am. That I'm feeling the need to travel right now is a little strange since over the next three weeks I have trips to New York, San Antonio, and Austin.

But I want to go somewhere . . . else.

Maybe all I need is a few days in the mountains or a beach. But which mountains? Which beach?

Or a week or ten days in London. Or strike out for a place I've never been before. Copenhagen. Dubrovnik. Banff. Budapest. Perhaps an historical World War I nose around Ypres. The fjords - I've always wanted to see the fjords, so maybe Norway?

I travel alone so besides cost, I have to consider safety. And timing. It's a very busy year at work, so only a short trip if before July, but beyond mid-July a longer trip can be planned.

Ah, well. Maybe the feeling will pass.

Still. Natchez? Dublin? Venice?