Jennie Orvino’s Blog: Piece of Mind
I still read the daily newspaper in its inky, crinkly hard copy (later useful for wrapping compost for the yard waste bin and for winterizing garden beds under a layer of leaf mulch). Our local Press Democrat pulls enough from the New York Times and Washington Post to give me intellectual nourishment. So on balance to the devastating National Climate Assessment (released on the down-low the Friday after Thanksgiving) and headlines like “Trump’s Falsehoods Run the Gamut,” I offer glimmers of good news from my November 24 morning paper delivery:
NEW YORK—A state judge in Manhattan ruled Friday that a lawsuit by the New York state attorney general could proceed against President Donald Trump and the Trump Foundation over allegations of misused charitable assets, self-dealing and campaign finance violations during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Big Law” —a benign iteration of “Big Tobacco” and “Big Pharma”— described as a “nexus of power where partners are often plucked for top government posts” has emerged as a force working pro-bono to thwart the Trump administration’s immigration policies. From challenging the Muslim travel ban to fighting to preserve DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) to assisting nonprofits trying to block the administration’s plan to add a citizenship status question to the next U.S. census, these large firms have been “vocal and visible in pushing back.”
NEW YORK— Corporate lawyers from Paul Weiss (where partners charge more than $1,000 / hour and clients include the NFL and Citibank) have become involved with the ACLU to contact roughly 400 parents deported after being separated from their children at the border. As of this month, the government has released the children of about 260, half to parents in their home countries, half to sponsors in the United States.
Day by day, bit by bit.
We are required to use resources to combat horrible policies instituted by a maniacal Republican party when we should be putting brain power and resources to meet the existential threat climate change is posing today. See “What’s New in the Latest Climate Assessment” and Bill McKibben’s sobering article in The New Yorker, “Life on a Shrinking Planet.”
Still, the good news glimmers, even in a piece on robots being used to replace the shortage of immigrant farm workers. Here’s the last sentence: “Delicate fruit like peaches, plums and raspberries, as well as vegetables like asparagus and fennel, will remain labor intensive for the foreseeable future.”
Backbreaking work though it may be, people—for now—are still needed.
[10:15 – 2:15; 4:30 – 8]
A newspaper article on theories of why we sleep suggests humans need sleep to repair neural damage, and to assist in the process of integration we call learning. The research also showed that animals get less sleep when migrating, mothering, and hunting when food is scarce. In other words, sleep cycles respond to the demands of the organism within its environment. A baby growing and developing needs more sleep than a person who is mature. A human who is in the process of valuable work might not need as much shut-eye, in fact may be too excited to sleep.
While my ex-husband used to say “a good night’s sleep is a meal in itself,” sometimes I think that insomnia is a form of time management. I stay awake when there is creative work to be done or when my inner artist needs some input, like that enjoyable bedtime reading or excellent film that helps me dream better afterward.
Just before dawn, I finished Rose Tremain’s stunning novel, The Colour. The title refers to discovered gold, and the story takes place during the New Zealand gold rush in the latter half of the 19th century.
Watching Joseph’s shirts billowing in the wind…she felt no tenderness towards any clothes of his. Love, she thought, can be measured by what we feel for items of laundry.
That passage helped me remember a crush I had on a man whom I admired, who perhaps I wanted to be, because of his athletic grace, his charisma and ability to inspire students to excel beyond what they thought they were capable of. He hired me to clean his house, which I did only once, because picking up his biking shorts from the bedroom floor and running my fingers over the fabric filled me with a terrible longing.
[11:30 – 6:30 Yay!]
Now that I’m retired from a full-time j-o-b, irregular sleep is not so devastating to my health. I can nap, I can go back to bed early in the morning and sleep until 9. (Advantage of having a bedroom located opposite the sunrise). I appreciate the absolute quiet of those hours when only the graffiti artists are out. The neighborhood’s army of dogs is not barking (unlike now, when the Chihuahuas across the street are going nuts); the white noise of highways 12 and 101 is calmed; even the birds are asleep, at least until 4:30 when the true tweeting begins. I occasionally hear the neighbor’s cat clattering over the wooden gate to my outdoor shower—this I know from finding its long white hairs caught in the jagged tops of the irregular boards and the claw scratches halfway up. But otherwise, it’s pin-drop quiet.
On full moon nights, the silver light comes directly through the south-facing window at the head of my bed, and I have often given myself to moon-bathing. I open the blinds, or even raise them completely, and feel the beams on my face and body. If I’m open to it, this lunar energy feeds my right brain, just as tropical sunshine nourishes my left.
A month ago, my doctor ordered an Adrenocortex Stress Profile, for which I collected my saliva into a test tube every 4 hours for one day. This hormonal diagnostic “gives insight into the natural circadian diurnal cortisol rhythm, and helps clinicians address specific daily stressors.” If the results show abnormal spikes in cortisol (a chronic stress hormone) especially during the night, I could use a supplement called Cortisol Manager that will normalize the hormonal pattern over time and help me get a few more hours of sleep.
In the meantime, I’ve promised myself to continue to roll with the changes that come with age, and take advantage of the creative inspiration that may be found in those silent nights.
[Jet lag, Italy, 1997]
SLEEPLESS IN TUSCANY
I wish I were talking all night
with someone who wanted to know me
the way olive trees know the wind
or marble steps know the shuffle of pilgrims.
I would spread my lush table, course after course
and by some holy miracle, he would never say
(to be continued)
This is a piece I have been writing over time but is too long to publish all at once; a friend suggested “Why not offer it in parts? After all, the story is ongoing.” The dates and times in parens are from my sleep log.
When I ask women friends over age 55 if they have trouble sleeping, almost everyone says yes. Hormones? In the menopausal years, night sweats did not trouble me. I experienced only what I called bitch-in-heat “power surges” — embarrassing flushing and burning that started when I was in my late 40s and continued for decades longer that I thought they would, often exacerbated by stress. Mine is not the insomnia in which one can’t fall asleep. No, this is conking out exhausted and waking up three or four hours later. I know 3 a.m. better than midnight.
[12/12: 10:34–2:30; 4:15–8]
My doctor advises keeping a worry journal. “Use the writing to empty your mind and then close the book on it.” Other suggestions? Put Bach Flower Rescue Remedy drops under the tongue. Make the room vary dark. Cover up the clock. Keep your feet warm with a hot water bottle or wool socks. Get a new mattress and pillow. Check out the feng shui of the bed. Have a protein snack (not a big meal) to keep blood sugar levels up until breakfast. Don’t drink caffeine for eight hours before bedtime, or alcohol in the evening, or any liquids two hours before turning in. Get plenty of exercise, but again, not right before bed. Try meditation and breathing techniques: think heavy, think floating, think cool forehead/ warm solar plexus. Take sleep supplements: Valerian, Kava, Melatonin. Read, but avoid a novel that makes you want to keep turning pages. And my favorite—but not always effective—last resort: masturbate. I wish there were a lovelier-sounding word for it.
My walking companion suggests getting up and doing mindless chores like washing dishes or checking email; she once put on a headlamp and pulled weeds in her garden at 4 a.m. I’ll admit to making granola or minestrone in the wee hours, especially in the winter when an oven-warmed kitchen soothes. But leaving my bed usually means I won’t return to it until mid afternoon when I’m compelled to take a cat nap to keep going until the next bedtime.
[12/18: 10–3:30; nap 2–4]
“This is a Manhattan-bound Q train; next stop Prospect Park.” Every twenty minutes all the Brooklyn night, I heard her voice as the doors opened to the subway platform, above ground here at Parkside Station. Even with the 4th floor apartment windows closed, the automated announcements are loud and clear. It was my first night trying to sleep on the blow-up mattress next to my infant grandson’s crib. Theodore Joseph, only two months old, was sleeping in a bassinette in his parents’ room so I had his space to myself for this Christmas visit. Each time the doors closed and the train pulled away, there followed a predictable clackety clackety clack…pause…clack! Accompanied by steam radiator hiss, it would have been an interesting jazz riff, if not designed to drive the listener mad. I thought of turning on the baby’s “Sleep Sheep” cuddle toy and putting the sounds of ocean waves or momma’s heart beat next to my ear.
[11:30-–2:30, read until 4:45; woke up twice until 6:15]
So goes my sleep diary.
I’m re-reading D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. As a young teen, I’d found the infamous paperback in my Aunt Marie’s magazine rack and happened to turn to a page where I saw the word “fuck” used with tenderness. It was my first experience of written erotica, the moment I learned that words had the power to make parts of my body ache. Even the lady, Constance, desires the protection and bliss of sleep:
What did it matter who he was, in the daytime world! Now he was the silent male who enclosed her in the phallic circle, and she was like the yolk of the egg, enclosed. She wanted only, only to be perfectly enclosed, to be perfectly comforted, to be perfectly put to sleep.
I’ve known since I was a girl that having an orgasm is a great way to relax enough to fall asleep. And yet, a body next to me after years of solo nights is as effective as black tea chai in the evening. Slumber is banished.
[Midnight – 3:30 only]
I am lying on a satin-covered futon behind a partition made of mirrors. A palm-leafed plant, a low table, and a tall brass candlestick complete the “wall” to my right; on my left, a glass sliding door covered floor-to-ceiling with strings of red crystal beads is open to the outside deck. The man beside me is snoring softly, his mouth closed and turned up at the corners as if smiling at a pleasant dream. I’ve been awake for a while listening to the sounds of wings flapping. Birds come in one window, peck at the pile of seeds dumped on a newspaper in the middle of a once-elegant corduroy sofa, and fly out another window. The air is fresh, but I smell the promise of another day of intense heat.
Moonlight glitters through a lattice of oak branches into this crazy rural hideaway of an old friend, a musician, I’d driven 65 miles to see. It had been 18 years since our last intimacy. We are both nearing sixty with several relationships under our belts, each of us with blonde hair mixed with gray, each sporting a little more belly than when we first met. On this August day, we played like kids on his wave-runner at the lake. I clung to his back like a motorcycle chick as he maneuvered in zigzags and ever-decreasing circles that made me squeal. Spray flew over us, water birds ducked under as we passed.
“When it’s 100 degrees out, you’re happy to fall in a few times,” he shouted after a sliding turn that almost dumped me off.
By some standards, including my own, this old house where I’ve agreed to spend the night, is beyond unconventional and “artistic.” It is unkempt, cluttered, and the bathroom is, for lack of a better description, filthy. The place is littered with sound equipment and numerous guitars, a saxophone and flute in their cases, statues of the Buddha and many-armed goddesses. Ashtrays overflow with remains of the mellifluous “buds” we’ve always enjoyed together, and which he promised would allow me a relaxed night filled with colorful dreams. I partook of the smoke and the sex…all lovely. Yet in spite of many hours of sun and swimming, the dry, mosquito-less weather and not a hint of traffic noise, I fail to fall asleep.
(Continued in next post)
Last night, I woke up just after midnight and couldn’t go back to sleep. I decided long ago to stop resisting my biological quirks and make good use of my insomniac time. So first, I read a fascinating article in the November 12 New Yorker by Atul Gawande “The Upgrade: Why doctors hate their computers.” You may have heard of this surgeon/author because of his frequent presence in the New Yorker and non-fiction best sellers, including Being Mortal and Complications.
Having seen my own doctors tapping away at their computers during my appointments, and having appreciated the convenience of communicating with them by email, I hadn’t thought much about the topic. But the new wave of medical software, it seems, has given our docs even more work and stress, and disempowered those (often female) medical office assistants who used to help take the burden off. One such office assistant, Jessica Jacobs in Gawande’s own practice, said that each new software upgrade reduced her role and shifted more onto the physicians.
“It’s a sort of ‘stay in your lane’ kind of thing. Office assistants have different screens and are not trained or authorized to use the one doctors have. You can’t learn more from the system. You can’t take on extra responsibilities. All I can do is go after the help desk thirteen times.” Well worth reading, and much more interesting in my view, than recent New Yorker fiction.
Then about 3 a.m., I reached for my phone and ear buds and clicked onto the PBS Frontline website to check on a recommendation from a friend: a 2-hour special report from October titled “Trump’s Showdown.”
I had recently watched Frontline’s 2-part “The Facebook Dilemma”and recommended it on Facebook, but hadn’t had a chance to communicate with the followers of my blog about it. Both of these reports were brilliant, and intersected around the topic of Russian trolls and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Trump’s Showdown” kept me enthralled and engaged more than any fiction movie in recent memory. I follow the news pretty closely but I saw astounding clips of Trump and his minions vs. respected journalists that I had never seen, and after 2020, hope never to see again. The Frontline documentary was aired prior to the mid term elections, some of the predictions by reporters and government talking heads are already coming true.
I recommend watching PBS’s “Trump’s Showdown” (available free online) as soon as you can, and preferably with others since there is much to discuss. Even if you only have time to watch it in the middle of the night, it is worth your attention. This true tale is much better and more engaging than fiction.
It has been hard for me to think about anything but the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at the Judiciary Committee, the partisan, angry reaction of the Supreme Court nominee himself, and the extremely inappropriate sputterings of the Judiciary Committee Chair and certain of his Republican colleagues. I’ve coped mainly by following the comedians. Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah of The Daily Show and Seth Meyers have been relentlessly funny, as was Saturday Night Live.
Also intense, but heartening, was the confrontation between sexual assault survivors and Senator Jeff Flake in the elevator (“Look at me when I’m speaking to you!”) that may have accounted for the expanded FBI investigation into Dr. Ford’s sexual assault allegation. (I believe you, Christine.)
However…. the reason for today’s post is to recommend highly a 2017 film I’ve seen just recently. Mark Felt –The Man Who Brought Down the White House, starring Liam Neeson and directed by Peter Landesman, is a “biopic thriller” about the source known as “Deep Throat” who gave Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein their inside information on the Nixon/Watergate break-in scandal. Brilliant acting, expert cinematography and high production values combine to make this a fine work of art as well as an important piece of history.
Mark Felt was living with his daughter in my own town, Santa Rosa, CA, when he revealed his identity in a Vanity Fair article in 2005. This was more than 30 years after he “blew the whistle” that helped force President Nixon’s resignation. (“I am not a crook.”)
Can those of you who stream movies see the “DVD extras”? If not, you’re being cheated, because the interview with the director of Mark Felt is full of insight and information. Peter Landesman notes, “Real superheroes are quiet and often unsung. This happens the world over. I wanted Felt to be given his proper place in history as a man trying to find a way to get the truth out. This is a story of self-sacrifice and heroism in the face of massive government corruption.”
I can only wonder about the stories that will be told about 2018 by writers and film directors decades from now.
Last night, our local North Bay Media Channel 22, KRCB TV aired an enlightening one-hour special by renowned travel icon, and darling of PBS pledge drives, Rick Steves. You can see it online and I recommend you do so ASAP.
I’ve enjoyed Steves’ talks in person and have read his terrific book, Travel as a Political Act. Here’s why he produced this special:
“The Story of Fascism in Europe” — while chillingly engaging and thrilling to watch — also has a practical purpose: to help us learn from Europe’s experience and to show how, even today, would-be autocrats follow the same playbook in their attempts to derail democracies. It’s a case study in how fear and angry nationalism can be channeled into evil; and how our freedoms and democracies are not indestructible…in fact, they are fragile.
I was a little sketchy on history following World War I. This program educated me about how Mussolini (striking resemblance to POTUS DJT in some of his facial expressions and body postures) rose to power in Italy, and about the factors that contributed to Hitler’s dictatorship and bloody war-making.
Not just food for thought, a whole banquet.
The whole script is online as well.
Next week I’m traveling to 50th anniversary events celebrating the Milwaukee 14—peace activists who burned draft files in September 1968, stood waiting for arrest, and then orchestrated a political trial to call attention to the atrocities of the Vietnam War. (See my blog post of 8/20/18). I dropped out of graduate school to work on the defense committee for “the 14,” and wrote about those times in my book, Poetry, Politics and Passion. I will be reading from that memoir at a music and poetry tribute on September 23. Below is one of the pieces for that performance.
[September 5, 1995] When the earth’s plates shift and slide, the best place to feel it is lying on a thin foam pad in a two-person tent beside an autumn creek, under California live oaks and fragrant pines. The morning paper’s headline pronounced it a 4.8 quake, and the breakfast chatter among the campers turned to jokes. “Did the earth move for you too?”
Scanning the newspaper below the fold, I felt a seismic tremble in my chest. At bottom right front page was his picture, glasses perched on disheveled gray hair, lips parted in argument. “Radical lawyer, William Moses Kunstler, dead of heart failure at age 76.” Images from another September, 27 years before, rushed back.
Our relationship began with an exchange of intense looks in the County Building elevator on the day he arrived to take over as the Milwaukee 14’s lead attorney, partnering with our respected local lawyer. I ignored rumors that said Kunstler was just that kind of Movement celebrity who had a sweetheart in every city. Even if he did, he was so attentive and present when we were together that I didn’t mind. I remember eyes deep as dreams under his bony brows, a high forehead and receding hairline with gray only in his sideburns, his full lips, and a voice that lavished the New York vowels. He was erudite and literary, full of noir humor just shy of sarcasm; his casual conversation peppered with fuck this and what-the-fuck. My housemates teased me about his name, always saying “Kunt-slur,” never “Bill.” When the legal team came to town, we always stayed up late, strategizing, drinking cheap beer, planning events to raise money for the defense of “the 14” and organizing for their trial.
I visualize clearly my third floor bedroom in the 40’s-built house on 21st Street, not far from Marquette University. My headboard with its curves and vertical bars is positioned against the window at the peak of the eaves. Elms not yet blighted and acorn-rich oaks rustle and let go their leaves. I am lying back on a white chenille bedspread, wearing the sleeveless red outfit that confirmed my identity in the front-page Milwaukee Journal photo of my near arrest. Bill lifts my skirt above my waist and lays his cheek on my belly. For some moments, he strokes the white cotton of my panties, then hooking two fingers under the waistband, slips the garment down and off as easily as a magician pulls a string of scarves from a tea cup. . . No one’s face had been between my legs before.
My scrapbook of memory opens to random clippings: Bill singing on the subway and reciting Chaucer in a Mexican restaurant called The Alamo; a flurry of letter-opening (envelopes with return addresses showing names like H. Rap Brown and Bertrand Russell) and wild tossing of junk mail into his office wastebasket. The time he called me at home in the early spring of 1971. When I told him I was married and had a baby daughter, Bill laughed his show-off’s laugh and teased, “Does she look like me?”
For more than two decades after that, somewhere on radio or television I’d hear news of him still working, still stirring it up. And growing more puzzling, even to his fans, for the controversial figures he defended. Leafing through an anthology of photos by the renowned Annie Liebovitz, I discovered her portrait of him sitting on a bench in Central Park, careless and crumpled as an old professor. When he played the judge in Spike Lee’s 1992 movie, Malcolm X, Bill quipped, “I’m a method actor, you see, although I don’t know what method.”
One obituary labeled William Kunstler “a defender of the despised” who was himself either an egotist whose “political sympathies bordered on the promiscuous” or a charismatic champion of human rights. He may have been both―the embodiment of the intense upheaval of the era, with its paradoxes, shocks and aftershocks.
I am an avid film fan, but much of my watching these days is on TV or computer screen, so my reactions and reviews tend to come later than a film’s release. Such is the case with The Greatest Showman, which I’ve enjoyed several times over the past week, including the excellent “extras” which reveal so much. It’s advertised as a “musical biopic of P.T. Barnum and his creation of the three-ring circus,” but is a fully-realized, beautifully-directed musical spectacle that combines its period setting with the best in costuming, makeup, and choreography.
The film was in my DVD queue because I adore Hugh Jackman, and because I had seen YouTube clips of what became the Oscar-winning best original song of 2018, “This is Me” (music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). The first video I’m referencing here is an interview with director Michael Gracey and the singer, Keala Settle who performs the song as the Bearded Lady.
The next clip is the lyric video which facilitates sing-alongs for this uplifting anthem for society’s “oddities” and an assertion of identity for all of us.
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
There are plenty of tangents online once you start investigating The Greatest Showman: for example, this interview with Paul Sparks who plays the curmudgeon newspaper critic in the film.
A couple of the dance numbers, like the rooftop romp with Jackman and Michelle Williams, and the romantic duet between Zach Efron and Zandaya that moves from rolling on the sawdusted floor to flying through the air of the big top, are, well, a cure for cynicism.
OK, it’s a 2017 film, but see it and enjoy it.
September 9, today, is the anniversary of the 1971 prison uprising at Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, NY. I was reminded of this in several ways. First, I re-watched the documentary William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe to prepare for attending the reunion of the Milwaukee 14 anti-war activists coming up this month. Kunstler was the lawyer for this group of clergy and lay people who burned draft files in 1968, and also one of the negotiators for the prisoners at Attica. See the film clip here.
Second, I became aware of the nationwide prison strike that began August 21 and was to continue through today. The demands of this current-day action, listed on the website of Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, are uncannily similar to the demands of the prisoners at Attica 47 years ago: an end to prison slavery and fair compensation for work; access to education and the ability to receive Pell Grants; an end to the censorship of reading material; denial of rehabilitation services; denial voting rights, excessive use of solitary confinement and more.
39 people were killed during the brutal crackdown at Attica that Kunstler and others had sought to avoid—29 inmates and 10 hostages (originally reported killed by inmates, but later proved to be killed by the bullets of the National Guard and police.) The videos I reference here are graphic and heartbreaking, including footage I had never seen of surrendering inmates stripped naked, forced to crawl through the mud of the yard amidst the dead bodies of their fellows and then run a gauntlet of guards who beat them and yelled “white power!”
I don’t need to say that a majority of those killed and incarcerated were African American, and like today, many of them were involved in political movements of the era. (See interview with former prisoner, in “Attica Uprising 40 years later” by The Nation.)
The U.S. prison population has grown to 6.9 million people either in prison, on parole, or on probation. Anniversaries are often a time of reflection, and I’ll admit, this is not a celebratory occasion. Hopefully, with reportage and communication better now than decades ago, those folks who read my blog will make the connection between the prisoners of Attica and those of today.
I’ve always disliked the fact that Jeff Bezos chose the name Amazon for his new online source for buying books (Remember that? It was 1994). I felt it profaned the mythological tribe of fierce warrior women, or even the name of the great South American river. I also worked for a women’s newspaper called Amazon during the 1970s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was poetry editor for Amazon Quarterly, a feminist journal of the same era.
In recent years, I’ve had other reasons to be ambivalent about the company, which helped drive many local bookstores out of business, and grew to be a monopoly whose tentacles reached almost daily into our lives. (See article “Amazon Doesn’t just Want to Dominate the Market, It Wants to Become the Market”)
From ordering toys my grandson wanted, costumes for dance, or music I couldn’t find elsewhere, and as a source for books (including several of my own), I have been a somewhat cautious customer. In 2017, I so much wanted to watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” that I subscribed to Amazon Prime for only a month so I could binge-watch that amazing comedy.
But I think I’ve come to the end of my Amazon.com affair. It’s not just that it has become the second publicly traded company to hit $1 trillion in market value, and that Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world (increasing by $250 million a day). It’s that with so much incomprehensible wealth, the behemoth enterprise pays its warehouse workers so little they need to apply for federal health care aid and food stamps. And there have been ongoing strikes worldwide. In an interview with Amy Goodman, James Bloodworth, describes his time working undercover as a “picker” in an Amazon order fulfillment center, where he found workers were urinating in bottles because they were discouraged from taking bathroom breaks for efficiency’s sake.
This week Bernie Sanders is partnering with prominent House progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) on the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act, which would enact a tax on large corporations equal to the federal benefits their low-wage employees receive in order to make ends meet. This would apply not only to Amazon, in spite of the acronym, but also such companies as Walmart and others whose low pay makes it necessary for employees to apply for government aid. The Sanders bill would require that the government be paid back for subsidizing these companies’ huge profits.
Wouldn’t it be easier, and better for the economy, to raise the wages of those who made Amazon great? Something to think about when you’re about to hit that “order with one click” button.