Jennie Orvino’s Blog: Piece of Mind
Being single for more than 25 years gives me, I think, credentials to talk about Valentine’s Day in terms of self-love.
Whether I’m writing a poem about romantic possibilities:
We could be celestial
as the choir I heard in San Gimignano
the highest pure note from a boy.
You are a room full of light.
When I walk in, I want to pray.
Or remembering a marriage that worked for a while:
Nobody’s key fits my lock the way yours does, baby.
Nobody’s key sounds so welcome late at night.
Nobody kisses like the end of the world, baby.
Nobody unlocks me the way you do.
My go-to when February 14 rolls around is to relive the scenario in my slam poem, “If You Want Something Done Right.” Here are a few lines:
. . . As a girl, I made a fold of silky panties
and finding the pleasure spot, ruffled it
until the blood swelled into a pebble of sensation.
As a woman, I learned to touch bare flesh,
the wet of it, the hair or shaved of it,
the deep rose pink of it. . .
But self-love is not merely a physical act, it’s an attitude of being.
It’s what inspired me to gift myself a gold band with a tiny diamond, along with a bouquet of yellow roses, eight years post-divorce. I spent that Valentine’s evening before my fireplace writing down and burning every thought of being unlucky or unworthy of love.
It’s what makes me say to my body when it hurts, “What are you trying to tell me with this pain?” It’s what I say when I stop paying attention and have to bring myself back to awareness: “I love you Jennie. I love you Jennie” over and over.
Today I researched how to broil a lobster tail with garlic butter and served it to myself as a pre-Valentine’s Day lunch, lemon wedge on the side. (I’m grateful I have a lunch to eat, as hundreds of thousands of my fellow humans do not.)
I urge you, whether you have a current sweetheart or none, and with whatever level of passion your life contains, to remember every person or pet who has ever loved you, and all whom you have loved. These interactions have helped create the complexity of you. And that person you are, however imperfect, is loveable. Right now, look in the mirror and say so.
When I was researching a feature article for North Bay biz magazine in 2022, I learned that 80% of the U.S. population will experience low back pain in their lifetime. Since then, as I have shared my head and neck ache experience with others, I’ve learned how debilitating such chronic pain can be. It makes us crabby, discouraged, often mystified, as causes and cures elude both the sufferer and the practitioners from whom we seek help. When the condition goes on, by definition for more than six months, pain signals remain in the nervous system even when there is no apparent injury or body damage.
At the end of last summer, a Redwood Writers essay contest became the impetus for me to describe—and hopefully find insight about—my personal “Pain in the Neck.” Here is an edited version of Part 1 of this story. In Part II will share my ongoing journey with Freedom from Headaches in 2024.
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The trouble is, everyone says I look fantastic—healthy and confident, with my “unapologetic white hair blowing in the breeze.” What they can’t see is that I haven’t awakened even one morning since August of 2022 without pain sharp as a Cupid’s arrow shot through my right occipital bone and out the top of my head. When I lie on my side, the sensation in my skull is like the pinching of a too-small shoe.
Once up and about, aided by 400 mg of ibuprofen (plus a capsule of Super Milk Thistle to help support my beleaguered liver), I feel almost normal. Playing pickleball for a couple of hours or cooking up something fine is the most effective and joy-filled distraction for what is called “cervicogenic headache.” But the true definition? A pain in the neck.
Sometime in April of 2022, I woke up feeling like my head wasn’t screwed on right. After weeks of appointments with my long-time chiropractor without relief, I decided to see a physical therapist who had helped a friend return to ballroom dancing after breaking both her elbows.
From the first on-screen interview, the therapist observed that my neck was out of whack, and offered me a summer’s worth of friends-and-family discounts. The exercises I learned and the heat-and-stim treatments at the end of each session were relaxing and mildly helpful, but even with the price break, private treatment was financially unsustainable. I took the suggestion to ask my Kaiser Permanente physician to refer me to in-house physical therapy which would be covered by my insurance.
As summer turned to fall, I began to lose the thread of hope previous treatments and targeted exercises offered. The neck pain morphed into a nightly headache. It was more a pain than an ache and it was there every time I woke up in the middle of the night and was there every morning, only subsiding if I sat up or left my bed and did something to distract.
Near Thanksgiving, when I called my daughter in tears after a miserable night, she insisted I go back to my primary care doctor and ask for more help. Dr. W. had previously ordered a cervical spine x-ray which only showed “normal degeneration due to age.” Now she proposed an MRI of my head—to rule out anything serious.
The Christmas MRI indicated nothing abnormal. I was then referred to a neurologist who advised trying a headache prevention drug—Topiramate. Against my better judgement, I studied the pamphlet of possible side effects: “serious eye problems, like glaucoma” “metabolic acidosis that can cause osteoporosis” “problems with concentration, memory or speech.” I noticed that “suicidal thoughts or actions” applied to one in 500 patients.
I didn’t like those odds, but nonetheless, I began the prescribed dosage: one Topiramate tablet the first week, two the second week, and the next week three per night. By this point in the process, nothing at all had changed regarding my pain, but I felt ever less like myself. On the twenty-first night of ingesting this drug, which I was told could take two or three months to work, panic and desolation washed over me. When I tried to write myself down from the dark feelings, I toppled my desktop monitor onto my keyboard. A series of hairline cracks exploded across the bottom third of my iMac screen. “That’s it!” I said out loud to the disarray on my desk, and spent the next three weeks weaning myself off the meds—three, two, one.
I suffered headaches from my teen years to menopause, with some decades worse than others. Like my mother and grandmother before me, I was afflicted for days at a time, often with nausea and sensitivity to light. My younger brother, too, had migraines that were intense and for which he’d inject himself in the thigh with DHE (dihydroergotamine). He outgrew the headaches and is left with “old guy’s complaints” to replace the stress-induced migraines of his career as a surgical nurse. My headaches, considered tension rather than true migraines, also subsided with age. However, this latest pain is more stubborn and requires a lot more of me than getting a prescription or a jab. I have to change the way I relate to, and listen to, my body.
Jubilación is the Spanish word for retirement; it implies a joyous celebration, the ticking off of items on a bucket list. At 77, I’m supposed to use my accumulated IRA nest egg to travel, like those smiling Facebook friends who post their pics of Yosemite Falls, Italy’s Amalfi Coast, tango dancers on Paris streets, and vistas of Loch Lomond. Yet, there I was, tapping my credit card from February through April for 14 appointments with a new chiropractor, spending $553 on acupuncture that was fascinating but didn’t relieve my neck pain, and visiting an osteopathic physician who claimed the $1,500 fee was justified by a knack for diagnosing tough cases.
The osteopath’s most useful observation was that I walked with my head jutting forward and suggested I try keeping my body centered above my feet, or even a bit behind my feet. (I visualized the Robert Crumb Comix of the 1970s, with big-thighed women characters and hipster dudes whose booted feet stretched way out ahead of their bodies as they strode through the colored panels.) This advice, which did not affect the nightly throbbing, did have postural benefits. I began to notice and correct my head position each time I sat at my computer, and bought a footstool to help increase overall relaxation at my desk.
Talk therapy sessions, targeted massage, and special treats like a day at Bliss Spa have brought me respite enough to live my life as I continue to search for both causes and cure. People are anxious to help and many a conversation begins with the words “Have you tried___?” I’m persistent, curious and determined to find answers, so I remain open to options.
My newest health practitioner, a therapist and biofeedback training coach, has explained that the headache solution is not something someone else does to me but a process I control for myself. A lifetime of sloppy posture and decades of laboring at a computer often unconscious of ergonomics, has caused my muscles to tighten into a constant state of “flight or fight,” unable to relax completely. The practice I have embarked on, (and it is a practice like meditation or training for a competitive sport) is a combination of gentle stretching, abdominal breathing and learning how to loosen my jaw and drop my shoulders. I am daily teaching my intense and driven self to cultivate a habit of relaxation. And ironically, my coach says, “As with studying the discipline of certain martial arts, what you are doing is not doing.”
Back in the 1980s, I had an oversized white sweatshirt with black block letters six inches high that spelled R-E-L-A-X. I was wearing it on holiday in the town of Mendocino when my companion took a photo of me posed in front of a parked yellow Mercedes 350SL convertible. My face was flushed pink and my hair fell in damp ringlets since we’d just spent several hours at a hot tub resort. That photo now hangs in the bedroom of my mind’s eye, reminding me in life and on this ongoing health journey: “Relax, Jennie. Let your entire body go.”
[Photo 1 by Mike Orvino. Photo 2 by Adrian Mendoza.]
Never has the need for Peace on Earth been more acute than now, in December 2023. I sat down to write my Winter Solstice letter, but the following thoughts came out instead. Fortunately, I still have a time before “the longest night” to get my winter missive done.
I met my first Palestinians when I was a college freshman attending a National Education Association convention in 1968. These young men told the story of their family homes being bulldozed by Israeli Defense Forces. When their families rebuilt, the houses were destroyed again and they were forced to become refugees.
Fast forward to March 2003, when I had my first (photographic) sighting of IDF D9 armored bulldozers (American-made by Caterpillar) as they transformed Palestinian neighborhoods into what looked like open-sided doll houses, their walls scraped away, furniture and belongings strewed willy-nilly. Often there were nasty epithets in Hebrew scrawled on the ruins. Rachel Corrie, an activist raised in Olympia, Washington, and a member of the International Solidarity Movement, was 23 years old that year when she was crushed to death by one of these behemoth machines. Rachel was on a mission to protect a home in the West Bank town of Rafah from destruction. Like almost every attempt to hold Israel responsible for the deaths of Palestinian defenders, including many journalists, medics, and non-violent marchers (see the Gaza border protests in 2018-2019), the courts did not find the government responsible.
I have been following the Israel/Palestine issue for much of my adult life. I hosted film screenings in my home during some of the four previous “mowing the lawn” bombings of Gaza by Israel: in 2008-9 (23 days); in 2012 (8 days); in 2014 (50 days); in 2021 (11 days). The top three of these documentaries are Occupation 101, Roadmap to Apartheid and The Occupation of the American Mind.
The latter film is narrated by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and produced by The Media Education Foundation. It explains Israel’s other war, the public relations war even now being successfully waged to counter its transgressions of international law and justify its actions in the eyes of the world. (These violations include building settlements in occupied territories; an apartheid social and political system; and most horrendous, using denial of food, water, shelter, medicine as a weapon of war in the past and present blockade of Gaza.)
This PR campaign may explain some of your own opinions, and the demonstrable values of the Netanyahu-hugging Joe Biden.
I do not know the U.S. President’s heart, but I do know his actions are a disgrace in light of—to date—nearly 19,000 dead in Gaza (more than half of them children and not including violence in the West Bank at the hands of armed settlers), tens of thousands injured, unknown numbers buried under rubble and now a million and a half internally displaced individual, who cannot flee because of closed borders.
Biden asks of (not demands from) Israel, and in spite of no response, he sends more tank shells, sidestepping the usual Congressional channels and ignoring laws that forbid the U.S. from providing weapons used to commit genocide.
Our local newspaper, The Press Democrat, printed my “Cease Fire” letter to the editor even though they removed my emphasis on the FACT OF ISRAELI OCCUPATION which is the biggest reason for Palestinian resistance and the popularity of Hamas. According to the Associated Press (December 15, 2023), a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 44% of respondents in the occupied West Bank said they supported Hamas, up from 12% in September. In Gaza, the militants enjoyed 42 percent support, up from 38 percent three months ago. According to this current Guardian article, the support is far higher as a result of the death and devastation being wrought by Israel’s revenge.
For two months I have been unable sit down at my desk to blog about Gaza and my history with the issue of Israel/Palestine. I’ve relied on posting the many outstanding interviews I’ve seen on Democracy Now during this time. I’ve also donated today to our local treasure, KPFA listener- sponsored radio which has also been outstanding in its coverage, including the Bay Area protests and national protests (especially of Jewish peace activists) of the unfolding ethnic cleansing/genocide of the Palestinian people. Today, the U.S. Administration circumvented Congress to send tank shells to Israel because they are running out! Yesterday, the U.S. was the lone member of the United Nations security council to vote against a cease fire FOR THE THIRD TIME. I’ve copied my Facebook post here and hope to continue with my commentary in the coming days. I just needed a little more courage and heart.
JENNIE ORVINO FACEBOOK FEED 12-10-23: My local newspaper has published today the letter I wrote three weeks ago, which I titled “Israeli Occupation” and which the editor titled “Cease-fire in Gaza.” The Palestinian death toll quoted in my letter as 12,000 has increased to 17,700 (more than half children), and nearly 50,000 injured.
The rest of the 1.5 million internally displaced (their neighborhoods totally destroyed) are in danger of dying from severe wounds and infection with no sanitation, medical supplies including anesthetic, and with many medical personnel among the dead. With Israel cutting off food, water, electricity, and internet communications and then closing all Gaza’s borders, you might say the IDF is bombing and shooting fish in a barrel. I have copied my letter to the Press Democrat below putting in brackets what was edited out. I expect it will show up at pressdemocrat.com in a couple of days.
History did not begin on October 7 when Israel began its air strikes on Gaza, [an enclave the size of Portland, Oregon, but with four times the number of people]. This land, under siege for 16 years, and also the West Bank (where settlers have killed hundreds of Palestinians [living there in just the last six weeks] is occupied by Israel. [The word seldom seen in mainstream media is “Occupation.”]
Israel controls Gaza borders, has total control of shipments of food aid and medical supplies, can turn off the electricity that runs water pumps, sewage plants, bakeries, life support systems. [It is not letting in fuel that powers generators and can turn off Internet and other communications in Gaza by flipping a switch.] Without regard for where hostages might be, or giving in to any demands for prisoner exchanges, Israel has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians, half of them children, [and is now conducting a ground operation against a hospital which holds so many dead bodies they can’t be buried.]
Do [the] Palestinians have an air force, American-made munitions, tanks, bulldozers? Has any Israeli high rise been reduced to rubble? Even to call this a “war” is not quite accurate because in a war, one side can negotiate terms for surrender.
Cease Fire. Make a hostage deal. And hope the U.S. will stop enabling war crimes or it/we too are complicit and guilty.
I visited Beer Baron with a friend on a recent late afternoon and enjoyed a Henhouse hazy IPA called “Language Creates Reality.” (Excellent). That moniker reminded me of a news report I’d heard earlier about the dairy industry’s appeal to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for guidance on “The Labeling of Plant-Based Milk Alternatives (PBMA).”
It seems that when the agency solicited public comment (over 13,000 received) “consumers generally understand that PBMA do not contain milk and choose PBMA because they are not milk.” My emphasis added.
There are nutritional differences between dairy milk and soy milk, oat milk, and other PBMAs. However, it was not clear that the dairy industry wanted nutritional comparisons on a label. My sense is that dairy producers would prefer that PBMAs not use the word “milk” on their packaging at all. (This controversy came up locally in a 2021 lawsuit by Miyoko Creamery, a company that produces plant-based butter and cheese, against the California Department of Food and Agriculture.)
Imagine that instead of going into the local coffee bar and ordering a soy latte, you’d have to say, “I’d like a latte with soybeans processed to resemble a dairy beverage” or “I’d like a coffee foamed with almonds (cashews)(macadamia nuts) pulverized with water to resemble the extract from a cow’s mammaries.” Starbucks (and so many others) would be severely inconvenienced by having to change and expand their menu boards.
And could we even say “latte”? (In Italian, latte=milk… not “dairy milk” according to my Living Language Italian-English dictionary.) Which goes to my point: LIVING LANGUAGE.
The way we speak and understand is ever evolving through language, which is ever evolving. I think the word “milk” can be safely applied to anything with characteristics one could call milky.
Maybe we don’t want to consume animal products (a topic for another time), but don’t we crave certain textures, colors, a thick and sensual liquidity that can be understood with the shorthand of these four letters: M I L K ?
Dairy industry leaders, please give us consumers some credit! NPR has a whole program on this use of “milk.” See “No Cow Needed: Oat and Soy Can be Called Milk, FDA Proposes” The article notes that “Fortified soy milk is the only plant-based food included in the dairy category of U.S. dietary guidelines because of its nutrient levels.”
Public comment is open through April 23, 2023, on docket number FDA-2023-D-0451 at this website. You can weigh in on the Guidelines for Labeling PBMAs, or simply just think about how language usage can transform meaning and, (as the Henhouse Brewery beer notes), “create reality.”
P.S. In the past, lawmakers in dairy states have tried to get bills passed that would require the FDA to enforce a federal standard that defines “milk” as the product of “milking one or more healthy cows.” This reminds me of the push for a definition of marriage as “only between a man and a woman.” Again, a topic for another time.
In the weeks from Thanksgiving to the eve of New Year’s Eve, circumstances have allowed me to watch more movies than usual. Taking advantage of a first month free subscription to Hulu, I was able to follow up on the 4-out-of-4-star reviews of Good Luck to You Leo Grande. For two and a half viewings.
The always-wonderful Emma Thompson and gorgeous to look at and listen to Daryl MacCormack, tell an intimate story with a big payoff—nothing less than a woman’s erotic coming of age. After years of perfunctory non-orgasmic marital relations, this sixty-something widow, pseudonym Nancy, has hired a sex worker, pseudonym Leo, for a hotel room tryst.
With wry comedy and touching authenticity, they create a relationship over several encounters, including conflicts and surprises. The woman asks for what she wants (down to a creating a written list of never-before experiences) and a compassionate and expert professional facilitates her desires. But ultimately, Nancy learns that she is responsible for her own pleasure, her own big O.
It’s a shame this female directed and written twist on the rom-com is not more easily accessible, but you can read an accurate review in 50 Best Movies on Hulu and find a discussion about it on Joan Price’s blog. Watch Leo Grande trailers here.
I don’t know what the fictional Nancy paid for Leo’s company, but I would gladly run up a considerable tab to have an evening with such a lover. I’ve thought of this possibility a lot over my 23 years of living single. More from sex educator Joan Price: “She wants transactional sex with a man who prioritizes her pleasure, who will serve her without his own agenda, and whose youthful appearance will turn her on.” Sounds good to me.
The next film I wanted to check out before the Hulu free trial ended was I’m Your Man, a German language film directed by Maria Schrader, starring Dan Stevens (British actor you might know from Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast) and Maren Eggert; it explores technology as a balm for loneliness and as a source of intimacy. This topic has been treated before in such films 2013’s Her.
I was interested in I’m Your Man because of the premise: Alma, a researcher at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin agrees to be part of a three-week program where she will advise for or against the ethics of a new technology—the creation of lifelike robots algorithmically programmed to be one’s perfect partner. This is a leap beyond the gigolo experience! For Alma, her custom man is “Tom,” a handsome, witty, blonde specimen designed to evolve, through trial, error, and conversation, to become ever more aligned with her desires. We don’t get this background, but she undoubtedly filled out a basic requirements questionnaire!
Like the first film I talked about, I’m Your Man is an ideal romantic comedy, that, according to one review, “Hits the sweet spot of story, actor chemistry and tonal execution.” Tom’s initial programming has him prepare Alma a candle lit bath with rose petals, strawberries and champagne, as well as himself in a bathrobe waiting for her. When she opens the bathroom door, he says, “93% of German women find this exceedingly romantic.” She replies, “I’m in the 7%.” With the new information duly noted, Tom takes to the bath himself, sipping bubbly and tasting a berry.
What I found fascinating was both the ethical dilemma Alma grapples with, and the increasingly human characteristics of Tom as he adjusts his behavior to a stream of incoming data gleaned from his human interactions. When Alma attempts to use him when she is wildly drunk, he does not allow her to do so, “knowing” she will regret it in the morning. The scene ends when Tom tenderly tucks Alma, fully clothed, into bed.
Don’t we often hope that our spouses, lovers and friends will pick up on our clues or specific requests for the sake of deepening intimacy and harmony? For those of us who have been searching years for a romantic match, isn’t the idea of acquiring someone compatible at last, even if “artificial,” at least somewhat compelling?
I loved how this deluxe model that was able to access a virtually endless database of romantic cliches gradually evolved to an exceptionally appealing and sophisticated companion. I’ll have to admit I was touched when Tom says to a woman in a bar who wants to kiss him, “You’ll have to ask Alma. I belong to her.”
Tom was not just a voice (as was the object of Joaquin Phoenix’s desire in the film Her) but a physical presence, seen as “nothing” to a herd of deer who surrounded him during a walk in the woods, but ever more emotionally and physically viable to Alma. “I don’t need to eat, but I clean my teeth and take care of my body,” Tom informs this woman who has reluctantly embarked on the experiment. In one scene, an angry Alma challenges Tom to show her how anatomically correct and functional he is. When he drops his pants in her apartment kitchen, she exclaims, “Is this supposed to be the c*#k of my dreams?!” He replies, “Apparently.”
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande and I’m Your Man were just two of the cinematic treats I enjoyed in the past month. A film-loving friend recommended another Hulu offering, the 2-part, Normal People, which put me through an emotional wringer and added Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones to the people I could watch day in and day out on screen.
Comments on my select list of narrative and documentary will have to be saved for 2023. Wishing for us all inner and outer peace in the coming year
Not 2020 or 2021, but it was the holiday season of 2022 that my daughter dubbed “Covid Christmas.”
For her family it meant positive tests for husband, son, and finally, herself. Maybe the symptoms were not severe—thanks to vaccinations—but still, the isolating, not feeling well, and the specter of lasting effects was plainly there.
For me, it meant postponing a visit with my only child and grandchild, taking walks and watching movies on Christmas Day, and then waiting for the indicator line on rapid tests when a friend I’d spent time with reported a positive.
Nothing tragic, just inconvenient.
I have to say what’s bothering me most about the summer, fall and winter of 2022 are new-to-me ailments without a cause. Head and neck pain (“feels like my head is not screwed on right”) that seems unaffected by chiropractic, physical therapy, exercise. Then, the supposedly unrelated bouts of vertigo over seven months; the most recent lasted a week.
The community of the vertiginous is larger than I knew, with almost everyone I mention it to either knowing someone afflicted or has experienced it themselves, and worse than I (like when driving a car or hiking in the wilderness). I could read at times, watch television, or walk around (albeit feeling like I was on the deck of a rolling ship.)
I scared myself on morning when I thought I might faint (living alone, who would find my body?) My doctor advised sitting on the floor when something like that happened to avoid injury from falling. “When you wake up, call 911,” she said.
The vertigo ended after doing the Epley maneuver twice on the sixth day. After a 48-hour respite, I “caught” the first cold in three years, starting with a sore throat and still continuing with a persistent cough. All this distracted a bit from the headache (I was taking plenty of meds), yet on Dec.20, there I was rolling into the MRI tunnel, still seeking answers.
Are the doctors and technicians on vacation? Six days later, no results, not that Dr. W. expected anything “bad” to show on the MRI. But I’d still like to know. Is it muscular? Stress? Old age? Friends have recommended Feldenkrais body work, Acupuncture and Chinese herbs…
I just want to be able to play pickleball full out, without ailments I’m not accustomed to interfering with the pleasure of my newfound sports addiction—the pandemic’s outdoor substitute for the indoor intimacy of partner dancing.
To get through the period from Thanksgiving to today, I’ve indulged in two main escapes, 1) the “beach read” novels of Elin Hilderbrand (I enjoyed: Barefoot, What Happens in Paradise, Troubles in Paradise) before I’d had enough, and 2) films, including an excellent Netflix documentary miniseries, The Last Dance, which fascinated me, who is not a basketball fan, for 10 episodes.
More about the film faves of December in my next post.
I’ve been remiss in posting here because tomato, apple and fig harvests overtook my spare time and a stream of writing jobs kept me busy for weeks. One friend who lives in Colorado is doing her part regarding November’s mid-terms by working through party politics to get her almost-unbelievably awful congressional representative, Lauren Boebert, defeated.
Besides voting (lucky to live in California where the secretary of state’s office called to tell me that my mail-in ballot was on the way!) I pondered what I could do to help. What first came to mind was to share the message I received from Senator Bernie Sanders – a great man who never stops working for you and me.
“…In my view, while the abortion issue must remain on the front burner, it would be political malpractice for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy and allow Republican lies and distortions to go unanswered. This country has, for decades, faced structural economic crises that have caused the decline of the American middle class. Now is the time for Democrats to take the fight to the reactionary Republican Party and expose their anti-worker views on the most important issues facing ordinary Americans. That is both the right thing to do from a policy perspective and good politics.
“We have more income and wealth inequality than at any time in the modern history of this country, with three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of our nation. Is there one Republican prepared to raise taxes on billionaires, or do they want to make a bad situation worse by extending Trump’s tax breaks for the rich and repealing the estate tax?
“Today, 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and millions work for starvation wages. Is there one Republican in Congress who is prepared to raise the federal minimum wage to at least $15 an hour?
“The United States pays, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Is there one Republican prepared to allow Medicare to immediately begin negotiating prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and cut the cost of medicine by half?
“We have a dysfunctional healthcare system which, despite being the most expensive in the world, allows 85 million Americans to be uninsured or underinsured. Is there one Republican who believes that healthcare is a human right and supports universal coverage?
“We remain the only major country on earth not to guarantee time off for moms who have babies or need to take care of sick children. Is there one Republican who supports at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave?
“The list goes on: childcare, housing, home health care, college affordability. On every one of these enormously important issues the Republican Party has virtually nothing to say to address the desperate needs of low and moderate income Americans. And what they do propose will most often make a bad situation worse.
“I believe that if Democrats do not fight back on economic issues and present a strong pro-worker agenda, they could well be in the minority in both the House and the Senate next year.
“And it’s not only the long-term structural crises that Democrats must address. It is the outrageous level of corporate greed that we now see every day that is fueling the inflation hurting so many people. While the price of gas has soared over the last year, the five big oil companies made $59 billion in profits during the 2nd quarter of this year alone and are spending $88 billion on stock buybacks and dividends to benefit their wealthy shareholders.
“While global food prices soared by over 33% last year and are expected to go up another 23% this year, billionaires in the global food and agri-business industry became $382 billion richer during the pandemic.
“While we continue to pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, 3 of the largest pharmaceutical companies in America – Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AbbVie – increased their profits by 90% last year to $54 billion.
“While 46% of Americans either skipped or delayed the healthcare they need because they could not afford it, the six largest health insurance companies in America last year made over $60 billion in profits.
“What do Republicans have to say about corporations that are charging Americans outrageously high prices, while enjoying record breaking profits? Does one of them have the courage to consider a windfall, profits tax? Absolutely not.
“Whether it is extending the $300 a month child tax credit that expired in December that slashed the child poverty rate by over 40%, or increasing Social Security benefits, or expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision or making childcare affordable, the Democrats must stand with the working class of this country and expose the Republicans for the phonies that they are.
“None of what I am suggesting here is “radical”. It is, in fact, extremely popular. It is what the American people want. If we close this critical midterm campaign with a clear, unified vision to meet the needs of working families, to take on corporate greed, and protect a woman’s right to choose, we will begin to rebuild the trust between Democrats in Washington and the working families of this country. And we’ll win the election.”
I’m writing an article on Seniors in the Workplace and today I’ve heard from two wise men–Noam Chomsky and Bernie Sanders–who make me feel good about those of us over 75 who are still paying attention. I hope you, whatever your age, will do so too.
In my August 9 post, I reviewed A Breviary for the Lost: Poems for the During and After by Loren Niemi. The following excerpts from my 2012 memoir, Poetry, Politics & Passion, parallel portions of his book and fill in a bit more about our political history and friendship. The following paragraphs are found in PP&P’s first section, “My Life in the Peace Movement” pages 25-33. Copies still available!
The College of Saint Teresa no longer exists, having gone the way of many all-female educational institutions. In the mid-1960s when I attended, it was located in Winona, Minnesota, a little town nestled between tree-covered limestone bluffs and the Mississippi River, about 120 miles from the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
During my upper-class years at the College of Saint Teresa, I was aided and abetted in my “subversive tendencies” by a 19-year-old named Loren Niemi. He lived at the Christian Brothers scholasticate at St. Mary’s, the all-male college that, in the manner of the times, was counterpart to my all-female school. When we met, I was unaware of his seminarian status; I knew only that he was taking classes in Saint Teresa’s art department. We lingered for hours in what was demurely called The Tea House, a literal vine-covered cottage that served as the CST campus café. Our conversation spiraled around painting, poetry and politics and it didn’t take me long to become captivated.
Then, as today, the pretty boys were often not as attractive as the smart, articulate ones who appealed to that biggest sex organ, the brain. Loren, with his prominent nose reminiscent of a wise-cracking cartoon bird, his dark-rimmed, scholarly glasses and lanky build, was not handsome. However, his rebellious mustache and intense blue eyes were winsome, and the way he loved to yak—about things of substance—that was damn appealing. In the first months of our friendship, what I did with Loren was mostly in the manner of steadying the ladder while he secured “Out of Vietnam NOW” posters on light poles out of reach of the campus police. Later, as we each amassed a litany of transgressions that threatened (at least his) continuation in school, we became each other’s mirror, confidante and inspiration.
In my files marked “L. Niemi,” among pages of mimeographed and typed letters, poems, slightly off-color drawings, and even a Valentine, I’d found the following, handwritten in paragraphs randomly scattered over the page:
Got tossed out of the Education Department. The selection committee decided that I was too immature, too imprudent to be trusted in the classroom. What it really means is that I am too honest and too radical for them to feel safe. No student teaching, no education courses, nothing at all. It’s like having one of your balls shot off. It hurts you know!
Loren showed me today, 38 years after our first cup of coffee and 34 years after last seeing each other, a photo of me sitting among the easels and canvases in the college art department, looking over my shoulder at the camera with an impish smile. He has it in a pocket-sized album, created perhaps in honor of the project he is now working on, a “novelized memoir” called “Bad Brother.” He proposed this Minnesota-to-California visit “so we might spend a day thinking together about those turbulent times (1968-71) to see how they shaped and informed who we were and who we have become.”
He taped our conversation on his old Sony cassette player and I recorded on my digital mini disc recorder. “You lived in the row of candy-colored duplexes on Erie Street. They looked like cupcakes that were left too long in a bakery window.”
He was talking about the summer of 1968, when I moved to Minneapolis for 3 months, ostensibly to be in near Sandstone Prison for visits with Bob my fiancé, who resisted the draft), but I think I really wanted to be in the city where Loren lived.
“Once I came over to your place after driving cab all night, and flopped down on your puke-green couch with a terrible headache,” he said. “You lay down on top of me with an aspirin between your lips, kissed me, and shoved it down my throat with your tongue.”
This I did not recall.
“In the afternoons, we’d sit in the back yard drinking beer. You read me obscure poetry and teased me with an unbuttoned blouse.”
This sounded vaguely familiar.
But what I remember for sure are the eight hours I spent at a job Loren secured for me at his father’s commercial laundry and linen service. I stood under a conveyer from which drawstring bags of soiled hotel tablecloths and sheets swayed like chubby ballerinas. After pulling the string to drop the laundry onto the table before me, I sorted, hoisted, smelled it all. I had sympathy for the women of color who were my co-workers, but not enough commitment to find out what this kind of manual labor was truly all about.
“Uh uh, I said well before the day’s closing whistle. “No thanks. Absolutely not.”
I punched out for my first and last time, and within a few days landed an 8-week job ushering delinquent preteens through field trips at a summer day camp.
In the meantime, students raised hell in the streets of Paris, as the Summer of Love was followed by the Summer of Riot. Our hopes rose with presidential peace candidate Eugene McCarthy, and then plummeted with the murder of Robert Kennedy and television images of the bloody batons of Chicago police outside the Democratic convention.
During our mutual interviewing about our joint past, Loren continued to ask: what would be the hardest thing to admit? What do you not want me to know about you? Besides spending his life in community organizing, teaching, and public policy work, Loren is a professional storyteller and author. He signed his book, Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories with: “For Jennie. Tell well, tell often, tell true.”
I’m having a hard time writing an “objective” review of the latest book penned by my long-time friend Loren Niemi. It would have been easier to describe how useful to me as a writer have been his prose works on storytelling—The New Book of Plots and Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking about Difficult Stories. I recommend these to anyone who writes, or anyone who wants to live an engaged life and tell the truth about it.
A Breviary for the Lost is in another vein; it is a memoir in poems about a time of personal, spiritual, and psychological upheaval, within circumstances of political and moral challenge. I met Loren when we were both college students and he was a fledgling member of the Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious teaching order. The time we shared most directly was the late 1960s and early 1970s, although our friendship has matured and endured to this moment.
Loren’s book is formatted with first-person poetry providing the main, introspective narrative on the left-hand pages, and sidebars (numbered like footnotes) on the right-hand pages providing expansion and commentary in the third person. By choosing this inside-outside way of organizing, the author adds complexity and humor to his story. In sidenote  we find these lines: “Poverty/Chastity/and Obedience. He was good at/ One of them.”
A breviary is a prayer book, organized by the canonical hours beginning in the night and early morning (Matins and Lauds) and ending at sunset and end of day (Vespers and Compline). In case you’re curious, the poems that mention Jennie O. appear in the “first hour of daylight” (Prime) section.
I wonder if the “for the Lost” part of the title, refers not to the author, but those who were lost to war, lost to economic exploitation, racism, mis-education, faulty communication and just plain neglect. Loren did, of course, lose people who were important to him, both in the religious community and the political and artistic communities of which he became a part. He remembers them here and also in his volume of “ghost stories,” What Haunts Us (winner of a 2020 Midwest Book Award for paranormal fiction).
I recommend A Breviary for the Lost as an easy and insight-producing read. It takes you to unfamiliar and sometimes intimate places where you will be forced to question your own beliefs and aspirations.
The language of his poetry is deceptively simple. A favorite poem is about the young Loren finding a well-used pipe in the pocket of a winter coat donated to the brothers. He would return to that dusty basement “Just to smell the sweat of other lives/ and hold that pipe, trying to imagine/ who and what, when, and where/ it had been before it arrived at this/ pause in a Novitiate storeroom.”
Musings like this, ordinary as they seem, became the wellspring of subsequent stories, both easy and difficult, that have spilled from the keyboard, lips and heart of Loren Niemi. Check him out.
A Breviary for the Lost: Poems for the During and After. By Loren Niemi. Calumet Editions, Edina MN. First Edition July 2022. Can be ordered and subsequently reviewed at Amazon.com.
In Part 2 of this post, I will excerpt several sections from my 2012 memoir that tell a little more about my relationship with this poet, artist, professional performing storyteller, activist and teacher.