Jennie Orvino’s Blog: Piece of Mind
My abortion was neither a trauma nor a fight. At the time, I lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where there was an excellent women’s health clinic and a Planned Parenthood that offered confirmation of my pregnancy and the means to terminate it. No crowds stood outside these facilities holding “Baby Killer” signs. I did not walk a gauntlet of so-called pro-life demonstrators yelling at me to change my mind about the procedure.
I realize I don’t need to say why I made this choice, in, well, I can’t remember the exact year; it was sometime in the mid-1970s. I was divorced, had a daughter who was of day-care age, the father was not long-term relationship material and he happened to live across the country when I found out I was pregnant.
As recipient of a monthly “Aid to Dependent Children” check, I was entitled to health care, which paid for the physical exam that clinched my suspicions. Home pregnancy tests were not simple or widely available for another decade or more. The abortion was also free.
When I say “no trauma” I don’t mean it was an easy choice. I only mean that it was obvious and necessary, and I just had to walk through the steps, staying calm and trying not to cry or worry about the future. I knew I was lucky to be able to get a common medical procedure as well counseling about my options (and a serious lecture about birth control methods) with respect for my personhood and with support from my women’s group.
I was raised a Catholic, and, as with the clergy’s position on war, homosexuality and other issues, I disagreed about the clergy’s stance on abortion. Bravo for Pope Francis and his position on Covid-19 vaccination, which shows that he understands the difference between personal choice and selfishness vs. public health. I’m free to punch the air until my fist hits another person’s nose, as one of my favorite nuns used to say.
She couldn’t quite stretch this maxim to a choice about medical privacy that causes other people to get a deadly disease, but at least Francis is hip to the moral obligations of the pandemic. I suppose this also comes back to forbidding masturbation as a “sinful waste of seed,” but we won’t go there. I’m not forcing anyone to get an abortion, nor am I in support of any law that would do such a ridiculous thing. Take note, Facebook page readers.
I missed the march in Santa Rosa on Saturday, because I was laboring in my vegetable beds and forgot about the gathering in Courthouse Square. I read about it in my Sunday paper and was glad 500 of my fellow citizens were there. The laws promulgated by Republican legislatures across this country criminalizing doctors and women who make the abortion choice may not happen here, now, but could be a first step to reversing Roe vs. Wade.
The Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to be enforced by any person from anywhere suing for damages, not just the woman, but even those who help her, including an Uber driver who takes her to an appointment. Basically a $10,000 bounty. What’s next? Shooting doctors? Oh, wait…
Read here about a San Antonio physician, Alan Braid, who publicly revealed he broke the Texas law to test the restriction (abortion is illegal as soon as cardiac activity can be detected, no exception for rape or incest). Listen here to congresswomen of color sharing their abortion stories. I am in solidarity with Barbara Lee (yet again!) Cory Bush and Pramila Jayapal.
I can hear and read about issues and events, but the medium that sinks a story into my soul is film. Last evening, I cued up Netflix instead of dinner, having just read, front page B section of my local newspaper, “USA Gymnastics Senate Hearing [elicits] Blistering Testimony: Women blast FBI over handling of sexual abuse investigation.”
I had seen Athlete A when it first came out in 2020, but wanted to experience it again before I made my recommendation. Upon the second viewing, I was even more riveted, especially because so much has happened in this busy year of outing sexual predators.
Local examples? The long-term abuse at an elite private school brought to light by courageous young women years after they were students, and the sexual assault allegation scandal concerning the ex-mayor of Windsor, CA. National examples? New York governor Andrew Cuomo resigning in disgrace (although not in his own eyes). Or the media blitz (and disgusting criticism) of Olympic superstar Simone Biles who revealed mental health issues that were preventing her from competing in her signature events. At the time, did Biles say her suffering had roots in sexual molestation by Dr. Larry Nasser? I don’t remember, but she said it on September 16 at the Senate hearing.
Cogently, calmly, and extremely powerfully, Athlete A (referring to gymnast Maggie Nichols whose narrative is the spine of the plot) tells the story of how hard-working investigative journalists, discerning law enforcement officials, and determined prosecutors together helped a group of young female gymnasts to fight back and prevail against their abusers.
The film is heartbreaking and raises some questions it doesn’t quite answer—were the girls so young and cowed by the cruel, degrading coaching they received that they were powerless to resist all the abuse, sexual and otherwise? The commodification of our athletes (including those NFL players who are still being penalized for “taking a knee”) continues as an issue to be reckoned with.
I’m not attempting a comprehensive film review here. I’m just urging you to see this Netflix Original documentary and let me know how it affected you. Check out the film’s website, which includes resources, materials for discussion, and also a very revealing timeline.
My thanks to Kristen Throop for referring me to The Army of Survivors, an Instagram group “bringing awareness, accountability and transparency to sexual violence against athletes.” Below are quotes I found there.
Over the past few years, it has become painfully clear how a survivor’s healing is affected by the handling of their abuse, and it disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later.
–Aly Raisman, retired artistic gymnast and Olympic gold medalist
“How much is a little girl worth?”
–Rachael Denhollander, former gymnast, attorney, advocate, and author
Many people are writing “Where were you when..?” stories of September 11, 2001 on this twentieth anniversary of “the day that changed everything.” I would say that perhaps August 6, 1945, had been such a day for the citizens of Hiroshima, or that deathly hot day in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina washed away the home and the child of a mother in New Orleans. Disaster and terrorism from the sky can come to any person at any time, and change everything.
That was my first thought this morning. My second was remembering the trembling voice of U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee as she voted No to the rushed “authorization for use of military force” (translated: endless war) and said to her fellow House members, “Let us not become the evil that we deplore.”
In her interview with Amy Goodman this week, Rep. Lee read from the report of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). “We were not equipped to be in Afghanistan…did not understand the Afghan context, including socially, culturally and politically. U.S. officials rarely even had a mediocre understanding of the Afghan environment much less how it was responding to U.S. interventions.” So many lives, so much money…
And now to my third thought: clear memory of being awakened by a ringing phone on that September day twenty years ago; it was a lovely and sunny here in California too. The voice of my daughter Rachel, then age 30, who was living in New York City at that time, gave me the awful news. The first thing I said was, “Now there will be another war.” She said she was about to leave for work.
Miraculously, I was able to get a phone line later in the day. Rachel told me she had walked many blocks home and was now safe in her and Tom’s apartment. I took my own walk then, along Copeland Creek. Here’s a never-published poem I wrote afterward; all political thoughts left behind, I focused only on my dearest.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF TRAGEDY
I’m taking a walk and trying not to think. A slain
grocery cart on its side in the brackish creek, mallards
with their bottoms up looking for breakfast in muddy pools,
an egret perched on the pedestrian bridge, bleached in light.
If I take an aggressive step, it will spread its pure white grace
and take off east. On the upper east side of Manhattan
my daughter lives, “so proud to be a New Yorker.” This day
no boats like ducks on the Hudson. In an ashen shroud she walks
40 blocks from work to her safe home, but I still think of her
as a target, brunette hair iridescent, like feathers.
I let this child go, tossed her into life as one would toss
a homing pigeon, or a dove. Now I look for her
in the returning flocks, skimming city rooftops like derelict flags.
But she is on a separate arc. Solid in the foreground, my hands—
twice as big as my head—are waiting, palms up, just in case.
She posed for my camera all her life: as a toddler playing in
the bubble bath, or learning to tie her shoes, the princess
twirling in her crown and cape, the maiden in her yellow dress
in a field of yellow mustard, throwing flowers in the air,
her smile the fullest bloom. Unseen in the photograph,
our muddy shoes, the patch of damp fabric where she sat.
“I love you to pieces,” I used to say
but I’ll never say it again.
I want her whole, and with me,
in any ordinary circumstance.
© Jennie Orvino September 2001
Copeland Creek, Rohnert Park, CA
New York Visit with Rachel and Tom, May 2001
The most important thing I’ve learned from the intractable pandemic isolation and the rise of the reality-denying, extremist Trump cult, is how to take care of myself. I learn more every day.
After a week of fitful sleep and much appreciated work-for-money, I woke up this morning after a needed nine hours. My Friday the 13th had been busy with research and interviews for an article I am writing. I did not miss my 1 p.m. virtual Stretch and Balance/Pilates class. And yet when I tried to take advantage of clear skies and cool weather for a walk after spending hours at the computer, I dragged my steps and couldn’t get beyond 20 minutes.
I called a friend to say I would probably not go out to dance bachata, albeit with masks and required vaccination proof, because I was just too tired. He was empathetic and reminded me that I had three hours to rest, that I already had my ticket, and I could “pop in, even for a little while” if I felt like it. He said that he, too, was discouraged and distressed by how doctors, nurses and election officials were being violently threatened and harassed for just taking care of our health and doing their civic duty, jobs that they had done for decades willingly and sometimes joyfully. But not now.
His kind words were a balm.
Next, I called my 12-year-old grandson on his new cell phone. I said I missed him, and could he please tell me, “I love you, Gramma.” Much to his amusement, he complied with my request. Shortly thereafter his mom called me.
Her advice was akin to the serenity prayer: Don’t worry about the things you can’t change; change the things you can; know the difference; and have a good supper. I had already opened a gluten-free beer (Omission Pale Ale) and was nibbling truffle salami and mozzarella.
After those three phone calls, I noticed it was pre-sunset hour, the time when the most beautiful light bathes my back garden. Glass in hand, I took a stroll. From the ailing baby peach tree to the prolific Asian pear, I observed and complimented my living fruits and vegetables. I gave newly-seeded arugula a gentle shower. I sat, admittedly only a minute or two, but I could feel a slowing down, a letting go.
Next, I switched my kitchen radio dial from evening news to the Giants vs. Colorado Rockies baseball game and there it stayed tuned while I cooked and ate.
With my journal in hand, and baseball game now on TV where I could glance up occasionally from the page to check the score, I wrote down all the Good Things of my day. I made room to note what was still bugging me but found that list had shortened considerably after I relaxed.
Feeling confident that my team had a sizable lead in the late innings, I brushed my teeth, turned down my bed and climbed in. It was barely dark, but I read only a few paragraphs of David Sedaris writing in The New Yorker before I started to doze off.
What I’ve written here is probably no revelation to any working person or parent who is gearing up for the new routine of school after the past 17 months of scary uncertainty. Still, we all must be reminded to love ourselves, and to “put on our own oxygen mask before we assist others in putting on theirs.” Self-care is a necessity.
Carolyn Lee Arnold’s memoir, Fifty First Dates After Fifty, inspired me personally beyond its literary value. The author was able to transform the story of her midlife recovery from a breakup into a readable and educational book, moving past the eat-pray-love model of experimentation and indulgence. This book both opens your heart and makes you think.
With attention to detail, realistic dialogue, and emotional intelligence, Arnold shows how the values she developed through years of personal growth workshops informed her search for a life partner. She was able to successfully apply the skills she acquired in matters of love, intimacy and sexuality to her dating adventures.
And when I say adventures, I mean they run the gamut—from spiritual ceremonies to sex parties, from gentle face-stroking to intercourse with abandon on the hood of a car (after a “safer sex” conversation, of course). What is so interesting is how she enjoys her dates with the innocence and exuberance of a teenager along with the confidence and life experience of an adult. It seems the people who surround her also illustrate how conscious sexual beings behave.
This is not to say that she doesn’t cry a lot, call on friends of both genders for comfort, and turn her heart into another character she talks to and tries to convince of one thing or another. She gets discouraged or goes a bit overboard just to see if she can swim.
But, as the professional social science researcher she is, Arnold keeps coming back to The Project—to gather data from every one of the “50 first dates” to understand more clearly what she wants and needs. The men she engaged with were sourced from singles events, online dating sites, ecstatic dance, hikes and meditation groups, workshops and through friends of friends. Singles will get plenty of ideas on that score!
The chapters are short and often end with an analysis. “I was attracted to Randy, and his questions touched me on a deep level…however, I wanted a man with better listening skills, a man who could appreciate the moment and nonsexual ways of touching.” “I wanted the type of balance that Ross and I had created at the party between closeness and independence. We were not threatened by mingling with others, because we knew we were returning to each other. I could imagine …doing that with a future partner… This should be possible. I could feel it.”
As a single woman of certain age, I know what I found fascinating about “Fifty First Dates After Fifty.” I recognized the same hopes for romance and significant connection with men as I’ve seen in myself. I also empathized with her doubts: “What am I going to do when I get to the fiftieth date?” Another appealing aspect of this book is Arnold’s modeling of how to candidly talk about being physical with the men she is getting to know, and with her readers.
That women’s memoirs are purchased by other women is a given, but what might a man think of this book? Too woo-woo and new-agey? Too much emphasis on conversation and being vulnerable? Aside from a curiosity about “sex parties,” I think a man might get some insight into what a woman is thinking and feeling, and that might make his dating life a little bit easier!
What Carolyn Arnold does for sure is make seem ordinary and easy what she calls the “Northern California lifestyle” of spiritual rituals, nude resorts, and deliberate, respectful polyamorous relationships. She also has a lot of fun with her data gathering and embraces a continuum of erotic activities with a lot more nuance than is usually expressed. The woman, like the memoir she has created, is frank, unabashedly sensual, and willing to meet others at the edge of possibility.
Since I was a teen, I thought having a summer birthday was the coolest. Looking forward to a midsummer party that included music, dancing and a hint of romance kept me going for the entire month of July. As an adult, the July 29s that marked the decades are the ones I most vividly recall.
At age 40, I was still married, lived in a condo in Rohnert Park, and the party happened poolside. Photo documentation shows I wore black lace, had a hairstyle very short at the neck and curly on top, and served champagne to my crushes of the moment—my Rolfer (hurts so good) and my karate teacher.
At age 50, I was freshly divorced, my parents had just passed away, and I had published a new book of my poems from which I read at the party. This half-century marker was catered by a local celebrity chef with live music provided by the Dave MacNab trio. My brother and sister-in-law were visiting from Chicago, I think it may have been their only visit to me here in California. A friend had allowed me to use her Sebastopol home (large deck, large living room) for the occasion. I repaid her the next day by dumping charcoal that was not quite doused… and burned up her garden shed before an alert neighbor called the fire department.
At age 55, my at-home party was progressing pleasantly to cake cutting when I spilled boiling water from an unstable coffee filter onto the front of my body, causing a second-degree burn on my belly (scar visible to this day). Photos show me lying on the floor, my midsection covered with ice from the party drink chest. I felt fine but friends insisted I go to the emergency room; all the guests departed, too quickly and most without cake. I sadly and reluctantly (nothing hurt) allowed Peter to drive me to Petaluma Valley Hospital where I got salve, a bandage, and pain killers I never took. Medical personnel complimented us on the quick application of ice.
“Sexy Sixty” birthday was a grand affair, with a top-notch party committee and enough money spent to cover a modest wedding. It was held at a local synagogue that was a dance hall when I first moved to Sonoma County, and we made it a dance hall again, with my Argentine tango friends making a positive contribution. My birthday performance, documented by then-primitive video, was a tango valse with friend Maurice as my teacher-partner. One of my oldest friends, Ashbolt Stewart visiting from Portland, gathered musicians to play rock and roll. Many of my gifts were entertainments provided by those in attendance, including a lap dance from Catherine Rose which I enjoyed thoroughly.
Five years ago, I celebrated the beginning of my “Spectacular Seventy” decade as a combo of birthday and first-time home ownership. We were blessed with great weather and my daughter helped host so I was able to relax and visit with the dozens of folks who blessed the property by showing up with love. Best present was a salsa lesson from Rafael and Isa, and subsequent bootie shaking on the cement patio dance floor.
And now approaches the “diamond anniversary” of my birth. No trip to Italy as I had envisioned. No party grandly produced. Despite the many good things on which I focus, namely being alive and healthy as many of my generation are not, there is exhaustion. With years of Trump disaster and disgrace turning into Trumpism running rampant through the body politic, and vaccine resistance that threatens to erase all our sacrifice and gains of the past 16 months, I am feeling tense and sleepless. I want to be upbeat, and I’m finding it more difficult than I had anticipated.
For the fourth year in a row, my dear Bethrenae is taking me to the beach for a long walk to inhale ocean air. I am anticipating a feeling of appreciation and solace, hoping for a sense of inner peace. At this moment, it’s the birthday gift I want most.
Last night I watched The Mauritanian for the second time. In light of the recent death of war criminal, torture advocate and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, this beautifully made film reminds us of what we’d like to forget. Yet Guantanamo prison is still not closed after 20 years.
Director Kevin Macdonald uses flashbacks and parallel layers to show the evolution of the interlocking lives in a story that contains little fabrication. It doesn’t need it.
Stars Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch do justice to the courageous Americans they portray and the amazing actor Tahar Rahim captures the indomitable spirit of this young man who was plucked from his home in the northwest African country of Mauritania and sent to “Gitmo” via prisons in Jordan and at Bagram Air Base in Afganistan.
As Mohamedou Ould Slahi says in a post-film conversation with the director, “As much as Kevin tried to make this movie dramatic, the reality was more dramatic.” He chuckles after making this statement, sitting next to his friend and attorney Nancy Hollander who finally secured her client’s release, more than seven years after the film closes with the notification that he had “won his case.”
Some reviews criticize the story for being more of a legal drama than truly exploring this most compassionate (and innocent) human being who was confined for 14 years without charge. (His lawyer says passing a lie detector twice had no relevance).
Perhaps because I had seen the Democracy Now interviews with all the principals and had read Guantanamo Diary when it was published in 2015—albeit riddled with redactions—that I felt I knew Mohamedou quite well through his writings. In fact, it was his handwritten pages taken out of confinement through official channels that formed the basic testimony of this legal battle.
Check out the interviews with award-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald, the tenacious attorneys and award-winning actors Foster, Cumberbatch and Shaylene Woodley. Listen to Mohamedou himself asking President Joe Biden to close the military prison that is such a horrid contrast to the beautiful island on which it is located.
It is only through a rare, three-inch hole in the canvas covering the cyclone fences that the detainee gets a glimpse of crashing waves on a beach that resembles the beloved coast of his birthplace. If you see only one 2021 release, this should be it.
Here is the trailer. (Unfortunately, you have to skip the initial ads)
“Testosterone Posse” is the term I’ve coined for male friends who serve as my support system and do some of those things that a male life partner might have done—or I could do for myself if I didn’t crave some yang to balance my yin.
The Posse was vital during the 15 months of coronavirus shutdown. Now that California is on the verge of fully reopening, it’s the right time to give props to some of these special guys.
First there is Kelly Kline, my hair stylist since the early eighties, and always a friend. (I may have tried another salon once or twice but was never happy with the results.) Kelly has listened like a therapist through my divorce and job losses and gains. In the years he was creating outdoor metal sculpture, I attended his exhibits and display one of his pieces in my front yard. He was also the real estate agent who helped me navigate my first home purchase. A renaissance man!
Kelly and I used to talk a lot about sex in the early years of our cut-and-color sessions, excavating topics like stylists whose expertise is shaving pubic hair. From him I learned the word “merkin” which, according to the Urban Dictionary, was a toupee for the pubic area (from a time when hair loss on the genitals was a side effect from using mercury to treat syphilis). That kind of conversation between us has calmed down as we have aged, and now we mostly converse about politics and the state of the world.
The year I bought my house, Kelly introduced me to Gordon Smith. A jack-of-all-trades, Gordon has been mostly at my beck and call for handyman chores for the past five years. Recently described by my tenant as “a tall white guy with a big belly,” he has a heavy New Jersey accent and greets me with “Hi Beautiful,” and “Honey I’m home” when he comes over to work.
Gordon has completed jobs little and big, from sealing unused cat doors to replacing the sink in my back house and miscellaneous repairs in my rental. He power-washed and stained my front deck and helped remove the wood stove in my living room, which required breaking up the stone slab it rested on, pulling the stovepipe up through the roof and sealing the chimney. This Spring, he installed kitchen fixtures and rebuilt two rotted out garden beds. Most embarrassing, and telling, I suppose, was his stopping by to assist when I telephoned an SOS as I struggled with the seemingly simple task of changing a vacuum cleaner bag! He set me straight with a laugh and then was off.
I suspect Gordon and I might not see eye to eye on some things, but my affection for him, and his for me, make me believe that bipartisanship is possible.
A third indispensable cohort is Geo Howard, a friend since the early 1990s when he was a guitarist/percussionist in my ex-husband’s spoken word band. Geo is a fine songwriter, dedicated musician and works as the operations and IT manager for Santa Rosa’s Community Matters, a safe-schools and anti-bullying advocacy and training nonprofit.
Geo was the first person I allowed to enter my house, albeit masked, in March 2020, to help me update my iMac’s operating system and coach me in the new world of Zoom meetings and other technical necessities—all this has made viable my freelance career as a “well-fed writer.” I so appreciate his unending patience when things take longer than expected, his help in formatting my new laptop, his troubleshooting and problem-solving expertise, his many, many hours spent (I must thank his partner, Margie, for her tolerance of his absence on weekend afternoons) and his calm response to the panicked texts I send when my computer stops working.
Geo has also been a long-time supporter of my poetry-performing career, acting as a sound man at the release party for my book, Poetry, Politics and Passion, and being a non-stop booster when I’ve felt my creativity flagging.
The Testosterone Posse has expanded and contracted as good, kind men have passed through and enriched my life for short or longer periods of time. My dance instructors (Zach Crawford, Nate Anderson, Rafael Candelas, Jasper Oudemans, Mark Novak and John Ross) are special individuals whose unique talents changed me for the better. Will Wade, who lived in my granny unit for only six weeks and helped me believe I could succeed as a landlord, christened me “Wonder Woman” for my s/heroic efforts to make the yard and garden beautiful.
Now that I’ve written this overdue acknowledgement, it seems the list of eligible gentlemen is endless!
With apologies to my writing teacher and mental health ally Dan Cochnear, as well as the multi-talented “wrecking ball with heart” David Brownstein, following are four Honorable Mentions — unwitting members of Jennie’s Testosterone Posse who supported my well-being during Covid-19.
Johnny Jones, built my new front yard fence and made many a trip to the dump to help me clear out the last of the debris at the back of my property. He also bravely crawled through my attic to complete the stovepipe removal process and plastered the ceiling to conceal its scar. He was there to rescue me when I had a car radiator breakdown in Oliver’s parking lot and teases me with promises to ride in his new boat when there is enough water in our lakes to float it.
Chris Young, of Christopher Young Financial Services, secured the loan for my first home in 2016, helped me re-finance in 2021, and “loves” my 1991 Honda Accord Wagon.
Dr. Les Shipley has kept my eyes healthy, my contact lenses clear, and provided fashion-forward (and necessary) sunglasses for me since 1980.
Dr. James O’Neal, my chiropractor for 23 years with whom I have an easy rapport, never fails to comment on any interesting socks I wear. I have deep appreciation for his healing skills and caring attitude.
Females are not absent from my support community, but my sisters are not so much “other” as part of my own body and soul. To thank them would be like thanking my breath, my blood, my eyes and ears. A catalogue of women who influenced me, living and the dead, would take many pages.
I’m pleased to say I’m one of 96 contributors to The Sitting Room’s 2021 anthology of art and stories. Each piece was limited to one page on the topic of “home.” I share mine with you here.
I had been a renter all my adult life until February of 2016 when I was able, through a miracle of timing and connections, to purchase the Santa Rosa house where I lived for nine years. My landladies resided on the property in their individual tiny houses for most of that time. We formed a community of three humans, one black cat with white paws named Sylvester, fruit trees (pear, apple, peach and fig), and an assortment of birds and pollinators.
I made pumpkin soup from the sugar pies Mattie raised, and invited her and Margie to summer salad lunches of fresh arugula, feta cheese and watermelon. Our first years were a time of contentment when I did my best to learn from Mattie how to be a good steward of the land. She, who was in her 70s when I moved in, built the garden beds, planted the vegetables, dug out the invasive bamboo, strung the clothes lines, and started to lay a path, one brick at a time, from her door to mine. She constructed a flashy blue chicken coop and populated it with the most entertaining “girls.” The yolks of their eggs were bright orange, like the California poppies that ran wild in the yard until I learned to confine them to a spot easily viewed from my kitchen window.
The chickens departed and their roosts were demolished after Margie moved away to live with a new love and Mattie died of cancer. Mattie was the first person I knew who allowed the disease to take its course without treatment, who made the choice to transition “before the money runs out.” The last time we talked, she held my hand and reminded me that my topless sunbathing had been her “favorite eye candy.”
I had just announced my retirement from full time employment when Margie told me that she was planning to sell. First came panic, then determination to remain in the house I’d lived in and cherished for so long. Friends introduced me to a broker who secured a loan I could manage, and I tapped my 401K for a 20% down payment. The 844 square foot, two-bedroom bungalow, built in the year I was born, was mine before it was listed for sale. The remodeled former garage became a granny unit that would provide rental income to help pay the mortgage.
In July of that year, my Spectacular 70 birthday and my late-bloomer home ownership were celebrated together. Amid a backyard array of umbrella tables and a lively stream of old and new friends, a spontaneous combo entertained with guitar, drums, accordion and flute. The solar-powered fountain burbled, hummingbirds swooped at the feeders, and ripe Sun Gold cherry tomatoes invited all to pick and eat. At least half the attending guests enjoyed a Salsa lesson on the patio and my grandson, then eight years old, performed a break dance as his gift to me.
“Your house and garden are YOU,” someone remarked. “The way they say people come to resemble their dogs.” Taking slight offense at that characterization, I pressed for further clarification. “What I meant was: welcoming, expansive, sensual, organized, elegant and vibrant.” Right. That’s how I want my environment to be.
I probably spend fewer hours in bed than in my kitchen. I love its wood floors, the black-and-white octagonal tile counter tops, the window seat where visitors used to sip Chardonnay as I prepared clam spaghetti—following the recipe my grandmother taught me, but substituting fresh parsley and garlic from my own plantings for the dried versions Gram bought at the A&P.
At home, I am the hostess, the impresario, the boss. The mess is mine and the sparkle is mine to enjoy. Home is my unending creative project, my hideout, my comfort and rest. It’s the place I haven’t minded sheltering-in-place since March of 2020.
Even before the wildfires and coronavirus pandemic upended everything, I often found myself clicking ruby heels together and reciting Dorothy’s incantation.
Home. There’s no place like it.
The Sitting Room has been in existence in Cotati in some form since before I moved to Sonoma County in 1978. It is a non-profit archive of women’s literature, a library, a venue for author readings, lectures, book clubs, workshops and writing classes of all sorts. The physical location is currently closed due to the pandemic but check the website and get on the mailing list. To get a copy of the 2021 anthology ($10 plus $3.50 postage) email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have followed the story of Israel’s colonization of Palestine and subsequent apartheid since I was a freshman at the College of Saint Teresa in the mid 1960s. At an international education conference, I met Palestinian students who filled me in on their history after the formation of the state of Israel. (I find Phyllis Bennis’s book, “Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer,” extremely helpful background.) This is not “an ancient animosity.” It had a good start when indigenous people were expelled and their villages destroyed, creating generations of Palestinian refugees.
In the early 2000’s, I hosted Peace Potlucks with video screening at my home on the subject of settlements, the “apartheid wall” and the non-stop demolishing of Palestinian homes. I watched again (the last time was 2014, and before that 2008) when my tax money was used for unrelenting Israeli Defense Forces bombing the occupied Gaza strip, seeing then, as now, huge high rise apartment buildings collapsing. As of today’s count, 40,000 Gaza residents have been made homeless, nearly 200 dead, including 60 children.
Now the mainstream media speaks of “de-escalation on both sides” as if the sides were equal. This the most famous false equivalency in politics. Headlines also refer to Israel vs. Hamas. Israel is a country. Hamas is an elected political party. The two entities in conflict are a country and an occupied people.
Are the Palestinians occupying the state of Israel? No. Israel is occupying the land it acquired by war and controls the Palestinians in all ways, controlling their borders and their freedom of movement.
Is the United State government supporting a Palestinian state with 3.8 billion dollars of military aid each year? No. First, there is no Palestinian state. The U.S. attacks and prevents recognition even of “the territories” in the United Nations. Second, even humanitarian aid to the Palestinians was cut off by Trump.
Biden spouts the cliché, Israel has a right to defend itself.” Do the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves from occupation, oppression, illegal settlements that steal farmland and water (West Bank) and blockade (Gaza). Israel has prevented flotillas of aid from many nations from reaching Gaza, even killing those who attempted (In 2010, 9 Greek and Turkish activists killed by Israeli forces boarding their boat).
Do the Palestinians have a fleet of bombers and high-tech weapons, including a so-called “Iron Dome” missile shield to protect their civilians? No. In just the last 20 years, if you take a tally of Palestinian women and children killed by Israeli forces compared to Jewish women and children killed there is no comparison. This is the first week I’ve heard of any Jewish children killed by rockets…
Do the Palestinians have thousands of Israeli men, women and teens in their prisons? No.
Do Palestinians come into Israeli homes and take up residence? If they can’t take over, do they bulldoze the homes? No. Land is constantly being appropriated by settlement building and the horribly high “security wall” (Have you seen photos of it? Even worse than Trump’s border wall), and just this week, you can see viral videos of occupiers from Brooklyn going into Palestinian homes claiming residence.
Do the Palestinians cut off electricity to Jewish homes for hours a day? Create roads that only Palestinians can travel on? Practice collective punishment on families of Jewish soldiers and assassinate their politicians? No. No. And No.
False equivalency. Which brings me to language. IDF members are soldiers. Palestinian fighters are militants and terrorists. Just in this current war, what happened first, the rockets fired at Israel or IDF firing rubber bullets and teargas into the Al-Aqsa mosque during prayers?
Several analysts have noted that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—under indictment for corruption, and like Trump, is fighting to keep himself in office to avoid going to jail—has undertaken these attacks to increase support for his right wing governance with no regard for what the international community has to say. There are even demonstrations within Israel against their government’s handling of the pandemic and the erosion of democracy (they are now having a fourth election to try to get stability).
Resolution after resolution in the United Nations on Israel’s building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land (totally illegal) have condemned this abuse, yet it continues. This week, the U.S. has prevented the UN Security Council from issuing any statement on the current situation, as it has always done. The U.S. has been the outlier supporting Israel, even when every other country has voted the other way.
I have been trying to write this for days, so must stop and post. I know my distress is tiny compared to what is being suffered by Palestinians right now.
Below are some of my sources in addition to the Facebook posts taken from Democracy Now.