The Extreme Beauty of January 21, 2017

 

By Gloria Peterson

I wish I could personally thank every man, woman, and child who participated in the worldwide Women’s March protests on January 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th president of the United States.   I was home ill, but very much there in spirit.

Like many, my heart has been heavy since the election, and there have been things to grieve. Sadly, every time I hear the agenda of the right, I have a visceral response. I worry about losing my health insurance. This insurance saved my life when I needed treatment for cancer. I listen to the comparisons between Trump and Hitler and Mussolini.   I get scared, and I’m not even facing deportation. But on January 21 when an estimated two million people in the US alone demonstrated, along with numerous protests around the world, my spirit soared!

There was an un-named something special at work that day, which I am puzzling about. It has to do with our interconnectedness, compassion, and altruism. The protest was seemingly spontaneous, with information spread person to person and over the internet. There was no central organizer or organization. Energy was high, goodwill was abundant, and there were many acts of kindness in the huge crowds. People in wheelchairs and people with casts on their limbs participated. All were welcome, amid a wonderful inclusivity and diversity of people and causes.   People performed heroics to attend and say that the emerging political agenda is simply not acceptable.

In an attempt to name this “something special” quality, I’d like to speak of the writings and work of Jim Doty, a medical doctor who has done so much to promote compassion. There was also, in 2012, a stunning natural phenomenon relating to Laurence Anthony of South Africa. But Jim Doty first…

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Doty writes of his life and his inspirational process in a book called Into the Magic Shop. At the age of 12, he was already well on his way to juvenile delinquency when he wandered into a magic shop and met an older and kindly woman named Ruth.   Ruth could see that there was something special about this boy and offered to teach him “real magic” and meditation techniques every day for six weeks.   This experience changed the trajectory of his life.  Ruth’s kindness, and the practice which he continued to do for many years, healed his heart.

While teaching at Stanford University, he realized that what he wanted to manifest most was a “world where people not only do no harm to one another, but reach out to help one another.” He sees us at the beginning of an “age of compassion.”   My take on the spirit of the marches is that compassion was a factor.

Doty believes we are collectively “on a journey of connection.”   He continues, “One act of compassion leads to another act of compassion; and so on across the globe.”   Compassion, he believes is an innate instinct. This instinct is present not only in humans but in many other species as well. There are many examples, from monkeys caring for each other when they are injured, to a dolphin who assisted in saving a beached humpback whale. This behavior is clearly present in toddlers.

Doty also believes that many have misinterpreted Darwin by implying that survival of the fittest means the strongest. But in fact, it is the survival of the kindest and most cooperative that ensures long-term species survival.   To Doty, there’s no shame in caring or in feeling another’s pain. He would say this is “beautiful” and what it’s all about.

 

The second theme that relates to the “something special” of this protest concerns Lawrence Anthony, author of  The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild. who died in 2012. He was born and died in South Africa. He loved nature and dedicated his life to conservation. He bought land for the 5,000-acre Thula Thula Game Reserve in Kwa Zulu Natal.

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At one point, he was called upon to assist a conservation group. Nine elephants had escaped an enclosure and were about to be shot for wreaking havoc. Anthony rushed to the scene. He earned the reputation of “elephant whisperer” by communicating to the matriarch of the group with tone of voice and with body gestures, and he was able to prevent their being killed.

At the time of Lawrence Anthony’s death in 2012, something unusual and mysterious happened. Two herds of elephants traveled at least 12 hours to his home to pay homage to their friend. They stayed at Anthony’s home in Thula Thula Reserve for two days. After that, they left in solemn funeral-like procession to return to the bush. The question is, how did they know that this man had died?

The rabbi presenting at Anthony’s funeral said “…If ever there was a time when we can truly sense the wondrous interconnectedness of all beings, it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”

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I believe that the Women’s March was a gorgeous display of our interconnectedness.

Donald Trump’s policies, initiatives, words, and attitudes are wounding our very hearts. Many people now live in fear. We are reminded, again, of the horrors of Nazi Germany.

I believe that on January 21 people instinctively came together to help protect, nurture and care for one another.   Perhaps we had our pulse on the heartbeat of democracy, and it was weak and feeble. Or maybe it had stopped altogether and needed to be resuscitated. Or perhaps it was our own and other’s pain that we felt. We came together with great courage, conviction and goodwill toward our brothers and sisters. Perhaps our hearts yearn, like Jim Doty, to make our world a place “where not only do we do no harm to one another, but rather, reach out to help one another.”

I’m lacing up my work boots, for there’s much work to be done. I still wish I could hug the two-million-plus marchers and thank you for your courage and caring. I’m certain that a hug from all of you would permanently heal my ills, and I wouldn’t be so worried about my health insurance. You all have beautiful energy. Let’s stay in each other’s hearts as we do our collective work!

(c) 2017 Gloria Peterson.

Gloria is a nurse in Madison, Wisconsin and a member of the Society of Friends.

Images from Carly Brooke’s  post about Lawrence Anthony’s work on her blog, Featured Creatures, here.

 

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cool black electric hum

 

By Doug Elwell

Doug tells me, “this was inspired by a vivid dream the other night…In a departure from my usual p-o-v, I wrote it in the second person following your earlier lead with your Italy stories.”

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You won’t see a bright white light at the end of a tunnel leading toward the heavens.

You won’t see your mother or father or sister or anyone you ever knew.

You won’t see the little puppy you barely remember from your childhood.

You stand at the edge of a hole with no circumference or depth.

You look into it and see only black.

You feel no movement of air.

You feel black coolness as before an open un-lit refrigerator in the dark of night.

You feel the cool wrap around you like a cocoon.

You feel goosebumps.

You taste sharp cold metal as if you touched your tongue to a raw steel bar.

You look again into the blackness of the hole.

You hear a hollow, vaguely ominous electric hum enfold the coolness.

You know it is eternal. It has no beginning or end.

You feel a lifetime of regret.

You cannot step back.

You resist that last step into the precipice yet there is no choice—that last step.

You stare into the cool black. A hand gently nudges your shoulder.

You drift into the infinite cool black electric hum.

© 2017 Doug Elwell

Doug Elwell grew up on the prairie of rural east central Illinois. His stories feature the characters, lore, and culture of that region. He explores the depth and richness of the inner lives of its people and communities. He is an occasional contributor to The Australia Times. His work has also appeared in The Oakland Independent, Ignite Your Passion: Kindle Your Inner Spark, True Stories Well Told, Every Writer’s Resource, Writers Grapevine, Ruminate and Midwestern Gothic literary journal. He has a Kindle novel, Charlie, available from the War Writer’s Campaign at www.warwriterscampaign.org. Proceeds from purchases go directly to the campaign, a non-profit that helps re-integrate veterans into society following their deployments. Doug can be contacted via email at: djelwell@mchsi.com.

I like the question Doug’s piece raises about the truth of dreams. What do you think?

 

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Writing My Women’s March

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Everyone is writing their Women’s March stories–Facebook posts and emails are coming in from friends, David Brooks is being his gassy annoying self, women like Elizabeth Word Gutting are rebutting. Men too. Here’s Ben Mathis-Lilley on Slate: David Brooks’ Column About the Women’s Marches Should Be Dumped in Acid and Set on Fire.

Frankly, all this is making it hard to find my own voice on my Women’s March experience.

I’m one of those people who “write to find out what I think” (to quote James Thurber.) I frequently start with a cluster map like this one. It helps me not only know what the ingredients for a piece will be, but organize in what order to bring them in.

I’m not there yet on writing about my Women’s March–for now, this will have to do.

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Pinney Library “Share the Life Lessons” Open Mic coming up–and more!

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If you’re in the Madison area, please join me for an upcoming workshop or event!*

Next Wednesday (January 24) I and my fellow scribblers in the Pinney Library “Share the Life Lessons Write-in” will share some of what we’ve come up with on themes of ” What I wish someone had told me about…Money and Working… Getting an Education…Finding Love, Keeping Love Alive.” Join us for this Open Mic, 6:30-8:30 pm, Pinney Library, 204 Cottage Grove Road. 

On Monday morning my latest “upcoming workshops” email went out. I’ve got a new Guided Autobiography group forming up on Madison’s west side, a free “Start Writing Your Memoirs” 6-week workshop at the Central Library, and more. Check out the schedule on my website, here.

How I enjoy hearing from some of my past workshop participants who check in after receiving my email. Thank you for keeping in touch!

– Sarah White

And if you are far from Madison, but would like to join me in an online workshop, let me know. I could easily be convinced to add another memoir writing workshop to the schedule, meeting online.

 

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The Bank Book

By Doug Elwell

bank-book-2 https://www.pinterest.com/pin/410460953515626404/

Truman Davis is one of those men who came into my life when I was just a boy and at the time I took him as I found him, a nice man. But over the years since, when he pops into my mind, which he does often, I smile.

If you made a movie about life in a small town and needed a character to play the banker, Truman would have been the obvious choice. He wasn’t the kind of man to stand out in a crowd, but that would have been okay with him. He always wore a smile and spoke a kind word. He was and is a gentle man. If he were to wear a hat, he would have tipped it upon meeting a lady on the sidewalk. He would have smiled broadly, said hello to everyone, even a young boy.

When I was eleven or twelve, I shined shoes at Josh’s barber shop on Saturday mornings for customers waiting for their weekly haircut. It was my first paying job; ten cents for a shine, fifteen for a shine and dye swabbed around soles and heels. Most gave me a tip of a nickel or dime and by noon my pocket bulged with coins. Most Saturdays I walked out with two or three dollars. Father told me to go to the bank and open an account.

I stood out front, debated going in. Huge granite stones, business like, forbidding; I thought no place for an eleven year old. I wasn’t even sure they’d let me in. It was for big business and there I stood fingering a pocketful of nickels and dimes and a few quarters, afraid to go in. But I screwed up my courage and went in and there was Truman Davis behind the iron bars that sat atop the marble counter. I didn’t see a bank dick inside waiting to throw me out. When I got to the teller window, he smiled, asked how he could help me.

“I—aah—I wanna open a bank account.”

Still smiling, he said he’d be glad to help me. He brought out a small blue book from under the counter; thin, about the size of a pack of Lucky Strikes. It had a small clear plastic window in the front cover. I watched as he wrote my name inside so when the book was closed it showed in the window. Then he looked in a big book and copied a number from it and wrote it in my little book. I saw the pages were lined with a grid of faint blue and red lines.

Finished, he asked, “How much do you want to deposit?”

I dug into my pocket and spread my handful of coins on the marble counter. I don’t recall the amount, but it was no more than a couple dollars. With deft hands and fingers used to counting coins he totaled them up and entered the amount in my book next to the date with blue ink in a fountain pen.

“There you go Douglas, now you have a bank account.” He handed me the book and cautioned not to not lose it and bring it with me when I wanted to make a deposit or withdrawal.

Deposits and withdrawals. Me, a little kid, making deposits and withdrawals in the Pinhook National Bank with a wrought iron fence atop a real marble counter that was higher than my chest. Right then my little blue bank book meant everything to me. Even more to me than my new Captain Video ring that whistled silent signals to Captain Video that I got free for sending in a box top from something or other. With the exception of only a few entries by Mr. Pierson, Truman was always my personal banker. I used that little blue book until I left home for college and when I did leave I took with me the memory of a warm, friendly man who treated a little kid with a pocket full of dimes and nickels no differently than the richest man in town and now that is worth more to me than all the bank books in the world.

 

Often we don’t know the effect we have on others in our lives. Truman Davis’ kindness to me when I was a boy is something I hold as one of my most prized memories because, being only a kid, he treated me with respect, the same way he treated everyone, even the richest man in town.

*  *  *

Since this ode to Mr. Davis was written, he has passed. But not his legacy. Almost without fail to this day when I either receive money or disburse it, I think of Truman Davis. He taught me at a young age the value of saving and thankfully the lesson was learned. I have had some very slim paydays off and on over the years, but there has never been even one when I didn’t set a few dollars aside for a rainy day, sometimes no more than two or three. He told me to pay myself first then whoever else I might owe. ‘After all, Doug, you worked for the money so take your cut off the top then pay everyone else.’

© 2017 Doug Elwell

Doug Elwell grew up on the prairie of rural east central Illinois. His stories feature the characters, lore, and culture of that region. He explores the depth and richness of the inner lives of its people and communities. He is an occasional contributor to The Australia Times. His work has also appeared in The Oakland Independent, Ignite Your Passion: Kindle Your Inner Spark, True Stories Well Told, Every Writer’s Resource, Writers Grapevine, Ruminate and Midwestern Gothic literary journal. He has a Kindle novel, Charlie, available from the War Writer’s Campaign at www.warwriterscampaign.org. Proceeds from purchases go directly to the campaign, a non-profit that helps re-integrate veterans into society following their deployments. Doug can be contacted via email at: djelwell@mchsi.com.

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2 writing challenges from Creative Nonfiction magazine

From time to time I’ve tried to rise to the challenge of getting my writing accepted by Creative Nonfiction magazine. No success yet, but I’ll keep trying, as it gives me a reason to flex my writing muscles and a deadline to motivate action. What more does a writer need? Well, prize money would be nice, too.

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Creative Nonfiction editors will award $3,500 for best essay, and all essays submitted will be considered for publication.

Here are two upcoming theme challenges:

Adaptation

Deadline: February 6, 2017

For the summer 2017 issue, Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking submissions for a special issue devoted to the theme of “adaptation”—original essays illuminating the ways in which the need to keep up with a rapidly-changing world drives the work of scientists, designers, thinkers, innovators, farmers, soldiers, medical professionals, teachers, and others and affects the lives of prisoners, patients, refugees, students, travelers, and other citizens. As the world changes, so, too, do humans—whether in our approach to building things, developing new technologies (and adapting to the ways those technologies change our society), learning how to eat different kinds of foods, or learning how to dress differently. And of course adaptation is hardly limited to humanity; numerous other species—everything from viruses to plants and animals—have had to adapt to rapid changes in both global and local habitats… [more]

Dangerous Creations: Real-life Frankenstein Stories

Deadline: March 20, 2017

…we’re looking for true stories that explore humans’ efforts to control and redirect nature, the evolving relationships between humanity and science/technology, and contemporary interpretations of monstrosity.

Essays must be vivid and dramatic; they should combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element and reach beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning. We’re open to a broad range of interpretations of the “Frankenstein” theme, with the understanding that all works submitted must tell true stories and be factually accurate. Above all, we’re looking for well-written prose, rich with detail and a distinctive voice… [more]

*   *   *

You don’t have to set your sights as high as winning publication in a prestigious literary magazine for lovers of “true stories well told”–you could just let these prompts lead you to the page. Where do the themes of “Adaptation” and “Dangerous Creations” take you?

 

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Inside the Walls: Bob Dylan, teen delinquency, and my own bad behavior

By Jeremiah Cahill

My wife and I differ in appreciation of Bob Dylan’s music. She first heard his songs during an overnight train trip while a young man at the back of the coach played early Dylan all night on a cheap cassette, keeping her from even a fitful sleep and spoiling any future appreciation for the music.

In contrast, I had an unexpected—and mesmerizing—first encounter.

August 1, 1964—six days before my 18th birthday—Bob Dylan played the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu. Billed as “America’s foremost poet and folksinger,” I had never heard of him. Friends said “We gotta go,” so that Saturday night we descended on the Shell.

aug-64-posterJust as it sounds, Waikiki Shell is a stage roofed over with a hemispherical shell, facing rows of reserved seats then open seating on the lawns beyond. At the time, the outer perimeter was ringed with shrubs and a seven-foot wire fence—not much of a challenge for barefoot teen barbarians who never even considered buying tickets.

At dusk, we circled outside the Shell, watched for security guards, then “Go, go!” Grab on, climb up and over the fence, make sure we’re all in, then run up the back slope and melt into the gathering crowds.

Since I knew nothing of this slim young folk singer from Minnesota, I had no expectations. After a brief introduction, out walks young Bob Dylan, jeans and a plaid shirt, plunks into the one chair center stage, and starts strumming. Acoustic guitar, harmonica and voice—that was it.

By then Dylan had released four albums, and that evening he did the classics—“Blowing in the Wind,” “Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Funny, I don’t remember those. But one less-known song simply stunned me.

“Oh, the age of the inmates

I remember quite freely:

No younger than twelve,

No older ‘n seventeen.

Thrown in like bandits

And cast off like criminals,

Inside the walls,

The walls of Red Wing.”

“The Walls of Red Wing” describes the Minnesota Correctional Facility, built in 1889 to house juvenile male offenders. I’d never heard of it, but oh, boy did I relate!

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Minnesota Correctional Facility at Red Wing. Photo courtesy of Tom Jablonski

Within the last year, I had been stopped by the Honolulu police, pulled over around midnight—speeding, slightly drunk, and carrying an illegal switchblade-style knife. That was plenty to earn me a trip downtown and booking into what was then the Honolulu Juvenile Detention Center, otherwise known as the “detention home,” “DH,” or “juvie.”

The intake was simple: A cop behind the desk took what information he could get from me, slightly impaired. I surrendered all my belongings. I was told to strip down, given a pair of skimpy brown athletic shorts and a white T-shirt, then led to a dark dormitory. An officer walked me down rows of cots occupied by other young men and pointed his flashlight to an open bed.

I lay there trying to take it all in. In the dark, I had no idea who my dorm mates were but clearly the guy one cot over was masturbating energetically. I just hoped everyone kept to themselves, and I must have settled into something like sleep.

Morning wake-up came early. We trudged to the bleak cafeteria, where I sat alone, slightly hung over, forcing down a few bites of jailhouse breakfast.

“From the dirty old mess hall

You march to the brick wall,

Too weary to talk

And too tired to sing.

Oh, it’s all afternoon

You remember your home town,

Inside the walls,

The walls of Red Wing.”

Well, the Honolulu lockup wasn’t quite that grim for me. But it was sobering.

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Dormitory, former Honolulu Juvenile Detention Center. Photo courtesy of Richard Ross, juvenile-in-justice.com

From the mess hall, we mustered to an outdoor area enclosed by fifteen-foot high concrete walls topped with chain link and barbed wire fencing, bathed in bright Hawaiian sunshine. My jail mates were all brown-skinned local boys, many of them well-muscled, limber, athletic, and really into basketball. I was the only haole (white) boy, a skinny kid with no skill at shooting hoops. I sat there on the sidelines, arms across my knees, trying to disappear into the background.

Eleventh-grade inmate on recreational compound at former Honolulu Juvenile Detention Center. Photo courtesy of Richard Ross, juvenile-in-justice.com]

Eleventh-grade inmate on recreational compound at former Honolulu Juvenile Detention Center. Photo courtesy of Richard Ross, juvenile-in-justice.com

It was a relief of sorts when my father showed up mid-morning to sign me out. Oh, but I knew I was in for it. Serious home consequences. Juvenile court, probation. I had it all coming.

Looking back, why were those local boys detained? Were they “bandits and criminals”? Turns out that few of them were in for violent crimes. Quoting a 2006 article in Honolulu Magazine, “Most of them were what the system calls status offenders—kids who’ve run away, cut class, or given their parents some other reason to call the cops on them.” Additionally, mentally ill kids were locked up because there was nowhere else to put them.

The detention center was the scene of judicial hearings for “… kids brought in the night before and their guardians—fed-up foster parents, tired grandfathers, and tearful mothers who don’t always want to bring the kids back home.”

At the time, I didn’t know this background, but I had questionable role models among my own friends.

My good buddy Bo had done time in the real juvenile lock-up, the Koolau Boys’ Home or “the reformatory.” His stories were boastful but harrowing—long months in lock up, escapes, fights, and violence. Looking back, I realize one of Bo’s problems was hyperactivity. At some point neither his family nor authorities knew how to control him, so away he went.

Bobby, on the other hand, was hardened by 17, a sneering crook, a car thief, and a hoodlum. Sadly, I think back on a young offender already living way out on the wrong side.

Then there was the kid we called Alley Oop, a runaway from the leeward side of the island and another graduate of the reformatory. Good guy, but stocky, quick with his fists, and not someone to taunt. We got along fine and he stayed with our family for several weeks, sharing a bedroom with my brother and me, while my dad negotiated his return home.

How did this happen? How were we able to run wild in so many ways?

“Too much freedom and too few controls,” says my brother. My dad had another take: “In Hawaii, there was no weather to force you indoors, as on the mainland.” Both true.

For contrast, watch a Wisconsin high school boys’ basketball game. Players, coaches, parents and families, cheerleaders—they’re all indoors rooting for the home team. The hours of practice, the talent and teamwork and camaraderie of teenage boys, electrifies the gym.

And it helps keep them out of trouble.

We missed that. Lackluster schools, few extracurricular activities to grab us, no extended family. It left me with energy to burn, acting out, seeking thrills, and looking for peer approval.

At the extremes, some of my friends suffered from emotional and behavioral disorders that called out for treatment. Instead, they were locked up.

The Honolulu Juvenile Detention Center closed in 2010 amid reports of mistreatment and crumbling facilities.

Dylan’s concert punctuated the summer of ’64—I was out of high school and facing—what? I had no plans.

At some point, my dad gave me the ultimatum: get a job and start paying rent, go to college if I could overcome my dismal academic record, or join the military. Unspoken, I think, was another option: I could simply leave home. Two months later I was gone, off—my parents hoped—to employment and stability near family and friends in southern California.

“Oh, some of us’ll end up

In St. Cloud Prison,

And some of us’ll wind up

To be lawyers and things,

And some of us’ll stand up

To meet you on your crossroads,

From inside the walls,

The walls of Red Wing.”

By spring of 1965 I was on the road to Selma, Alabama to join in civil rights activities. Then west to Berkeley, California hitchhiking, hopping a freight train, and heading into the emerging anti-war movement. It would be seven years before I’d return home to Honolulu. Lots of adventures, and plenty of meet-ups at various crossroads.

I’ve often asked, why has that little-known protest song, “The Walls of Redwing,” stuck with me all these years?

Perhaps it was my first exposure to hard-hitting, contemporary poetry—words that really spoke to me.

Or Dylan’s presence on stage. In the words of a reviewer who was also at that concert, “I knew I was in the presence of greatness that night.”

More than anything, it was the resonance of my own brief incarceration—and knowing other young men in trouble and in need—that kept the power of those words alive.

 

(c) 2016. Jeremiah Cahill lives in Madison Wisconsin. He somehow grew beyond his rowdy youth and now atones for his past through social activism and good works.

 Richard Ross, photographer and Distinguished Professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, documents the lives of thousands of American teenagers held in lockdown and solitary confinement. The Juvenile-in-Justice project includes photos, posters, books and exhibitions. Images are available to institutions and non-profits working to reform the youth justice system.

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