therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the category “education”

Stay Hungry

img_28372016 was a hungry, hungry year. Month after month, we hungered for justice and peace and hope, and we just kept getting hungrier. We thought November 8 might take the edge off; might give us a little encouraging broth for the journey. But no. Now we’re more famished than ever. And it’s very easy to feel like the best solution might be to simply curl up in a fetal position and hoard what little energy we have left.

But we can’t, can we? We owe it to ourselves, our children, our neighbors down the street and around the world, to stay hungry. To feel that driving bite in the gut, that ache, that howling growl that demands attention.

We are going to be offered pablum and junk food and we’ll be tempted to take it. We’ll be told to eat this, calm down, stop your bellyaching. But we can’t. We’ve got to stay hungry.

Yes, 2016 feels like the Worst Year Ever. But as one friend brooded on Facebook, what on earth makes us think 2017 is going to better?

Lest you think my only goal here is to write the most depressing post in Restless Nest history, I offer this morsel of optimism. Here’s what could be better about 2017, if we all stay hungry: this could be the year that we all do more than we ever have to make the world a better place. Instead of giving money to presidential candidates, we can give it to the people who are in the trenches, working against hate and for human rights; against climate change and for clean air, water and wilderness protection; against violence and for peace and reconciliation. Instead of talking about Nate Silver’s latest election prediction or Hillary Clinton’s email server or the latest egregious revelation about Donald Trump’s past, we can talk about what we can do, today, to protect vulnerable people and places and rights. We can volunteer to help immigrant children with homework, or help their parents gain citizenship. We can volunteer for medical research. We can rally. We can march. We can write letters and emails. We can support local and state politicians who are working for change. We can follow Senator Patty Murray’s lead and ask each other what we’re doing, not how we’re doing. Because we mostly know how we’re doing: we’re hungry. And we’re going to stay that way, for what could be quite a while.

img_2838Need some ideas of who to support? Here you go: ACLU, SPLC, Planned Parenthood, IRC, NOW, Emily’s List, LCV, NRDC, Sierra Club, Democracy Now, The Alzheimer’s Association, Seattle Globalist, Casa Latina, and Global Washington. Seattle-area friends: volunteer opportunities include Casa Latina, Refugee Women’s AllianceHorn of Africa Services (after-school tutoring) and the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

Dignity is an Illusion

IMG_1075            “Dignity is an illusion,” I took to saying during a particularly rough year of my life. I don’t know where it came from, or when exactly I first said it, but it made me laugh. Which helped. Dignity was in short supply that year. Rejection was the theme of the hour. Publishers were rejecting my first book (a novel, which remains unpublished.) My husband was rejecting our marriage (a miserable phase for both of us, which thankfully ended and now seems so long ago now I sometimes can’t believe it ever happened.) I was applying for full-time jobs for the first time in quite a while, and getting a lot of “sorrys,” which I took to mean I was too old (40) and professionally out-of-shape (true). Meanwhile, I watched helplessly as my mother experienced the worst rejection of all: she was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s. Her dignity was in the shredder.

Dignity is an illusion. These four words became my gallows-humor motto that year, and they have stayed with me ever since. If a phrase can be a teacher, this one has been mine. And here’s what it’s taught me: Cling to dignity and you’ll be left with nothing, including your dignity. Acknowledge that dignity is nothing but a pleasant illusion and you will be empowered. Those kids in the office where you finally land a job who think you’re old? Who cares! Show them how little you value dignity and they will judge you differently: perhaps even on the basis of your actual work. Your teenaged children and their friends? Likewise. You don’t have to embarrass them by trying to act like a teen, but they’re going to feel a lot more comfortable around you if you act like yourself, instead of some sort of unapproachable bastion of dignity.

Where I’ve found the notion of dignity as an illusion especially valuable is in that whole scary arena called taking risks. Trying things I’ve always wanted to try. Like… writing about real stuff from my personal life and then reading it at a literary open mike. Or learning to row in an 8-person shell. I did it, for two whole months! Came close to swamping the whole boat, but never actually did. I also took an acting class. And life drawing, and painting. Every one of these forays made a mockery of my dignity yet paradoxically left me feeling braver and stronger, until I was brave and strong enough to go back to what I knew I really wanted to do, which was write.

Dignity is an illusion, I reminded myself, as I filled out an application for a Masters of Fine Arts writing program, not knowing if I had any chance of getting in. I got in. Dignity is an illusion, I repeated, as I turned in my first critical papers in thirty years and my first drafts of memoir chapters, many of which featured remarkably undignified moments in my life. Dignity is an illusion, as I stood in front of a roomful of eighth graders and taught my first memoir class. Dignity is an illusion, as I tried for three years to find a publisher for my book.

It’s not a new idea. In the eighth century BC, the Hebrew prophet Micah wrote this: “And what does the Lord require of you/ but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Two thousands years later, the Sufi poet Rumi put it this way: “Your defects are the ways that glory gets manifested… Keep looking at the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”

Her_Beautiful_BrainBuy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available too.kbcs_logo

Libraries Change Lives

UnknownSnapshot: me, sitting cross-legged on a hardwood floor. Surrounded by shelves of books. One open in my hand. I’m so absorbed in it I forget who I am, where I am, what time it is. When the bell rings, I close the book and jump up, limp-hopping because my leg’s dead-wood asleep. I’ve got to get to the checkout desk, fast, so I can take this precious book with me as I racewalk to my next class.

It’s 1969. I am 12 years old. The corner of the Nathan Eckstein Junior High School library where I hang out is the corner where the biographies and autobiographies are shelved. And the memoirs, although I don’t remember knowing or using that word then.

The biography section runs on low shelves along the short, east wall to the corner of the long, curved north wall, with its sweeping bank of glass-block windows that work hard all day to capture, refract, diffuse whatever north Seattle light they can find. If you planned to spend some time there, as I usually did, sitting cross-legged on the floor with your skirt fanned from knee to knee was more modest and more comfortable than squatting. Sitting on the floor also dropped me right out of sight behind the interior forest of taller bookcases. For as long as I sat there, I was alone. I was free. No older girls, no cool girls. No cute boys, no scary boys. Just me and real stories of real people, most of whom lived long before junior high school existed. Before glasses, braces and a bad case of adolescent shyness could turn this place called Eckstein into a fortress full of hidden dangers that had to be navigated every single day.

My library corner was my refuge.

Many of the biographies I found and read in that corner have faded from memory. There were the nurses—Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale—and the writers: Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte Bronte. There was Juliette Gordon Low, founder the Girl Scouts. Marie Curie. Helen Keller. Anne Frank. It wasn’t that I wasn’t curious about men. It’s just that during those junior high years, I needed stories of strong women the way lungs need oxygen.

One day, I pulled a memoir off the shelf called All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein. Her story begins on September 3, 1939, a date she remembers with far more clarity than I can recall my Eckstein library corner. It was the day the Nazis invaded her Polish town. She remembers her brother, stepping outside to let the cat in. When he closed the door, he had a bullet hole in his trousers.

When I got home after school, I sat down on the floor of my bedroom and kept reading Gerda’s story: page after page of forced marches, cattle cars, work camps, death camps, and, against all odds, survival. This was not Anne Frank’s diary of hiding from the horror. This was the horror. Gerda Weissmann Klein taught me real history, stripped of all euphemism. She taught me the power of one person’s story. And she put the traumas of my little life—the glasses, the braces, the mean girls, my parents’ divorce—in perspective. Real history, stripped of euphemism, will do that.

This week is the American Library Association’s annual national library week, and this year’s theme is “Lives change @ your library.” My life changed every time I sat down in that secret, sunny corner. What about yours?

 

 

 

Brain on Fire

DSC00865“What does this mean—‘brain on fire?’”  Munira pointed to the words on the page.

We were reading a passage about Helen Keller in her fourth-grade homework packet. The author was describing how Keller’s brain was suddenly “on fire” after the legendary breakthrough moment when she spelled the word “water” in her teacher Anne Sullivan’s hand; how Helen ran from object to object, demanding names, learning at least 30 words that very day.

I did my best to explain “brain on fire,” but found myself reaching for equally odd English sayings, about lightbulbs turning on or “Aha!” moments or “getting it.” Munira got it, and we read on. Like many of the Somali students I tutor in the after-school program in my neighborhood, her English is fluent but youthful and conversational. Phrases that date back a few decades, or several, stick out like a—well, like a sore thumb. I remember one afternoon last year when I had to explain the title of a reading passage called “America’s Favorite Pastime” to a student even younger than Munira: let’s just say, I’m no Anne Sullivan.

And I’m not. I am not setting brains on fire on a regular basis. But I keep showing up, because I have this naïve belief in the power of reading. Once a child is able to open a book and read, all on her own, it’s as if she possesses a magic power, a golden key to everything, that no one can take away. But just as Anne Sullivan could not persuade Helen Keller that her funny finger exercises meant anything until Keller’s brain fired up that day at the water pump, no one can make a child read. What you can do is sit next to them and do your best to keep them focused, one word at a time, until that little spark lights. Munira’s a good reader. She’s been at it for a few years now. Her brow is not knitting (oh, that’s a good one!) over the act of reading itself but over a word or phrase she doesn’t know. Her brain is on fire, in a steady, crackling, productive way.

It’s the younger ones I lose sleep over: the 7 and 8 year olds who are falling a bit behind because they haven’t had that “on-fire” breakthrough yet. I know it will happen, but for their sake, I want it to happen now.

Late in her life, Anne Sullivan’s eyesight failed altogether and Helen Keller became her teacher, trying to revive Sullivan’s once-fluent ability to read and write in Braille. But Sullivan was convinced it was too late. She, one of the most famously patient teachers in the history of teaching, could not extend that patience to herself. She had lost confidence in her own brain’s ability to ignite.  I learned this from Sullivan’s 1936 New York Times obituary, which quoted its own editorial of a few years earlier about how Keller and Sullivan were now bringing a whole new meaning to yet another old saying, “the blind leading the blind.” But it was not to be, and Sullivan blamed herself, saying she had no patience for Braille, because she couldn’t read fast enough.

Fast forward to 2014. Is it harder to teach reading in a world where everything moves so fast? Imagine: you’re seven years old, in a room full of children, noise, distraction. You’re trying to sound out one word at a time but it’s so dull and slow. And yet: there is a part of you that knows that once you get this, you too will be able to whip out a phone and text your friends like the middle school girls over in their corner. Or look things up online. Reading is about so much more than books these days. The whole world is on fire with words, words, words: and maybe getting that is what it will take to turn kids into readers, before they get too old and impatient.

 Registration is now open for my non-credit, no stress Memoir Writer’s Workshop at Seattle Central Community College. This is a new class for writers who feel ready to write 5-7 pages a week. Six Monday nights, starting April 7. 

 The Restless Nest is on the radio every Tuesday morning at 7:45 a.m. KBCS.fm; 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available. 

 

 

I’d like to thank a few people

DSC00865 I am writing the first acknowledgements page of my writing life, and I am paralyzed. I don’t want to send it to my editor. I won’t send it. What if I’ve forgotten someone? I know I’ve forgotten someone. I mean, let’s just assume. Because where do you draw the line?

For example, I didn’t include the first person who told me I could write: Mrs. LaCross, my second and third grade teacher. She loved my sometimes droll but mostly inane little poems, directly inspired by her frequent dramatic readings from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.

I didn’t include Rose Moss, my Wellesley College creative writing professor, who taught me how to show versus tell in a piece of “fiction” that really was my first attempt at memoir. Mrs. Moss made me see a dark night in my young life so clearly I can see it still: the train station in Geneva, the last train pulling away with me not on it, the blond man in a trench coat who seemed so trustworthy, so sincere. She made me see myself: a college student in a peach-colored parka, Frye boots, bell-bottom jeans, carrying a forest-green, metal-framed backpack. Wearing old tortoise-shell glasses with a bad prescription, because I’d flushed my contact lens down the drain of a pension in Rome.

I didn’t include Paul Zimbrakos, my boss at City News Bureau of Chicago, who taught me that I could and would interview anybody, from AFL-CIO chief Lane Kirkland to the cops who addressed me as “Hey City Nooz” to young Sandinistas wearing bandanas over their faces, in hiding at a Chicago convent. Or Edward Bliss, who I never met but whose classic Writing News for Broadcast taught me that I could and would boil Washington state’s epic nuclear power default scandal known as WPPSS down to fifteen seconds of copy for the nightly news. Or Jan Chorlton, who died this year of younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but who, 30 years ago, showed me that it was possible to commit acts of daily creativity in a TV newsroom.

I didn’t include Jacci Thompson-Dodd, my boss at the Seattle Art Museum, who encouraged me to pull out the stops and make the most obscure art come alive. Or Kristin Hyde and Liz Banse, who did the same when I turned my writer’s eye to environmental issues for Resource Media.

I didn’t include Rebecca Brown, who taught fiction in the University of Washington evening extension program in the mid-1990s and urged me to take my own writing seriously, at last.

I didn’t include these wonderful, memorable, powerful people because they weren’t directly influential in the writing of my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, which will be published in Fall 2014 by She Writes Press. And yet the question remains: where do you draw the line?

There’s a folder in a box in my closet that contains poems, nursery rhymes, riddles, limericks, all laboriously copied in my 8-year-old’s cursive writing. Mrs. Lacross thought a good way to practice our handwriting was to copy things we liked out of books. To build our own storyteller’s treasure chest, our own “fairy’s gold,” she called it. It was the corniest idea ever. I loved it. Loved it: never knowing how permanently it would influence me, this notion of stories as treasure. As magical, intangible currency; a savings account that would never run out.

I wish I could share the news with Mrs. Lacross that I’m going to be a published author at last. I know she would not be troubled at all by how long it took me. According to her daughter, she went back to college and became a teacher when she was sixty and taught until she was 78.

Lucky me, that she did.

Lucky me, that so many people invested in me when I most needed them to. Thank you all. Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

Night of the Shutdown

DSC00865On the night the Republicans shut down the government, I was teaching at Seattle Central Community College: “Intro to Memoir Writing,” a non-credit class offered through Central’s lively Continuing Education program. While my students and I tackled the mysterious mechanics of writing about our lives, other students and other teachers labored in classrooms all around us: French, across the hall; English as a Second Language, a few doors down; history and sociology around the corner. While Congress wasted the country’s time, we devoured time hungrily and with purpose: teaching, listening, learning from each other. While House Speaker John Boehner did his best to dismantle the democratic process, we were building—in our cases, stories, built one word at a time with sweat, tears, love and hard labor.

At some point earlier in their careers, surely Boehner and his colleagues must have wanted to build, rather than tear down. Maybe not: maybe the Republican party has always been dedicated to ending government as we know it. Government, as we were taught in classrooms long ago, in which bills are drafted, debated, rewritten, passed, signed and then become the law of the land. Law: not a target for blackmail and subversion, but law.

It cheers me to think of all the learning going on in community college classrooms, not only on Monday, September 30, but on any given evening. Because this is where Boehner and his cohort are going down. The people the Tea Party et al fear so much—people who think, people who want to learn rather than be spoon-fed half-truths and untruths about how democracy is supposed to work—I’m here to tell you there are more of them every day. And they’re not home watching Fox News after work, they’re going to night school.

What angers me is that some of those students might also be among the 800,000 federal employees who are out of a job, thanks to the selfish grandstanding of the zealots on Capitol Hill.

It helps a little to know they’ll be able to get health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Law: the Affordable Care Law. Passed by the people’s representatives, signed by the democratically elected president, upheld by the highest court in the land.

I love how that works.

Just as I love teaching in a continuing education program at a community college: where people are excited about opening their brains up to new ideas, rather than pretending new ideas—or new laws—don’t exist.

Boston

DSC00865One September day, when I was still a child but thought I was not, off I flew to Boston. My checked bags included a shiny trunk in a retro black and white pattern and a sky blue Skyway suitcase. I wore a new plaid blouse, brown corduroys and a brown hooded sweater. I was 17 and I didn’t look a day older.

Boston received me the way Boston does: with a bit of a yawn. Oh, here she comes; yet another wide-eyed rube from the Wild West come east to get some schooling. Sorry, sweetheart, but you’re a dime a dozen in this town. Never mind: have some chowder. Have a corn muffin. You want your coffee regular? Which in Boston, of course, means with cream and sugar.

I didn’t care, because I knew my real life was beginning.

In the mayhem of this past week, in our global obsession with Boston, with the bombs at the marathon finish line and who put them there and why; in our grief for the dead and injured, one of President Obama’s finest moments slipped under the news radar. On Thursday, hours before the terror and drama of the manhunt began, before we knew anything about two brothers with roots in Chechnya, the people of Boston gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to mourn. It was an interfaith service featuring many eloquent speakers. I happened to catch most of it on the radio. But it was our president who made me cry, because he reminded me what Boston means to me and to so very many others, including Michelle, including him.

“There’s a piece of Boston in me,” the President said, and I knew exactly what he meant. He recalled how the city welcomed him as a young law student. He talked about how he and Michelle knew its streets and squares.

“For millions of us,” the president said, “what happened on Monday is personal. It’s personal.” Yes it is.

When I went off to college, my destination was Wellesley, way out in the suburbs. After graduating from public high school in pre-Microsoft, pre-Nirvana Seattle, Wellesley—with its foreign princesses, New York sophisticates, New England bluebloods—was the first great culture shock of my life.  When the hothouse atmosphere got to be too much for me, Boston was where I went for relief.

I didn’t mind the long trip on the bus or the T. I craved the cobbled streets of Back Bay and Beacon Hill. I needed the cacophony of Park Street Station, the expanse of Copley Square. I reveled in the anonymity of cafes where even a greenhorn girl from out west could blend in. Boston wasn’t New York, but it was urban in ways that Seattle was not. It was historic, but it felt familiar: all my life, I’d heard of Harvard Yard, Old North Church, Boston Harbor, but I’d never seen them. And now here they were, like long-lost relatives who had been waiting to meet me.

In his speech, Obama quoted a poem by E.B. White, in which White calls Boston not a capital or a place, but a perfect “state of grace.” I suspect White, a New Yorker, meant it more playfully than ponderously. But Obama lifted the phrase up a few notches, and I don’t think White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, would have minded. He would have understood our post-marathon need for grace, the way Charlotte the spider-who-saved-a-pig understood, the way Boston understands when it welcomes naïve students and runners from around the world who have dreamed of this place, who need it, who will make it a part of the new selves they are creating. For whom this city and what happens to it will always be personal.

 Check out my recent guest blog on Minervarising.com: inspired by Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes’ wonderful book, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. 

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Homework

DSC00865It’s almost 5:30. Time to walk the one block from my front door to the neighborhood center where I volunteer once a week as a homework tutor for Horn of Africa Services, a nonprofit serving Seattle’s East African community. I wonder what challenges await me today. Will I find myself trying to explain what a “bale of hay” is? Corral the attention of a first-grader who is convinced the police car in the alley might be here for someone he knows? Search for scissors and a glue stick for a “word-sorting” homework assignment that involves pasting postage-sized pictures of words with similar endings in the correct columns? The word-sort worksheet makes me wonder if the teacher who assigned it really enjoys the mental picture of parents and other homework helpers, like me, down on our knees gathering up flyaway scraps of homework confetti. (I don’t remember my own children having to use glue to do homework very often, though there was that one multi-day, sweat-and-tear-stained project that called for recreating Fort Vancouver out of popsicle sticks.)

At a training for volunteers, Program Director Dereje Zewdie began by defining culture as, quote, “what makes you a stranger when you’re away from home.” Walking to the tutoring center, I’m only a few hundred yards from where I now live. A mere ten miles from the house where I grew up. I don’t think about My Culture because I live in it. It is omnipresent; as invisible as air.

But all that changes when I open the door and walk in. Nearly everyone else in the room is about nine thousand miles, give or take, from the place they or their parents call home. And so Culture, the whole concept of it, is suddenly present, visible, tangible. Their culture, my culture—our rules, beliefs, traditions, language, values; everything human families transmit from one generation to the next—hovers around us.

What breaks the ice is the goal we all share: to get the homework done. The packets are due Friday, so we’re down to the wire on Thursday evenings. Huddled together over word sorts and math problems; over assigned stories full of puzzlers like “bales of hay;” we forget for an hour or two how strange we are to each other. Me with my uncovered, blonde-brown-gray hair. They with their colorful hijab.

There usually are not enough tutors to work one on one, so we juggle. I might find myself reading out loud with a kindergartener and a first-grader, stopping every few minutes to help a second grader add columns. After an hour of this, I often feel like my brain has been scissored into word-sort confetti.

According to Historylink’s 2010 article on Seattle’s Somali community, Somali students are the second largest bilingual group in the Seattle Public Schools. Amharic, Tigrinya and Oromo are also among the top eight languages spoken in the district. Seattle King County Public Health estimates there are about 40 thousand East African immigrants in King County. Some nonprofit organizations put the number much higher.

I’m not an academically valuable tutor. My math skills are rudimentary. But I’m comfortable around children, and I can put a LOT of gusto into reading and writing. Over my first several months, I’ve seen a few readers shift from stop-and-go to full-speed-ahead, and that is gratifying, even though I played only a small, once-a-week part in their progress.

In a recent Crosscut column, former Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle President Bill Stafford pointed out that Bellevue is now over 30 percent foreign born and Seattle 25 percent. “Whether you are a newspaper, theater company, medical provider or retailer,” writes Stafford, “to be successful, you must understand the changing demographics of the Puget Sound community.”

I appreciate his point, even though I am not any of those things. What keeps me coming back on Thursdays is: these are my neighbors. I want to know them better. If I had different talents, I might find some other way to do that. But for me, sounding out words with 6 and 7-year-olds is a place to start.

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Hard-wired for Green

DSC00865We are hard-wired for green. It’s a phrase I heard for the first time this week, and it is lodged in my brain at the moment like an advertising jingle I secretly like. Hard-wired for green: meaning, you can strip away everything you’ve learned since birth and you will still primally, viscerally, respond like a seedling in the sun to the sight of new green growth. You will feel reassured by this evidence that the planet, or at least one bit of it, is still alive and well. You will feel energized—if these plants can grow, then I can too.

You might think I heard this in some sort of eco-oriented setting, and you’d be right, if you stretched your notion of ecology to include the complex landscape of the brain. It was the keynote speaker at the regional Alzheimer’s conference who planted the “hard-wired for green” seed in my head. Sociologist and author John Zeisel was talking about what people with Alzheimer’s don’t lose as the disease goes about its inexorable business. What they don’t lose is what is “hard-wired;” so deeply embedded that we’re born with it. Positive feelings about green, especially trees, were at the top of his list, which also included: universal facial expressions—smiles, frowns and the look of disgust; response to touch, especially anything resembling a mother’s touch; the learning and use of landmarks; and, finally, creative expression: art, poetry, music and dance.

Zeisel is a tireless advocate for the “personhood” of the person with dementia, as reflected in the title of his book, I’m Still Here—a New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. His credo is to focus not on what’s lost to Alzheimer’s, but on what’s left. He likes to throw around phrases like, “People with Alzheimer’s have a human right to lead a life worth living.”

If you, like me, are one of the millions of people in the world who have seen Alzheimer’s disease up close in someone you love, this is emotionally loaded territory. Our mother lived into the very late stages of the illness, and I can attest that green trees, facial expressions and touch remained powerful for her. But as that little phrase, “hardwired for green,” settles into my brain, I am struck by the larger truths behind Zeisel’s list. By how these visceral, hardwired pleasures nurture not only those of us whose brains are ill but those of us who are well.

And here’s what I wonder: if we modern, multi-tasking humans allow ourselves to revel in green, in smiles, in human touch, in creative expression… will those primal elements be even more present for us, even more accessible, when we need them at the ends of our lives? We won’t know until we get there. But surely we’ll have a richer ride through the years.

At the other end of life, arts education is back in the news and beginning to recover its lost momentum. People are talking about how yes, the STEM subjects—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—are crucial, but if you put the A for Art back in and call it STEAM, you add creative thinking to the mix, which might be the most powerful ingredient of all. As an apprentice in Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program, I see this every week. Poetry, music, art and dance come naturally to children who haven’t yet locked them away in some “that’s not who I am” category.

And getting back to green: that hard-wired response is front and center this time of year. For children and for all of us. As my mom often said, long after most other phrases had failed her, “Look at these trees! We live in such a beautiful place.”

Don’t miss Bill Hayes’ beautiful essay about trees published in the Sunday New York Times.

Our films, Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story, The Church on Dauphine Street and 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Impatience

DSC00865“Patience is a virtue.” Who first said that, and why? A quick Internet search points to a few “medieval poets.” Let’s leave it there—in the dark ages—and move on: to why patience is on my mind, and not in a virtuous, well-behaved way.

I just spent an evening at Seattle’s Town Hall listening to five dynamic women speak at an event, sponsored by the Women’s Funding Alliance, called “Fresh Perspective: Women Lead a Changing World.” Good title; wish it were true.

The speakers had some good news to share—the dramatic increase in the numbers of women obtaining bachelors, masters and PhD degrees; the previously unheard of opportunities for women in government, science, technology, sports.

But “Women Lead a Changing World?” No. Not very many of us are leading. Not by a long shot. And the world may be changing, but it sure is taking its time. And we’ve been far too patient.

It is time we made a virtue of impatience.

When eight of every ten corporations in Washington state have fewer than three women on their boards, it is time to be impatient.

When women in Washington* earn 75 cents for every dollar men earn—73 cents, if you have kids; 60 cents if you’re a single mom—it’s time to be impatient.

When Washington slips from first to eighth in the nation for female political representation, it’s time to be impatient.

When 415 thousand women and girls in our state have no health insurance, when reproductive rights are under assault, when one out of four children in our state don’t have enough to eat—impatience. Please. Now!

Kristin Rowe Finkbeiner of MomsRising.org nailed it when she said that what we have here is a “national structural issue, not an epidemic of personal failings.” We women are far too expert at blaming ourselves for problems like finding high-quality affordable childcare in a country where it is nearly impossible to put “high-quality” and “affordable” in the same sentence.

All of the speakers dealt deftly with the recently published elephant in the room: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Finkbeiner urged us to “lean together.” Award-winning Seattle Art Museum educator Sandra Jackson-Dumont praised Sandberg for igniting important conversations at a crucial time for women.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read Sandberg’s book, but I will. If she is igniting conversations, that’s a good thing. Conversations have a way of triggering collective impatience.

Women are more than half the electorate and, for the first time in history, half the paid labor force. We make 85 percent of purchasing decisions. Collectively, our impatience could have an impact.

And there are so many ways we could put it to work.

We can encourage each other to run for office, to seek out board positions, to stretch ourselves towards leadership by learning the skills we think we might lack and daring to use the skills and wisdom we know we have. We can go beyond simply voting and send emails, make phone calls, write OpEds and letters to the editor about the issues that matter to us.

I’m speaking in particular, here, to my age-mates. We know how busy women who are juggling work and child-rearing are because we were just there. Now, it’s our turn to lean together, work together. Get usefully, virtuously impatient. Together.

 *Research cited in this piece was provided by Lori Pfingst of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising, Ada Williams Prince of One America and Jennifer Stuller of GeekGirlCon.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

 

 

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