therestlessnest

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

Archive for the tag “Wellesley College”

#Election2016: Countdown

         img_2763   It has never, ever felt so good to seal and stamp an envelope as it did after I filled out my ballot last week. Sure, I miss the old ritual of going to my local polling place, but sitting down and getting it done at home, good and early, felt great. Especially this year.

Of course, especially this year.

And now I’m going to tell you a few of the people I voted for.

I voted for the third graders I tutor in an afterschool program. One of them told me last week he was “so scared Donald Trump was going to win.” The others all chimed in. “We’re scared too!” “I hate Trump!” All of them are from refugee families; most come from Somalia. I wondered what they’ve been hearing at home. Can you imagine how horrifying it is to watch this election unfold, if you’re a refugee from anywhere—but especially from a Muslim country?

I also voted for another refugee: Henry Grundstrom, my great-grandfather, who, according to his naturalization papers, “foreswore his allegiance to the Czar of Russia” to become a United States citizen in 1898. Henry was from Finland, then under the Czar’s thumb. If he had stayed, he would have faced conscription into the Czar’s army. What would he have thought of allegations that Russian hackers could be trying to influence this election?

I voted for Viktor Warila, my other Finnish great-grandfather, who staked a homestead claim in Montana in 1910 and raised six children on the windswept bench lands between Billings and Yellowstone.

I voted for Lydia Warila, his wife, who traveled west from Ellis Island with her name and destination pinned to her coat, because she spoke not a word of English.

I voted for my Scottish forebears, who built houses in the Carnation Valley and on Queen Anne Hill, and for my Swedish great-grandfather, who left his Minnesota home at 18 and headed to Alaska for the Yukon Gold Rush.

I voted for my elegant grandmother, an orphan, who gave herself a whole new name when she was a teenager, because in this country you can do that. Because do-overs are in our DNA here. Unless you are Native American or your ancestors were brought here against their will, your people, too, came here because they wanted—or needed—to become something new. Just like my Somali students’ parents. And here’s the part that is apparently very hard for some Trump supporters to understand: in this country, we allow do-overs that don’t rob you of your core identity. You’re allowed to keep your religion, customs and language. My grandparents grew up speaking Finnish at home and attended Finnish Lutheran churches. Many of the Somali students in my neighborhood are trilingual: they speak English at school, Somali at home and learn Arabic in their religious classes.

I also cast my ballot in honor of my mother, who would have been SO thrilled to vote for the first woman ever to be a major-party candidate for president.

And I voted for my college: Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater too, which has been educating women since fifty years before we could legally vote for president, and whose founders wanted the college to prepare women for “great conflicts” and “vast reforms in social life.”

For Hillary Clinton, Wellesley was just the beginning of a lifetime of preparation for great conflicts and vast reforms. And for her, and for every woman in America, this election is much, much more than an opportunity for symbolism. It’s our chance to say: the great conflicts we face are real. Vast reform is needed. We need a president who knows these truths, and is ready to get to work.

That’s who I voted for. Let the countdown begin.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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