How it felt to be at The Women’s March on Washington

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I’ve been trying to write something profound about how it felt to be at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st but the best I can come up with is…

Wow….

Seriously, if the word “wow” means mind blowing and life altering.

I met my friend Jennifer, another mom of a daughter with a serious medical condition, in New Jersey. She and I then travelled by charter bus sponsored by the Unitarian Church to Washington DC. The first time I said “wow” was at a rest stop in Delaware. There were hundreds of busses packed with thousands of excited women. We were all going to Washington DC that cold, foggy morning. The weather wouldn’t keep us home.

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In Washington, the bus crept into the stadium parking lot. After parking, we joined the long line of women, men and some children in pink pussy hats, carrying signs and talking excitedly. The security person shouted that the Metro was overwhelmed, but if we wanted to catch a ride, turn left and wait about an hour. “Or walk two miles that way.” Jennifer and I chose to walk. Thousands of us walked, filling the sidewalks and roads with cheerful protest songs. The march had begun and we weren’t at the event yet.

 

When we reached the Capitol building we stood on the steps and looked across the Capitol Mall, stunned by the hundreds of thousands of people we saw. It was a milling sea of pink capped people. Slowly we walked into the crowd, unsure of what we’d find. There were so many angry, frustrated, mobilized people, but instead of rioting or breaking windows, people were holding signs, singing songs, and talking to each other. A woman stood on the edge of the reflection pool, holding up a sign and described her sign as if she was Donald Trump. “My sign is soo huuuuuge.” “This the greatest sign of all time. I promise. It’s great.” “This sign will make America great again.” Everyone laughed and cheered.

img_4682We We pushed on, trying to reach the main stage where the speakers were, determined to catch a glimpse of Angela Davis. As we got closer to 3rd and Independence, people stopped moving and we were surrounded, shoulder to shoulder, pressed forward and then back by the waves of the crowd. No more room at the stage area. The larger than expected crowd of women had maxed designated space and spilled out into the surrounding roads.

Managing to turn around, we struggled like eels fighting up stream and made it to the line for the porta-potties. Might as well stand in line for 30 minutes; by the time it’s our turn to pee we’ll need to go. People chatted and laughed at signs or discussed politics. Occasionally a cheer would rise from the stage area and then spread outward to our line, passing by in a wave of sound. A famous person would walk through a cordoned off security passage. We caught a glimpse of Drew Kerry’s neck. More cheers passed through and onward and we wondered who was speaking.

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After using the porta-potties, Jennifer and I decided to try and work around the edge of the crowd to where the march was to officially start. Only problem: there was no edge to the crowd! We thought we found it but instead of widening, the pathway narrowed and we were squeezed with a thousand others onto a sidewalk between cement barriers. The crowd stopped. No where to go. We had to wait for the crowd to move as one before we could escape. But rather than feeling anxious, I was calm. The crowd stayed calm. People were impatient, but not enough people became agitated to cause any problems. One woman and her friends forced their way through the crowd with a force so strong she spun me, which then spun Jennifer and then the woman behind us, as if we were all attached to cogs!  Instead of getting mad, we three laughed. I glanced to the other side and realized I was pressed against a movie star. She and I chatted, but I didn’t  break her cover. On this day, we were all just women.

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At last the crowd was allowed to move and the march began! Jennifer and I unfolded our banner, a pink blanket with “Respect Young Women with Disabilities” embossed on it, as well as the names of young women we were representing. My daughter’s name was next to Jennifer’s daughter’s name, and next to those names were the names of daughters of friends. So many young women who are under threat by the Trump presidency. We walked in the street and chanted with others. We stood beside a teacher in front of the Department of Education Building and held up a sign that said, “Protect Our Schools.” Three teachers fighting for education. I’m sure there were thousands of teachers there that day.

The march lasted two blocks. As the marchers rounded a corner we crashed into another crowd of people being pushed back from the stage area. Jennifer and I realized we had to get back to the other side of the crowd so we could catch our shuttle bus on time, but how? We dove in and wiggled up stream again, but were tossed back over and over by the force of people. Finally we found a way through by squeezing behind food trucks and stepping over boxes. It took 45 minutes to travel one block. We were exhausted and still had to walk two miles to the bus parking lot.

Sitting on a curb to rest, we watched four young women take turns snapping pictures of each other. Jennifer got up and asked if they wanted a group photo. The women smiled and said thank you, then posed with their signs pronouncing, “Black Lives Matter.” I wasn’t tired any more. Their excitement and energy filled me with joy. These young women were probably in their early twenties and were thrilled to be a part of history. They believed down to their bones change could happen. My 50 year old jaded self wanted to cry, because in that moment, I knew how they felt.

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We rested again in Lincoln park after walking a mile and watched thousands of protestors walk by, heading back to their shuttle bus just as we were. Everyone was so happy. Tired, but inspired! The police were still smiling at the end of a long day and I realized they had been kind and respectful all day. I never felt threatened. The locals watched us walk by their homes and waved and cheered, as thrilled by our protest as we were.

On the bus, everyone slept, worn out from such an epic day. I now know what that word means too. Epic. A part of history. Something that has changed me. Reframed my way of looking at the world. And all I can say is…

Wow.

2016 – Where is the happiness?

It feels as if 2016 kicked everyone in the gut. Every person I know has faced hardship and strife. Too many people died, from the famous like David Bowie and Prince, to the not so famous but dearly loved, like my friend Randen. Tragedy hit hard and across the world war has escalated. I don’t know anyone who feels safe. And now with President Trump looming, most of my friends feel like they are one step away from disaster. I work in a town devastated by a wildfire. I see how many more homeless people there are crowding the park because there’s no where else to go. It’s so easy to get pulled in to the fear and darkness.

By focusing so much on the news and the dark stories I hear from others, I almost forgot there were many blessings for my family this year. I am teaching again. My husband’s cancer is gone. Our daughter is happy and has many friends. My new book is about half way written. Our garden is thriving. We are financially stable, at least in the short run. The roof doesn’t leak. Both cars run. We have enough to eat.

2011 through 2015 were filled with one health crisis after another. First my daughter almost died, then I was injured and lost my job, then my husband got cancer. We almost lost our home when his small-business ended. I have no idea how we got through those years.

But 2016 in contrast was a wonderful year for my hubby and kid. No one was sick. No one injured. The bills were paid. Seems sad to compare 2016 to those prior four years, as if I’m saying it was a good year because we didn’t die. But sometimes it feels that way…

The future scares the hell out of me. My daughter’s health is declining and I’m afraid of the budget cuts a Republican government will force. How will that affect her and the support she needs to survive?

We are all worn out, fearful and tired. 2016 kicked everyone in the gut. But what I learned from so much fear and loss is that the only way to get back up is to remember the small miracles hidden in the fear.

My daughter’s smile.

Those moments with my special needs students when they suddenly understand something we’ve been working on for weeks.

Every time my beat-up 2003 Honda Odyssey starts on a frozen morning.

The amazing Chinese food my husband cooks from scratch.

Paying all the bills and still having money in the bank.

The tiny plants in my green house waiting for Spring.

Singing with friends on a bright Christmas afternoon.

There is still good in the world. Some years you have to look a little harder to find it, but it’s never gone. It’s worth fighting for. I heard that in a movie somewhere…

Happy New Year. Don’t give up.

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Not the only Mito Kid in the world

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My daughter Rhia and I spent the last four days in Seattle at the Mitochondrial Disease Medical Conference. Hundreds of people with mitochondrial disease, their family, parents, doctors and researchers gathered at the SeaTac Hilton Double Tree Hotel to discuss potential treatments, research breakthrough’s and symptom management. The conference travels from the East to the West coast. This year it was only a two hour flight from our home, so my daughter and I decided to go.

The main goal for us was to meet other young people and kids with the disease. Rhia was convinced she was the only person in the world with Mitochondrial disease. There is no one else like her who uses a wheelchair because her legs are “too lazy” to walk (her words). No one else is deaf-blind and no one else has hands that shake.

Rhia quickly learned she isn’t the only girl on the planet. At the conference, she met a girl who uses a wheelchair because she too gets too tired to walk far and tends to shake when fatigued. We met a young man who has the same doctor as Rhia and has dealt with all the same tests and procedures. We met a young woman with thick glasses who struggles with seizures while trying to go to college. A young man who used to play sports but now spends more time in bed than on the field. We met teenagers and young adults from all over the US who battle mitochondrial disease every day just to have some kind of self-actualized life.

No one else is deaf-blind, though. I spent most of my time interpreting sign language so Rhia could understand what people were saying. It was a challenge to help Rhia become included in the group. They could all talk about their frustrations and joys, and they shared their experiences freely, supporting each other as best they could. As a deaf-bind person, Rhia is a rarity within a rare group. But everyone worked hard to include Rhia in the group. Whether she could understand their spoken words or not, she was still one of them. In time, Rhia warmed up and made two connections which could develop into friendships. Unfortunately they  live in different states, but if they can figure out how to stay in touch, the three could really help each other not feel so isolated.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend many of the workshops on mitochondrial disease treatment and management, so I missed a lot of the information. But Rhia and I achieved our goal: connecting to other people with “mito” and understanding Rhia is not all alone. At times it was hard for me to step back from being mom and just facilitate communication. The stories people shared about their anger and grief coping with mitochondrial disease were heart wrenching. These kids should be enjoying high school and planning for college, not managing symptoms of a degenerative disease. Rhia said she hated her “lazy legs” and wished she could walk. She was tired of hurting herself all the time. The others nodded, understanding her anger. Reminding myself that I was here to support Rhia’s communication needs, I kept my tears in check.

At the end of the conference we were both exhausted and ready to be home. Two days later I’m still trying to regain my energy. The trip was challenging physically and emotionally, but worth it. We’ll definitely go again.

Thank you UMDF for providing this community and helping us cope with Mito. It’s not easy, but together, we can do it.

New Orleans at Mardi Gras is a Southern Gothic Tale in Technicolor

from Krew of Muses gallery

Why is New Orleans so beautiful? Because the city is unique, fascinating, tragic, dramatic, eccentric, violent, happy, upbeat, decrepit and alive. There isn’t a street in that entire city that doesn’t tell a story. The people who live there take pride in those stories, and want to tell their own. Hell, they’ll go out of their way to make their own, the more fantastic the better. Music is a part of life and the food is all their own. The people of New Orleans know how to live while staring death in the face.

And oh my does that city know how to party! I spent my first Mardi Gras season in the French Quarter last week and came home hungover, dehydrated, exhausted and with a fat lip from getting hit in the face with a bag of beads thrown from a Bacchus float. Translation: I had one of the best times of my whole life.

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The parades alone are worth the 2000 mile trip. The floats are decked out in brilliant colors and manned by Krew members who throw jewel colored beads into the crowd. My favorite was Muses, which is a more bohemian parade. The Krew of Muses is one of the newest Krew’s in town, but their gorgeous floats and fun marching bands have become a City favorite. Bacchus is an older, traditional Krew, and their floats are monstrous! Trailers pull gigantic floats depicting children’s literature, such as Harry Potter and Where the Wild Things Are. The music in the parades is performed by high school and college marching bands, and those kids can rock. Even at the end of the five mile parade route, the drums still pounded and the horns shook the ground we stood on.

The French Quarter is a mix of beauty and filth. Bourbon street is a mess, packed shoulder to shoulder with young, sex starved drunks hunting for beads. It made me think of Spring Break with an open bar. Not my scene at all, but the people watching was fantastic. I liked the side streets and neighborhoods off the Quarter where locals like to celebrate. Costumes and masks were the preferred attire, otherwise people liked to go mostly naked.

Bourbon Street

My husband is from New Orleans. We’ve planned to go for years, but circumstance and money kept stopping us. But this year we said “screw it” and bought our hotel room and flights. It’s one of those things you have to do, even if you think you can’t afford it. Adventure is important, and the beauty of New Orleans showing off her splendor is worth the price. She is proud of her Krews and music and food and happy to share it with you. She’ll also scam you out of your last dime so keep a hand on your wallet. New Orleans isn’t a polite princess waiting for you to dote on her; she is a Queen looking for a good time and someone to party with. Life and Death walk hand in hand, and if you say hello, one of them will buy you a drink.

2013: Do you know anyone who didn’t have a difficult year?

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a difficult year. Relationships shattered; jobs vanished; housing collapsed;  finances withered. Even health seemed difficult to maintain in 2013. What is it about this year that caused even the toughest amongst us to cry “Uncle!” Just like so many this year, everything in my life cracked. I lost my job, had surgery on my shoulder that didn’t resolve the pain, my daughter was ill, stress quadrupled, and my marriage suffered. At the end of this year, I feel emotionally and physically battered to hell, and I know damn well I’m not alone.

Is there a single person anywhere who doesn’t feel like 2013 was the equivalent of a treck to Mordor?

Why was 2013 so hard? Astrologers blame Mercury. Politicians blame the economy. Conservatives blame the collapse of social norms. Is it the hang-over from the “Great Recession”? The crazy weather? Toxic chemicals in our drinking water? Hormones in our food supply? What is causing so many of us to suffer?

The Winter Solstice is here, and this year it holds more meaning for me than in past years. The darkness feels stronger, literally and figuratively. The days are cold and the nights too long and all I want to do is curl up in my bed and sleep until Spring. Usually, I love the Winter, but this year it feels that it will never end, even though technically Winter hasn’t even started yet. If only the sun would shine warmer, then maybe we could all get past this miserable year and start again. We could go outside and breath in the Winter air and know that the sun’s warmth is closer, the daylight will lengthen, and soon it will be time to plant the garden again.

Feeling completely discouraged, I hung two strands of colorful lights on my house yesterday in honor of Solstice. You can’t light bonfires anymore (at least not in town), so holiday lights are the next best thing. When the sun set I plugged in my lights and instantly my home felt more cheerful. The shadows glowed with red, green, blue and yellow light, and suddenly I felt that although 2013 tried hard, I wasn’t beaten.

I have no idea if 2014 will be a “good” year, or not, and I’ve given up hoping it will be better. I just know that I will still love and fight and dream and cry and eventually find a small bit of peace. I know that I have more to learn and more to do. I know that there will always be struggle, and sometimes the struggle will be more than I can manage.  I’ll lose a few battles, but I will not give up the fight. I know that ultimately I will continue to love and be loved. I know joy will find me when I am saddest.

Time to plug in my holiday lights again. Happy Solstice, dear friends.

Wear your Gatsby best and see the world premier of my comedy play, “Prince Charming”.

flier for play, Prince Charming

a depression era comedy that will leave you laughing, and guessing, till the very end.

The first read through of my play was last night and the best part was that my actors had no idea how it would end! I’m so excited about this event. Hope you can come.

It’s 1933 and Ellen Hunt is broke. The vast fortune she married her deceased husband for has vanished and the lovely widow is now alone and about to lose her gorgeous mansion. What’s a daring and beautiful socialite to do? Marry off her only son, George, to a wealthy girl, of course.

Luckily a wealthy girl is available, the beautiful Lydia Ellsworth, who just so happens to be madly in love with George. With George returning from college that evening, Ellen thinks that all she needs to do is get Lydia and George alone together. But when George arrives home with a fiancee of his own, Ellen’s plans are dashed. Susan is lovely but poor, not what Ellen has in mind for her son. How will Ellen get rid of Susan and make sure George falls in love with Lydia, all while ensuring no one, not even George, discovers the Hunt family fortune is gone? It will take all of her manipulative powers to save the family from scandal and ruin. With fast paced dialogue and an ending no one would expect, “Prince Charming” will leave you laughing and believing in the power of love.

June 26, 7:00 pm at the Ukiah Player’s Theatre

1041 Low Gap Rd, Ukiah, California. $5 at the door.

May 19 is a big day for me, and Medusa’s Muse.

Two big events in my life are happening on the same weekend, and I’m both excited and a tad stressed out.

First, the 10th Annual Festival of New Plays at Mendocino College opens on May 18th, with a second performance on the 19th. The festival showcases nine Ten Minute plays and my comedy, The Wedding Party, was chosen to be one. The director who chose my play is young, which I think helps her “get” the characters so well. She’s really good, and the cast is excellent! I’m really excited to see it performed (while also dreading sitting in the audience watching their reactions, which could be good or bad).

Here’s a link to Ukiah Daily Journal about the festival, with a description of all the plays. You can also see my description of The Wedding Party by clicking Writing on this blog.

The other exciting thing happening that weekend is also at Mendocino College: LitFest. Click the link to see all the excellent teachers, authors, and classes at this FREE event. I’ll be teaching my class, Framing the Dream, at 2:00. Be sure and sign-up now as the class fills up fast (click the Classes link on this blog for more info on the class).

I saw the countdown to LitFest on my blog and had a mini-freak out. How did the time sneak up on me like that? I have materials to update and the power-point to finish. Between my teaching job and the end of the school year madness that involves, and my sick kid, I’ll probably be working on LitFest at midnight after I’ve seen the debut of my play.

And I stil don’t know what to wear.