Sunday, August 28, 2016

return



It is the eve of my return to school.  I bought a new rolling backpack to replace the one that was stolen from my garage last May.  I have started to pack it, but I have the familiar insecurities that plagued me when I first started at my beloved American River college.

I am not a conventional student – I am well into my fifties—and on most days I live like I am ignorant of my age.  The days it does matter is on my first day of school.  I catch even the most politically correct students, the ones who champion diversity, look at me like I don’t belong next to them.  I learned how to ignore them, or better yet, let them fuel my competitive spirit.

Tomorrow is my first day at California State University, Sacramento –the home of seven academic colleges, offering 58 undergraduate majors to more than twenty-eight thousand students.  The green, tree-filled campus stretches over 300 acres and still manages to feel crowded.  I will be part of the College of Arts and Letters, as an English major with a Creative Writing emphasis.  I will also focus quite a bit on Spanish, hopefully enough to have a minor.


Mario, as always, is the rock of support he usually is.  He tells me over and over that I will do well.  My nervous jitters are probably a precursor to intense involvement with homework.  My energy will be funneled into the second-half of my degree, the intensive involvement with language, literature and writing.  I am honored and privileged to have this chance and I know it.

I practice gratitude breaths as I walk across campus.  Breathe in gratitude, breathe out negativity.  Breathe in love and respect, breathe out poison.  It may sound corny, but it really helps me.  Focusing on a goal comes with a hundred little tricks. 

Tonight will be a tricky night’s sleep!

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Adam



The day I met Adam he played the theme from Veggie Tales in my living room -on a tuba.

Wrap your head around that. 

We all have those friends who bring color and vibrancy to our lives.  Adam is a friend who lights up and encourages everyone around with love, sincerity and an infectious belief that he can do anything.

Two years ago, right after we returned from Africa, he ran for Sacramento City Council and printed business cards with his face in the foreground and the American flag in the background.


I smiled.

We walked precincts for his campaign.  Only Adam can motivate me, at 53, to walk precincts!
 Adam epitomizes everything that is good about America.


Adam also belongs to our church and is on the worship team.  Not only does he have an incredible voice, he also plays harmonica with soul-felt passion that can make you weep.  He is also the guy who shows up early on Sunday to set up the signs that direct newcomers in.  He attends small group regularly and is usually in a good mood, even when he’s had a bad day.  He loves God and believes that God is who He says He is.

Adam performs on stage at community theaters and is quite good.  Since Broadway is in Mario’s genes, we started going to Adam’s plays as soon as we returned from Africa and I am happy to say that we haven’t missed one.With his encouragement, Mario auditioned for Man of La Mancha at Davis Community Theater and played a muleteer to Adam’s Sancho Panza. 

Tonight Davis Musical Theater had a send-off potluck for Adam, who has decided to pursue the dream of going to be a full-time actor.  Doing this requires a complete life change; it means moving to Los Angeles.

“I will get an agent once I’m there,” he told us over dinner one night.  “It’s too hard to do things like that long distance.”

The Jewish mother in me rose up.  I wanted to warn him not to go without having representation.  The world of the performing arts is littered with the bodies of those who “almost made it” and I didn’t want Adam to be one of those.

“What will you do once you’re there?” I asked. 

“I will go to calls and auditions,” he said, with his typical, jovial confidence. “It will be hard work at first, but I’m up for the challenge.”

It occurred to me, over dinner, that it doesn’t matter if Adam “makes it” or “hits the big time” –he is pursuing a dream.  Just like I am.

“Adam, what will we do without you?” I asked him.  He laughed.

“That’s what Skype is for!  Besides, I’m only a text away!”

We did not go to Adam’s send off at DMTC.  I am horrible with goodbyes and I never look forward to them.  I have messed up every goodbye that I have ever done. 

After Adam's last performance at DMTC (Music Man)
The truth is, we will suffer his loss greatly – his ever-present optimism and joy are things I have taken for granted.  I guess I assumed Adam would always be there, and now he’s off to the big city.

It would be just like God to hand Adam a role in the pilot of a show that has serious success.  Or give him a great voice-over character, with his Brooklyn accent or  silly laughter. 

Sigh.

This is how you know you love people –when you miss them before they leave.




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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Alannah



Harmony and Alannah 

My granddaughter, Alannah, sings, dances, and blows soap bubbles in her front yard often.  She and her sister Harmony like to pretend my car can talk.  Alannah jumps up through sprinklers even when she’s in her best dress; she leaps for joy when something fun is happening; she lights up the room with her smile.  Every time she sees me she jumps up and down and says “Is it Friday?” (I watch the girls every Friday).  She embodies love and innocence and she makes me wish she would stay this age forever. 
Alannah runs through the fountains - Downtown Chico Plaza

Today Alannah turns the magical age of five—the gateway to the elementary years that are so crucial to the child’s development.  She can’t wait to start kindergarten, which will take place in only a few short weeks.

Alannah one day old -
I had to catch a plane back to Johannesburg
I remember the day she was born.  My daughter, Alicia, expected to deliver her baby a week earlier, but Alannah stayed put where she was safe and warm.  As much as I didn't want to rush things, I knew I had two weeks in America -- I thought it would be one week before the birth and one week after.

Alannah came on August 8, after Alicia labored for nearly thirty-four hours.   She had lost a lot of blood and the doctors were watching her carefully, but as soon as she saw her daughter, the light in her eyes was restored.  Alannah was born beautiful, big, and healthy and we all breathed a lot easier.  But because she came two weeks late, I had to go back to South Africa the very next day.  


In her hospital room the very next day, I kissed Alicia goodbye and left to catch a plane.  I had held Alannah only two days before I had to leave. On the plane ride home, I wept, feeling the powerful ache to be on the same continent as our daughter and her babies.  I felt like an amputee who still feels the phantom pain of a severed limb.  I asked God for wisdom and direction - and grace to get through this.


A grandchild is God’s gift to you, a grace that comes after years of raising your own children.  It is an interesting paradox that while I expected a lot from my own children, I expect nothing from my grandkids.  Their lives are miracles, unfolding before me day by day – and because those days in Africa were not so long ago – I do not take any time we have together as a family for granted. 


“Grandma, are we going to the Yo-yo museum?” Alannah will ask me on most Fridays.  “Can we go have Jon and Bon’s? Can we go play with the Calico Critters, just for a short time?”  I will do anything she says, even go to an Ice Cream store when I no longer eat sugar. 

“What do you want for your birthday?” I asked her a few weeks ago.  We were in Bird in Hand, a beautiful store in downtown Chico that sells high-end toys made in America and Europe. 

“I want this whole store!” she said, gleefully.  "I really want a birthday party, where everyone will sing Happy Birthday to me!”  She hugged herself and glowed with the same emotional glitter that her Mama possessed at that age.  It make s me sigh and shake my head, pleased that she is Alannah and I get to love her.  

I can do nothing but acquiesce, since Alannah brings our the joy in everyone she meets.  

Happy Birthday, Alannah!  You are the joy that makes life effervescent.

Alannah getting ready to go out and have Mexican Food


Thursday, August 4, 2016

explanation

My friend, Frank Stephens is a political consultant who knows a lot more about the electoral college than I do. As a favor, he allowed me to to reprint the following -- because of such a strong reaction to my last blog. Thanks, as always, for reading!!
Janet



Photo Credit



What’s an Electoral College and why Are Some

Calling to Abolish It?

By Frank Stephens
Is our way of electing the President of the United States fair?

Assemblyman Tom Umberg, the chair of California’s Assembly Election and Redistricting Committee said, “When you're in first grade, if the person who got the second-most votes became class leader, the kids would recognize that this is not a fair system.” So, why is it fair in presidential elections?
Umberg, taking his grade school analogy to an extreme, is advocating a bill (AB 2948) to enter California into a compact with other states to cast all their electoral votes for the presidential candidate receiving the most popular vote nationwide. This end-run around our Constitution is being pushed by National Popular Vote, and, according to news coverage, by folks still upset that George W. Bush is president instead of Al Gore.
Very few Americans, and we should include Assemblyman Umberg here, even know how we elect our president. What is the Electoral College and why did the Founding Fathers create one? They faced the daunting question of how to elect a president in a nation that:

1. was composed of thirteen large and small States very jealous to protect their own rights and powers and suspicious of any national government;
2. had only 4,000,000 people thinly spread up and down nearly one thousand miles of Atlantic coastlands without good roads or communication;
3. believed that political parties were harmful if not downright evil;
4. felt that a true gentleman should not campaign for public office. The saying was that “The office should seek the man, the man should not seek the office.”

Today some call for an abolishment of the Electoral College. Following Al Gore’s loss to George Bush the pundits argued, it was “undemocratic” to deny the presidency to the man who received the most votes.
This argument is hostile to the Constitution, however, which expressly established the United States as a constitutionally limited republic and not a direct democracy. The Founding Fathers sought to protect certain fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, against the changing whims of popular opinion. Similarly, they created the Electoral College to guard against majority tyranny in federal elections. The president was to be elected by the 13 (now 50) states rather than the American people directly, to ensure that less populated states had a voice in national elections. This is why they blended Electoral College votes between U.S. House seats, which are based on population, and U.S. Senate seats, which are accorded equally to each state. The goal was to balance the inherent tension between majority will and majority tyranny. Those who wish to abolish the Electoral College because it’s not purely democratic should also argue that less populated states like Rhode Island or Wyoming don’t deserve two senators, but they conveniently overlook that fact.
A presidential campaign in a purely democratic system would look very strange. That’s because any rational candidate would focus only on a few big population centers and a few big states. A candidate receiving a large percentage of the popular vote in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, for example, could win the presidency with very little support in dozens of other states. Moreover, a popular vote system would only intensify political pandering, as national candidates would face even greater pressure than today to take empty, middle-of-the-road, poll-tested, mainstream positions. Direct democracy in national politics would further dilute regional differences of opinion on issues, further narrow voter choices, and further weaken what’s left of political courage in our parties.
Consider that those who call for the abolition of the Electoral College are actually hostile to liberty. Not surprisingly, most advocates of abolition are statist elites concentrated largely on the east and west coasts. These political, economic, academic, media, and legal elitists overwhelmingly favor a strong centralized federal government, and express contempt for the federalist concept of states’ rights. They believe in omnipotent federal power, wherein states are reduced to acting as mere glorified federal counties carrying out commands from Washington. Is this what we want for our states?
The Electoral College threatens the imperial aims of these elites because it allows the individual states to elect the president, and in many states the majority of voters still believe in limited government and the Constitution. Voters in southern, mid-western, and western states (we rudely refer to them as “flyover” country) tend to value family, religion, individual liberty, property rights, and gun rights. Washington elites abhor these values, and they hate that middle and rural America hold any political power whatsoever. Their efforts to discredit the Electoral College system are an open attack on the voting power of the pro-liberty states.
Sadly, we have forgotten that states created the federal government, not the other way around. The Electoral College system represents an attempt by our Founding Fathers to limit federal power and preserve states’ rights. It is an essential part of our federalist balance. It also represents a reminder that pure democracy, or mob rule, is incompatible with preserving liberty.
Frank R. Stephens is government affairs director for construction trade associations in Sacramento and Republican county central committee member, CRA 1st Vice Chair. He may be reached at frstephens@msn.com

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

college

Voting used to be one of the best things about being American.

In school, we learned that John F. Kennedy, one of our most influential, heroic and genuine presidents, beat Richard Nixon by a margin of one vote per district.  If Kennedy hadn't canvassed neighborhoods to get out the vote, he would have lost to Nixon.  This, as we learned from our history, would not have been a good thing.

Electing presidents has changed since the days I was a girl sitting in a classroom, learning about voting districts and canvassing.  Not that the election process has changed, but the electoral system has been exposed as a system that is failing our republic.


Elections today are scientifically assessed, strategized, and flooded with candidates who have speech writers (we call them spin-doctors).  Few voters have the confidence in the system that they did twenty years ago.  The Electoral System I have given my children and will soon give to my grandchildren is a sorry, sad thing that frustrates me.

WHY?

When Americans go to the polls to vote for a chief executive, we actually vote for a particular slate of electors. Each state has as many "electors" in the Electoral College as it has Representatives and Senators in the United States Congress (District of Columbia has three electors). The electors meet in their respective states forty-one days after the popular election. There, they cast a ballot for president and a second for vice president. Each candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes to be elected president.  As the 2000 election proved, the Electoral College does make it possible for a candidate to win the popular vote and still not become president. We do not elect presidents on individual votes, despite the stories we have heard.


If you don’t like the Electoral System, you can blame James Madison.  He worried (loudly) in 1788, about what he called "factions," or groups of citizens who have a common interest in something that could violate the rights of the nation as a whole.  Madison’s fear was real – he saw it everywhere around him.  Alexis de Tocqueville described this as  "the tyranny of the majority" – when a faction would grow to become more than half of the US population.   Madison had a solution for tyranny of the majority: "A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking."

With this, the Electoral College was born. 

Alexander Hamilton, one of the brilliant writers of "The Federalist Papers," said that the Constitution is designed to ensure "that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man [or woman?] who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications."

We have lived to see that the electoral college can indeed be hijacked by money, factions, and a bit of corruption, just like a majority vote.  We have also seen that the office of the president can indeed fall to a man or a woman who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. 

We have also seen the system producing quite a bit of broken friendships.  We were raised that our vote counts, and now we see that this may or may not be true.  What matters are the votes and endorsements of moneyed companies and individuals who want a piece of American government.  We have even learned this week that this is for sale.

If I ask the majority of my friends and acquaintances if we are living in a democracy, they will answer yes.  We are indeed a democracy.  The truth is, the United States is (and has always been) a Republic.  We are a nation of electors voting for electors.



What’s the good news?  We are a Republic.  Our Electoral System may be broken, but its citizens are not.  If you want the system to change, you can exercise your voice at the state and national level.  A good read is the 2013 U.S. News and World Report article, Should the U.S. Get Rid of theElectoral College?  It points out how easy (and how probable) the system can be gamed and manipulated.



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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Alicia

Alicia Robynn 2 days old

Alicia was born 28 years ago, our only girl. She came after three boys, Mario had David and Joe and I had Vince when we married.  Blending our family together was sealed with Alicia’s birth in July of 1988.   

She was born in living color, vibrant from a young age.  Her love of the natural world that either burst with joy and sunshine or raged with discontent.  She jumped into life and devoured it, always drawing a friends to herself.  She was a tomboy who loved to read.  As a result, school and the sports that went with it came naturally. It all went by so fast that I  still wonder where the time with my little daughter went.

I have oodles of pictures of us, in various stages of play and through various ages.  Her smile illuminates the film that captures her.
 She is surrounded by friends, family, love, teams, her array of collections.  They show our girl who rarely settled down for anything!  

Alicia is now a small-business owner and mother of two girls, Harmony and Alannah, that are the joy and fabric of her life.   To see her with them is incredible, the way that she mothers in a no-nonsense style, showing incredible instincts and love for her girls.  I am grateful that I get to help her every Friday.

Malawi 2004
My Fridays are spent driving to Chico, seeing her off, playing with the girls, and celebrating with them, whatever kind of day we decide to make it.  Harmony and Alannah are joy-filled and ready for any adventure that their small town can open up for them.  They remind me so much of their mother at that age that it is frightening.
Chico Downtown Plaza - Last Week

I was raised by a mother who had four daughters, and each of us have the symbiotic relationship with Mom that she had with my Grandma.  Alicia is my only daughter, and we haven’t exactly had the traditional mother-daughter relationship.  There have been misunderstandings, seasons of them.  We always manage to plow through and continue on, probably because both of us have a great deal of determination.

Today, on her birthday, I pray for breakthrough.  I want us to arrive at a place where she understands how much I love her and I understand how much she loves me.  I want the easy connection that she seems to have with her daughters, and that I have with my Mom.  On this day, I want us both to understand that I am me and she is herself and God created us both this way and everything is alright.  This would be the greatest gift I could ever give her.   So today, my prayer is for true communication.


There is a movie called Brainstorm, starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood that I thought about today when I thought about Alicia.  In it, a man and wife are going through a painful divorce.  The husband is a scientist who is part of inventing a brain tape-recorder, communication technology that would allow people to feel the same feelings another person  does.  This inventor records his own brainwaves, thinking of his wife, and goes to her.  After giving her the headset, she is able to “feel his heart” for her.  After years of misunderstandings, walls being built, and terrible communication, she sees that her husband genuinely loves her and they reunite.

If only life were that easy.  If only I could make a tape of my brain and hand it to my daughter.  Here I am, here is what I really feel.  Now you can see the depths of my heart -- how much I love you and how genuine my love is. 


Happy Birthday, Alicia.  My words are the closest things to a futuristic brain wave recorder.  I hope that in them you can hear my heart of love for you.  Today I celebrate who you are and all of the many things that are coming alive in your heart.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cisneros


He said that he would love me like a revolution, like a religion.  Abuelita burned the pushcart and sent me here, miles from home, in this town of dust, with one wrinkled witch woman who rubs my belly with jade, and sixteen nosy cousins.
~from “One Holy Night” by Sandra Cisneros


Sandra Cisneros
photo by Jessica Fuentes

Sandra Cisneros was born on a Monday – December 20, 1954 in Chicago.  Her father, Alfredo Cisneros de Moral was born in Mexico and met his wife, Elvira Cordero Anguiano in America, where they married . Sandra was the third of seven children, the only daughter in the family. She moved frequently during her childhood and visited Mexico often.  Disturbed by constant uprooting, Cisneros found a creative outlet in writing.  She earned a BA in English from Loyola University of Chicago and attended the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop in the late 1970's. Her voice, a working-class, Mexican-American woman with an independent sexuality, was so different from everyone else’s that Cisneros felt ostracized. The experience of recognizing her difference from other students at Iowa eventually led to the writing of The House on Mango Street, which was published in 1984.  It won the Columbus Foundation's American Book Award in in 1985, and instantly became a widely read work of Chicano literature.  Also an accomplished poet, Cisneros published two full-length poetry books, My Wicked Wicked Ways and Loose Woman.   Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (my personal favorite) was released in 1991 and Caramelo in 2002.  Her latest work, A House of my Own:Stories From My Life, is a memoir of collected, interlocking essays of  personal stories about family, travels, moving, and the challenges (and delights) of a single woman journeying solo. "So often you have to run away from home and visit other homes first before you can clearly see your own," she told the Los Angeles Times in October of 2015.  

When We Met:  Believe it or not, I just started reading Sandra last winter.  I was at the Sacramento Poetry Center, doing a public reading of one of my short stories, “The Puzzle” when a girl came up to me afterward and remarked how much my story reminded her of The House on Mango Street.  I was nonplussed, and told her I’d never heard of the book. She nearly fell over.  She told me that I had to RUN to buy it and read it.  After that meeting, I vowed to start reading Cisneros and did.  I was moved, on more than one occasion, to tears as I read her well-constructed stories of lives leaning against one another, struggling to find a true identity that s somewhere between Mexico and America.  She has a deep and true voice of a Latina – and she makes me think she is related to me as she tells tells a story.  "You know the one," she says.   "I'm not like the Allport Street girls who stand in doorways and go with men into alleys..." she tells me, and I agree, nodding my head.  "I know, mi amiga, we are not like those girls.  But we have made some bad decisions about love, verdad?" 


Why She’s Good:  Being Latina-American, I can say that there is a piece of myself that lies just below the surface of who I am – and never comes out.  It is too polite.  It has been taught to be subservient.  Sandra gives that piece of myself permission to surface and dance with her as I read.  For a Latina reader, Sandra Cisneros es no apenas escritor, pero ella es mi hermana!  In other words, she expresses my heart in its fullness and makes me feel like I am right there with her.  The moment I started reading Sandra Cisneros I wanted to go hug my Mom.  I wanted to reunite with my Grandma.  I wanted to celebrate being Latina, Latina, Latina - with no apologies!

Plot Variations:  A sister and her loud, noisy brothers take a yearly journey with their parents from Chicago to the "Little Grandfather’s and Awful Grandmother's" house in Mexico City for the summer.  A girl who wants to find significance falls in love with a man who turns out to be a serial killer.  Emiliano Zapata’s girlfriend tells a story of loneliness, understanding, and being constantly abandoned by her lover, who is off “revolutionizing the country.”  A girl living in a poor Chicago suburb seeks out a meaningful life and freedom as she learns to appreciate her neighbors.

Buy One:  While others will try to persuade you to buy The House on Mango Street, I believe that there is greater depth in Woman Hollering Creek, the book that made me howl at the moon and declare Cisneros a sister.  I’m going to recommend Audible for the first time here.  Woman Hollering Creek is actually paired with Loose Woman, a book of amazing poetry, both read by Sandra herself.  You will get to hear the familiar stories in her own voice, and for the way she writes, it is best this way.   If you haven’t used audible yet, now is the time!  It’s awesome! Available here.

Favorite Quote:  "Perhaps all memory is a chance at storytelling and every story brings us closer to revealing ourselves to ourselves."

Trivia:  Cisneros' books have been translated into over a dozen languages, including Spanish, Galician, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Greek, Iranian, Thai, and Serbo-Croatian.


Pain in Motion: Great writers find their voice in deep-seated insecurity or rejection.  Cisneros remembers many childhood moves, which involved changing residences, not only in the USA, but also back to Mexico to be near her paternal grandmother.  She admits that her family’s impermanence affected the way she viewed her life.  “We moved like the tides," Cisneros told Publishers Weekly in 1991.  “From Mexico back to another barrio of Chicago that looked like France after World War II—empty lots and burned-out buildings."  The moving continued for many years. Cisneros noted that her grandmother's Mexican home was the only constant in a series of traumatic upheavals.