Sunday, June 11, 2017

Making Noise for Women's Healthcare


A Planned Parenthood rally on the banks of the Mississippi River.
I wonder what clever thing Mark Twain would have said about this.
Last week was kind of a big week.

On Sunday, I marched in a rally for Planned Parenthood in Burlington, Iowa. Why? Because Iowa is eliminating funding for any healthcare clinics that provide abortions. Well, this struck me as so ridiculous and short-sighted because I USE PLANNED PARENTHOOD for my annual exams and for other random gyno stuff that comes up. And believe me, something always comes up and you can't just walk into a doctor's office to see someone as quickly as you might need. And going to the ER is not a great alternative when it's not an emergency.

I am way past childbearing years so birth control and abortion are not on my personal radar. But this is not just about me. REGARDLESS of what services PP offers, there are SO MANY WOMEN, especially in my rural Iowa area, who need affordable healthcare and PP is often the ONLY place they can get it.
Winding down Snake Alley

Obviously I am still worked up about this.

I wasn't the only one to be outraged. A young woman in Burlington, Alexandra Rucinski (who is the subject of my essay), has relied even more heavily on PP than me. She was so upset about the clinic closures she organized last Sunday's march--and got over 100 people to show up.

I marched too, but so what?  What good was walking through downtown Burlington going to do when 4 out of 12 PP clinics in Iowa were still going to close on June 30th anyway?

I laid awake at 4AM on Monday thinking about this---fuming actually---and an essay began to take shape in my head. Writing is my way of working my way toward a solution, or at least an understanding---or, if nothing else, a way to cope with some of the senseless bullsh*t that is going on in government. So after I got up on Monday, after I had my triple latte and walked the dogs and fed the goats, I sat down at my computer and wrote. I wrote until I found my way to an ending. I sent my story to two friends, one in New Jersey and one in NYC. They both said you HAVE to publish this. My friend Nan said, "Send it to the HuffingtonPost!"

My pink hair is still pink.
Encouraged, I first sent it to my local NPR affiliate, Tri States Public Radio. I've done several commentaries for them. And now, I am happy to report, I have another one to add to the list. I recorded my PP essay on Wednesday and it aired--twice--on Thursday.

You can listen here.

I had also followed Nan's suggestion and sent my essay to the Huffington Post. I have been written about on HuffPo several times (for my pie endeavors), but I had not as yet written for them. Well, now I have!

You can read it here.

I went through the HuffPo vetting process and now I'm "in the system" so I can blog for them whenever I want. I will also continue to contribute to Tri States Public Radio as a commentator.

I'm not sure what I will write about next. But it will probably come to me around 4AM.

I ran into my pie-baking friend Esther Tweedy at the march.
We went out for ice cream afterward.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Guest Blogger: Jack Iken on Life at Camp Doug

Hi, this is Jack Iken. The last time I guest-blogged on my mom’s page was five years ago, which is like 42 years in dog time. I only guest-blogged one other time.  I have posted on Facebook a few times since then, but blogging is way better because you can say more and the stories stay around longer.

It was Doug who suggested I write a blog post. I like Doug. He calls me Hot Rod. He’s like my stepdad now. My real dad, Marcus Iken, whose last name I still use (but I only get called by my full name, Jack Iken, when I’m in trouble), died 8 years ago. I miss him.

Daisy & me
aka Team Terrier
I also miss Daisy. Even though I pretended not to like her, and always growled at her when she tried to sit in the front seat of the car, which was my spot, I really miss her too. She died 3 years ago this November when we both got attacked by a coyote. My mom was so sad. She said if she had lost both of us she might not have survived, especially because it was right after we moved out of the American Gothic House and didn’t have a home. I was lucky my neck wounds healed after a few weeks. I’m pretty tough—every time I go to the vet they say things like “he’s one tough cookie.” But that was definitely a rough patch. I was really lonely without Daisy.

I’m not lonely anymore, because now I live at Camp Doug. It’s in Iowa about an hour from our old house. It’s so cool because it’s a farm with cow manure and lots of other super smelly stuff to eat or roll in, like old road kill. I don’t have to wear a collar or be on a leash, ever.

But best of all is hanging out with Doug and his dog Mali.

This is Mali and me waiting for treats.
I love Mali. I like girl dogs who are athletic and not afraid of getting their paws dirty. Mali is like me, half and half. I’m half Jack Russell and half Yorkshire terrier. Mali is half beagle and half Springer Spaniel. She can run really, really fast, like so fast you can’t even see her. I'm fast too, but Mali has longer legs. Doug say, "She's all lungs and muscle." She’s like a lean machine. She likes to catch squirrels. I always try to catch squirrels but I never actually do. For me it is more fun to chase them, and then bark my head off at them when they climb back up the tree. But Mali—well, my mom gets really upset with her because she is good at catching small animals, sometimes baby ones, and that makes my mom cry a lot and complain to Doug. When she’s mad like that I just go hide in my man cave, which is the opening under Doug’s desk, where it’s quiet and dark. He doesn’t sit there very often because mostly he is out working on his farm, so I don’t have to worry about his feet getting in my way.

It’s not just my mom, Doug, Mali and me living at Camp Doug. Maybellene lives here too, inside. She’s a calico cat who thinks she owns the kitchen. Sometimes we fight and I always get blamed, but she is the one who usually starts it.
This is Maybellene. And she is in MY chair.

Her son Tiger, who is a redhead like Doug, lives outside and shares the barn with the goats, but mostly Tiger is up in the hayloft and the goats are below. Sometimes Tiger has the neighbor cats over for sleepovers. One of his friends is all black with eyes so light and green and creepy the cat looks like it could be in a horror movie; the other one is black with white paws and, as my mom pointed out, has big balls. (My balls were removed when I was a baby, but that’s okay. I’m still tough and manly. Some people even call me macho.) My mom keeps wondering if there will be kittens, but Doug says Tiger is fixed and we don’t know if the green-eyed-monster cat is a girl. But I don’t want any more pets taking attention away from me. It’s already bad enough with those damn goats.

This is Cinnamon. 
There are three goats and they have big horns. There were four, but Cinnamon died a few months ago, probably from old age because she was 15 and 15 is really old for a goat. She was the shy one, like Daisy, and she never caused any trouble. She is buried on the edge of the cornfield. That was a sad time for my mom, because Cinnamon died right after her dad, my Pappou Tom. (Pappou is Greek for Grandpa.) I loved my Pappou and he loved me, though he did not like my barking. I think his hearing aids were on the wrong setting, because I think my bark sounds pretty awesome.

This is Pappou Tom when he visited us
at Camp Doug last August.

Anyway, I was saying, the three goats…

Mr. Friendly and Tiger
with other 2 goats behind
The big white goat, the one with the biggest horns, is called Mr. Friendly. But he is not friendly! He has tried to butt me a few times, but I’m not scared of him or any of them now that I’ve learned how to be a goat herder. I’m really good at it. My mom lets the goats out of their pen to graze in the yard. She says they need some freedom and extra room to graze. But Doug doesn’t like this too much because they eat the flowers and bushes next to the barn. Instead of getting mad at my mom, he keeps putting up more fences around the yard as a compromise. But he also has me as his secret weapon. When I see them come too close to the house I go berserk and shift into my Samurai mode. You should see how fast those fat goats can run! I round them up and they go straight back into their pen. I’m like WAY better at herding than a border collie. I like helping out Doug.

I’ve been living here at Camp Doug for two years now, which is three months longer than my mom. She brought me back here to spend the summer when she traveled around the world making pie. She remembered how happy I had been when we were at Camp Doug before we moved back to California (for those really depressing six months when I had to be on a leash) and she said she would not go on her Big Trip unless I had a good, safe place to stay.

Camp Doug is an awesome place. That summer, Doug took me to the pond every day. I swam and he threw a stick for me. I love playing stick. It’s my favorite thing, besides playing keep away, tug-of-war, digging big holes in the dirt, and chasing squirrels (and goats, cows and cats.)

Also that summer, Doug took Mali and me on long walks to the creek and threw the stick for me there too. One time he even brought his saw to cut extra sticks so there would always be one ready to throw. The supply would run low because I like to take my sticks home with me--I collect them like trophies--and sometimes it takes a while to find a new one. I’m very particular about the size of my sticks. I won’t chase just anything. It has to be big, like a branch or a log, but small enough that a person can still throw it.
This is what I'm talking about!
Doug also took me kayaking (and still does.) He taped a piece of carpet to the bow so I can stand on the front of the boat without sliding off. That's the best!

Seriously, this is the most fun thing ever.

He took lots of pictures and videos of me while my mom was traveling and sent them to her. He posted them on Facebook too. My mom got kind of jealous because people liked the posts about me better than her posts about being in what she called “exotic places.” Not my problem. It was her choice to see the world when she could have just stayed in Iowa. But I was having too much fun to give it any thought.

The best part about that summer was the treats. Doug has pigs on his farm so sometimes he has fresh pig liver. It’s pretty slimy, but it’s cold and refreshing on a hot day and it’s a healthy snack.

When my mom came back to pick me up from summer camp I told her I wasn’t leaving. I said, “I love you, mom. You can do what you want, but I’m going to stay at Camp Doug forever.” She saw how happy I was, and she also loves Doug (though in a different way than me), so she said, “Okay,” and moved here too.
This is me in the truck. I love it.
It smells like farm animals.

It is so cool to live on a farm. I’m like the happiest I’ve ever been. I love to ride in Doug’s pick up truck. I don’t like to get in my mom’s car anymore because that means leaving the farm and maybe going to a city and being on a leash. But Doug’s truck always goes somewhere fun, someplace that involves dirt, like to the pond or to a cow pasture. I wasn’t allowed near the cows at first, but now I have proven myself to be good at herding cows too. They don’t run as fast as the goats, but it’s still fun to get these big beasts to move. I mean, they’re like huge. Plus there’s so many of them and they make a lot of noise.
Doug has a lot of cows. So that's a lot of herding for me.

Speaking of noise, that’s one of the best things about living here. I love to bark. Every night from about 7:00 to 9:00 PM, I get to be outside and bark as much as I want. Doug calls it “Guarding the Perimeter,” like I’m a watchdog. But that’s not it. I just really like to bark. It’s my way of expressing myself, the Jack Russell side of me. It’s also a good way to communicate with our neighbor’s dogs that live on the other side of the cornfield, and they like to bark back.
This is Mali and me doing the daytime version
of "Guarding the Perimeter"

Sometimes we hear coyotes barking too. This makes me bark even louder, and sometimes I even howl. But the coyotes make my mom crazy with fear. She yells at me, “Jack Iken, you get in here right now! I mean it. NOW!” She is practically panicking but Doug is pretty relaxed and tells her, “He’s fine. The coyotes aren’t that close. And they have plenty to eat out in the field.” She snaps back at him, “You know what happened to Daisy. I am not taking any chances.” And then we all go to bed (I sleep under the bed) and try to sleep, even though we can still hear the coyotes yipping and partying and killing stuff outside. I would never admit it, but I kind of understand why mom worries about me.
That thing that looks like a Moon Rover is the side-by-side.
It's perfect for trips to the pond.

Farm life is awesome!
I’m 13 now and Doug is 62, and as much as we like to go on long walks around the farm, we both get a little more tired than we used to, our joints get a little achier than we’d like. So Doug got this really sweet off-road thing for us to ride around in. It’s called a side-by-side, which is kind of a weird name, but it means you can sit next to each other on the bench seat. It’s got a roll bar and seat belts, and netting on the sides that keeps me from falling out. When we don’t feel like walking, especially when it’s too hot, we drive this new 4WD rig to the pond. Mali doesn’t like riding in the truck—she gets really nervous—but she likes the side-by-side as much as I do. Sometimes after swimming, my mom will drive it really fast on the gravel road so my hair will dry. But I think she does it because more than anything my mom likes to make me happy. She knows I like feeling the wind in my face. But I know she likes it too.

Our family portrait
My mom said I could guest blog again sometime, but I might not have time. I might be too busy signing autographs after the August issue of Farm and Ranch Living Magazine comes out, since they are doing a story on me. I wasn’t looking to become famous; they approached me and what could I say? Plus I already have a full summer schedule with pond swimming, stick fetching, herding goats and cows and my other farm chores, like climbing on the hay bales and napping. And tonight we are going canoeing because there’s a full moon. My mom is going to make me wear my lifejacket. Life was a little more relaxed when it was just the guys—Doug and me and, well, Mali, since she’s like one of the guys—but I’m very glad my mom is here too.

I really have to pee, so I’m going outside. Bye for now.

Until next time,
Jack Iken

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tom Howard's Last Piece of Pie

My dad and me. Photo taken on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2017

Two months ago I lost the person I loved most in the world. I lost my dad. He died on March 9, 2017 at 6:30 AM, of metastasized melanoma.

The spot on his head first appeared in 2015, a raised and rough growth, a pebble of a thing that took up residence on the otherwise smooth and shiny surface of his skull. He had it removed in July of that year (while I was traveling around the world) and when they didn’t get clean margins they removed more from this delicate, non-elastic region, borrowing skin from his thigh to patch the missing piece of scalp. He had been so pleased with the plastic surgeon’s reconstruction that he called him "an artist" and wrote him a thank you note. The scar was barely visible.

Last family photo, taken February 25, 2017
Life went on. For the next year and a half he read books—spy thrillers mostly—washed his car, played Solitaire, went on daily lunch outings with my mom to El Pollo Loco where they shared their favorite taco salad, attended U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary meetings, and drank his daily martini at 5:00. But behind the scenes, lurking under the skin’s surface, the cancer was spreading. Like a nest of newborn snakes, it ventured forth, slithering into his lymph nodes, his prostate, throughout his entire skeletal system. It went into his lungs, creating such a deep and growing colony of tumors that he was coughing up globs of blood.

On a mid-January morning this year, when I was visiting for my mom’s 80th birthday, when I watched him cough into a tissue, leaving a dribble of bright red blood on his chin, I knew it was bad. I didn’t know how bad. We wouldn’t know the full diagnosis until after his PET scan a month later. But I knew, in the way a twin can sense their sibling a thousand miles away is in trouble, that his life as we knew it was over. That the cancer would take him. And, by the looks of the blood clots, soon.

No one coughs up that much blood and lives.

After my mom’s birthday, after the Women’s March in Washington, and after a few weeks back in Iowa where I was getting updates from my sister as the oncologist appointments got underway, I flew back to California. I could have saved $150 if I bought a ticket for three days later. My instinct told me every day counted—or maybe it was the news from the oncologist who said there was "no treatment for this" and "We will do everything we can to make you as comfortable as possible"—so I booked the earlier, more expensive flight. Paying that extra money was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I packed a mammoth suitcase thinking I might be there for more than a month. I was prepared to stay six, whatever it took, however long I was needed. I know now I could have just packed a carry-on.

And so, I was there.

I was there in Redondo Beach in my parents’ apartment, the sliding glass doors letting in the ocean breeze, the sun’s blinding late afternoon glare reflecting off the dark blue sea, the surfers catching the last waves before sunset.

I was there because my latest book proposal— about how to stay optimistic in this political era—was turned down. I was so damn lucky for the rejection. With a looming book deadline I would not have been able to spend those three and a half weeks of February into March with the father I loved. The last three and a half weeks of life of the man whose seed created me. The dimming, dwindling last days of the man who loved martinis, hot fudge sundaes and banana cream pie. The man who loved me. Who understood me like no one else. Who could solve every problem I ever had with his laughter. Even if I had gotten the book deal, I would have been there. I would have walked away from the offer. Family—my dad—came first.

I was there, sitting by his side every one of those remaining days, every morning stretched out on my mom’s side of the king size bed, careful not to get my dirty feet on the bedspread, playing Clair de Lune for him—his signature piece he played so well on the piano—on my iPhone from YouTube, drinking my café lattes and listening to him breathe—or struggle to breathe. I repositioned his oxygen nosepiece, making sure the prongs stayed in his nostrils, and watched his chest closely, making sure it was still moving up and down. Making sure he was still with us. I listened to the rhythm—four or five breaths, then a pause. The pauses were so long I found myself holding my breath along with him each time he stopped. When he coughed, as he inevitably did from the growing number of nodules that choked his lungs, he woke himself up and began breathing again. And I, too, would begin breathing again, not realizing I had stopped.

I was there to rub lotion on his bald head, now dotted with moles and rough spots and scars. I was there to massage his feet, to give him some semblance of comfort, the way the hospice pamphlet suggested. I was there to hold his hands, studying his age spots and fingernails, memorizing the heft of each digit, including the digitus medius manus, as he taught us the Latin term for “the middle finger”—as in giving it. They were strong yet gentle hands that had healed so many people. As a dentist, a holistic one who truly cared about his patients overall well being, he helped improve not only their smiles (and in turn their confidence) but also their health. He understood how every part of the body is connected to another, that through orthodontics (without pulling teeth unnecessarily, mind you) the curvature of the mouth’s palate would change and, thus, this would change—improve—the structure of the cervical column and that would affect the entire spine for the better. His hands had practiced therapeutic massage and cranial osteopathy. His hands had played Clair de Lune just a week earlier, shocking us all when we thought he lacked the strength to get out of bed, let alone sit at the piano to serenade us with classical music.

The dying process is like that. Death can come slowly, gradually, and just when you think the final hour has arrived life can burst forth again in unexpected, fleeting fragments. These energy bursts, confusing as they may be, give bystanding loved ones a tidal wave of hope that perhaps, hey, wait, he’s not as sick as we thought. Maybe he is not going to die after all. And then, no, the terminal, evil, motherfucker of an illness sends him back to bed, weaker than ever, and you call the hospice nurse to increase the morphine.

I was there to make him his favorite dessert, banana cream pie, the pie that prompted my dad to propose to my mom when she made one for him six months after they started dating. I made the pie just the way he liked it, with a graham cracker crust, made-from-scratch vanilla pudding, and meringue topping. I made three banana cream pies in three and a half weeks, wondering, worrying, if each pie would be his last.

I was there to spoon feed him bites of the pie when this once robust man no longer had the strength to lift even a small fork, cutting the sliced bananas into miniature sizes he could swallow. With his appetite diminishing by the day, we had to ask him what, if anything, he was hungry for. His big blue eyes would brighten and he would say with a smile, drawing out the syllables, “Piiiiiie.”

The day before he was moved to the hospice house—euphemistically and somewhat disturbingly called a “transition center”—he couldn’t finish the tiny sliver of banana cream pie I had served him on a cocktail plate. The plate was part of a collection of four, each decorated with a different martini-themed design. Martini glass-emblazoned items could be found in every corner of the apartment—a cutting board, cloth napkins, coasters, a decorative plaque that read “Martini Bar,” a flag that had hung on his old sailboat but now waved on the balcony to signal when it was Happy Hour. Anything with a martini glass on it was an obvious gift for the “man who had everything”—as long as said martini glass contained three olives.

I left the martini plate, with the remaining piece of pie and the teaspoon still on it, in the refrigerator, in case he would want to eat more later.

There was no later.

Tom Howard's last banana cream
pie, his favorite.
When I came back to my parents’ apartment from the hospice house (er, transition fucking center) the morning of March 9—after he was gone, after our family had gathered around his hospital bed with his body still slightly warm, after saying our final goodbyes before he was placed in the lime green body bag (so thoughtlessly, so visibly the only item in the clear plastic bag marked “Patient's Personal Items” even though he was wearing a grey Washington State University t-shirt when he arrived), before he was sent over to the crematorium—I went to get something out of the refrigerator. I was looking for milk or cheese or juice or something, who knows. I was so numb I can't remember. When I opened the fridge door the remains of his last slice of pie stared back at me. The bananas had turned brown, the crust soggy, the meringue sagging and weeping. The martini design on the plate, which had previously looked so cute now seemed offensive as the day’s approaching Happy Hour would be anything but happy.

I was there, sleepless the entire week after he died, in my bed that looked out over the King Harbor marina. I stuck earbuds in my ears and listened to Clair de Lune, the extended play version, over and over. Gone was the humming, hissing and pumping sound of his oxygen machine. Gone was the moaning and crying sound of his pain from down the hall. Gone was the beloved man whose spirit had been so big and so vibrant. To fill all that empty space I played the music at full volume for hours while the moon rose—and then set—and the rest of Redondo Beach slumbered.

I was there to clean out his closet with my brother, even when it felt way too soon, helping to load the SUV with my dad’s sport coats, sweaters, t-shirts and trousers, ties and belts, and a surprisingly extensive collection of size 12 shoes, including several pair leather loafers tucked so far back in the closet they were covered in a layer of light green mold, such is the humidity living by the ocean.

I was there to write the obituary and place it in the Ottumwa Courier and the Quad City Times for $156 each, editing down the word count to save money from the original $300 quote each. I didn’t know obits were so expensive. And I didn’t know I would find myself arguing with the editor over AP Style Guidelines—over the correct placement of commas, semi-colons, and parentheses—after she changed my format, which I had spent hours so carefully crafting.

I was there to design the memorial card, collecting photos from my four other siblings, sorting through 81 years’ worth of memories and culling them into the mere four photos the online template would allow. I was there to buy stamps and place them on the pile of 150 cards so that when my mother felt well enough to create a mailing list and address the envelopes it would be one less thing for her to do.

I was there. And now I’m not. And he’s not. He has “transitioned.” To where—well, isn’t that is the ultimate nagging billion-dollar existential question? To a “better” place? God, I hate it when people say that. At least he’s in a place—or space—free from pain.

It was so good yet so hard to be there. It made my heart physically hurt listening to him cry out during the night, in distress from the cancer that terrorized his bones, cancer that caused unimaginable pain, cancer that according to the PET scan—which he never read because he was determined that he wasn’t that sick, that he was going to get better—had deteriorated his left ribs, clavicle, and humerus (the shoulder head, a term I had to look up among many other body parts listed in the report.) No one, especially not my dad, should suffer like that. Ever.

It was so fortunate to be there. I will forever be grateful for that time—those last three and a half weeks—I had with him. Even when it meant cleaning the commode, wiping the urine off his private parts, holding him up in the shower. Even when all that tore at my heart so badly and squeezed my chest so tight I laid on the guest bed thinking that I was the one who was going to die. (I found out later, after my doctor sent me to a cardiologist, that I was suffering from Broken Heart Syndrome. It's a real thing, caused by trauma and stress.)

I am thankful I could be there to give back to him, to have had even the smallest chance to repay him for all that he gave me, the many, many gifts that have made my life so rich—a healthy childhood, a college education, trips abroad to give me a bigger world view, a feisty and generous spirit, and above all, a mandate to be positive, to see the good in people, and to be of service to others.

He was there to bring me into this world. I was there to help him out of it.

He said just three days before he died, “Words matter.” I write these words for him. I write these words so I don’t lose him.

But I haven’t lost him. He is always with me. His spirit lives through me. I carry on his values. I carry his DNA. And for as long as I live I will continue to carry on his love of nature and cocktail hour and banana cream pie. He had a good, long life, sticking around longer than many humans do—longer than my husband who died at 43.

When Marcus died I was annoyed when my dad said, “We all have to die sometime, Boo.” But he is right—was right. We are all like a juicy novel with a beginning, middle and end. Our lives unfold like turning pages of a book, each varying in length. We are just passing through, each of us contributing our own chapter to the bigger story, and as such our purpose should be to live—and die—as gracefully (and painlessly) as possible, striving for a happy, morally sound ending.

My dad also said, in one of his ever-surprising nuggets of wisdom doled out over the years, “When I die don’t mourn for me. Just go out and have a hot fudge sundae.” Another thing he would say, especially during times I was down, was, “Onward and forward.” I have never been as down as I am now.

So in the spirit of my dad, the Great John Thomas Howard, I am going onward and forward—straight to Dairy Queen.
I love you, Dad. And I miss you.


(For more about my dad, read my Father's Day post from last year.)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Taos: Making Friends with the Locals

During my recent weeklong Taos Writers Retreat I skipped the scheduled morning dance sessions. Free-form dancing in a group is waaaay too far out of my comfort zone, even though Jen insisted everyone keeps their eyes closed so no one is watching you. Instead, I walked a few blocks from the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to a local coffee house.

Possessing an instinctive homing device for caffeine, I found my way there by taking a trail that led off the property, slipped through an opening in the bushes that led to Kit Carson Park, and cut a diagonal line across the park toward the center of town. I passed the Taos Little League field, the graveyard where Mabel Dodge and Kit Carson rest in peace, and popped out the other side onto Paseo Del Pueblo Norte. I hung a left on the main drag, passed a restaurant and a few art galleries before finding my destination recommended by one of the staff at the inn: World Cup.

World Cup is a tiny espresso bar, one of the smallest spaces in which I’ve ever had a latte. About the size of a bedroom, it feels as cozy as one too. There’s a cash register, an industrial size espresso machine, and along two walls runs a counter with metal bar stools underneath. The place is so small, so intimate you automatically become part of any conversation.

Every day I saw the same people, the “regulars,” people who lived in Taos.

There was Jack, the barista. Reserved and intelligent looking, his clean cut-ness offset by his hint of a beard, he always dressed neatly in a collared shirt, vest, and bandana tied around his neck. I wondered if he was a folk musician by night.

There was Simon, the English mystery novelist who looked more like a rancher. He was tall with blazing blue eyes, and his booming voice with the British accent dominated the coffee house whenever he spoke.

There was Pat, the ex-hippie from Haight-Ashbury, a short, kind-eyed man who wore Hawaiian shirts and a baseball cap that hid his grey hair. When he smiled it showed the hint of gold rimming his teeth.

There was Marianna, another barista, with dark hair and bangs and an ever-present warm smile made brighter by her signature swath of power-red lipstick.

There was Lloyd, slightly soft and rumpled, always sitting at the bar, always ready to join in the conversation. He was a dead ringer for Norm from “Cheers.”

There was the man (whose name I never learned) who looked like an aging rock star turned mountain man, his hair long and shaggy, his jeans faded, his boots worn, his icy blue eyes weary.

And every single morning there was Joseph and Augustine, two men from the Red Willow tribe. Weathered and bronzed, with high cheek bones and black hair in long braids tied back into ponytails, they walked the three miles daily from the Taos Pueblo, where their tribe has dwelled for over 1000 years, to get coffee and wait for their ride from Joseph’s brother, Blue, to whatever work site they were headed to that day.
Joseph (left) and Augustine (right) making a point not to smile for the camera
It wasn’t just people who were regulars, but also their dogs. Pat with his ultra-shy black lab-mix puppy named Digger, whom he was attempting to socialize. Steve with a different dog each day (he had five), including a red chow, a black chow, and a brindled Mastiff-mix. A lab here, a scruffy white terrier there, a cattle dog, a Golden retriever, the dogs nearly outnumbered the customers. Because World Cup was so small, the combination of dogs and coffee patrons made for the Taos equivalent of an L.A. traffic jam. Without the road rage.

Often the conversations revolved around the dogs. Many of the dogs’ owners had made it their mission to rescue animals abandoned at the animal shelter, or capture feral dogs found on construction sites, and rehabilitate them until they could be adopted.

This was a reminder: There is still goodness in this world.

I heard one woman say she was on her way to a daylong chainsaw carving class. I heard a man say he was applying for a visa to move to Australia. I heard someone say he just signed a lease for the art gallery he had been working so hard to open. I heard another one say his New York agent had just given him feedback on his screenplay. I heard a four-year-old girl insist to her mother that she wanted the chocolate croissant not the plain one she was already eating.

This was a reminder too: There is still so much to strive for, so many dreams to pursue. (And a reminder that when in doubt, always go for the chocolate one.)

Given my affinity for café culture (especially the dog-friendly kind), my curiosity about people, and my chatty personality, I was more than happy to insert myself in these conversations. (And pet every dog that came through the door.) I was eager to be part of the group, not only because of my outgoing nature, but because I live a little too isolated for my disposition on a farm, 25 miles from the nearest espresso bar. I was starving for conversation, for community. Forget free-form dance; this was a week I could take advantage of being a 10-minute walk from the crossroads of an eclectic bunch of townspeople. And drink really good coffee.

On my second morning at World Cup, I was pulled into a dialog with Augustine and Joseph, the two Native Americans. Augustine asked me where I was from.

“Iowa,” I told him.

In reply he asked me, “Do you know Jim Leahy?”

Outwardly my face showed that I was trying to determine if, in fact, I did know a Jim Leahy. Inside, though, I was laughing at the notion that out of an entire state, nearly 500 miles wide, I would know this one person.

But then Augustine added, “He founded Overland Sheepskin Company.” He spoke so shyly, so quietly, I had to lean in to hear him. The background noise of the bean grinder and milk steamer and other customers ordering coffee made it even harder to hear. I got so close I could smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes. “I worked for him for 13 years,” he continued.

My eyes shot open at the recognition. “Oh my god, yes. I mean, I know his wife, Jennifer. She runs Blue Fish Clothing. They live in Fairfield. I spend a lot of time there.”

This is why I love life. These seemingly random connections are what I live for. Stumbling upon common links always tells me I am exactly where I need to be at exactly that moment. The world is a lot smaller and a lot more connected that we realize. With this realization comes a feeling of wellbeing. We are not as lost or as disconnected as we think.

As if reading my thoughts, Joseph chimed in. “Small world,” he said, flashing a grin at me, unselfconscious that his two front teeth were missing. Teeth or not, he was handsome, with his chiseled features, crisply dressed in his jeans and cowboy boots, and athletically fit. “We live up at the Pueblo. Have you been there?”

“No,” I said. “I just got here. I’m in Taos for a week, for a writers retreat. It’s a group of 23 women trying to get past their writers block. Coming here for coffee is my secret little morning ritual.”

“Come to the Pueblo. I’ll be your tour guide, “Joseph said. “There’s an adobe structure that’s an original five-story building. We grew up there.”

I looked into his eyes, brown and slightly slanted. What I saw in his eyes was a deep, bubbling hot spring of American history so dark and tragic I felt like I was going to drown. My heart splintered a little more at that moment, the broken pieces shattering into even smaller pieces—as if after all my recent grief I could afford any more cardiac damage. Talking with these Native American men stirred up something far down and unknowable inside me. I don’t believe in past lives, and I absolutely cannot comprehend the quantum physics of gravity, space and time, where life might exist simultaneously in different dimensions, but damn if I didn’t feel like there was something more going on between the three of us. Was this force of energy and this intensity of eye contact—also with Augustine, his brown irises surrounded by more red than white—because we were connected on a different plane? Or was it my nostalgia for simpler, more environmentally sensitive times? Times before smart phones and paved roads. Before combustion engines and Dakota Access Pipelines. Before the White Man obliterated the peoples who lived in harmony with nature, those who understood and respected the balance of ecology.

Who knew that a 7:30AM stop at the local coffee house would evoke such profound thoughts?

I had to remind myself to breathe. After a pause to shake off the mind-bending sensation, I answered him. “I would love a tour. How about Saturday afternoon, right after my workshop ends?”

For the rest of the week I continued my daily jaunts to the coffee house. One morning I met a woman while cutting across the park. She was older, with hair dyed scarlet red, taking her morning power walk. I walked next to her, asking her for directions which led to asking her about her life. In clipped British English she said she spends half the year in Taos and the other half—the winter—in San Miguel de Allende. Like Augustine asking me if I knew his friend in Iowa, I asked her if she knew my friend Angela in Mexico. “She’s a writer,” I said. “She’s also British.”

And then, in the way I answered Augustine, this woman stopped walking and turned to look at me. “Yes. I think I do know her. I’m sure I’ve heard her name. Yes, I'm certain I’ve met her.”

Once again, right place, right time. The world is so bloody small, people are so connected to each other—connected to me—it feels like I do belong in it after all.

On the last night of the writers’ workshop, our group of 23 formed a circle. Each woman took a turn professing what she got out of the week. In my allotted one minute, I said, “I got exactly what I needed: a sense of community, a sense of belonging. But not just from all of you.” Then I revealed where I had been disappearing to each morning. “I got a bonus community by going to the espresso bar, where I made friends with the locals.” The entire circle nodded in approval, and with, I dare say, a hint of admiration.

At the designated time on Saturday, I met Joseph at the Pueblo. As promised, he gave me a tour of his primary community. (World Cup, like it did for me, clearly served as his “bonus community.”) He explained how these earthy red adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years, making this place the longest continually inhabited community in the U.S. These mud and straw structures, still standing so solidly, were built between the years 1000 and 1050 AD. Its buildings are so impressive in how they've withstood the test of time (and weather and myriad attacks) that the Pueblo is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ranking right up there with the Pyramids and Taj Mahal. “It’s not a reservation,” he said, “because we have never left. Reservations are places tribes were moved to.”

I nodded, acknowledging this important distinction.

He pointed out the kivas, underground caves marked by a bundle of tall poles protruding above, where the men (no women allowed!) partake in rituals, initiations, and learn the unwritten wisdom and teachings of the tribe shared orally. “I’ve spent 40 days and 40 nights inside the kiva,” he said. Joseph is 55 and is an elder serving on the Tribal Council. “I’m young for an elder. They are normally in their 80s. But as they die off I continue to move up, taking their place.”

His revelation that he was an elder didn’t surprise me, given how articulate and knowledgeable he was. Maybe there was something about his elder wisdom that had moved me so much the day I met him. Maybe he was channeling the Great Spirit.

We walked along the front side of the largest structure, passing vendors selling carvings, beads, drums and art, and I spotted—what the…?!—a pie shop. “We have to go in,” I insisted. “I have to try the pie.”

Joseph knew the baker, the grandson of Crucita, the woman who opened the bakery almost 100 years ago. The two immediately started chatting in their native Tiwa language.

The Pueblo is off the grid—there are no power lines, no running water. They collect their water by dipping buckets into the river that runs through the middle of the village. The lights are run by propane, and the ovens—adobe beehive-shaped things called “hornos”— are fueled by wood fire.

Try running a pie stand baking in this
For a moment I imagined what it would have been like to run the Pitchfork Pie Stand using only an horno. I bristled at the thought.

I bought a slice of blueberry pie, a flat triangle that resembled a quesadilla, and shared it with Joseph. It was too sweet, and the filling was probably canned, but who cares? I was eating pie at the Pueblo. Pie made in the oldest inhabited structure in the land. Pie made by a Red Willow man.

Pie notwithstanding, after such a long and sad period, life was looking up.

I stayed in Taos a few extra days, renting a ridiculously cute one-room log cabin I found on Airbnb. It was too far to walk to World Cup, but that didn’t stop me from driving the five miles there to get my latte. But two days in a row I arrived too late to see my regular crowd. Determined to see my “friends” one last time, I gave Augustine a call in advance (Joseph doesn’t have a phone) to make sure the guys would be there on my final morning. I set my alarm for 6:30AM to be there by 7.

When I arrived at World Cup, they were there, along with a few other regulars who trickled in and out. I said hi to my Red Willow friends but told them I wanted to get my coffee before chatting. I went up to the counter and the barista, Marianna, said, “Large latte, three shots?” I nodded and smiled. You know you've become a local when they know your drink order. I reached for my wallet and she added, “The guys already paid for it. It’s on them.”

My hands reached for my heart to keep it from bursting out of my chest. I couldn’t stop the tears welling up in my eyes. “I wasn’t expecting that,” I said to Marianna, still holding my chest. I didn't need to say anything as my reaction already told her. “It’s my last day here,” I said, wiping my wet cheeks. “I don’t want to leave.”

“Taos is a great place to live,” Marianna said. “There’s community here.”

Community. Yes. That is exactly what I kept experiencing during the 10 days I had been in town. I wanted more of this—needed more. I longed to stay. I had even looked on Craigslist for short-term sublets. But as the owner of my rented cabin said when I asked if I could book it for an entire month, maybe two, “You have people who love you waiting for you back home.” He couldn’t have known this, yet he was right. It wasn’t just people waiting (Doug) but dogs and cats and goats too.

I finally composed myself enough to return to Augustine and Joseph, and Blue. “Oh, you guys, thank you so much. I am so touched. But I’m the one who should be treating you to coffee.” They shrugged off my thanks, as if they were embarrassed by my gushing gratitude.

They couldn’t possibly have known—and I wasn’t about to tell them—just how down I had been before I came to Taos, how much I was grieving not just my dad and my goat, but the whole state of the world. Likewise, they couldn’t possibly know just how much their kindness had restored my faith in humanity. (Though I must add, taking a 10-day break from the news and social media also helped.)

Overcome by shyness all around, we sat on barstools, not really sure what to talk about, not sure how to say goodbye. Other regulars showed up, filling up the space between our awkward small talk. Pat with his dog Digger. Steve with yet another dog. And the guy opening the art gallery with his cattle dog. I bent down to pet each of the animals.

“We have to go to work,” Augustine finally said. “I have something for you.” He handed me a small bundle, a zip-lock bag wrapped in paper towel. “Don’t open it until you get home,” he said.

“You mean when I get back to Iowa, or do you just mean don’t open it until later?”

“You can open it after I leave,” he said.

Once I was in the car, I unwrapped his gift. I assumed it was one of his rock carvings he had shown me photos of—bears on all fours. “I like doing the detail,” he said as I studied his pictures, faded and dog-eared. But it was not a stone carving. It was a necklace made of chunky turquoise beads. I immediately fastened it around my neck and held the beads in my fist as I drove down highway 68.

As much as it made my heart ache to leave Taos, I reminded myself that life is about moving forward. Unless you know how to move in a space-time continuum, forward is the only direction we can go.

Eventually I pointed my car East, toward my life back in Iowa, toward my goal of finishing my next book, toward my pathetic little $39 Mr. Coffee Espresso Maker and my community of farm animals.

Back in Iowa, this is what community looks like.
I had a long talk with Doug on Saturday, while we were out canoeing on Big Cedar Creek. Immersed in nature is an ideal setting to discuss important issues. I told him about my desire to remain in Taos, to rent a place there, about my morning coffee house routine, and how I felt like I really belonged there.

“I need to live in a place that smells of sagebrush,” I said.

He understood. “You can go back, Bea. If that’s what it takes for you to write, you should go.”

His support came from a place of such unconditional love I realized the Taos cabin owner was right. This is home. The people here do love me—Doug loves me. And I can—and I will—readjust to a place that smells of fresh-cut hay instead of sage.

Instead of returning to Taos, I rearranged one of the rooms in our farmhouse and turned it into my own office. No more desk in the bedroom.

The first thing I did after setting up my desk was to create a shrine to my time in Taos—my journal filled with inspiration and motivation from the workshop, the “Write True” charm from Jen reminding me to write my heart out honestly, the postcard of Georgia O’Keeffe on the back of a motorcycle (she too was smitten with Taos, so much so she left NYC and moved there permanently), a sprig of New Mexico sage, and last but not least Augustine’s turquoise beads.

I have claimed a room of my own where I will write— with courage and confidence—my next book, my blog posts, magazine articles, and thank you letters to certain Red Willow Indians.

Thank god I skipped those dance sessions.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The (Snowy) Road to Taos

"Travel not to find yourself but to remember who you've been all along."
                                                      — as seen on a plaque yesterday in a home decor store


In November, Hillary lost the election. In March, I lost my dad. A month later, in April, I lost my goat, Cinnamon. After all that I thought I was also going to lose my mind. Writing is my best form of therapy, and on his deathbed, my dad reminded me, “Words matter.” But my brain was such a muddled, grief-stricken mess I was stuck. I put my fingers to work typing “writers retreats” on Google and found one, one that I was sure could get me back on track. It was for smart, ambitious women suffering from writers block. It was in the spiritual Mecca of Taos, New Mexico. It was sold out.

I wrote to Jennifer Louden and pleaded my case. “I NEED THIS. DESPERATELY,” I implored, telling her how I had just lost my dad and my goat. “Please, please, PLEASE, can you get me in?”  I got a reply so quickly it was like a form letter. “We‘ve added you to the waiting list.” Period.

My friend Kee Kee assured me I would get in. Though she suggested I just go to Taos anyway, that a road trip might be as much as I need. But no. I wanted structure. I wanted community. I wanted someone to use their velvet whip on me to get me back in the chair.

I sent my plea on a Friday. On Monday afternoon I was told I had cleared the list but still needed to send in an application—which was a bunch of questions about why you want to write, what you’re working on, and what you hoped to get out of the weeklong workshop—a vetting process. Tuesday morning I was told I was in. Yes!

I packed my car (actually Doug’s car since his SUV was bigger and safer than my Mini Cooper) and left Iowa on Friday morning, April 28. The workshop started on Sunday, April 30. Google maps calculated the driving time at 16 hours. No problem.

When I left the farm it was raining. It kept raining all through Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Doug, who as a farmer is obsessed with his weather app, stayed in close touch, giving me regular updates about the latest developments on the radar. He told me it didn’t look so good. I didn’t need him to tell me that because I could see for myself—the clouds hung so low they touched the ground, the rain was turning to snow. I called him to discuss the conditions.

“There’s a storm system that is coming up along the eastern edge of the Rockies,” he said. That’s exactly where I was headed.

“Okay, then I’m going to make a detour and head south,” I told him. “I’ll just drive around it. It will add a few extra hours but at least I will be safe.” He agreed with me that it was a good plan.

As I pointed south, weaving my way through the Panhandle's sea of wheat fields and oil rigs, I came to the town of Canadian, Texas. I was going to keep pushing on, but when I saw the Stumblin’ Goat Saloon I took it as an omen. The goat I had just lost, Cinnamon, was one of my favorites. She was the most beautiful out of the four, with her fluffy tan coat, white underside and a black stripe down her back. More striking was her humility. She was shy and polite, and unlike the others never pushed and shoved to get more carrots. As a tribute to her, I would stop and eat lunch. Big mistake.

Inside above the bar was a big stuffed white goat, not just a head and horns, but the entire front half of the goat’s body. It didn’t look like Cinnamon; it looked exactly like one of our other goats, Mr. Friendly. I should have walked out then. Instead, I stupidly ordered a $10 burger that looked—and tasted—worse than day-old McDonald’s. As I was leaving, I passed the mayonnaise-heavy salad bar and—wait for it—there was another stuffed goat. This time it was the full body of a small goat and it was being used as a—I kid you fucking not—a bottle opener. A sign above it said, “PETA Warning: This Goat may have been harmed in the making of this bottle opener.” I have never regretted a meal more.
But I digress. I was dodging a snowstorm in order to get to a writers retreat on time.

After 16 hours of driving I got as far as Amarillo, still 6 hours from Taos, where I chatted up a couple pumping gas at the Flying J. They had come from the west, from Albuquerque—the direction I was going. They looked pale and shaken. “It’s bad,” the husband said. “We had to pull off for three hours because of the snow.” If the weather had been okay, I would have already checked into my historic inn in Taos. Instead, I sought refuge at a Motel 6 in Amarillo.

Now it was me who was obsessively studying the weather app. I hit the refresh button every five minutes to see if the Winter Weather Advisory had been updated, and ideally canceled. Instead, it was extended. It was supposed to end at 10AM. Then midnight. Then 10AM Sunday. Then 1PM, 2PM, and eventually 7PM Sunday. The workshop started Sunday at 6. I barely slept.

I woke up to see Doug’s car buried under a few inches of snow and the trees blowing sideways from hurricane force winds. The weather radar showed the storm, which was supposed to move to the north, had shifted (or a new one had developed) and it was centered right over Amarillo.

I tried to wait it out. I stayed in my room until 11 until I became too restless. I checked out and went to Starbucks, drinking a triple latte as I stared out the window at the toppled tables and chairs, the canvas of the umbrellas billowing like parachutes after a botched landing. I could see the interstate from where I sat and there were cars and semis moving down the road. Slowly. But still, they were heading west.

I examined the radar again. If I could just blast through the storm cell I would pop out the other side where sunny skies and climbing temperatures were reported.

I hate driving in rain. I hate even more driving in snow. Driving on mountain roads in bad weather is one of my biggest nightmares (after tornadoes and snakes.) In the past I thought nothing of driving in adverse conditions. But with age comes fear. My vivid—and morbid—imagination takes over and I picture myself perishing in a fiery crash, my car flipping over and pummeled, with me bloody, mangled, perhaps lifeless, in the wreckage. I never thought I would become one of those fearful people, the little old lady hunched forward in the drivers seat, gripping the wheel in terror and driving way too slow, with other drivers giving her the stink eye when they finally pass. But when the weather is bad, the rain blinding, or the mountain roads too windy and narrow, I am that old-lady driver.

I may have become more fearful but I still possess enough determination, enough grit, enough impatience to talk myself into action. It took some serious self-talk to convince myself, but I reasoned that I would take it slow. If other drivers didn’t like my cautious pace they were welcome to go around me. As Marcus taught me how to relax when faced with drivers on the German Autobahn tailgating me at 120 mph, “If they don’t like your speed, it’s their problem.”

Holding my breath, I merged with the traffic on the I-40. The pavement was covered in extensive patches of snow and ice. No one could go fast even if they wanted to. In fact, once I pulled onto the interstate, no one was going more than 5 mph, because a snowplow was up ahead blocking everyone. My GPS showed a one and a half hour delay due to this traffic, and after that Grande Latte I had to pee, so I pulled off at a random exit. Bad choice. The only restaurant at the exit was closed—due to bad weather. Wishing I was wearing Depends, I had to stay on the frontage road for a few miles before there was another onramp. The frontage road was surprisingly clear of snow and as I drove west on it, parallel to the interstate, I passed the long snail line of cars, cars and more cars. And then, I passed the snowplow, and right after the snowplow was my onramp. Ha! I wanted to be happy about getting ahead of the traffic, but the unplowed freeway could have been covered in even thicker snow and ice. Fear kicked in again. But since there was no one behind I just whispered to myself over and over, “Go gently,” and drove ever so slowly. At least 30 mph was faster than 5. The road ahead, oddly, was clearer than the road behind. And soon, in a matter of a few miles—que milagro!—the road was altogether dry. Above, I could even see a distinct line marking the edge of the storm system. I was still making my way out from under the dark grey muck, but there was a cloudless blue sky dead ahead.

I explain all this because it matters. It matters because had I not taken that exit to pee, I would not have gotten in front of the traffic, and if I had not gotten in front of the traffic I would not have arrived in Taos at exactly 6:00PM, the minute the writers workshop started. It matters because that while I weighed out the safety factors and erred on the side of caution, I was still able to push past my fear, trust my snow tires, trust myself. It matters because bad luck eventually exhausts itself.

My losing streak has been followed by nothing but good. I went on to have one of the most outstanding experiences I’ve had in years. The workshop exceeded my expectations on every level. I made new friends. I wrote like a madwoman. I explored the beauty of the town, its earthy adobe buildings, and its surrounding mountains. Everything about the week went so incredibly right, like magic. Like a well-deserved winning streak.

I look back and realize that storm cell hovering over Amarillo was like a metaphor for my life. Grief had been hovering over me, keeping me stuck in a metaphorical Motel 6. I know grief. I know you can’t go around it. I’ve muscled through it before and I found that in spite of the brokenness of my heart, I still had the courage and determination—and driving skills—to blast through again. It doesn’t change the fact I lost what I loved, what was so important to me (most of all, my dad—and I will most certainly be writing more about him later), but it did remind me to have faith, that even when you’re in the worst of storms, there are always, always, always sunnier days ahead.


This post would not have been written if not for Jen Louden and her coaching. I wanted to go to bed early instead of writing, but I heard Jen’s voice, I felt the encouragement of the group, and thus I sat my butt in the chair and kept it glued there until this was finished. Thanks to Jen and the group for an “amazing” week. I intend to hang onto that encouragement and stay in the chair as I go forward, using my words to promote kindness.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Thoughts After the Women's March on Washington

Many of you had been asking for a recap of the Women's March, but, honestly, I am so depressed this week it is hard to write one.

It's been a week of political (and insane) assault on our democracy and freedom. Our role as an egalitarian, inclusive nation is being completely undermined. It’s the Orwellian stuff of "1984." (Amazon sold out of its copies this week as customers seek a refresher on George Orwell’s dystopian novel.) The new administration has abandoned all aspects of diplomacy and become blatantly blind and insensitive to the world we live in—a global one, an intricately connected, interdependent and symbiotic one. Instead of striving to be a peaceful and welcoming country, the new executive orders being handed down will only create more—and more determined—enemies. Immigrants who have been thoroughly vetted are already being turned away at our borders. Are you fucking kidding me? Unless you are a Native American, we are ALL immigrants here.

Don't even get me started on all the other hair-pulling, primal scream-inducing madness coming out of Washington—the war on education, on the environment, on healthcare, on the media, on science, on immigration, on the basic human rights we have worked so hard for over the decades. Not the least of which is abortion. The conservative-minded righteousness about protecting an unborn fetus is ridiculous when you consider the utter lack of support for the mother and child after an unwanted or unplanned baby is born. Take a look at the foster care system in this country and you will see exactly what I mean. (If you don't believe in abortion, don't have one. But what others choose to do with what’s in their own uterus is their business.)

My brain is so overloaded with all the alarming news this week my head feels as if it will explode. My soul is feeling so crushed I can barely cope.






But for that one day, Saturday, January 21, I felt so empowered, so supported, so encouraged by the huge numbers of people who showed up to protest. Organizers were hoping for at least 100,000 in Washington, D.C., but estimates state it was closer to 500,000. We packed the streets so tightly we could barely move our feet. We listened to intelligent, caring people speak as they took their turns on the stage. We chanted and held up our protest signs and wore our pink pussy hats. (Those pink, cat-eared hats filled airplanes, buses and sidewalks leading up to the march, and on the day of the march they created a sea of pink lighting up a cloudy day with vibrant color.) We made friends. We made headlines. We made it known that we are not going to accept this new (and dangerous) administration.

Even babies marched.
In their pussy hats.
Even more encouraging was that people marched on ALL SEVEN CONTINTENTS—proof that American policy affects the whole planet. And there are a whole lot of people on the planet who don’t want the world to end. Women, men, and various combinations thereof, showed up in person to stand for equality, democracy, and, above all, for world peace. Even in places with temperatures well below zero, people marched. In the hallways of hospital cancer wards, people marched. On board ships, people marched. On rural highways, people marched. All the way around the globe, people protested the new president and his policies. More than 3 million took to the streets. And not one single arrest was made.

As for me personally, marching was never on my bucket list. Normally if I had anything to protest I would simply write about it. But nothing feels normal anymore. So I joined the masses in Washington.

Shoulder to shoulder with like-minded strangers, I joined my fellow marchers in shouts and cheers and warrior-like cries. “Women’s rights are human rights.” “Hey, hey, ho, ho, [you know who] has got to go.” And the one that still runs through my head after saying it so many times—answering the call of “Tell me what democracy looks like”—“THIS is what democracy looks like.”

I felt so proud to be there, saying those words. I felt like I was no longer just me, not caught up in myself or my own needs. For the first time in my life I was part of something so much bigger. I was one tiny speck of a larger organism, a force of life called Humanity.

“This is what democracy looks like.”

I felt so proud of the other people who showed up to say those words. Proud of the solidarity, the camaraderie, and the politeness displayed by all. Proud of the diversity, the vast range of ages, shapes, sizes, colors and costumes.

“This is what democracy looks like.”

During that day, pressed so tightly against the bodies of others, I felt so hopeful that not all of humanity has lost their sense of compassion or care for others’ well being. I felt hopeful that with this huge show of concerned citizens that we can preserve our freedoms, uphold our Constitution, and reestablish our reputation as a country that is united with the Free World and not with New World Order.

“This is what democracy looks like.”
This is what democracy looks like.

Like I said, that was last week. The challenge now—and it’s a big one—is to maintain that positive feeling, to not lose hope, to not let my brain explode or my soul get extinguished. I know I’m not alone in my despair. I know the 3 million people who marched share my sentiments. And I know there are millions more, as not everyone who wanted to march could be out there.

We marched. We turned up in impressive, unprecedented numbers. But now what? What can we do? How can we help? And how can we maintain any sense of optimism going forward?

Keep calling your representatives. Send them letters. Run for office yourself, even your local school board. Donate money to and/or volunteer for the organizations whose causes you care about, especially the ones threatened with de-funding. Organize in your own communities. Sign up for “10 Actions, 100 Days.” Write letters to the editor. Take time for self-care. Keep marching. (To stand up for science. And to demand someone's tax returns.)

Yes, yes. Got it. That’s a list of what I’ve heard and read so far. But what else? I’m sorry for not offering any solutions or salves here. Instead, I am asking YOU for them.

Please write to me and tell me what keeps you going. Tell me what you are doing, what action you are taking, what seems to be working, and especially how you are staying optimistic in this new—and hopefully short-lived—era. Seriously. Please write to me. My email is beth [at] theworldneedsmorepie [dot] com. I promise to compile all the answers and share them with you.

Pink flowers awaited me back on the farm.
It's so nice to have the support of my partner.
In the meantime, I am still doing laundry and catching up on my sleep. There are more marches ahead—and more blog posts to write—and I need to be ready.


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Read this article in the Huffington Post: 10 Things The Women’s March On Washington Accomplished