Banner over Main Street, 2016

Each Presidential Election year, I take photos of events starting with the primaries and ending with an all day series on election day. Last year was no different and to mark a full year since the Trump victory, I looked through my Politics photo file and decided to share some of the moments I’ve captured over the years. It kind of evolved into something more.

John King, Hollis NH, 2008

My first foray into primary politics was at a small pharmacy in Hollis New Hampshire (owned by a loyal GOP donor) the day after the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, where Barack Obama officially became a front runner in that race. That morning, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain were in New Hampshire, and I went to this little store to wait for the Straight Talk Express bus to pull up. There I found CNN’s John King deep in thought. (Off topic: I just noticed the framed Corona beer sign on the right. Interesting counterpoint to the stenciling on the left. That’s New Hampshire for you.)

As the pharmacy began to fill up with media and the very few voters who could squeeze in, King would chat with people between writing emails and taking calls on his blackberry – at the time juggling devices like this was still rather extraordinary. A native of Dorchester, MA, the bitterly cold morning was not bothering him even though he admitted that most days he wasn’t even sure where he was as long as he was on the heels of a candidate.

John McCain, Hollis, NH, 2008

Senator McCain arrived with former Senator Warren Rudman (not pictured here) whose endorsement was announced at this event. He shook hands with the few citizens who were within reach  – most had been pushed back into the aisles of band aids and shaving cream behind him. The tiny pharmacy was so jammed that Cindy McCain chose to stay on the bus, and the chaos was intense enough that McCain never again scheduled a campaign appearance at a private business. At the time I thought he looked old and tired, but compared with the man today, he looks positively chipper.

Press Pool at the Nashua Airport, January 2008

Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton was flying in to speak in a hangar at the Nashua Airport, where there was plenty of room for the media.

Hillary Clinton buttons and tee shirts for sale, 2008

And, unlike McCain, lots of merch.

Hillary Clinton unveils her new campaign bus, January 2008

Clinton’s airport event included the unveiling of her new campaign bus, intended to be a counter punch to the straight talk express. Alas, Obama’s victory was all anyone could talk about.

Bill and Chelsea Clinton watch Hillary speak the morning after her defeat by Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses, 2008

As she got up to speak, the the expressions of former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea pretty much said it all.

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Nashua, NH Airport, January 2008

Like the pharmacy, the hangar had more media in it than voters but the campaign was sure to create good optics for the event.

Bill Clinton works the crowd at the Nashua Airport on behalf of Hillary, January 2008

What they didn’t show was Bill working the crowd like he was still the candidate.

Braving the elements for Obama on Super Tuesday in Groton, MA 2008
Super Tuesday voter and friend, March 2008

Super Tuesday, 2008.

I didn’t take my camera to the polls in November, 2008. I was preoccupied with other things and also didn’t want to jinx it. I wish I’d thought of that in 2016.

 

Barack Obama campaigns in Manchester, NH, October 2012

In October 2012, President Obama campaigned in New Hampshire. The group of voters on the bleachers in front of us brought giant pieces of foam core cut to spell OBAMA.

A homemade Obama sign, 2012

I thought of this home made sign a lot in the fall of 2016, when the side of this house and whole lot of yards were empty.

In 2008, the slogan was “Hope.” In 2012, Obama perhaps understood that his path forward would be blocked at every turn by an obstinate and xenophobic Congress.

Mitt Romney was undone by a comment about the 57%. How quaint.

Screen shot of the Five Thirty Eight election analysis, November 6, 2012

Nate Silver and his Five Thirty Eight statistical analysis first emerged in 2008 and changed the face of political prognosticating for good.

 

Screen shot of a Facebook post of the NYT front page, November 7, 2012

Foreshadowing: For a lot of people, this was as close as they got to the front page of a New York Times – by 2012 more people were getting their news online than ever before, and the influence of Facebook on the electorate in 2016 is a story that is still unfolding.

Elizabeth Warren’s victory over Scott Brown proved that, at long last, a woman could win a state-wide election in Massachusetts. Niki Tsongas is giving up her seat in 2018, leaving Veterans without one of their strongest advocates in Congress. It’s a race to watch.

 

Pro-Trump yard signs in Westford, MA, Fall 2016

2016 was an ugly campaign in so many ways, illustrated by this display I drove by several times each week. The house (unseen here) looks like Boo Radley might live there. The center side says “Jail Hillary.”

Anti-Hillary yard sign in Ayer, MA, Fall 2016

Someone actually had these signs printed up – and we live in a blue state.

Clinton-Kaine sign across from a dinosaur mailbox, Fall 2016

By the time I took this photo I was starting to get the hint. There weren’t nearly as many signs up as in 2008 or 2012.

Three Trump sign displays in MA and NH, November 8, 2016

Hillary ultimately won the states in which these signs appeared, but the strength of Trump’s message and how it was delivered could not be denied. A year later, there are still some Trump signs posted, despite local ordinances saying political signs must be removed after an election.

This New Hampshire sign, backlit by the early morning sun on Election day, marks the moment where I first felt that Trump might win. I had been driving down a road dotted with Trump sings and no Hillary signs and I had to pull over to get this shot.

Democrats at a MA polling place, November 8, 2016

And then, at a local polling place, all of my shots of this group had this line through them. All of them.

Republicans at a MA polling place, November 8, 2016

Over in the shade, at the same polling place, these steadfast women held their ground.

Republican supporters at the entrance to a polling place, November 8, 2016

Out on the main road, Trump supporters dominated the entrance to the polling place. Again, Hillary won the town and the state, but you’d never know it from the signs.

The beginning and end of our day – we started with cake and ended with booze. At one point while watching the returns – everyone else had gone to bed – I needed to stress eat so much I took Christmas cookies from 2015 out of the freezer and ate them. They were delicious, but needless to say they didn’t help.

I watched all of the debates, read the news, and sat in disbelief that people could be diverted by Benghazi and email servers. I was befuddled by references to Russia, annoyed by anything having to do with the Clinton Foundation, and furious with all the free media time given – without rebuttal or correction to the endless lies – to the Trump rallies. Bannon and Conway were admired for their Machiavellian brilliance with absolutely no understanding of what that might mean for America.

iPad screen shot, November 9, 2016

We woke up to this.

Even though it has taken me a year to process the results of the 2016 election, I am no longer mystified by the reality of President Trump. There is no single reason for a success even he did not anticipate. If he really thought he would win, he and his associates would have hidden their ties to Russia better. I underestimated the antipathy of voters toward the Clintons (yes, plural) and the tone-deafness and sheer incompetence of the Democratic party. One need only look at the pitiful minimum wages and job losses in key states like Michigan to see that the Democrats lost touch with their base and did not take care of working class people at the state or federal levels. Whether Bernie Sanders could have solved that problem is a question that will be long debated but never answered, because he was never tested by the fires of a general election.

The Weinstein scandal came too late to help Hillary, but there is no guarantee that wouldn’t have backfired, too. Bill Clinton’s harassment, perjury, hypocrisy, draft-dodging and perpetual obfuscation paved the way for Donald Trump to do the same things, only exponentially worse because he has surrounded himself by people who, like him, are morally bankrupt, scientifically illiterate and clueless about governing. Add to that the unanticipated mendacity of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence and John Kelly – the “cooler heads” we kept telling ourselves would prevail in a Trump administration – and we are left with the too little too late types embodied in Jeff Flake and John McCain, whose political careers are effectively, almost tragically, over anyway.

And so we are left with a leadership – and in some ways moral – vacuum in the Democratic party.  Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer had worn out their welcomes with the larger electorate by 2014, but their fundraising prowess obscured their lack of appeal to the next generation of voters, who were looking for a champion like Bernie and the only thing the democrats had to offer was…Bernie. Debbie Wasserman Schultz proved herself to be the Democratic versin or Reince Priebus – and somehow she got re-elected. Now, as in 2014, Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken are doing all of the heavy lifting. I haven’t read Donna Brazile’s book yet, but it appears she is owning the failures of her own party, and taking a terrible hit for telling it like it is – or was.

Even if the Trump presidency does not last, the GOP line of succession still guarantees that moneyed interests will prevail over the common good. The Democrats still have not figured out who is a worthy successor to Barack Obama. The solution is maddeningly simple in theory: authenticity. It’s what Obama has down to his very fingertips, and what every major Democrat with a wide audience beyond but Franken and Warren lacks. Franken and Warren are the first to admit they are not the saviors of the party, but they do set an example for what a competent Congress looks like. It’s a start.

As for what happens next, Robert Draper wrote a must-read piece on this topic in the November 1 New York Times Magazine. The money quote comes from an Army veteran named Bill Hyers, who helped create a brilliant ad for a challenger to Paul Ryan’s House seat. Referring to Pelosi and company, he says:

“What’s terrible about Democrats like [former congressman, democratic strategist, White House chief of staff and current Mayor of Chicago] Rahm Emanuel,” Hyers said, “is that it matters more to them if you’re a candidate who can raise money from very wealthy people than if you have an argument to make. They look at everything through the old Clinton triangulation strategy. Put out very carefully prepared statements. Don’t let anyone get to your right. Deny and ignore. Never have an honest dialogue. It was a bad strategy back in the ’90s. But it’s even worse today, because we can now have 24-7 access to candidates, and people can see when they’re not being authentic. Everything Hillary Clinton did was carefully scripted — they could see that.”

We need a Bernie Sanders for the 21st Century or we could very likely end up reliving in the 19th century.

President Obama, driving away from a campaign rally, October 2012
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Black History Month: finding Frederick Douglass on my bookshelf

f-douglass-wm-fisher-wye-house-1The amazing display of ignorance at the White House yesterday reminded me of something I discovered last summer when rearranging our bookshelves. Back in the late 1970s, everyone in our extended family received a book from our great Aunt Virginia Stewart Fisher entitled Some Old Houses of Maryland. Her late husband, William H. Fisher, known as Uncle Billy, was an early adopter of photography at the turn of the 20th century, and he took many photographs of houses and landscapes near their home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When he passed in 1938, he left an archive of glass negatives and hand-written notes about the places and people he photographed. Thirty-four years younger than her husband, Aunt Vi kept the archive for decades and in the 1970s she shared some of the images and stories with the Baltimore Sun, which led to my mother helping her self-publish the book.

I confess I barely glanced at it over the years, looking mostly at the photos and not bothering to decipher the handwritten text – I don’t know whose idea it was to publish it just as he had written it but I am grateful they did. The words are so much more powerful on the page this way. It is a strange read, this book, with odd anecdotes sprinkled among the arcane details of architecture and ownership of the homes the book is meant to document.

I’ve never visited my grandfather’s home town of Easton, Maryland, and so the locations and homes in the book do not resonate with me as much as others in my family. My memories consist of stories and recipes passed along by Aunt Vi, whose visits to our home in Iowa and annual Christmas care packages were eccentric (and delicious) but not the stuff of history.

So last summer, as an excuse to sit down and stop rearranging shelves, I began flipping through Uncle Billy’s book and near the end, in an entry about Wye House, a name caught my eye. “Frederick Douglass,” Uncle Billy wrote, “the mulatto boy who in later years became Marshall of the District of Columbia, spent much of his boyhood at Wye House.” That’s all. If you didn’t know who Frederick Douglass was (and apparently a lot of people in the White House don’t) you might think he summered at Wye House and that being the Marshall of the District of Columbia was his most notable accomplishment. I struggled to understand the context of what seemed like a begrudging, coded reference to one of the great men of American history in a book that is, admittedly, meant to be about houses. Great pains are taken to detail the homes and the families who built them, but the slave trade that dominated that place and time is not-so-neatly papered over.

The comments and stories in the book allude to the vital role of slavery in the culture and history of the Eastern Shore with tacit acceptance and no insight. I recall my mother (born and raised in Philadelphia) saying that she saw something like the Confederacy when she visited Easton as a girl. Aunt Vi, Mom told me, offered her left hand to African Americans when meeting them, and warned of drinking too much coffee because it could “make you into a darkie.” When I heard this as a girl in the 1970s it was made to seem like that kind of racism doesn’t exist any more, but even then I knew it wasn’t true. Still, until recently,  I didn’t fully realize how much Americans – myself included – need a daily civics lesson.

f-douglass-wm-fisher-wye-house-1I turns out there is a vast archive that can be traced from that one sentence of Uncle Billy’s. As I write, the University of Maryland’s Hornbake Library has an exhibition called Frederick Douglass and Wye House, Archaeology and African American Culture in Maryland (see what happens when you Google something, WH speechwriters?). On display through July 2017, the exhibit details the scientific research conducted over the last nine years at the Wye House site and the artifacts and independent though intertwined cultures of the back and white people who lived there.

What Uncle Billy called Wye House was called the Great House Farm by the slaves, and that detail alone underscores for me how much I do not know about the complex roots that connect our family stories to the larger arc of American history. Some Old Houses of Maryland has more stories and photos that deserve an even closer look now, and that is how I am going to observe Black History Month.

For future reference.
For future reference.

 

 

 

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Note to Self: Time to Rethink Social Media

It's evening in America.
It’s evening in America.

The Inauguration and the marches are behind us and now the work begins in earnest. On the radio earlier this week I heard a Russian journalist warn against being distracted by “chaff” news, and the example he gave was the inaugural crowd size kerfuffle from the weekend. In Russia, ridiculous lies about non-essential news is a tactic used to distract from significant news that consequently gets underreported. To paraphrase, he said that they deliberately draw attention to what they are saying to distract reporters and the public from the things that they are doing.

My new mantra: We cannot allow things that are tangential or invasive to distract us from what is important, nor can we ignore the glimmers of good even as we expect the worst.

I am totally guilty of pouncing on the snark currently dominating Facebook, even though I also try to share substantive news.  Recently I shared numerous pieces about the departing First Family, the stark differences in style and manners, the copycat cake, and signs from the march. I didn’t march myself, but all month long I wrote emails and made calls about cabinet appointments and pending legislation. I am grateful to those who did march, and I try to be sensitive to those that felt the march was not as inclusive as they had hoped. Can you appreciate enthusiasm and check privilege at the same time? I hope so. I’m trying.

No amount of fire could challenge the fairy tale he had stored up in his heart. – F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby

I keeping picturing the green light blinking in the fog across the sound in The Great Gatsby. The careless carnage of the Buchanans is playing out in front of us and sometimes it feels like we are helpless to stop it. The voters are Gatsby, who thinks the billionaires club is itching for us to join when really we will just be taking the fall for them.  If we let the pomp and the parties distract us – if we let the real news sink under the weight of the confetti – the careless couple (Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, to be precise) will blithely continue to put their interests before ours and we will end up face down in the water.

Meanwhile, the media will chase the confetti. NBC has plundered FOX News’ anchors not to improve its journalism but to improve its ratings. In 2015 Trump hosted SNL playing a candidate and now they have Alec Baldwin coming back to host SNL playing Trump (February 11). CNN is only “discovering” now that broadcasting lies upon lies with real-time coverage is tacitly endorsing those untruths. For 18 months Donald Trump got all the live, unedited, un-factchecked coverage he could ask for at his rallies and only now is CNN delaying broadcast of a White House press conference so they can decide whether it is newsworthy. I’m hard pressed (pun intended) to believe that the only reason they are doing that now is that it won’t cost them much in terms of ad revenue – the people who ate up Trump’s rallies with a spoon will not give the same attention to a White House press conference. But if a conference is deemed “newsworthy” they can take the juicy bits and tart them up for prime time, right? Talking about what they say and giving short shrift to what they do. Putin will approve.

2008-01-04-015All last fall we heard the allegedly liberal media speak admiringly of how brilliantly Kellyanne Conway was taming Trump and keeping him on message. They looked on her lies and deflections with bemusement, thinking surely the sideshow would never make it to the center ring. They must be rubbing their hands with delight now that the Kellyanne and Donald show will go on and on, right up to the impeachment, which will also be fantastic for ratings.

And Congress wrings its hands and explains wanly that what we thought were checks and balances are actually gentleman’s agreements: it turns out tax returns, blind trusts and anti-nepotism rules are not codified, really, just suggested.  Who knew? And Mitch McConnell has proven that even the rules that are codified in the Constitution, like those governing Supreme Court appointments, can be completely ignored as long as you have a big enough majority.

But it was the targeting of the President’s young son on social media that made me stop short and reassess my own social media priorities and boundaries. There is a lot that could be said about this young man that might be insightful and helpful, but the fact is it’s really not our business to speculate about how the fishbowl of the White House might affect him. The best we can do is leave him alone and hope that he never has to feel alone.

So from now on I am going to try and be more careful about how I use my accounts and platforms, drawing a more thoughtful line between fun and news. I will be bypassing pussy hats for corgies in the snow, posting fewer retweets and more legislative alerts, and sharing the kinds of art, food, and literature that keep me optimistic. I will continue to emphasize news about disability and autism (saving Medicaid and the preserving the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act) and trying not to overshare the “chaff.” I hope people will share my posts that matter to them without my asking.

This post is my way of holding myself accountable: to keep my social media eye on the ball and pay less attention to what people in power are saying and more attention to what they are doing. Words matter. Actions matter even more, and sharing and retweeting alone do not count as action.

 

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Homeland Insecurity: Seeking Refuge from Ourselves

As a kid in the 1970s, I was shaped by current events like everyone else. A news junkie even then, I was glued to the TV:  Walter Cronkite, political conventions, Watergate trials, absorbed the details of the Viet Nam war, the Soviet menace, the Cultural Revolution, and the decline of America’s cities. Even though so much in the news was discouraging I was optimistic. I still was fascinated by government, I still wanted to travel the world (Nixon went to China – yes!), and I still wanted to live in New York City, bankrupt or not.

The only fear that took root in my heart was sown by Charles Manson and a murder case in which a local family was murdered in their beds on Halloween night. Random, hate-filled crime kept me up at night, paralyzed with fear. In an Iowa town where doors were always unlocked and keys left in the car, I drove my family crazy by locking all of the doors before I went to bed at night (as the youngest it can be assumed I regularly locked out most of my many siblings). I slept fully dressed sometimes, down to my sneakers.

My Mom hated herself for leaving the copy of Helter Skelter out on the coffee table that, with its graphic crime-scene photos in the center, triggered my not-so-latent anxiety disorder. She did everything she could to help me gain perspective, and, over time, the words of the Memorare  and Franklin Roosevelt’s  “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” lodged themselves permanently in my psyche. I recite them both regularly even now. Especially now.

DSC01780 - Version 2If the internet had existed then my head very well may have exploded.

And so what are we to do today, when the worst of humanity is on display 24/7? Plenty of people are writing about that. Understanding that electronic media is here to stay, I’ve tried to engage my kids about all that is happening so I can get a read on how they are managing the flow of information. It’s all a work in progress – I claim neither victory or defeat in the parenting wars. My kids seem to have a grip on what makes the current situation scary, but they are as confused as I am by how people who should know better are talking about it.

As an eleven-year-old it was understandable that, at one point, I feared the entire state of California because Manson was there. But my wise mother insisted on taking me there, plying me with Agatha Christie books for the plane ride so that I could see that most crimes were not random and that the perpetrators were caught and brought to justice – just as Manson and the local murderer were. It took a couple of years, but by age 14 I came to understand that I could safely exist in the world and that living with uncertainty was fine as long as it did not rule me. I grew up to attend a big city high school, leave home for college, live on my own and hold a job that required I answer security calls in the middle of the night in downtown Boston.

Why is it then, that my 14-year-old self seems so much more rational than so many people in positions of authority today? I came to understand that Manson’s insanity was not a reflection on the people of California, that most murderers have a coherent motive for their crimes, and that the political world is a complicated place in which what you hear on the news is, at best, only partially true. I even learned that people who run for President pretend to know things they don’t, and that being President bears little resemblance to running for President.

We have all watched events overtake every President when he entered office and seen them fundamentally change him – events that could not  have been predicted on the campaign trail. Nixon? Watergate. Ford? Being President and having to pardon his predecessor. Carter? Iranian hostage crisis. Reagan? Assassination attempt. Bush? Saddam Hussein. Clinton? Newt Gingrich and hubris (well, everyone should have predicted that). Bush? 9/11. Obama? Financial crisis and, well, this. Every modern President has had to face unrest in the Middle East, but none of them could accurately predict how they would handle it until they were sworn in.

Most Americans don’t have to dig too far back into their family history to find someone running from something. Religious persecution, potato famine, Nazis, war, poverty. People came here for freedom and shelter, and I don’t think all of them turned out to be model citizens; for every Dzhokhar Tsarnaev you can find a Sacco and Vanzetti. Every family tree has a bad apple if you look back a generation or two.

So why do we think that barring refugees from Syria – the few we have agreed to accept – is either justifiable or practical?  Plenty of Americans commit acts of terrorism against each other; how might we reduce the odds of that happening? Let’s see. Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina all have has a murder rates more than double the one here – can we stop the clearly untrustworthy southerners at the border of of my northern state? How is that less ridiculous than maligning an entire country or religion? What is the difference between opening fire on a theater in Paris and opening fire on a movie theater in Colorado? Mister Trump, we are our own Trojan Horse.

Hate has no home state – or country.

It’s not like the current refugee programs aren’t vetting the refugees from war torn countries who currently enter the US. The idea that up until now refugees from middle eastern nations have been flowing over the borders unfettered is preposterous. Even the translators who aid and protect US soldiers and journalists have a tough time getting the asylum they were promised. The current vetting process is long and security checks are required; it can take as long as two years (and once Congress is finished, will likely take longer). As reported today, of the 1800 Syrians who have been granted refugee status in the last two years, half of them are children and one quarter of them are elderly; only 2% are single men.

The governors and congresspeople say they want to stop the already glacial flow of refugees so they can look to see if our laws and procedures are sufficient to protect Americans to threats from abroad. But most of them are not the least bit interested in protecting us from the threats from our fellow countrymen. Regardless of heritage (or religion), there are more American citizens murdering other Americans now in the space of a year than terrorists have, ever. We all know there are few barriers to anyone who wants to procure an assault weapon in the US. I’m all for a review of the laws and procedures that affect our national interests and personal safety –  as long as gun safety is on the agenda.

I hope we can learn from history and look at the facts about what and whom we really have to worry about. Meanwhile, I’m saying a  prayer for the world.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help or sought your intercession,
was left unaided.

Inspired with this confidence,
I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother;
to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy hear and answer me.

Amen.

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A Machine with No Message or Heart: How the Democrats Blew It in 2014

It’s your President, stupid.

Democrats failed to stand by or tout the many successes of their sitting President, instead trying to distance themselves from him. Barack Obama is – and deserves to be – their standard bearer, their moral compass, the sign of all is that is good about their party. If they’re disenchanted with their leader then we have every right to be disenchanted with them.

Lesson? You can’t whine or scold your way to victory if you are an incumbent, and you can’t mobilize voters by talking about how good you are at mobilizing voters. People will listen to outsiders who complain about insiders, but when incumbents complain about the opposition (who don’t have to back up their claims with facts, it seems), voters don’t take them seriously.

Democrats cut and run on Barack Obama because that is what the pundits told them happens in mid-term elections, and now they don’t have any credibility with which to pave a positive road the White House in 2016. They could have talked about the good points in the economic recovery, the improved oversight of Wall Street, the benefits of Obamacare, the greatly reduced budget deficit, the ascending housing, job and stock markets and (just this morning, preliminary reports of 230K more private sector jobs in October) and then gone on to talk about how there is so much more work to be done in all of these areas. If they don’t know how to tout their own success and go forward with a vision, why should we vote for them?

Instead, Democrats not only bailed on a President they should have been supporting, they focused on all the wrong issues – things like reproductive rights, voter ID laws and gay marriage. Those are not local or economic enough to sway a voter that thinks Congress is stuck – they smack of telling people what is good for them because they are too dumb to figure it out for themselves. Voters are smart enough to know that their congressman or governor has no real control over those non-paycheck issues and women don’t want to be shamed into a feminist vote. When in doubt, vote for the one who promises to leave you alone and not to raise your taxes – the latter is a key promise people can keep track of very easily.

It was wrong to let Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and Bernie Sanders (an Independent, it should be noted) do all the heavy lifting, but at least they each had something to say that was worth hearing. All three of them delivered messages that were rich in facts but also exuded warmth and humor and a desire to connect with people – everyone else seemed to be talking to a demographic. Elizabeth Warren was able to be candid about missed opportunities during the present administration but she never lost sight of the passion and core ideals that have people talking about her as a presidential hopeful – but apparently most of the people who heard her speak liked her, but not enough to elect the people she was stumping for. (Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, didn’t do herself or her party any favors by joining the chorus and disparaging the administration that gave her the gravitas she needed to bolster own run for the White House.)

The good old days: Deval Patrick is elected Governor of Massachusetts, 2006
The good old days: Deval Patrick is elected Governor of Massachusetts, 2006

In Massachusetts, the most inspiring speech I heard all election season was outgoing Governor Deval Patrick’s eulogy for Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The Governor reminded us that the best public servants do their work not by belittling their opponents and getting out their base but by listening to individual people and making their daily lives better, one street at a time. He praised the famously mumbling Mayor by saying that “you always knew what he meant and, more importantly, that he meant what he said.” Governor Patrick and the late Mayor share what was so woefully lacking in this election: the ability to show us what is good about our world and demonstrate the ability to deliver on a promise to make it even better.

Why is that so hard?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Man in the Blue Oxford Shirt

CMV with Annie 1993 2

A Remembrance of Charles M. Vest,  former President of MIT

When I think of his memorial service at MIT planned for later this week, it is hard not to envision Chuck Vest himself coming up to he podium, looking around at what is sure to be an impressive gathering, and saying, “Well, hello there!” Legions of others will have better stories of the man in the ubiquitous blue oxford shirt, and I look forward to hearing all of them. All I can say is that these moments are uniquely mine, and they’re dear to me because of both who he was and the singular place he occupies in my life.

I was fortunate to be designated as Chuck’s transition assistant in 1990 and there were moments when we shared a kind of bewildered joy to be there, tucked away in Building 14, with a meeting schedule that could have passed for a list of the greatest minds of the 20th century. I don’t think he ever stopped being tickled to find himself among people he admired. Chuck and I developed a kind of rapport that summer; he would call me Radar for my ability to anticipate what he needed (and my propensity to blurt out an unsolicited opinion at the exact wrong time). But when he announced that everyone needed an e-mail username and address (it was that long ago) and I chose a contraction of my name – Scamp – that was the nickname that stuck over the years.

We have ways of creating stand-ins among the living for those who are with us only in spirit. There comes a point, inevitably, when our parents die and we find ourselves feeling a specific kind of aloneness. When my mother was dying, she had all kinds of crazy wisdom for me, and my favorite was, “You’re turning 40, and we’ll be gone. I never really felt grown up until both of my parents were dead. Your life is your own now; you won’t have me looking over your shoulder. It will be liberating.” I get what she was saying, and, liberated or not, she left me reams of advice that sit in a binder on my shelf.

But with my Dad it was trickier. His illness was shorter than Mom’s, and he was much more reticent to create any sense of closure. On matters of the heart, Mom did all the talking. Dad and I had said goodbye without my realizing it was the last one; I am certain he knew. Several weeks earlier he’d phoned me at MIT – the first and only time Dad called me at work. I happened to be in Chuck’s office that day – I was filling in for Laura for a few weeks while she was away. The call had followed me down the corridor from ASPG.  I rushed to the outer office, my face flushed with embarrassment and concern, and took the call in which my father informed me that he was sending me plane ticket so I could go home for a birthday party he was planning for my mother (another first and only). I had told him before that I was too busy to come; it was a crazy summer. But I was summoned and I went.

At first glance my father and Chuck could not have appeared more different, but they shared some characteristics: a firm handshake, a low voice that was seldom raised, a quiet devotion to family and faith, a way of chuckling through a funny story, a gallows sense of humor and a fondness for mixed nuts. They each had a kind of heartland sensibility that is largely undemonstrative; the hint of a smile or a furrowed brow spoke volumes.

So I flew out to Missouri for the party and had a wonderful time. Dad spent an afternoon at the head of the table, regaling the family with stories we had heard a million times before. When it came time for Dad to drive me to the airport, as he did every time I visited home, he told me that my brother-in-law would drive me instead. I should have known then. But instead I wrote it off to the fact that there were so many people visiting that weekend, Dad could not make all of those trips himself, and I blithely kissed and hugged him goodbye. Two weeks later I was flying back for the funeral. When Mom called to tell me he was ill, I asked if I should come home and she said “No, don’t come. It’s fine, you’ve had your turn.” And it was tough to take, but I guessed she was right.

TQM with CMV July 1992When I returned to Cambridge after the funeral it was the first day of a Total Quality Management Workshop for Constantine’s VP Staff Group. Shioji Shiba, the TQM guru, was there and it was a big deal. I was exhausted and as I stood in a daze during the pre-conference coffee, Chuck approached me, and wordlessly hugged me and kissed my forehead. And that was it. In one moment I got the goodbye I had missed from Dad and the hello that I needed to move forward. I went to the rest room and wept. Then I joined the group and promptly nodded off while Professor Shiba was talking (Yo-One!) and even though everyone around the table could see me, they let me snooze. We gathered for one of those team building group photos, and somebody directed me to a chair and I sat down. I was startled and delighted to find myself seated with Chuck, CBS and Professor Shiba; I’m not quite sure how that happened. We all look so happy, and in that moment, despite my loss, I truly was happy.

I understand much more clearly now the value of the sense of belonging I enjoyed at that time in my life. I look back and wince at my many rookie mistakes – CBS would refer it to it as “letting my slip show” – but I also miss the unbridled enthusiasm I had for nearly everything. I knew from the moment  I arrived in ASPG that that I was part of something extraordinary, but I didn’t grasp then how rare it is to work for and with people who share a common vision and have respect and admiration for each other, even under difficult circumstances. I worked hard and I was rewarded, which is such a simple concept but in these times it seems like something of a miracle.

Twenty-one years have passed. I left my job to stay home with my children, engaged in a new and challenging set of tasks but still working behind the scenes with and for people to whom I am devoted. The affirmations of parenting are both clearer and murkier – a child’s love is magic but you’re never really sure if you did a good job. No calls at the end of the day from CBS on the cell phone patting me on the back while he sped down the Mass Pike in his Volvo, no nod of bemused appreciation from Chuck at my fabulous color coding of the Faculty Meeting agenda. In my case the job has been more hands-on for a longer time; having a child with a disability presents a slew of joys and challenges, and there are no performance evaluations or raises – just a constantly changing job description (there are plenty of meetings, though, and lots of notes to take).

I look back on those days when I was out there in the working world, in that very brief moment where I was not so defined as a daughter or a mother, and feeling that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people. Those moments of synchrony (thank you, MLAM, for giving me that word) are as important to me as falling in love with husband and children. I feel a little nostalgic but mostly I feel incredibly, tremendously lucky.

A few years back, in the process of advocating for my child I got some press and sometime later I heard from Chuck. Over the years we kept tabs on each other, sending photos and occasional pithy e-mails (thanks to Laura, ever the catalyst). In one of those e-mail exchanges about family updates came a small moment – he told me he’d seen the piece in the Globe and that was proud of me. And because it was Chuck, whom I don’t think ever said anything he didn’t mean, it was the kind of validation I thought I had learned to live without.

I have a thin file folder that contains a few handwritten notes and short e-mails from Chuck that mean as much to me as anything I own, and I am grateful for the presence in my life that they represent. I am proud to be among the many people who enjoy the indelible imprint of Chuck Vest on our lives. I’m pretty sure I’m the only Scamp, though.

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September 11 Heralds the Value of Collaborative Storytelling

Sunrise on September 11, 2013
Sunrise on September 11, 2013

I love TED talks, and I get a new one every day in my inbox. I don’t always have time to watch, but yesterday’s by Jake Barton put the best possible spin on today, September 11. He’s immersed in designing the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York slated to open next year and his talk is a journey through that project so far, and how in the process they have designed new ways to enliven modern museums of all stripes. Their interactive museum tools are the new spring growth, the unexpected flower after the scorched earth fire. The interactive features, some of which now in use at the Cleveland Museum of Art, don’t replace the existing exhibits, but they do cool things like allow viewers to put paintings, sculptures and bits of architecture in their original contexts via an integrated digital image. You can see the tapestry on the castle wall, the gargoyle on the building, the bust in the artist’s studio. Our CGI-marinated kids will love this.

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image credit: wikipedia

The 9/11 Museum also draws on the Storycorps idea of hearing personal stories fro ordinary people about that extraordinary day (if you’ve never heard Storycorps Friday mornings on NPR, they are always worth hearing – click on the link to the main site and listen to one or two – each story is only a few minutes long). They’ll have a booth and people can go in and tell their story, and some of the audio from previously recorded will be playing through the PA system as people walk through the exhibits. Real voices, real people, real stories – unfiltered by historians, TV commentators or politicians.

I’m glad that part of the legacy of this day is bring people together with technology that connects us not just as individuals but with our art, our poetry and our history.

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Grief That is Coming of Age

SONY DSCI found a new diary app call Day One that makes it simple and fun to record moments on my phone and attach a photo. It’s a wonderful, quick way to capture images and events that otherwise get recorded in my many random notebooks. The images get buried in my 30,000+ photo library and the words and pictures seldom come together again in the same way I felt them at the time. All the entries can be downloaded en masse as a PDF on my computer if I ever want to do anything more with it. It’s brilliant.

This morning I was waiting for a child to awaken and took a moment to look at the pouring rain and remember this, the anniversary of our Dad’s death, 21 years ago today. I opened the Day One app and I wrote this:

It set off a chain of events that have influenced every moment since.

It was as though the words typed themselves, without my knowledge or permission. It is absolutely true, though, and even though it may seem like a surprise to me now, I knew even then that something fundamental had changed with Dad’s passing. I felt it on the train home that day, knowing as I stepped off that when I left Cambridge he was alive, and when I arrived in Concord, he was not. When I got to the house I called my brother and told him Dad was gone.

“How could you possibly know?” he asked.

“I just do.”

My brother was in New Jersey, I was in Massachusetts, Dad was in Saint Louis. It didn’t matter. A long chapter in my life, in all of our lives, had closed and we were free to look back and forward in ways that were not possible before that moment. It’s when memories and myths and mysteries all start to form and weave together ways that are different for every person; truth matters for a while but then becomes so complicated and elusive that you give up, only to go looking for it again later.

It happens this way for plenty of people, I’m sure, when they lose someone so influential to them. The absence of the reflected love, hate, or diffidence changes the image in the mirror and adjustments must be made. In my case it marked the start of the transition from being a child to being a parent, and the quick realization that even that traditional and expected path was not as straight or simple as I thought.

Libraries and hard drives the world over are full of the stories behind this revelation – that life seldom is what we expect it might be and what happens to us brings us unheralded joy, pain and wisdom. It just so happens that on this day back in 1992, my life took a turn in a new direction – if it were a movie there would be a map with a prop plane and a dotted line moving across continents with great zigs and zags, still going forward but making its way around the globe again and again, flying repeatedly over that point where the journey began.

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Photo Essay: A Stop at Walden Pond on Thoreau’s Birthday

Henry David Thoreau would have been 196 today. We were in Concord, MA, anyway so we thought we’d stop by Walden. It’s a lovely spot, though there are a few features that might give the old naturalist pause…

Within a stones throw of this, a replica of the cabin where Thoreau lived and wrote for two years,you can see ...
Within a stone’s throw of this, a replica of the cabin where Thoreau lived and wrote for two years, you can see …
...this.
…this.
And you can look at this...
And you can look at this…
... from here ...
… from here …
... or here
… or here.
There really aren't that many places anywhere that you can expect to watch ducks feed and also see someone teach themselves to juggle.
There really aren’t that many places anywhere that you can expect to see ducks feed while you watch somebody teach themselves to juggle.
But if you want the real Walden you can walk the perimeter of the pond here ...
But if you want the real Walden you can walk the perimeter of the pond here …
... or stalk a kayaker here ...
… or stalk a kayaker here …
... or contemplate here.
… or contemplate here.
But this might be the best view of all.
But this might be the best view of all.
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Going with Your Gut – Scientists are Trying to Understanding the Role of Bacteria in the Ecosystem that is Your Body

Seriously, unless you are in a hospital or a politician shaking hands all day long, you don’t need antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer. It’s doing more harm than good.

Tumblehome Talks

Bacteria isn’t all bad, and some doctors and scientists worry that America’s penchant for hand sanitizers and antibacterial cleaners might be killing off too many of the bacteria we need to keep our bodies functioning at their best. A recent study indicated that children whose parents “cleaned” their dropped pacifiers by putting it in their own mouths were less likely to develop allergies than those whose parents used tap water to clean it. Researchers concluded that parents strengthen their children’s immune systems when they share their bacteria with their young children.

In a recent New York Times Magazinecover story, Michael Pollan explored research that reveals the value of the microbes that live on our skin and in our digestive system. The life cycle of a bacterium is so much shorter that they can quickly adapt and mutate and reproduce in response to what we do – or do…

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Putting Autism in its Place

There's more than one way to get lit
There’s more than one way to get lit

Autism Acceptance Month includes Light it Up Blue day, and people find themselves reminded, pummeled and delighted by blue lights everywhere. It’s hard to know how to feel about the hoopla when we try so hard not to let autism dominate our lives. That’s why I moved my autism posts to their own blog. To be honest, though, those were the posts that got the most hits when I began writing Lettershead back in 2009. Much as it would lovely to be vastly popular and widely read, Lettershead is about trying to keep some perspective and focus on ideas that are not directly informed by autism.

Autism casts a long, blue shadow, however. Sometimes it feels like I spent my early years escaping the shadow of alcoholism only to turn and face autism. It was good preparation, as it turns out. An anxious person by nature, living with an alcoholic taught me to be flexible and to live with a specific kind of uncertainty about what each day would bring. In recent years I discovered that if I replace the word “alcoholic” with “autistic” in the Al-Anon daily meditation book, it works beautifully, if not in exactly the same way.

The most dangerous thing I allow myself to do is look back and see the years in my between alcoholism and autism and idealize them. I think everyone indulges in this during a standard-issue mid-life re-evaluation. We see high school, college, single life, some point in our youth as something that slipped away accidentally rather than as part of a progression to a fuller life. George Bernard Shaw had it right: youth is wasted on the young. What I’ve come to appreciate by looking back is the value of the cumulativeness of my experiences. For all the randomness of my choices, they all seem to have prepared me for the life I have now, unexpected and unpredictable as it is.

Laurie Anderson said in a great interview with the New York Times that she has “zero time for nostalgia,” and that is a phrase I keep in my head because the world is changing so rapidly that I want our kids to know what the world used to be like without getting myself stuck there. In the process of talking about the past it also occurs to me that for all the good experiences we try to create for other people, we have no control over how they see or will remember it. I have no idea what my parents were thinking half of the time they were raising us, but it’s clear to me now that regardless of their intended blueprint, my own memories were built by me and there isn’t a lot they can do about it now. The reality of a large family is that there are as many versions of the truth as there are people. Our children haven’t even left home yet and they are already constructing versions of their childhood that bear little resemblance to the one I thought we gave them.

And autism? It is a changeable, petulant child all on its own. The disorder I learned about in 1998 is unrecognizable to me. I was not a refrigerator mother, my child’s brain is not empty, limited eye contact does not mean a lack of engagement, and we enjoy a level of love and empathy we were told was impossible. It morphs and changes along with the boy, advancing and receding on a schedule known to no one. It’s a cat, a bowl of Jell-O, a dish of mercury, a block of granite. I will follow it, chill it, contain it, haul it around, chip away at it – whatever it takes to deny it center stage. That’s the job, that’s my job, and every day it will change and still be the same. It’s not something I planned for, but I know it’s what I was meant to do.

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The ART’s “The Glass Menagerie” – a Southern Velvet Clash of Cultures, Lives, Centuries & People

IMG_3295 - Version 2

Snowstorms and all manner of events tried to sidetrack my visit to the American Repertory Theater’s production of The Glass Menagerie. After much ado I managed to go with one friend and meet another for a 2pm matinee on a snowy Saturday in February. I am not a theater critic – if you want to read a brilliant review of this play Ben Brantley is your man. I’m writing because it created a moment in my life I won’t soon forget. My memory of the play was of Kate Hepburn’s eccentric and rather monstrous Amanda Wakefield and a kind of over-the-top Streetcar Named Desire-ish play – sort of like watching a deep south train wreck in slow motion. I did not reread it or watch the movie again because I wanted to experience it in as new a way as possible – I knew that Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill were all jumbled up in my head and decided I liked it that way. I wanted that trip far into the 20th century where Depression recession and repression could only play out on stage. I went for a glimpse of the past; what I got was a glimpse of the future.

Well. The extraordinary directing, casting, set direction and interpretation of the play made it into something entirely different from what I expected. Cherry Jones portrayed Amanda in a way that showed her as eccentric but primarily a concerned and overwrought single mother of two nearly grown children with vulnerabilities that are all too clear to her. It was a beautifully rendered story that was not played out as it usually is – as a melodrama – but simply as a drama. Funny, poignant, spare, brilliant. It left my heart full, but intact. My companion sat with her hands folded tightly together much of the time, and I knew that the younger child, Laura (a lovely, delicate Celia Keenan-Bolger), was vulnerable in a way that was distinctly familiar to both of us – painfully shy and fixated on her glass menagerie and the music from the victrola. Zach Quinto’s Tom leaves the heaviest subtexts of his character to our own experience and imagination – that his writing is a passion too intense for him to pursue at home and what he escapes to is forbidden in the eyes of Amanda; that is all we need to know. A big surprise for me was Brain J. Smith’s gentleman caller, who comes across more sensitive, earnest and engaging than I ever gave that character credit for. Where once I saw him as obsequious and callous – an Eddie Haskell type or a little creepy, like Michael Moriarty played him  – this performance leaves us knowing that though he may have hurt Laura, he may have helped her, too. We are sorry to see him go but not sorry he came to call.

A word about the set and costumes. Everything is suggested – nothing in this production clobbers you but you are treated to a quiet gasp every now and then by the staging and the props. The dresses, especially, look they are made for paper dolls, with flat surfaces and unfinished trim that give us credit for being able to fill in the details given to us by hands and voices.

The Set
The Set

It was the talkback afterward that did me in. I thought we were going to hear from the director, but all 4 four cast members strode out in their street clothes and sat a few feet in front of us in the center aisle. I don’t even remember what the question was but Cherry Jones started to speak about her view of Amanda as a single mother, displaced from her deep south home and desperately worried about what is to become of her younger child when she’s gone – how she impresses upon her older child the need to assure the younger is cared for not because she is a monster but because she is deeply anxious and thus sometimes too controlling. And then she said she is sure there are mothers out there whose children are disabled who can empathize with Amanda, and she felt it was important to portray her that way. I lowered my head and was completely overcome. I sat there like a fool, wracked with sobs and wishing to God I had come to see it alone. It was one thing to be aware of the subtext, but to have Cherry Jones spell it out four feet away from me was more than I could bear. I was sandwiched between my two companions in the middle of the row – there was no escape. I remain thoroughly mortified.

If I hadn’t had to drive home I would have headed for the nearest martini. I knew my companions well enough to know that, beyond profuse apologies, we would talk about it later. I stood in the lobby waiting for them to get their coats and I was standing alone when Ms. Jones rushed out to usher family members backstage. I was using the moment to collect myself and when she passed me I looked away. I don’t know if she saw my reaction to her remarks or not but it was pretty hard to miss as I was three rows back but directly in her line of sight when she spoke. Collecting myself took not moments but days. Looking back I can feel the layers of insulation I have built around that afternoon, where so many moments of my life met together in a single room and were voiced by a singular, brilliant actor with a stellar ensemble cast.

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Ending the Year Talking About the Best Kind of 20-Year Olds

Nearly perfect pecan pie
Nearly perfect pecan pie

The world is rightly preoccupied with the details, perspectives, and aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and I have said my piece here. One day just before Christmas, as I blogged and read the news and generally wallowed in the injustices of the world late into the evening, my cell phone rang. It was a 20-year old young man I have known since he was a tot, and he was calling to say he was on our front porch because he did not want to startle us by ringing the doorbell. He and his friend came by to deliver…pecan pie. Pecan pie that they made from scratch (crust and all) that they wanted me to taste and critique so they could make a second pie even later that night. Home from college, they were following up on a pie tutorial they had from our neighbor over Thanksgiving break. The pie they brought me was nearly perfect – better than I’ve ever made, for sure – and they asked me to pull out all of my many pie plates and tins to see if they should try a different sized dish for the next version. I’m not sure if you can justifiably say that deconstructing a pecan pie recipe is a life affirming experience, but I will happily go out on that limb. Watching the meticulous, bright-eyed enthusiasm these guys showed as we discussed how to improve their recipe (it came out eventually that the perfected pie would be proffered to a girl the next day) was the closest I came to pure joy in those days following the tragedy.

As the holidays have progressed, it is this newest emerging generation that gives me the most smiles, the most hope, and the most confidence that we will emerge from this era of dysfunction and despair with our souls intact. I love you guys.

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Not Crazy About Halloween But I Am Mad for Cemeteries

IMG_0051Halloween does not thrill me beyond a smiling Jack-O-Lantern and a Butterfinger. The Shining still gives me nightmares after 30 years and my heart aches with empathy at the sound of Charlie Brown saying “I got a rock.” If I never see or hear of another zombie or vampire again it will be just fine with me. But I love cemeteries and I visit them all the time.

Growing up, we used to go to the  cemetery with our Dad to visit the family plot. A beautiful spot overlooking the Cedar River, Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls, Iowa, hasn’t even a whiff of Halloween spookiness to it, at least not for me. It is twentieth century tidy: groomed, pretty linear with elegant but largely unremarkable gravestones, and those fabulous old growth trees that are probably the real reason I love all cemeteries so much. The trees stand like guardian angels. Under their branches is a sanctuary for the living among the dead.

So today is Halloween and earlier this week a blanket of fog curled around our old New England cemetery and this one is made to order for All Hallows Eve. Thus, I am compelled to chronicle my early morning walk among the long departed.

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The morning sun, masquerading as a rising moon, kisses the tops of an 18th century family plot. When I see stones like this so identical and lines up so perfectly I always wonder who designed it and whether they ordered them made all at once. My great grandfather was an undertaker back in Newton, Iowa, but I am woefully uneducated about cemetery protocol. I see research in my future.

IMG_0100This family’s plot didn’t account for nearby trees upsetting their row of markers – not only are they out of line, one grave has only the base left. And this causes me to think that, in the digital age, for some people it’s entirely possible that markers such as these might be the only tangible thing we leave behind.

IMG_0072And then I look up and see that this baby, gone for over 100 years now, is no known to me because I walked by on this day. I am always touched by the nameless children who are so lovingly remembered by their families. Some people – okay, a lot of people – think it’s morbid to visit and speculate in this way but I am intrigued comforted by the directness with which previous generations faced and commemorated death. These days it seems like people will do anything to avoid acknowledging the inevitable. I am grateful for the people in my life – yes, Irish – who are unflinching and (sometimes) celebratory in facing death. I don’t always share the revelry but I deeply appreciate the sentiment and faith that unpin it.

IMG_0118Above, conjoined on the left if you can see it, is something you don’t encounter as often in more modern cemeteries: the roles take precedence over the names. We know that mother and father rest here, but their given names are long obscured by time and weather. It’s also often true that the flags of soldiers are affixed to the telltale star-shaped holders but the names are no longer legible: all we know is that they served.

IMG_0109And then there are the various lines of demarcation between family plots. Chains certainly send an interesting message from the hereafter; there will be no fraternizing with others ghosts for these folks. I would love to eavesdrop on the conversations and circumstances that led to the placement of these chains. There’s a story here for sure.

IMG_0090

I always mean to look up the science behind the stone itself – why is it that Martha Pierce’s 1848 stone is so legible while others that are centuries newer have been wiped clean by the elements? I love everything about this – the color, the use of type, the spacing, even the weathering, it’s all perfect.

IMG_0060

Space is at a premium in the oldest cemeteries (though this town has one that is even older than this, aptly named The Old Burying Ground), and some folks bought space near the storage house. It all adds to the charm, and probably the politics, too.

IMG_0080Finally, there are the colors – the leaves and mosses and vines – and how they complement and define the incredible shapes that show the styles and workmanship of centuries. Modern public spaces value uniformity but history is random and people are finicky even in death (or maybe especially in death). They had one more chance to make their mark, and most of them made it count.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur parents are buried in a National Cemetery in the Midwest and when I visit, the rows of white stones take my breath away with their undulating precision. But then, for a moment, I’m not sure I’m even in the right section and we are lost to each other until I can make their names out and know that I am in the right place after all. There is comfort in knowing their engravings won’t be wiped away and that the whole area will be well-tended, but it makes me all the more determined to remember them in other ways. I am reminded as I look through the photographs that “mother” and “grandmother” are engraved under Mom’s name – I had forgotten that.

I am too far away to make the weekly pilgrimages my father made to his family and I wish now I knew what he was thinking on those days when we looked down at the river, but I know that even though I am walking among strangers, they are both with me (and laughing).

 

September is the time when the trees start to take center stage for the big show in October, but it’s heavenly because the garden is making it’s last burst and no matter where you look something beautiful is going on.

The blue heron is used to the whirr and click of my camera now but still flies away if I get too close (above). Right now it seems odd to post what is just outside the window but winter will be here all too soon and then I will be glad to have these to scroll through when it’s all buried under the snow.

On the porch, the pots hold onto the pinks and blues of spring.
On the porch, the pots hold onto the pinks and blues of spring.
Called Autumn Joy for a reason, the sedum that was the first to emerge in spring finally gets its moment.
Called Autumn Joy for a reason, the sedum that was the first to emerge in spring finally gets its moment.
The geraniums are starting to look a little spindly but have a few fresh summer colors left in them.
The geraniums are starting to look a little spindly but have a few fresh summer colors left in them.
The Limelight hydrangeas are new this year and while a little top heavy they change colors with the season just like they promised.
The Limelight hydrangeas are new this year and while a little top heavy they change colors with the season just like they promised.

But it’s the juxtaposition of leaves and changing blooms that seems to squeeze the entire growing season into one photo. Below are three versions of the same shot, each focused differently: first the phlox, then the hydrangea and then the changing ivy.

The phlox has been blooming all summer long.
The phlox has been blooming all summer long.
The hydrangea (new this year) bloomed mid July and has buds even now.
The hydrangea bloomed mid July and has buds even now.
And the ivy previews what is turning out to be a spectacular fall color season.
And the ivy previews what is turning out to be a spectacular fall color season.

We are at that point where it is too late to put in anything new (no new bulbs going in this year, I think) and not time to cut things down or rake, so we’ll just sit back and watch the show – I already posted some of the spectacular colors of October.

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